I found myself in a place where everything was strange ... Colors, spaces, the air itself was different, clumsier, coarser—as if made of heavier molecules. I was now ... an immigrant in an altogether different ... reality. Here everything demanded revision, and I was aware that my senses were being adapted to the chemical or tactile demands of the new place—its atmospheres, its hidden variations had to be absorbed.
– from “I GOT A SCHEME!,” Saul Bellow quoted in the 4/25/05 issue of The New Yorker
This is a worrisome development, in my opinion. While cloistered blogging encampments are not new, their proliferation could pave the way to the demise of Blog Neutrality and the rich, fully shared egalitarian freedom that blogging offers us as writers and readers in this our post-rich online galaxy of wonders and splendors.
The last thing that blogging needs -- it seems to me -- is more "group separation," which causes people to identify with a "kind" which they see themselves being a part of, in opposition to outsiders.
In David Berreby’s recent book “Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind” it talks about divisions and divisiveness that occurs in the ways people rather too easily sort themselves. One chapter is devoted to a seminal anthropological study in the mid-50s where twenty-two very-much-alike fifth-grade boys, no two of whom knew each other, were brought to a camp in two separate, arbitrary 11-member groups. Left to their own devises, the two sets of boys immediately organized themselves as hostile to each other, with contrary practices and rituals. One group named itself the Rattlers; the other, the Eagles.
Study of the reactions of the fifth-grade boys and subsequent experiments over the decades have overturned ways that experts [now known as kind-scientists] think of mobs, prejudice and stereotyping. Unhappily, what these experts now know, most of us don’t: the cause of prejudice and discord is not differences in people, it is the banding that people do themselves in creating groups and subgroups. Grouping, itself, creates friction; it is not friction that causes us to band together in groups.
Zaadz reminds me too, too much of some of the Werner Erhardt-founded projects that I bumped into when I lived in San Francisco in the 90s. Once, in response to a job-opportunity ad in the paper, I was interviewed at The Hunger Project, a group, I was told, that would end hunger in the world in two years. It turned out, though, that in ending hunger in the world, they intended to cause me to go hungry since their idea was for me to work fulltime for them for free. Since I was seeking primary employment, to pay for my rent, food, clothing, etc. – and because the people there scared the shit out of me – I declined their ‘employment’ offer, which involved nuzzling up to rich people and extracting money from them to pay for THP’s expensive office space, picture-rich coffeetable books about itself, and an occasional bale of wheat. Surprize, surprize, The Hunger Project did not end world hunger in its allotted time. The Hunger Project still exists today. You can read about the group at wikipedia – and the swirl of controvery that continues to surround it.
A few years later, approx 1995, a boss of mine invited me to go with her to a meeting after work. She knew from books she’d seen on my desk that I was interested in Buddhism. I agreed to go, not having any solid idea where she was taking me.
Turned out it was a meeting of The Forum. [aka, The Landmark Forum. See wikipedia listing.] For the first hour or so, regulars in the group gave testimonials about their efforts in the prior week acting as leaders to make the world a better place. One rather young woman worked at an AIDS hospice. She told us graphic, stirring, heroic details about how she overcame her anxieties and bureaucratic obstacles to make the lives of dying men more comfortable. Other people stood up to talk, giving similar wrenching testament to their heroic deeds to make the world – or San Francisco, anyway – a bit of a better, less-bitter place. After that first hour, the three of us visitors were spirited away to a small room where a man made a pitch to us to join The Forum. I remember he drew some Venn Diagrams, showing the intersection of the known reality, what’s possible and what we know – supposedly demonstrating that we weren’t living up to our potential, somehow. It was impressive, in its way – unless you are of the skeptical sort or are a little spooked by the disingenuous-seeming, cloying sweetness and Maoist earnestness of it all. Save to say, I didn’t join The Forum, which I would later find out was a spinoff of Werner Erhard’s est. [Erhard's reputation was ruined in the 90s, result of a 60 Minutes segment, saying he was a tax evader and child molester. See the Werner Erhard page at wikipedia. Later reporting suggested the 60 Minutes report was significantly wrong, and his reputation has mended, somewhat. Indeed, his IRS problem was resolved with the government paying him $200,000!]
Now, Zaadz isn’t The Hunger Project or The Forum, and has no connections to those organizations or Werner Erhard that I know of. But it does have some of the same feel. It is utopian, earnest and dispiritingly shinny, clean and scrubbed. It is New Agey and gives every indication of being autocratic and intolerant to any who don’t fit in with its ideas of forthright behavior and being always positive and upbeat. It is also completely fuzzy about means to accomplish its pie-in-the-sky goal.
Here are the mission and plan for Zaadz, as explained at the website's homepage:
Our Mission. That's easy. We're gonna change the world. Our math goes like this: you be the change + you follow your bliss + you give your greatest strengths to the world moment to moment to moment + we do everything in our power to help you succeed + you inspire and empower everyone you know to do the same + we team up with millions like us = we just affected billions = we (together) changed the world.The CEO, founder, mainstay, leader and pom-pom weilding cheerleader of Zaadz is Brian Johnson. He is an absolute positivist who is relentlessly chipper and adored from what I saw in 95% of the references to him I found via a Google search. The exceptions come from the aftermath of a purge of Zaadz membership rolls that occured last February.
