Deprogramming Myself from Dan Price’s Cult of Personality

Yet another bubble burst.

When I first heard about the Dan Price scandal and started writing this blog post about it, its title was going to be, “No Freakin’ Way!” Then, I started to read up on it, and I decided to change the title to, “Say It Isn’t So, Please”.

And then I read the article in the New York Times.

At first I read it with shock, thinking that the Times isn’t usually up for an all-out vicious attack on someone. They are usually more measured in their reporting. But by the time I finished the article, and read the quotes from something like 75 sources, I realized that there were too many allegations, too many accusations, too many lawsuits, and too many stories for me to continue to deny that they don’t all hold at least a kernel of truth. And given how despicable the stories are, even a kernel of truth is enough to put me off Dan Price for good.

That leaves me wondering how to cope with my sadness and disappointment. I really wanted to believe that the public persona Dan had worked so hard to promote was real. I wanted to believe that there could actually be a rich guy out there who spoke out against corporate greed and corruption. I wanted to think that maybe there was someone in power who actually gave a crap about the little guy. I’d never seen that before, and I wanted it to be true so badly that I fell entirely into Dan Price’s thrall. It’s no comfort at all that so many women have done the same and lived to regret it.

Way back in 2015, I wrote a glowing blog post entitled, Dan Price: Man of my Freakin’ Dreams. And I meant every word of it. Now I read that post and I cringe. But I won’t take it down, because it will forever be a reminder to me to never, ever fall for the branding.

Back then, Dan reduced his million-dollar salary in order to give all his employees a raise to at least $70,000 a year. Every single one, right down to the guy who mops the floors at night. And since then, that figure has increased to somewhere around 80k to 100k, depending on what source you read. I mean, who does that?

Dan Price does. And that’s laudable. I can still stand by that, at least. But that’s not a get out of jail free card for rape, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. And if it turns out that it was just a show to get out of a lawsuit with his brother, as is credibly laid out in this Bloomberg article from 2015, then even that good act came from a bad place.

While doing research for this post, I came across a Facebook post that I wrote nearly a year after my blog post that I mentioned above, in which I gave its link and gushed, “Omigod, a friend went to see this guy at some public speaking event, and I jokingly told her to have him read this blog entry, and she DID! And he DID! He thanked me and said he hoped we’d get to meet some day.”

With hindsight, that Facebook post seems as surreal to me as the current situation. I doubt seriously that the man stood there at that busy event and took the time to read my blog post. Oddly enough, I have no memory of that conversation, or even whom I had it with. But it was obvious that I had stars in my liberal eyes. Now I can see that I was a total fangirl, and I’m nauseated by that realization.

For me back then, Dan was the guy who proved that you can walk the talk and actually prosper while at the same time not grinding your employees down to a mere shadow of their former selves. (You’ll never see Jeff Bezos doing that. Amazon warehouse employees are treated like crap.) But Dan impressed the hell out of me. He led me to conclude that he was a guy who cared about people.

I convinced myself that he had proven that it really is possible to fix capitalism. I’m sure that had a lot of corporate fat cats on edge. They don’t want to be forced to do the right thing. They don’t want to think of anyone but themselves. I was sure that those rich white men would love nothing better than to see Dan Price disappear. (That reminds me of an art installation I saw when I lived in Holland. It was an electronic marquee that said, over and over again, “If you behaved nicely, the Communists wouldn’t exist.”)

I allowed myself to think that Dan was being targeted by someone very rich who was probably paying people off to say these horrible things about my hero. I was still trying to believe that this whole mess was pure fabrication. I comforted myself with that theory for a few days. Because, you know, he really did give those raises. He did.

But in order to write this post, which I thought would be full of righteous indignation, I had to first do my homework. I started off by reading these articles:

They were not particularly credible in my eyes. I refused to allow them to be true. I was still allowing myself to stay in Dan Price’s cult of personality, where I felt safe and where everything was so warm and fuzzy. Without that faith in mankind, where would I go? What would I do?

