Issue 127 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


The article on “The Warrior and the Militarist” [Issue 125] was superb. The speakers found common ground, yet their individual perspectives were not subordinated to precise agreement. I was especially pleased with the insights Gary Snyder brought to the discussion. What threw me, though, was turning the page and finding Brother David Steindl-Rast’s dogmatic essay on “The Price of Peace.” Although brilliant in places (e.g., the part about the nosebleed), it seemed self-righteously unequivocal beside the broad and aptly inconclusive discussion from Nuclear Strategy and the Code of the Warrior. I think the disparity between the articles points to a dissension in new age philosophies.

Having said that, I’ll go further and risk saying that, more times than not, The Sun appears to endorse the viewpoint of David Steindl-Rast. What is that viewpoint? Apparently that the root of modern crimes such as the nuclear one is to be found equally in each person’s heart, and that atonement is possible only by submitting to a subtle form of self-flagellation. As I read “The Price of Peace,” I saw an image of Steindl-Rast sulking in the shadows of his soul, prayerfully flogging his back with a cat-o’-nine-tails. This approach is dangerous because it fails to discriminate between those things that connect us to one another, and those that separate us. Although it’s true we are One, Cosmic Oneness does not implicate each of us in every other’s crimes.

If someone wants to pin a photo of Reagan to the wall and embrace it with Christ love, that’s fine; it may even help to exorcise a few private demons. For my part, I’d as soon throw darts at it. Reagan drops bombs without even consulting Congress, much less you and me. Are we to feel responsible for the murdered Libyans? What happened to democracy by and for the people? I agree with Steindl-Rast that the world around us “is one we have all created together,” but that doesn’t guarantee we have equal shares in creating it. Some people play a bigger role in creating the world than others, just as some play a bigger role in destroying it. For example, the wealthy can more easily refashion the earth’s surface than can the impoverished. And a billionaire can do about anything he damn well pleases.

This has become obvious to me growing up in a small town where a handful of rich families have decided nearly everything — which buildings will be built and which torn down, which crimes penalized and which overlooked, which properties sacrificed to greed and which conveniently rezoned just in time to fatten an already fat pocket. I’ve seen a murderer go free and a pot smoker sentenced to ten years in jail. And these are deeds of the petty rich. Consider what the Rockefellers can do — and have done. So what purpose does it serve to invoke the name of Oneness when in fact — at least on this level — there is an “us” and “them”? We each cast an internal vote by our intentions, an external one by our actions. There’s no set human nature that predisposes us to take part in war preparations. It’s a matter of conscious choice.

As Gary Snyder points out, the weapons now jeopardizing our planet were put in place by a long line of individuals, each with the freedom to consciously choose his or her path. Some chose to take part, others said no and paid the price of anonymity. We have the same choices today. There’s no wrong in discerning who is responsible for nuclear weapons, nor is there wrong in being indignant when they continue making them. On the other hand, it is wrong — as any good psychologist knows — to pretend to love these people when in fact we do not. We can care about them as fellow creatures, but that doesn’t oblige us to sit idly by while they spend $10,000 a second in their efforts to render earth a suicide-bomb or wasteland. The point is, we don’t have to love everyone, but we do have to live together.

This brings me to a final point: Steindl-Rast seems to think anything short of absolute peace is utter failure. He calls this a “peace-less world.” Where are his eyes? Is he blind to the incredible amount of peace going on all around us? I’ll define my terms in case we are using different definitions. Absolute peace, it seems to me, would be perfect equilibrium — most likely a state of profound boredom and nothingness. Absolute war, on the other hand, would be something like every human on earth intent on destroying every other (which, if you think about it, is even worse than the nuclear threat). Either extreme is ridiculous; existence, though never static, lies somewhere between the two. It’s obvious to me the world is mostly at peace, and always has been. Even in the midst of war the majority of humans on earth are probably engaged in peaceful, cooperative activities. To call this a peace-less world is to prolong the sick habit of seeing all the bad and none of the good. What I ask for in my prayers is not a world without violence, nor even one without wars (though I’m confident we can achieve the latter); what I ask for is a world without these absurd weapons that promise to destroy everything we know.

Brian Knave Johnson City, Tennessee

I was troubled by your response to Melissa Barnes’s letter [Issue 123]. She raised some valid points about the advertising in The Sun and rather than clarifying your position, you said it’s so complex! What to do? Are you asking for answers, Sy? Somehow I don’t think so.

I have seen many small press magazines carry honest, low-key national ads. I suspect that, besides knowing whom to approach, it is also a matter of creativity in approach. I do not believe you are tied to local advertisers. I wonder how you present The Sun to advertisers and how you locate them.