The Plan. Ours involves Capitalism. Spirituality. Enthusiasm. Love. Service. Inspiration. Leaders. People CRAZY enough to think they can change the world. And courageous enough to do something about it. And committed enough to stick to it when they feel like giving up.
The quick version of what we're gonna do: build THE most inspired community of people in the world... Imagine social networking with a purpose, a community of seekers and conscious entrepreneurs circulating wisdom and inspiration and wealth and all that good stuff. Fun fun fun.
It seems that by February the membership of Zaadz suddenly doubled, from ~1000 to ~2000, in large part because of immigration from disgruntled members from another social-networking site, Tribe. But Tribe folks were alien; not what Zaadz wanted. Wrote Johnson in his Zaadz blog, "Whereas most social networking sites seem to devolve into a Jerry Springer show, we want to create something that has integrity to its stated purpose. I’m not going to go into the details other than to say that, unfortunately, in the process of trying to communicate our intention to some of these new members, some animosity brewed on their end." So, Johnson put up walls, purged the membership rolls, and set barriers to new membership.
Sfslim writes about the Zaadz CEO in livejournal on Feb 7, after the purge that deleted a central figure, Icky Bob, and, later, his own account:
Wrote Nerdwagon in the comment section of a post at the sarahpullman.com blog:
But sadly, after the deletion of “Icky Bob” and his handling of the subsequent hubbub, Brian Johnson has revealed himself as a rank hypocrite whose only message is “Let's change the world... so long as you all agree to do it my way.” And just like famed social-networking loser Jonathan Abrams [of Friendster which failed in competition with MySpace] before him, Brian's only response to those who deviate from his vision (or even try to discuss the issue) is to remove them, en masse, from “his site.”
“… as badly as we felt we had it at Tribe, we never had it this bad at Zaadz. What we found were suppression of ideas, especially those that were in conflict with Brian's business plan, threatening (albeit veiled) emails, and accounts arbitrarily deleted (mis-use of the god button). Personally I don't think Brian's crew has the maturity level to handle all the discordant agendas found on the internet today. Control needs to be tempered, with restraint. It's too easy as the owner of an online community to say "I built this, if you disagree with me I will remove you." And I find his behaviour counter to every belief he espouses. They are after all just words, a far better measure of a man is his actions.”The concensus review of Zaadz at Tribe is a benighted 2 ½ Stars [out of a possible starburst of 5] from 78 members who scored and wrote about the site.
Here are the words of George who gave Zaadz two stars: “You don't change the world by starting off with Capitalism. That what got us eyeball deep in shit in the first place. This site seems like corporate shit trying to hide its true nature behind flowerpower cliches. If you're a yuppie in denial then there's a website for you!”
On the flipside, it is fair to ask What positive, tangible things has Zaadz done in the midst of all this discord? On the ambassadors tab at the Zaadz webspace, members answer the question "How are we going to change the world together?"
The answers don't seem likely to push the globe off its axis. Typical examples:
- Maria: By integrating sentiments, words and actions within a community sensitive to the power of positive consciousness and dreaming. Anything is possible. We just need to think fantastic thoughts together and… laugh… OFTEN!!!
- Kate: By taking a stand for kindness, truth telling, compassion, generosity, open-heartedness, and a dang fine time.
- Moltencuriosity: As complex as our world is, so are all the people on it. By sharing ideas and working together to implement those ideas there is no goal we cannot achieve. We need to set realistic goals that still push the envelope of possibilty; without good positive goals to work towards, all we’re doing here is talking on our pc’s without any chance of ever accomplishing good positive kinetic change.
Meaning no offence, but Buddhism has that beat.
According to Buddha, Nirvana is found in samsara. I don’t think Buddha would be a Zaadzster – but, then, I don’t claim to speak for him.
Allan Bloom, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii, writes, “… it is stated in the teaching that Nirvana is in Samsara and Samsara in Nirvana! Buddhism is not about, as mistakenly assumed in many circles, some sort of search for and re-acquaintance with an absolute, Universal Consciousness. That is far too abstract and vague. It is about finding the Unconditioned right in the midst of the conditioned. It doesn't exist anywhere else. In the words of the Heart Sutra: ‘Form is no other than Emptiness, Emptiness no other than Form; Form is only Emptiness, Emptiness only Form.’ Just as, according to Chinese Buddhism, one can only delineate fingers as solid forms because of the spaces between them and the spaces as such because of the co-existing forms of the fingers; one can't have the conditioned without the Unconditioned. So Nirvana in Buddhism is no further away than within your own, everyday, conditioned mind.”
And now I must ask ... What is the deal with Brian Johnson's signature being "13"!? That freaks me. Is it a satanism thing? Is he trying to stare down bad luck? I recognize that most people won't immediately see the "13" in his signature, but YOU KNOW Brian knows about it. Is he tipping his hand that he's really a sociopath?
And how, exactly, does capitalism play into all of this? Uppermost in "The Plan" is Capitalism. How and when is Zaadz going to start making money and off of whom? Is a day of reckoning going to come, once the social-networking site has reached a threshhold of addicted members, when payment will be expected? Is it like the tagline in that old song 'You knew I was a snake when you let me in.'? And now, give me your credit card number.