But as the evidence mounted, I tried to tell myself that maybe this good guy just snapped under all the pressure. (As if that would be a valid excuse.) Being a poster child for anything at the age of 38, after having been sued by your own brother for doing the right thing (as I thought that situation had played out at the time, based, in retrospect, solely on Dan’s version of events), and his not knowing who his friends truly are anymore, must come with a great deal of stress. At the very least, it’s a safe bet that Thanksgiving dinner in the Price household is somewhat tense.

“Poor little rich boy,” My inner voice whispered to me.

But I wasn’t ready to escape the cult just yet. For me, Dan symbolized what is possible if you have integrity and morality and decency. He made me believe that the world could turn around if enough good people did good things. Maybe this big blue greedball on which we all live could alter its trajectory and stop hurtling straight toward the fiery sun. It could happen.

Why would anyone want to give up on that faith in mankind? I clung to it like a drowning man clings to flotsam. I really didn’t want to let go.

Next, I came across a whole series of articles by a guy named Doug Forbes. He had written them over the space of several years. Each one was a damning opinion piece about Dan Price.

But, you know, I tend to take opinion pieces with a grain of salt. I wanted truth, not opinions. This guy was saying he talked to dozens of people, but he did not cite any of them, except, I think, Dan’s ex-wife, who, I told myself, was probably bitter. And this guy Forbes, I told myself, must hate Dan for whatever reason, and he’s given himself this forum to spew his speculations into cyberspace.

I told myself that the accusations against Dan were so disgusting and extreme that the charges had to be trumped up, right? I mean, who resorts to waterboarding a woman? Who drowns a dog in a swimming pool? Who rapes women in their sleep and emotionally abuses employees? (Well, actually, a lot of men do that last bit. But not the good men, right?)

But, just as with so many other cult members who start to wake up, a lot of conflicting thoughts were running through my head.

He’s such a nice guy! This can’t be true! At that point my inner voice was whispering, “But you used to think that about Bill Cosby back in the day, didn’t you?”

There are some sick people in this world, and that’s a fact. I just didn’t want Dan Price to be one of them. Not that guy.

During my research, I kept seeing links to the New York Times article about him. When I’d click on it, I’d get their website, and a few tantalizing sentences, but in order to see more I’d have to subscribe. I have a great deal of respect for the New York Times, but I didn’t want Dan Price to be the reason I got a subscription. Instead, a friend (Hi Tracy!) was kind enough to gift me the article from her subscription. (If you know someone with a subscription, they are allowed to “gift” 10 articles per month to people. It’s perfectly legitimate.)

I read the entire article, and any fantasies that rich white fat cats had created this scandal to destroy Dan Price’s squeaky clean reputation fell by the wayside. In retrospect I can’t even imagine why I entertained such a fantasy to begin with. I don’t believe in conspiracies, because large groups of human beings find it impossible to keep secrets, and those evil rich men would have had to find nearly a hundred people who would be willing to lie about Dan for money.

Impossible.

But the final nail in Dan Price’s coffin, as far as I’m concerned, is that he admitted, before two witnesses who were both willing to speak out, that he used to restrain his wife, but he admitted to them that that was not the right thing to do.

Ya think? And yet you did it, Danny Boy. This was a choice you made, multiple times. That’s seriously twisted.

I began looking back at his interviews with Kelly Clarkson and Oprah Winfrey, etc. through a more cynical lens, and I realized that the people interviewing him were total fangirls, too. Heck, even Trevor Noah compared him to Jesus! They all wanted a feel good segment for their shows, and this guy fit the bill. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking. Why scratch that sexy surface?

Now I realize that Dan Price is his own spin doctor. I discovered that all the memes I had shared about him had originated from… Dan Price. I never allowed myself to think that a humble man doesn’t need to toot his own horn so much unless he either a) knows that he’s not really that popular in real life, and this is his only way to get admiration, or…  b) he has something to hide.

