AH, Baile Átha Cliath
McMindfullness by Ronald Purser is an analysis of mindfulness as a concept in Western society and how it has become a “new capitalist spirituality”. The book is a scathing, but inciteful, step–by–step breakdown of how mindfulness as a concept is sugarcoated dogshit, offered to people to make them overlook the problems that stem from rampant inequality in capitalist society.
The book begins by presenting the origin of mindfulness. It is argued that the progenitor of the concept in the Western world, a man called Jon Kabat Zinn, effectively lifted various ideas from Buddhism but repackaged them so that they would appear to be non-religious. In order to further legitimise the concept, its founders and promoters wrapped it in pseudo-scientific language, but more importantly, they used questionable data to substantiate their claims about mindfulness helping with stress or anxiety.
The scientific method used to measure the effectiveness of mindfulness is carried out by measuring its impact in comparison with control groups. For those unaware, a negative control group in an experiment or clinical trial is a group whose members resemble those of the treatment group but do not have the test or experiment run on them. The author, Purser, points out that the results of experiments run with a mentor already using mindfulness techniques with the test subjects versus those without a mentor vary hugely, namely in that the ones with the mentor give data that suggests mindfulness works, while those without do otherwise. Put simply, the already converted mindfulness cultists skewer the data in a pro-mindfulness way, while randomized control groups provide data that questions the work of mindfulness. Poor study design creates a false impression of backing for “evidence-based policy” currently in vogue.
Purser attends numerous conferences where he politely challenges some of the ‘gurus’ of mindfulness or asks them how much they charge corporate events in order to point out the contradictions of mindfulness. In one instance, he’s told that $12000 fees for a day of mindfulness is a standard charge. Later on, the author talks about Wisdom 2.0, a conference sponsored by tech giants in Silicon Valley that obfuscates capitalist exploitation through fun sounding buzzwords. Have a look yourself.
The main takeaway of the book is that mindfulness is entirely focused on the individual as a unit evaluated in isolation ignoring the outside reality of the practitioner and of the patient. Mindfulness then uses a subjective method to measure self-improvement, i.e. if you think you feel better, then you must be better because of the intervention. If you feel calmer, you are calmer thanks to practicing mindfulness. Although this might serve as a short-term solution, the actual adverse effects of mindfulness paint a different picture. Here, here and here you can find snapshots of such reports. The author mentions panic attacks, disassociation, addiction, and even psychotic episodes. More importantly however, one cannot self-subjectively determine their psychological or psychiatric condition to have improved – it is a fait accompli. Telling yourself you feel better because you have attempted to convince yourself you are better is completely delusional and will ultimately unravel in ways that does lasting damage to your mental health.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to work for you, it only has to keep you working
This brings me to my days when I worked in one of the main Radisson Blu hotels. A comrade and I laughed about how, despite all of us being on minimum wage, the hotel had a poster on the noticeboard advertising “mindfulness” and “yoga” for your breaktime. We laughed because it was completely farcical, cynical even, to advertise to stressed out, underpaid and understaffed workers the benefits of a 30-minute mindfulness session. We called it crustyism (a term that has fortunately stuck around in the CYM), but rarely understood the broader conceptual basis for mindfulness. McMindfulness provides that basis. It is argued that the net effect of Mindfulness in the workplace has been to distract workers from workplace organising, being understaffed, being underpaid, suffering stress, being bullied by managers, or experiencing any other issues low paid workers face, but instead you are urged to focus on yourself as the root of the problem, the cause of your own misery. In doing so, mindfulness atomises the issues you face, even though many of them stem from the workplace itself blaming only the individual and not the environment. At its foundation, mindfulness encourages you to adjust yourself to the world as it is, rather than changing the world.
Mindfulness sets itself up as a viable alternative to collective organising and struggling for improved wages and conditions. Where in the past you would correctly identify your well-off employers and their exploitative practices as the root cause of many of your stressors, now you blame yourself for failing to cope with them. How convenient for capitalists that workers disassociate from the systemic nature of their problems and only blame themselves!
Mindfulness fails young men
Young men in this generation struggle with many contradictions. Mindfulness operates in a way that makes those contradictions even worse by ignoring the material reality of many of them, allowing them to fester in silence. I first noticed it in all the gym videos posted on various social media, such as Instagram. The tone is one of self-deprecation as a primary reason why people go to the gym, then re-asserting said negative world view by consistently going to the gym. They highlight and repeat a dangerous combination of misogyny by inferring all women are cheaters and not to be trusted, while simultaneously revealing a deeply troubled victim/persecution complex rooted in inferiority and insecurity. It is my view that mindfulness plays a key role in replicating this behaviour. The measurement of self-progress is subjective i.e. completely arbitrary and in your own head, while external factors are completely ignored or disregarded. Mindfulness, like much of the self-help industry targeting dissatisfied young men, therefore serves as a means of re-asserting prejudiced views and justifying them. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the many videos of young men going to the gym over heartache yourself.