I don’t believe your budget is a major obstacle in pursuing potential advertisers. A good form letter can work wonders when it’s directed to the right people. Do you let businesses know you are contacting them because your readers have a special interest in their product? Reader interest can be more persuasive than mass circulation. Do you emphasize that you are distributed nationally? Do you mention that your readership is actually higher than your circulation because your mail indicates that your subscribers pass their copies around to friends?

What is really going on with your acceptance policy? Do you feel a responsibility for the integrity of the product? Do you print ads for products you don’t personally like? If an ad is hard-sell, do you ask that it be toned down to increase its appeal to your readers, or do you automatically reject it? Do you have a clear perception of what products readers are interested in, or are you just guessing? Do you view advertisements as a resource for readers or as a necessary evil?

As a reader, I would appreciate information on products I would have access to. As it now stands, unless I am planning a visit to your neighborhood, most of the ads in The Sun are of little use to me. If ads are offensive to you, relegate them to the back pages, but please recognize that we are adults; we know that herbal remedies and cotton garments will not magically transform our lives; but perhaps we like them. Why not let us choose?

I think that because of your attitudes, you are painting yourself into a very small corner. There are ways around all the obstacles you perceive. Circulation is not really the issue. Your limited budget is not the issue. You are protective of your magazine and do not want to expose its virginal white pages to the whoredom of marketing. I maintain that other publications carry advertising without prostituting themselves. Please re-examine your attitudes, and take a second look at how flexible and welcoming you are with potential advertisers.

Laurie Garrett Seattle, Washington
Juli Duncan responds:

Juli Duncan, The Sun’s office manager, said she wanted to answer this letter. Her reply follows.

(After a year at The Sun, Juli is, regrettably, leaving this month, though for the best of reasons — to have a baby. She’ll be missed — for her conscientious work, her kindness, and, as her reply to Laurie attests, the clarity of her thinking.)

— Ed.


Dear Laurie,

As someone who is pleasantly surprised by the advertising in The Sun, I am dismayed by the attitude illustrated in letters like Melissa Barnes’s and yours. I find it refreshing to read a magazine that contains only ten percent advertising as opposed to the forty or fifty or sixty percent in most publications, and to find those ads grouped together instead of liberally sprinkled throughout the articles. However, I am also saddened by the lack of financial support for The Sun from advertising. I know that very few magazines survive without advertising dollars. It was a subject I was curious about when I joined the staff, and about which I’ve learned something in this past year.

As Sy said in his reply to Melissa, we do send out sample copies and letters and follow up with phone calls to attract new advertisers. This is very expensive and our budget is an obstacle. So is our small staff. Someone must find a product or service to target, make at least one call to discover just whom to send a letter to, put a magazine and letter in an envelope, address it, put seventy-three cents in postage on it, mail it, wait a week or two and make at least one more phone call to find out if there’s an interest. Often, people claim that they have not received the packet, so we send another and make another phone call. More often, people are not in their offices and do not return calls. This can mean several more phone calls. The entire procedure can add up to five or ten or more dollars very quickly for each potential advertiser contacted. And all too few of them respond by placing ads.

Why so few positive responses? Most of the companies cite our low circulation. It is not worth it to them to try even one ad in The Sun when their advertising dollar will touch so many more people in another magazine. Pass-along readership means little compared to hard circulation numbers. These are the facts of marketing, even in “alternative” businesses.

The nature of our readership is also an obstacle. You who read The Sun are hard to pin down. For example, how can we truthfully tell a company that sells message tables that our readers have a special interest in their product when we have not printed an article on massage or any other kind of “body work” in the past year? Our readers are as varied as our issues, thank God, and we will attempt to define neither by our advertising. A publisher may ask us to print a review of a book in return for placement of an ad. McDonald’s would advertise with us if we printed an article saying how delicious and nutritious their food is. That’s prostituting. No thanks.

Sy would turn down the publisher mentioned above. But in the year I’ve been here, he has not rejected any paid display advertising for any reason. He did return one classified ad, asking that it be reworded. Considering our financial position, Sy would go out of his way to hammer out an agreement with any honest potential advertiser. Ads are both a necessary evil and a resource for readers, and advertising does involve issues much more complex than most magazine editors will consider. If it was simply a matter of being protective of The Sun, we would have no advertising at all. We need advertisers, despite the way we may feel about marketing. Unfortunately, most of those we have approached (and this list would probably include most, if not all, you would suggest) do not yet need us.

Many of our regular advertisers, especially the local ones, like and support the magazine (as our regular subscribers do). Even some one-time advertisers simply want to help us out because they enjoy or respect The Sun. We are lucky to have these ads and hope that readers respond to them. However, we have lost some ads because of low reader response. Do you respond to those ads which might apply, and cite The Sun? Until our circulation grows and our advertisers profit from their investment in The Sun, our situation will not improve, no matter how many businesses we approach and how flexible and welcoming we can become.

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