And I was even more disgusted that I fell for all these wonderful liberal memes when I learned that he didn’t even write them himself. He hired someone else to do it. I had always imagined him kicked back on his couch after a long day of decently paying his troops, typing away, speaking from the heart. Instead, he told the guy the image he wanted to have, and the guy provided it. And I inadvertently helped to prop up this image by sharing those memes on Facebook.

Now my inner voice is quoting a dearly departed loved one: “Even if you pour syrup all over something, that doesn’t make it a pancake.”

I need to own the fact that it was highly simplistic of me to think that a member of my flawed species could be pure and good and devoid of tarnish. That’s too much to expect of anyone.

It is possible to do good deeds and be a scumbag at the same time. That annoys me. It would be so much easier if Dan had just picked a side. I really hate shades of gray.

Of course, none of us will ever know the complete truth about Dan Price. If there’s a despicability spectrum, we’ll never be certain where to place him on it. But he’s definitely on the spectrum, and so I’m done with him.

That leaves me in an awkward position. Should I hope the accusations are completely true so that I can at least be comforted by the idea that justice is real, or should I hope they are mostly false, only to watch his carefully honed and oh-so-appealing brand be destroyed by them?

There’s no good answer.

I had always read that breaking free of a cult is hard. I never thought I’d have to struggle through self-deprogramming. I feel like such a fool, and it leaves me wanting to boil myself in bleach.

So, yet another bubble burst. Damn, but it was such a lovely fantasy. I’m going to miss it. And that hurts.

Mondragon Corporation: A Lesson in Cooperation

There are alternatives to capitalism.

Much has been made of late about the income inequality in the United States. I hope that the clamor becomes ever louder, because, as one meme about Jeff Bezos states, “If a monkey hoarded more bananas than it could eat, while most of the other monkeys starved, scientists would study that monkey to figure out what the heck was wrong with it. When humans do the same thing, we put them on the cover of Forbes.”

Something definitely has to change. Nobody needs that many bananas. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would even want that many bananas. Eating too many bananas can only lead to bloating and constipation.

That’s the problem with this country. It is bloated on its own greed. It is constipated when it comes to compassion for the less fortunate. The system is not healthy.

We could learn a great deal from the Mondragon Corporation. I first heard about this organization by listening to a talk on income inequality by Noam Chomsky. He was discussing alternatives to capitalism, as he quite often does, and he held Mondragon up as the most advanced case of a worker-owned cooperative in the world. Naturally, I had to learn more about it.

According to its own website as well as Wikipedia and an article entitled, “Mondragon through a Critical Lens”, this corporation originates in the Basque region of Spain, and because of it, that region went from being the poorest in Spain 65 years ago, to being by far the richest region. Starting off as a small worker-owned company, it has expanded to more than 100 different cooperatives, employing more than 81,000 people.

We aren’t unfamiliar with cooperatives here in the U.S. Many of us bank at credit unions, shop at independent grocery stores, live in housing cooperatives, or obtain our food from agricultural cooperatives. Given the fact that cooperatives are responsible for more than 500 billion in revenue here, it surprises me that they aren’t given more press.

Well, it does and it doesn’t surprise me, actually. Given that unions are squelched in red states, and large companies, like Amazon, are terrified of them, people certainly don’t want workers to gain too much power in this country. Chaos could ensue. People might, like, start earning living wages rather than having that money go to stockholders. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Mondragon begs to differ. Its primary goal is to maximize employment and give employees the dignity of having a say in their own destiny, to further the well-being of the workers as a whole.

Their cooperatives are mostly industrial, but they also include the finance, retail and knowledge sectors. They have discovered that competing in technical niche markets make them competative on a global scale, and since their jobs require more than a basic education, they’re less apt to be competing with underpaid workers overseas.

Mondragon’s workers also own their own bank, university, social welfare agency, supermarket chain and several business incubators. They have their own pension and medical plans, and on the average, executives are only allowed to earn 5 times as much as the lowest paid employee. The ratio in question is voted on by the employees.

