Sunday, October 12, 2003

And now... tales of poor little rich kids, and, well... other stuff.

Forbes recently had a story on an "executive coach" named Keith Raniere who sounds a bit more like the leader of a cult, and not just according to Forbes. There's an elaborate system of ranks for clients of his organization, denoted by various color sashes, with Raniere at the top, called "Vanguard". By most accounts, the teachings have as much to do with ethics as business per se -- "Vanguard identified the concept of giving and taking with integrity" -- though it's an ethical creed well outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, in which helping those who need it is seen as a kind of sin. (The details are a closely held secret; if the world could see Raniere's ethics, then even the chumps might start behaving ethically, and then where would we be?) Sessions are intense, deeply personal, leave some clients cutting ties to their family, and have left some former clients in therapy. Raniere's ideas will supposedly change the course of future history. There is talk of miracle cures for conditions like diabetes. Clients are heavily encouraged to enlist new recruits. And, oh yeah, the guy at the head of the organization, "Vanguard", had an apparent multi-level marketing scam as his last major project.

What struck me most in reading through this was the end of the article, quoting Seagram heiress Sara Bronfman:

"I don't know how much you know about my family," Sara Bronfman says, admiring the silky cloth around her chest, "but, coming from a family where I've never had to earn anything before in my life, [it] was a very, very moving experience for me to be awarded this yellow sash. It was the first thing that I had earned on just my merits."

If what she really wants out of life is some token of achievement, no matter what, which was clearly and unambiguously earned on her own merits, surely one of her many luxurious abodes is within hailing distance of a half-decent chess club...

For more on how it is indeed possible to be too rich, see Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson, who now finds himself being assailed as a traitor to his class for making a movie documenting the lives of his fellow swells. Most of them apparently come off as OK kids with unusual problems. But not all -- the worst of the lot bragged about going to class at Brown only eight times his entire freshman year, secure in the knowledge that family money made him untouchable. Belatedly realizing that he came off as a bit of a jerk, this particular young genius compounded the damage with a lawsuit trying to suppress the footage -- which, of course, wound up on film. On HBO, Oct. 27...


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