Saturday, February 12, 2011

Elephant Journal: Is this Right Livelihood?

Brad Warner complained about some viewing restrictions at Elephant Journal which led me to start thinking about ...well... what is this Elephant Journal thing about anyway?  I was especially intrigued to do this after I saw a comment from the author of the apparently defunct Smiling Buddha Cabaret.  NellaLou mentioned that

Why would you put anything on elephant journal anyways? No one's going to get paid there until all the subscribers finish paying off Waylon's mortgage for him. And he has a finicky censorship policy regarding comments that seems to depend upon how hysterical he feels that day. (Yeah I'm currently banned-again.)

 And I commented that

While I wouldn't know about Mr. Lewis's mortgage, and haven't written for the publication, I do question the very idea of a "guide to what [they] like to call ‘the mindful life’: yoga, organics, sustainability, genuine spirituality, conscious consumerism, fair fashion, the contemplative arts…anything that helps us to live a good life that also happens to be good for others, and our planet."

Especially when they don't pay for content and by default claim to retain the rights to publication, photos, etc. "unless previously arranged in writing."

Frankly, if they're getting money from other people's content and the other people aren't being compensated somehow, that's hardly "good for others and good for the planet."

It's unethical.

Which seems to be the case, in my opinion: they want a contractual obligation, and other than exposure on their "Journal" there does not seem to be any kind of a quid pro quo.  It also might mean that any claims they have on rights to publication are worth the paper they're not printed on, which is another way of saying those "rights" might be unenforceable.  Anyone who's ever watched The Paper Chase knows that "Every contract has to have a quid pro quo."  That is, X does Y for Z and X then gets B from Z for doing Y.

Now I fully understand how difficult it is to get a business going and continuing, especially in these times.   But the very idea that they will "retain rights" is not what I would consider an ethical business practice - it is hardly what I would consider "genuine spirituality." On second thought, maybe it is, because I do think "spirituality" is a word that connotes that someone isn't actually doing or being in any way working to relieve themselves and others from  dukkha, it's a word that connotes that those "being spiritual" are thinking and acting like they're actually doing or being in any way working to relieve themselves and others from  dukkha.

There's a difference; do you see that?

It's why I question the whole premise of  Elephant Journal, actually. Is this publication just making "the mindful life" just another Thing to Be Consumed?

It's telling - to me at any rate - that Mr. Lewis, they guy running the Elephant Journal show, has some 'net show called "The Walk the Talk" show.

I almost think Genpo Roshi might have more integrity at this point.  But don't worry, I really don't.

If I had a net show,  it would be called "The Fall Down Seven Times and Get up Eight Times" show.

That would be more realistic, because if you're not aware of where you're failing, you're hardly walking anything at all - you're stuck.

I guess all of that means I'm not going to be feature interviewed anywhere soon in the Buddhist media.

Oh well.  So it goes.


Petteri Sulonen said...

We're the Buddhist media. If you like, I can interview you. Also, Waylon Lewis is a jackass.

Mumon said...


LOL! Maybe we should do that. That would be quite a bit of fun.

Mumon said...



Did the Nokia/Microsoft announcement go over like the Hindenburg in Finland too?

I have to think this is the worst corporate communication since "New Coke" 20 or so years ago.

Petteri Sulonen said...

Oh, Jesus. Don't ask. Hand-wringing a go go from the ministerial level down, a walkout at one of their main R&D centers in Tampere, that sort of thing. Our office is just next door to the main Nokia Research Centre, and there were lots of very upset-looking people out and about there.

The corporate culture there is a mess, has been for years, ever since Ollila's big reorganization, attempting to apply Henry Ford's thinking to ICT. Guess nobody told him that you can't mass-produce design... or, well, you can, but you'll be stomped on by people who concentrate on mass-producing the devices, but hand-crafting designs.

They've got some really good engineers, but they're increasingly pissed off. We recruited one last year; she's absolutely brilliant and really happy to be out of there. Maybe we'll pick up one or two more of their refugees.

They spent three years dithering, and now they're out of options—one electronics manufacturer among many, no longer a market leader or market maker. It's sad, and bad for Finland too. But very much self-inflicted.

Re the interview, hey, why not? Give me a few days to mull it over and think of some good questions, and we'll do it. Email/chat good for you?

Mumon said...

Yeah, that'd be great. I feel sorry for those guys at Nokia. I've worked w/ some of their best.

Nathan said...

New Coke baby! Gotta love it ... I'm kidding. That stuff was foul, more foul than most of the regular sodas are.

Anyway, I agree that we are the Buddhist media. I submitted some writing a few times to Elephant, and didn't get a word of response either time, other than that the first submission got lost. That kind of stuff happens in the publication world all the time, so I wasn't offended. But ever since they decided to slap a membership fee on content, not only have I noticed the overall quality seems worse, but also am glad my pieces never got selected.

The exposure argument doesn't work too well when people have to pay for access, even if it's a small amount. You end up with a much smaller pool of folks who have ponied up, and not only that, but you're also dependent on the quality of the other content to keep those paying folks coming back.

To be honest, after that whole kerfuffle with that Buddhist cowboy dude and KPC, I kind of dropped any major interest in Elephant as a main source of quality, thoughtful writing. That whole thing could have been handled in many ways, but the mostly hands off approach Lewis took, followed by erasing everything Buddhist cowboy dude ever wrote on Elephant, struck me as cowardly.

Mumon said...


Thanks greatly for your perspective. I once looked at their writer's guidelines (or was it rules?) and decided it was way too much work for me no matter what they paid. :-) And actually only recently did I realize they don't pay at all!

They can't afford me. And they sure as hell can't afford you.

And to be honest, I have no idea about anything involved in the cowboy dude kerfuffle, but I think you're right about the quality of their writing.

They're in quite a pickle, actually - except for the graphics and "about" sections, pretty much all their content could easily be read in the Huffington Post.

And if they can't readily be distinguished from the Huffington Post, what's the point of their existence?

And (odd to make this come back to themes again) in that way Elephant Journal is like Nokia, who made horrendous strategic decisions and will likely wind up in a less than benevolent response to their employees and shareholders, for exactly the same reasons that Nokia (too bad I can't really get further into details, but any article in the business & trade press can tell you the details).

Nathan said...

Yeah, I think the strategies Elephant are employing are going to fail. And no doubt, there is too much overlap with the stuff on Huffington, which now is owned by AOL - whatever that ends up meaning.

Petteri Sulonen said...

I guess I'm too much of a n00b on this scene to even get what the fuss is about EJ. Did it use to be any good? 'Cuz when I first looked at it a couple of years ago, I didn't see anything worth reading there, at all. Just woolly feelgood new-age fluff with a smattering of yoga babes.

Mumon said...


Ultimately it's a tempest in a teapot, I think. It's just kind of embarrassing, I think, whatever your position in life is, when you see people espouse positions that can be easily related to yours, and those folks are just full of it.

People who know little about Buddhism or yoga or right living might confuse what's in EJ with something more substantial, and dismiss everything.