Mindfulness as a way to avoid responsibility
This volume highlights very clearly that in the practice of mindfulness, criticism and challenges are unwelcome. This feeds directly into the actual meditative process itself. If you cannot challenge your actions that negatively impact other people – how exactly do you grow as a person? The answer is rather straightforward, you don’t. If you do not believe you have done anything improper, negative, or incorrect, then you will carry on behaving in the manner you have always behaved in without looking back or considering its impact on other people. In my view, this issue is central to the rhetoric of gymbro videos floating around on Instagram that almost universally lay blame at cheating/unreliable women supposedly always on the lookout for men to take advantage of for their strength and resources, rather than the complex relationship issues that often occur and most certainly do not exclusively emanate from one partner.
Mindfulness is a pacification tool
“Be chill”, “I just want to chill out”, “DMT bro”, and so on are all mantras promoted both by the mindfulness industry and at the core of the message spread by people like Joe Rogan. No individual exists in a vacuum and the many complex problems we encounter don’t simply just happen at random. Being “chill” about them is a completely unhelpful, but also delusional way of dealing with them. For example, I am a low paid worker in a major multi-million supermarket chain. This chain is now attempting to take away our COVID premium bonus, not because it can’t afford it, but because the profit margin is all it’s concerned about. If I chose to follow the doctrine of mindfulness, I’d simply go meditate and adjust my expectations to this race to the bottom, rather than addressing the institutional and structural problems that exist around me and impact my quality of life. The mindfulness industry is present in almost every major corporation in America and the world, its primary purpose being to pacify the workers and rob them of their very natural desire to come together over common concerns such as low wages, stress at work, bullying, and a poor work-life balance.
Mindfulness sells itself as a solution to stress by promoting more stress and anxiety
The companies that are set up to preach mindfulness to corporations are, bluntly put, all pyramid schemes that gamify and commodify self-reflection. Signing up for monthly contribution fees to go through levels of mindfulness is absolutely closer to Scientology than it is to some sort of spiritual awakening. Some of the biggest grifters, ranging from YouTubers to Instagram influencers and self-appointed “experts” organising workshops or even conferences have all cashed in on it. Their predatory behaviour targets working-class people with problems that come from the structural inadequacies of capitalism. This is sickening, but that’s ultimately what grifters do. Many of them who are not real doctors, psychiatrists or psychologists sell the solution to stress/anxiety/mental illnesses they can’t even diagnose in the first place in mindfulness.
Mindfulness operates like a cult, even if it claims it doesn’t
The author of McMindfulness attends numerous conferences and questions the claims made by various documentaries. In almost all of them, his polite and concise questions are dealt with a deep hostility that reveals the real ugly nature of the cult. Even in my own experience of questioning this crusty liberal bollocks, I was treated like a heretic for even raising doubts about the effectiveness of telling a homeless person that all they need is a bit of mindfulness and vision stones. Put that way, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Mindfulness in Ireland
A recent article in the Irish Times, cited that the HSE spent 189,000 euro on mindfulness and an additional 89,000 euro on yoga. The absurdity of these costs should be self-evident, while the HSE simultaneously refuses, with government support, to pay student nurses and continues to run the entire health service into the ground.
If you examine the cost of these mindfulness programmes, you will find that some courses require deposits ranging from 30 euro to 350 euro and that’s simply for one company. Another company advertises 5-8 week courses at an early bird price of 299 euro, or if you’re late it’s merely 349 euro.
What’s interesting is that the HSE website states that “anybody can practice mindfulness” – but despite this still forks out over a quarter of a million on covering the inflated cost of consulting these “experts”, when the money could be practically used elsewhere in a much more meaningful way on medical treatment that works.
What is to be done?
This is not an exhaustive article outlining all of the issues with the mindfulness industry, or indeed capturing all of the concerns presented in the book itself, but it should hopefully act as a primer to pique your interest. There are other issues the author raises, such as mindfulness being anti-technological, but utilising pay-as-you-go apps to unlock “bundles” of mindfulness techniques (read: pyramid scheme). Ultimately, the central thesis of his argument is that mindfulness is a corporate-sponsored scam to make workers work harder while deluding themselves about the origin of their issues and assigning blame to themselves. To some extent it has been successful, given how pervasive it is in sporting, cultural, and social circles, but being the optimist, I hope that articles such as this challenge this culture and broaden up discussion on the topic. This book has been an excellent read and I encourage everybody to consult it. You can access it here for free.
What are the solutions Communists propose against sub-cultures such as mindfulness? Although the road is complex, the solution for our health is its de-commodification. You shouldn’t have to pay to see a psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, dietician, dentist, etc. Health is not a commodity that can be traded, health is a basic human need. “How will we fund it,” will cry out the capitalists! Well, we’ll take the hard-earned wealth working-class people make and take it right out of the secret bank accounts and vaults of the wealthy, investing it right back into our system, that’s how, or to quote Lenin: “Expropriate the expropriators!”