One employee, one vote is the rule. And that means that the CEO has no more power in the fate of the company than the guy who scrubs the toilets. In fact, the administrators work for the employees, not the other way around. How refreshing.

Mondragon is also a lot more adaptable than a typical bureaucracy. They are very dedicated to collaborative decision making, and because of that they can break free of old-guard, stuck-in-their-ways attitudes. Since the employees have an equal say, the decisions are made based on the current facts, not on old habits.

Mondragon employees get much better health care than the average American, and their pensions are 80 percent of their former salaries. They have extensive unemployment benefits. In addition, if one cooperative fails, the vast majority of the employees are absorbed by the other cooperatives, so there is a great deal of income security.

Is Mondragon perfect? Not by a long shot. It is still having to compete in an international, mostly capitalist market, so it has had to make some uncomfortable choices. For example, it does have international employees as well, and while they are employed by the cooperatives, they’re not owners as the other employees are. Therefore they don’t reap all the benefits and they don’t have a say in the decisions. Supposedly they are still treated well, but it’s a disturbing trend.

Another issue is that women are severely underrepresented in Mondragon. I suspect that has to do with it originating in a macho culture, and also the fact that for various reasons, women don’t seem to pursue engineering educations as often as men do, and Mondragon is an engineering-heavy employer. But when women do get jobs within this system, they get equal pay. That must be nice.

And while everyone at Mondragon has a vote, that doesn’t necessarily mean that each person is educating themselves on the issues in question. So not all votes are informed ones.

Another hurdle is that when you only pay your CEOs reasonable wages rather than obscenely high ones, it’s hard to get the best and brightest people to apply for the job. It could be argued, though, that those who do apply have their priorities intact. That counts for something. But it’s a rare bureaucrat who has his or her priorities intact.

It may be a flawed system, but it seems a lot less flawed than what the majority of us experience in America. I definitely believe it merits further study. And I think the Green energy movement in this country, as it is relatively young, could start out as a cooperative and thrive. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we, the people, actually created clean energy while benefiting from our endeavors?

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Bezos, Smalls, and Bray: A Microcosm of Capitalism

Three typical parts of capitalism the world over.

Jeff Bezos, richest man in the world, is my neighbor (give or take a dozen miles). Not that I’ve ever met him, or ever will. I don’t travel in those circles, and I wouldn’t want to.

Another fun fact about Bezos is that, according to this article, as of April 15th, he had made 24 billion dollars (yes, with a B) more than he normally does, off the COVID-19 pandemic. Since we’re all stuck in our houses, we’re doing a lot of ordering on Amazon, and that lines Bezo’s pockets. Heaven only knows how much greater his earnings have been in the past month, since that statistic came out.

I would say good for him. It’s not his fault we’re bored silly and impulse buying online to remain socially distant. He deserves to profit off his company just like any other capitalist.

But.

He’s thriving while all the mom and pop stores are struggling and/or going belly up due to this virus. And I don’t see him stepping up to make any kind of a difference there. And his warehouse workers are treated abysmally, and they’re not being adequately protected in the workplace.

Enter Chris Smalls. He was a former manager assistant at an Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island. He saw that workers were not getting proper protection. He saw they weren’t being informed of active cases of COVID-19 in his building. He requested that work be stopped just long enough for the workplace could be properly sanitized. He led a protest. Not only was he fired for his trouble, but also a memo was leaked that was encouraging Amazon executives to lead a coordinated effort to say that Smalls was “not smart or articulate.” As if that means he doesn’t deserve to have his health protected. Insane.

Check out an interview with him here. He may not be a toastmaster, but I think he gets his point across just fine. And he’s not the only employee to have been fired from Amazon for organizing.

And then, enter Tim Bray. This former Amazon Vice President quit on May 1st. The final straw for him was the firing of workers who were organizing regarding their poor working conditions during the pandemic. He said there was “a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.” He said he’d “neither serve nor drink that poison any longer.”

Read more about his reasons for quitting in his blog post here.

