The Tupperware trade in happiness

XL Magazine, Amsterdam/August 1, 1999

The belief that one can create one’s own happiness, is the great ailment of the last few decennia. An absurd number of people seem to think that life is something that you can mold in every conceivable detail, that you can control everything-or should. Create your own future, be the master of your own destiny, improve your health, coincidence doesn’t exist! These are the empty promises of snake oil salesmen, sect leaders and other imposters; promises of complete power and arrogance that completely ignore the fact that people control the circumstances of their lives only to a small degree. In what part of the world and in what class you are born, your gender and skin color are more reliable indicators of your eventual well-being, health and later societal career than sheer willpower and ambition.

But people like to be deceived. They think that they single-handedly brought about their ample income, rather than take into account that they were born in a well- to-do family, which gave them an advantage others can scarcely make up for. Were they to thank someone, they should thank their parents rather than themselves; or better yet the coincidence that they were born in Amsterdam-South instead of the slums of Delhi. This self-inflating conviction does wonders for you self-esteem, tough And for one’s hubris. Because, before you know it, you look down upon all those who are less healthy, less successful, rich or loved: they have obviously not given their all. Don’t want to improve themselves.

In gay Amsterdam, Landmark is making inroads. Landmark, created by former Scientology member Werner Erhard, focuses entirely on self-improvement. Landmark claims to teach you to "communicate better" and to get the best out of you. Their beautiful promises are of course phrased in the vaguest terms possible. Landmark "gives participants the opportunity to achieve extraordinary, even miraculous results, and offers them a useful and practical freedom that will make them more effective and better equipped to plan their lives." They "offer limitless opportunities for growth and development of individuals, relations, families, communities, companies, institutes and society as a whole." They focus on "everybody’s capacity to think beyond the thinkable, and to operate effectively in the creation of new possibilities." They promise "extraordinary communication-powerful listening and dedicated speaking, resulting in self-development and self-satisfaction."

All for a steep fee, of course. But the importance of that should not be over-estimated. Many companies pay through the nose for quite basic and superficial management courses or "seminars." Self-deception is a booming business.

But Landmark’s methodology is nasty. It works like this. An acquaintance invites you to their home to attend a discussion evening about Landmark. There you find a group of about ten people, all more or less acquainted. The host praises Landmark, praises the quality of the courses, relates one success story after another ("after John took so-and-so course, he achieved his much desired promotion/improved his relationship with his loved one/was finally able to grasp the depths of his problems/ was cured of asthma"), and, after telling his tale, asks who of those present is interested in an orientation course. There is always someone stupid enough to fall for this. Worse, The host will make sure of that-what he doesn’t tell is that he gets a commission for every new course he is able to sell.

As soon as someone agrees, the host doubles his efforts. "Look, Peter is doing it. Peter senses what is good for him. Peter is ready to invest in himself. Aren’t you? Don’t you think you are worth it to invest your own money in? Don’t you think a few hundred guilders is a small sum for a better future? Darling, you pay more for rent. You’d rather spend money on your house than on yourself?" And so on, and so forth. I know of a course leader who went so far as to suggest to an unwilling guest looking for excuses ("I don’t have any money on me right now") that it was all right, because "I don’t mind walking with you to the bank machine." On average half of those who are gathered thusly fall for the ruse and sign for a course.

The same group pressure characterizes the course meetings as well. Usually you take a session-an evening, or preferably a weekend-with one to two hundred people. During the session you hardly have time to gather yourself: doing things constantly, listening to speeches, conducting exercises. At the end of the session, every participant is required to take the stage and to publicly relate their "profit:" what he learned, conquered, or discovered. It takes a special person, who, after ten stories of jubilation, will tell the others that they thought the whole shebang was nonsense and that they did not get any benefit-and of course, people are inclined to see the worth of something once they have invested their money in it, even against all odds. After all the success stories, they ask, still in the presence of other participants, who wants to continue. "Don’t you think you are worth it? The others do!" That is hard sales tactic.

It’s a glorified Tupperware evening. But I must admit that Landmark is clever for bringing their group pressure methodology into homosexual circles. Gay people tend to be more conscious of the need for mutual social support than the average heterosexual is, and are more inclined to identify as a group, and thus to its pressure. A splendid market to sell happiness and success.

Note: Landmark responded to this column. Their letter and my response to it was published in the October issue of the magazine.

Letter to the Editor

(Translation by Niels Teunis)

Karin Spaink’s column published in the August/September edition of XL contained several inaccuracies with regard to Landmark Education and its educational program, The Landmark Forum. I would like to point out the following.

