The Techie Rich are Easily Flattered

Only the best among you will read this

By William M Briggs Published on September 27, 2017

There’s a commercial for a company whose name I forgot that sells science lectures or videos or some such thing. The key line is that you should buy these items to feed “your brilliant mind.”

I don’t want to be seen as cruel, delicate reader, but given our knowledge of the American public the chance a viewer of this commercial (including myself) is brilliant is low. Plus, if the viewer really was brilliant, then it’s likely he would not need the videos.

Gustave Flaubert said, “The public wants work which flatters its illusions.” Advertisers and charlatans heed this wisdom. Their path is made smooth by an educational system that inculcates the illusion of limitless intelligence in its students. Any child can be brilliant, parents are assured. We are all geniuses.

Who doesn’t want to hear how far above the others one is — or can be, for a small fee?

The question is, if you’re a huckster, what is the most you can charge for selling flattery without your audience balking? Five thousand is not too large, apparently.

Go with the Flow

Here are the opening paragraphs of the New York Times story “How to Hack Your Brain (for $5,000)“.

EDEN, Utah — One morning last month a group of roughly 60 people, including doctors, C.E.O.s and internet entrepreneurs, gathered under a big white dome to hear the mission statement of their host, a 45-year-old man named Jamie Wheal.

As he paced back and forth in front of an altar bearing shiny Buddha heads, Mr. Wheal talked about the perils of information overload in our content-rich era. “A literate person in the European Middle Ages,” he said, “consumed the same amount of content in their entire lives as we do reading a single edition of the Sunday New York Times.”

Only an illiterate person in the modern age would nod in agreement at that “content” claim and flatter himself into believing he was leagues beyond the poor simple folk of yore. This flattery is evidently enough to convince the audience of the need to cleanse their minds. For a stinging fee.

About the supposed content-benighted medieval dwellers. One wonders if Mr. Wheal read any of the books by Thomas Aquinas. Had he even heard of Albertus Magnus? Perhaps he had. But he was sure his audience hadn’t.

Before continuing, re-read the first paragraph. Doctors, CEOs, entrepreneurs. All educated, even highly educated, folks. If that doesn’t teach you the lesson that modern education is sorely lacking in substance, nothing will.

The story continues, “Sinewy and tanned from a life of outdoor pursuits, Mr. Wheal was offering attendees the chance to ‘upgrade’ their nervous systems to meet this incontrovertible information overload. How? With ‘flow.'”

Activate Your Brain Layers

Flow, they say, is associated with unlocking hidden and rarely accessed brain “layers,” by fiddling with not five, but six full neurotransmitters, like the fatty acid anandamide. Well. It is gratifying to read that a “new generation of flowsters are excited, perhaps, that using the advances of neuroscience, they might not have to meditate every day for 10 years to gain access to these layers of their brains.”

Flow was “popularized decades ago by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi”. Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced, I’m guessing, “SMITH”) has to be some kind of authority, because, the Times tells us, he once gave a TED talk.

Listen to TED

And how much do people pay to listen to TED talks?

Standard members eager to attend TED’s “The Age of Amazement,” which takes place on April 10-14, 2018 in the painfully hip Vancouver, BC, Canada, will drop a cool ten Gs. Ten large. Ten-thousand smackaroos. United States dollars, not Canadian. Money, not credits.

Patrons, that is, the Titans of TED, pay $250,000. For this amount, listeners not only get to hear all about the Age of Amazement, but they will “receive acknowledgment in the conference program guide and on” So they have that going for them.

A person curious about the size of the ticket price asked in a public forum, “Why do people pay $8,500+ to attend TED conferences?” This is an excellent question. The answer, by somebody who works for TED, was in part this:

People describe TED as a “brain spa.” People go to TED conferences to think about different problems than the ones they usually face at work, and get a new perspective from across disciplines, to shake up their thinking in an immersive getaway. Compared to other immersive getaways — a cruise to the Galapagos, a week at an actual spa — it’s a surprisingly comparable cost. And compared to some of the conferences we get compared to, we’re kind of a deal.

Kind of a big deal, actually.

My friends ship off on Galapagos cruises on luxury liners complete with actual spas all the time. But when they discover that in the “The Age of Amazement” they can hear how “demonstrations of tech power are emerging almost every day.” They learn that as TED audience members they will be part of “key developments driving this future.” Then it’s so long turtles and hello TED!

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • Craig Roberts

    Some people just can’t tell the value of things without a price tag. The higher the price, the more valuable the thing must be. How ironic that Jesus offers himself free of charge everyday in the Mass. The most valuable thing in the world…free…right under everybody’s nose…and people can’t believe it because it seems too good to be true.

    • Andy6M

      Yes – faith in Christ is free, but it requires dying to self everyday…that’s is too hefty a cost for many.

    • Alice Cheshire

      Money and power always had more pull, as did the need to break rules (see Garden of Eden). If people understood this, we would still be in the Garden of Evil and have no need for Jesus. Our flaws are what got us into this mess and keep us there.

      • Craig Roberts

        Deep thoughts. I would pay to go to your seminar. I couldn’t afford much money though. Would you take prayers instead?

        • Alice Cheshire


  • Ken Abbott

    Langston Hughes wrote a short story about a con artist who operated a “spa” out in the country that attracted rich white people from the city with the promise of new and better ways of thinking and living, all for a hefty price they were willing to pay because going to the spa became fashionable. Seems that there’s nothing new under the sun.

  • Alice Cheshire

    If only I could do that with a straight face. One must lack a soul or have sold it to the dark side to pull these things off without laughing.

    Rich people suffer from guilt that they are rich and probably should not be, not to mention insecurity at losing their wealth, the only thing they really have on this earth. They lack so much.

    As for if you are brilliant, you wouldn’t need this talk, the same goes for psychic hotlines. If the person was a psychic, they’d know what you were going to say right before you hang up on them and they wouldn’t bother, would they? The hope with these talks is for rich, foolish people who need to be lied to in order to prop up a false belief they have will write out huge checks to be told the lie.

  • Yawrate

    Why not just view them online like the rest of us?

  • Doktor Jeep

    Imagine if the rich techies didn’t pay 10 grand for tickets to stuff like this and had all that extra money to donate to more Marxist causes.

    • Craig Roberts

      Seriously. Better for them to flush it down this toilet than to put it into influencing politics.

      • Alice Cheshire

        They could send it to Puerto Rico, if they really cared at all about someone other than themselves.

        • Craig Roberts

          Good idea. To be fair, many of these deluded ego-maniacs often donate more wealth to charitable causes than more down to earth types. It may only be a small percentage of their wealth but one percent of a million is more than most people could afford.

          Mostly because they are just so stinkin’ rich they can afford to blow thousands of dollars to be told how smart they are. Ironic isn’t it? How smart can you be to attend one of these modern day revival meetings?

Don’t Let a Pit Become a Grave
James Robison
More from The Stream
Connect with Us