Monthly Archives: August 2007

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Sell-outs and Lying Liars

Usually I do not comment on the goings-on outside my witchy world but this touched my world and disappointed me tremendously.

I have been a member of the online community Zaadz since its beginning two years ago. They offered innovative community tools and it seemed to be a place where I could relax and be my Buddhist Witch self without having to explain too much. The like-minded people there were fascinating for the most part and there were interesting ways to connect with people and also to catalog information about your personal tid-bits. I didn’t spend too much time there but there were some groups I found interesting especially concerning Big Mind (Genpo Roshi’s teachings on Zen-Buddhism) and Integral Life Practice (Ken Wilber’s philosophies).

I never liked the community emails they would send though, dripping with all kinds of hugs and Gen-Y slang, calling business “biz” referring to the community as “peeps” and generally saying that everything “rocked”. It was a little young for me and seemed calculated and too market-savvy to be genuine. Also the guy who started everything – Brian Johnson, had the audacity to call himself “Philosopher & CEO”. I mean, who does that? Someone else calls you a philosopher, you don’t call yourself that. If you do your ego is way out of control and you’ve got more than a little work to do on taming that beast.

Of course the other audacious statement was that Zaadz was going to change the world or save the world or whatever. But all it ended up doing was being sold by Mr. Johnson, “Philosopher” to the highest bidder who happened to be the company Gaiam, who makes Yoga products, videos and stuff for Pilates and meditation. I guess Mr. Philosopher philosophized it would be better to have a wad of big-buckos in his pocket than continue on his mission to “save the world.”

Several things upset me about the sale of the community. First of all it was never set-up as a community commodity the way myspace.com or facebook.com have been from the beginning. This was like the Whole Foods of online communities – you know – with integrity. (In fact Whole Foods provided some financial support of the venture.) To suddenly make a second-wave internet uber-sale was beyond the beyond in my mind. If I had know that was ever a possibility I never would have posted anything about myself and fed their demographic monster.

Perhaps Mr. Philosopher never intended to sell-out. He has a staff of dedicated (one might even call them overly-dedicated or brain-washed (brian-washed) in their personal devotion to this man who “changed their lives”. How he did this no one ever elaborates, so who knows? Perhaps he paid their rents in San Francisco or gave them an excellent Dental Plan. It doesn’t take much to earn some people’s everlasting devotion.) employees who seemed thrilled that he sold the property and they were being absorbed by Gaiam. Of course this is a somewhat tenuous time and I am sure many of them are arguably fearful for their jobs; you know  how often those kind of things do not shake-out the way they were promised.

For me though, as a suddenly sold commodity, I did not feel so warm and fuzzy and ready to hug Mr. Philosopher. I frankly felt dirty, used and hung-out to dry. Promises were made. Promises were not kept. Then my information; essentially – ME, was sold to the highest bidder. Or perhaps the only bidder.  It was clear though that immediate liquidation of Zaadz was going to happen one way or the other (either by sale or by shutting the site down, one staff member wrote and told me.).

I wish the site had been shut down. Because then I wouldn’t feel so data-mined. I spoke out on the announcement of the acquisition on the site and was summarily attacked by all those who had been issued their color-coded Brian Johnson tracksuits and sneakers. I was surprised that in a community of some 85,000 members no one else really had a quibble whatsoever with the business practices that had just sold-out the entire community and made a liar out of the head-honcho. To me that should have caused some kind of ruckus aside from one little witch calling it what it was.

No one had anything to say. You can go there right now and see. A community that doesn’t care isn’t really much of a community. I don’t know what he sold Gaiam, but I don’t think it was the  community aspect. It was the demographic aspect. Gaiam can continue to mine these ”community members” and see how they feel about organic cotton yoga-pants and sticky mats.

I have nothing against Gaiam. I have gotten their catalog for years. I think they should have more sizes available in their yoga outfits because big people like to do yoga too and not everyone is a size 8. Some of their items are overpriced. But I bought a nice mala from them once many years ago. Their catalogs are fun to read.

Yet I have no interest in being part of their community, just as I have no interest in being part of myspace.com or any of the communities that exist simply to drive sales or allow sexual predators unlimited access to tweens.

I cancelled my Zaadz account. It hurt to do that. It hurt to feel like I had been used by something I took a small spot of pleasure in. It hurt to be lied to and commodified for someone else’s gain. It hurt that no one else had anything to say about it and just allowed it to happen without batting an eye because perhaps on some level we expect to be lied to. We expect to be bought and sold. Is this how Zaadz planned to change the world?

And what of Mr. Philosopher, Brian Johnson? He says he will become a “student of life” once again. Here’s a challenge to you Mr. Philosopher – why don’t YOU be the change the world needs and take your money from the sale of this community where you robbed people of their demographic information  under the guise of spirituality/social change/sustainability/greening/enlightenment etc. and give that money to a cause that really WILL help to change the world.

Here is one I give to with my whole heart: International Campaign for Tibet.