So there you have it: three men who represent the three typical tentacles of capitalism the world over:

  • Bezos, the heartless capitalist who will squeeze every ounce of value out of the little people who make all the money for him, and then cast them out when they become a nuisance.

  • Smalls, one of the little people in question, who gives his heart and soul to a company and only wants safety, decency and reasonable pay in return, but rarely gets it.

  • Bray, the middle man, uncomfortable with what’s going on both above and below him. In this instance, he chose to take a stand, and I admire him for it. It’s people like him, those middlemen with a moral compass, who often cause companies to change whether they like it or not.

I just don’t get why Bezos can’t see his way clear to throw a couple of those billions at the problem, to improve working conditions, health, and safety, and increase morale. He wouldn’t even miss them, and in the end, he’d benefit too.

But he’s like a racoon caught in a loose trap simply because he won’t unclench his fist and let go of that crust of bread. Greed is like that. So in the end, Bezos is the biggest loser. He’s pathetic. At least Smalls and Bray have integrity.

workers-rights-are-human-rights-e1567357192759

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This Ain’t No Meritocracy

Where are those streets paved with gold?

Who amongst us, here in America, was not fed the American Dream with our mother’s milk? “Work hard, young man, and you’ll get ahead.” “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” “Succeed in school and you’ll succeed in life.” “There’s a piece of the pie waiting for you. You just have to reach out and take it.” “Slow and steady wins the race.”

In a word, bullshit.

The more I think about this, the more outraged I become. America isn’t a meritocracy. Most of us are not going to get out of this country as much as we put in. Even though we hate to really see it, this is a very highly class-structured society. It’s very hard to break out of your class and claw your way into the next one. When it happens, it’s the exception, not the rule.

Yes, we love to hear those rags-to-riches stories. We’re highly susceptible to Ponzi schemes and get rich quick scenarios because, hey, this is America, and we’re all supposed to get rich quick! How come I’m not walking on one of those gold-paved streets everyone promises us are just around the corner? Perhaps because I’m too busy trying to avoid the potholes, here.

I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. I graduated at the top of my class every single time. Using the American Dream yardstick, I ought to be a gajillionaire. But no. I’ve only managed to poke my head into the middle class in my early 50’s, and even now, I’m one major medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy, as are most of us.

My mother assumed I’d be the CEO of a fortune 500 company by the time I was 25. She totally overlooked the fact that I would have been miserable in that atmosphere, and I would have felt like an imposter for my whole life. Yes, I wound up doing much better than she ever had, but when you set the bar that low, it’s not that hard to jump over. She worked hard all her life, and she passed her work ethic on to her children. She was also desperately poor all her life.

Much of my success, I’m sorry to admit, has had to do with dumb luck. Being born white. Choosing a partner with similar goals and aspirations who understands the value of teamwork. Being in the right place at the right time. Moving from a right to work state to a union state. Having a loved one who was willing to loan me money at critical points in my life. Being able-bodied and intelligent.

Capitalism, as a system, is not designed to benefit the vast majority of us. In order for it to work, most of us have to be content to be cogs in a giant wheel that then rolls over the top of us with annoying frequency. There has to be a lower class. There are roadblocks in place to make sure you stay in it. Substandard schools, crippling student loans, expensive health care that keeps you just sick enough to be compliant, glass ceilings, unequal pay, good ol’ boys clubs, and only being able to get ahead based on who you know are all part of the bigger picture. There have to be a certain number of people desperate enough to do the dirty jobs. It never pays to examine too closely what it takes to make this economic sausage of ours. Not if you want to maintain any sense of contentment.

And because we all buy in to the American Dream, most of us, whether we realize it or not, walk around feeling like a failure. If the American Dream really works, the theory goes, then I must have done something wrong to not be a part of it. I didn’t study hard enough. I didn’t please my boss enough to get that promotion. I picked the wrong major in college. I didn’t put in enough hours. I didn’t socialize with the right people. I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough, white enough, male enough, strong enough. I shouldn’t have had children so soon. I should have saved more money. I didn’t buy the right stock. I don’t properly manage my time.

