By Glenn Wallis
This video clip is a dazzling and devastating testimony to the complete moral bankruptcy of the American mindfulness movement. Think of it as a microcosmic display of the Mindfulness macrocosm. The stage is the world. The protestors are agents of change. The people on the couch are mindfulness/x-buddhist practitioners. What happens is something right out of a brilliant Tutteji Wachtmeister send-up. (Links below.)
We are at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, just now, February 14-17, 2014. The New York Times describes it like this: “Founders from Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Zynga and PayPal, and executives and managers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Cisco … in conversations with experts in yoga and mindfulness.”
Speaker 1: “Every year, Google brings us some new exploration, and today it is: “Three Steps to Build Corporate Mindfulness”…pause…”the Google Way.”
Pan to our three mindful experts sitting so contentedly, smiling at ease…Oh, shit. What’s this?! Here come strange, uninvited, people. They’re making some sort of protest statement. Nervous laughter. Slick, hipsterish dudes come out like the cops and, like the cops, show whose side they’re really on. For some reason, they try to steal the protestors’ sign. It reads: “Evicition Free San Francisco.”
A protester shouts: “Wisdom means stop displacement! Wisdom means stop surveillance! San Francisco’s not for sale!” Below is a link to what the Heart of the City Collective is protesting, and the role that mineful Google plays in that. (“Mineful” is Richard Payne’s term.)
The Mindful-One on the couch says something with a chuckle. I can only make out the first and last parts: “maybe we should…so they don’t rush the stage.” It gets a big, nervous laugh. Then, he gets serious. So should you.
“This is sort of an important moment,” he proclaims. Is he about to tell us that “Corporations have historically had a giant footprint on public infrastructure, communities and the environment without paying for it, and Google is no different. They’ll avoid paying for privatizing our bus stops like they avoid paying $11 billion in federal taxes. When a company’s chairman publicly says, “We’re proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this,” you know Don’t Be Evil was just a sick joke of the Googlezillionaires.” (Link below.)
No, he isn’t about to tell us that. Of course not.
““This is sort of an important moment. We can sort of leave this moment as something we didn’t expect to have happen, and it happened, and it’s wrong. Or we can actually use this as a moment of practice.” More laughter and applause. An unslick, unhipsterish rent-a-cop repeats earlier slick cop’s attempt to steal the sign, and similarly fails.
Mindfulness master continues. “Check in with your body, and see what’s happening, what it’s like to be around conflict with people with heartfelt ideas that may be different than what we’re thinking. So, let’s just take a second and see what’s it’s like.”
All quiet. Solemn sitting with eyes closed, presumably tapping into the wisdom of the body, beyond all thought, beyond all such irritating and disruptive “heartful ideas.” Ahhhh. Pan to audience of middle-aged white people. Some are nervously looking around, like the newcomers to Sunday Mass. Some are initiated into the Way, and lower their heads in prayer mindfulness.
In under three minutes, the clip validates Slavoj Žižek’s claims that western x-buddhism, of which mindfulness has become a dominant variety, is the perfect partner for or “supplement” to our hyper-consumerist techno-capitalist corporations. Perfect for two reasons. First, it smears an ostensibly humanizing veneer on top of the unashamedly dehumanizing sprawling complex of entities known as American corporations, entities proudly devoted to greed, plunder, and inequality. Second, and more damning, because the Mindfulness Industry is engaged in the creation of the type of people who have no interest in actively changing the social conditions that drive them to mindfulness practice in the first place. The Mindfulness Industry creates a person who, as Žižek argues:
should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being.
Žižek concludes that, “The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity.” (Link below.)
The question is whether the Mindfulness Industry is a deluded partner–a stooge, a chump, a patsy to its corporate master–or a hypocritical opportuni$t ready and willing to drop all pretense to being the beacon of substantive change.
X-buddhism has reached (descended to?) a new stage. To borrow Richard Payne’s term, this is the era of “Corporatist Spirituality.”1 No, the corporations are not finding God. They are finding mindfulness. Hallelujah! We’re all gonna be saved now! It should not be surprising that Google is grabbing hold of mindfulness. The Mindfulness Industry has spent the last few decades making itself attractive to Corporate America. The Mindfulness Industry itself enables Google to “incorporate it as a self-appropriated [secularized] strategy for productivity and for being useful to one’s employer, who has no commitment to you.” (Richard Payne, private message.)
How often I find myself thinking or saying the same thing about x-buddhism: what a wasted opportunity. Those three mindfulistas could have really made a powerful point about the nature of the “wisdom” touted in Wisdom 2.0’s press statement:
Wisdom 2.0 addresses the great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.
Through our series of conferences, meet-ups, and workshops, Wisdom 2.0 strives to bring this conversation to the world in an accessible, innovative, and inclusive way. (Bold in the original.)
Instead of any sort of engagement along these line, we get the same old response. The same, tired, rehearsed, straight-from-the-book, borrowed buddhemic bullshit. (See ventriloquism: the mindful dude on the couch is moving his lips, but it’s tradition that’s doing the talking.) Nothing new or interesting whatsoever. Shouldn’t we expect something different? After all, it is a conference hosting x-buddhist luminaries like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, Roshi Joan Halifax, Dan Siegel, and dozens of other bright-faced “inner explorers.” Shouldn’t we expect a more loving, or at least genuinely connected, response?
Not if we’re paying attention to the Mindfulness Industry, we shouldn’t.
Thanks to Richard Payne for sending me this clip.
1 “I would describe (not define, as that has a tendency to kill thinking) corporatist spirituality as the use of spirituality for corporate ends. (As a concept spirituality is also deserving of a hermeneutics of suspicion, but it is used here to identify the strain of thought being employed in the social dynamics of corporatist spirituality—a disembodying of the subject which becomes embraced by the subject.) In a very real sense, once churches or temples or store-front meditation centers or Buddhist seminaries become more focused on maintaining and growing institutionally, and employ spirituality toward the ends of institutional preservation and growth, they are also instances of corporate spirituality.” (Richard Payne, at Reflections)
Open Letter to the Community from the Heart of the City Collective
Slavoj Žižek, “From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism”
What do you think?