Nobody gets paid commission when he or she recruits a new participant. Those who participate in the educational programs of Landmark Education do not receive any commission or any other form of payment, in any way shape or form, when they recruit friends or colleagues to follow the educational programs.

Furthermore, Landmark Education does not exert pressure on homosexuals-other than what the column suggests-to follow its educational programs. Introductions to the Landmark Forum are being given to allow the public to obtain information about the Landmark Forum and nobody exerts any pressure on homosexuals or whosoever.

In addition, Landmark Education was not founded by Werner Erhard-other than was alleged. Mister Erhard only developed a portion of the educational materials that is being used in the Landmark Forum. Mister Erhard has never been an employee or a stockholder nor has he been connected to the exploitation of Landmark Education. Nor has Mister Erhard ever been a member of Scientology. More than 30 years ago he followed two Scientology courses, among the more than 50 other courses being offered by a variety of organizations, as part of a self-education program in diverse disciplines (amongst which Gestalt therapy and Eastern Philosophy).

Landmark Education has no connections to Scientology.

It is regrettable that the column uses incorrect information to create an incorrect image of Landmark Education.

Art Schreiber, Chairman Board of Directors
Landmark Education, Inc, San Francisco, US

Response by Karin Spaink

Articles critical of Landmark are usually answered by a letter of their lawyer/chairman Art Schreiber, in which he threatens legal action.

Receiving such a letter without a threat is an indication that I wasn’t far off in my column about these Tupperware merchants in happiness. In only one instance did I deserve a correction.

    1. Landmark does not give commission to people who recruit new members; I was wrong there. Almost everybody works for free for Landmark, only a small percentage gets paid (about 450 people). Landmark is a commercial company (revenue: about 50 million per year) that relies mainly on volunteers. You would wish they would receive a part of the profits.

    1. Landmark is known to exert strong pressure on course participants. I described what that looks like in the LGBT community. I never suggested that Landmark only targets this community, on the contrary: the whole class of well-to-do, slightly concerned-with -themselves citizenry is the target audience.

    1. Landmark asserts that there simply is no such thing as group pressure: you cannot make someone do what they don’t want to do in the first place, is their adage. It is the mistake of the (future) course participant if s/he experiences the urging of the salesperson as pressure. Repeatedly and publically telling someone that not wanting to take a (follow-up) course implies that you let yourself be dominated by your negative impulses, that I define as exerting pressure. Just like the hard sales tactic (calling someone three times a day and not accepting no for an answer) and not giving people the time to eat or sleep properly for three days.

    1. The connection between Landmark and Werner Erhard (whose real name is John Rosenberg) is strong and proven. Erhard established "EST", a group that acquired a terrible reputation as a result of tyrannical practices (not allowing participants to use the toilet, not allowing people to eat or drink outside times appointed by the leadership, sessions where participants were physically handled) and as a result of scandals involving Erhard personally. EST was later transformed into Landmark and Erhard sold his rights to his employers. Art Schreiber, the current chairman of Landmark, used to be Erhard’s lawyer. Both Erhard’s brother and sister are high up in the organization (Harry and Joan Rosenberg). More importantly, Landmark is working under a license, which belongs to Erhard, a license which will revert back to him in 2009. Furthermore, Erhard receives 50% of Landmark gross profits. (Source, Metro News, San Francisco, 9 July 1998). Possibly Schreiber is correct when he states that Erhard is not involved in the exploitation of Landmark, but he sure is involved in receiving the profits.

    1. Schreiber notes subsequently that Erhard has "never been a member of Scientology" and continues by stating that Erhard "followed two Scientology courses." Every cult- watcher knows that only Scientology members can take Scientology courses; I will let the readers draw their own conclusions. I have never stated that there are connections between Landmark and Scientology; I did state that there are similarities. That is Scientology’s own opinion as well: they have repeatedly accused Erhard of stealing their material. It is always fun to see mudslinging between two clubs that are fishing in the same pond.

    1. Schreiber stated that I painted an incorrect picture of Landmark. Unfortunately he forgot to mention in his letter that I cited liberally from Landmark’s own documents.

    1. That people learn from Landmark is possible. I just find it extremely painful that you have to draw your checkbook before and after, and that "graduation ceremonies" where the fortunate participants can collect their diplomas, are mainly being used to recruit their friends and family. But as I wrote in my column: Landmark is not the only one that throws itself on the trade in happiness. Many others are just as bad.

    1. Finally, I wish to apologize sincerely to the company Tupperware for abusing their name. They at least give you something solid for your money.

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