We are all so busy pursuing the almighty dollar that many of us harbor deep resentment and frustration because we don’t feel that we have meaningful jobs. We’re making widgets on an assembly line so that other widget makers can buy those widgets. Job satisfaction is at an all-time low.

There are ways that we can get off this treadmill of ours. First of all, we need to stop this love affair we seem to have with Capitalism. It has gotten us nowhere. Next, we need to stop voting for politicians that simply exist to prop up the 1 percent. We also need to stop teaching our children that money will buy them happiness, and that the only measure of their worth is the size of their bank accounts.

We also need to prioritize activism over complacency, critical thinking over passivity, collectivism over isolation, unity over division, strength in numbers over every man for himself. We need to start demanding a better world instead of hoping for the best. We need to hold people and corporations accountable rather than assuming they have our best interests at heart. It’s not about me (or you for that matter), it’s about us. We need to stop being divided and conquered.

More than anything, though, we need to dismantle this myth of meritocracy. It pits us against one another. It requires that most of us lose so that some can win. It’s a soul-sucking fantasy.

It’s why so many of us are angry.

Meritocracy

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Capitalism 101

It’s time to stop sniffing the glue, folks.

Apologies in advance. I’m feeling a tad bitter today. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t think of this before, but the capitalist system, our system, can be easily explained as follows:

The main goal of this system is profit. The only way that corporations can make a profit is by making sure that the amount their employees are paid is less than the amount of wealth those same employees produce. That’s it, pure and simple. The profit comes from our sweat.

And it’s even better for them when those same employees spend those meager earnings on stuff, thus returning it to those same corporations. Do we really need the latest iPhones and 50 pairs of shoes? Why does fashion go out of style? Why does software become obsolete? Why is everything so disposable?

Now do you get why unions exist? Almost everything you see around you was created by some underpaid, underinsured, struggling shmuck who is just a cog in a corporate wheel. And why the hell did we elect a corporate mogul to lead this country, who is doing his level best to strip it of what few riches it has left?

It’s time to stop sniffing the glue, folks.

filthy lucre

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Package Thieves

When I arrived in Seattle 3 ½ years ago, I was shocked to discover that you could pretty much count on your packages getting stolen off your doorstep out here. That never, ever happened to me in Florida. I had no idea what a fool’s paradise I had been living in.

Based on conversations with friends, though, I’m sorry to report that it isn’t just a West Coast thing anymore. Jacksonville, Florida has gotten just as bad as Seattle. Now, if you’re a package, there’s nowhere to hide, unless you are deposited inside an Amazon Drop Box.

This situation makes me really sad. It grieves me that our level of desperation is causing us to prey upon each other in such a cold manner. I know it’s getting more and more difficult to survive in this capitalist hell we’ve created for ourselves, but when we start turning on one another, nothing good can come of it. It’s as if we’ve all been let loose in the Colosseum to either kill or be killed, as the emperor looks on, smiling.

When you steal someone else’s package, you could be depriving them of the very medication they need to survive. You could be taking something that will mean absolutely nothing to you, but it could be a treasured family remembrance. Some desperately lonely housebound person may be counting on a package to feel connected to the world, and because of your greed it will never arrive. Someone might have been saving for years to make a purchase, and you’ve taken that from them. You could be holding in your hands a care package for a sick child.

I really can’t imagine being that selfish and despicable, that heartless and cruel. I suspect that this behavior is here to stay, though. We really are devolving as a species. As competition becomes stiffer, people keep stepping farther past the boundaries of common decency.

While I don’t condone vigilante justice, I totally get why people are starting to booby-trap packages. After a certain point, people get sick and tired of being robbed. Eventually someone is going to get hurt, though, either from a poorly designed trap, or by being caught in the act and beaten within an inch of their lives. Or shot. Or attacked by a dog. However it goes down, it’s not going to be pretty.

What it will be is tragically predictable.

package

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