McMindfulness: how mindfulness robs us of true power


vol. 1 issue 32


Many in this nation take it for granted that mindfulness is helpful for managing stress, alleviating pain, and feeling more connected to one’s self. I would agree that in the right context, this is so.

And yet.

I have not seen any serious national consideration of the risk/benefit ratio of mindfulness’s call for us as individuals to “go inside” ourselves in search of the root cause of our stress.

What if the root cause isn’t inside, but is coming at us from the outside?

What if mindfulness as it is taught in the working world is exacerbating rising public health threats such as anxiety, depression, and suicide?

Perhaps you don’t actually think mindfulness has lived up to the promise of stress relief you’ve sought. Maybe you blame yourself for not “getting it”, so you doubled down, figuring you’d just keep practicing until you finally got it right…and maybe that is just a waste of your time, an effort doomed to fail, and take you down with it.

It’s time we consider that what we really need for people to feel less stressed out is better policies and more humane working conditions, not people feeling badly about themselves for their inability to manage their anxiety and hopelessness.

Stress isn’t a pathology to treat, but a lie we have conditioned ourselves to believe is our flawed way of coping with an unfair world. That is the argument of my guest on this episode of docu-mental, Ronald E. Purser, PhD, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and an ordained Zen dharma teacher. He’s written a book called, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality.

In this discussion, Dr. Purser takes us through a brief history of how “mindfulness” was derived from Buddhist traditions in Southeast Asia, and how as it traveled West, was uncoupled from its spiritual tether, eventually becoming a tool that keeps people focused on themselves and thus not on challenging the real “stressors” such as loss of autonomy, not enough food or income, and hostile work environments.

We discuss whether this was a conspiracy or an unplanned phenomenon, with Dr. Purser pointing to how mindfulness has become a tool of the corporate world, particularly after the economic collapse of 2008. Dr. Purser also explains its roots in the 1940s “neoliberal” response to Communism, made front and center by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, a time when corporate profits began to soar, labor rights began to wane, and the notion of being “stressed out” first entered our parlance as we sought to capitalize on ourselves in all ways possible.

Or, as I have written about and discuss in my Five States of Mind, how we have outsourced ourselves to profiteers.

I ask him if what we’ve done is seek self-imposed, corporate sanctioned mind control, whether it is truly harmful if people like it and derive benefit from it, if spirituality is essential to peaceful living, and if it doesn’t actually work, what should we do instead?

His answers might surprise you.

In this episode: Are we human beings or human capital?

I hope you will listen and forward to others this important conversation where Dr. Purser and I examine these questions, so key to think through in a time when our levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide are at all time highs.

I promise you this interview will give important clues into the roots of these serious public health threats.

docu-mental will be sporadic for the next two weeks as I head to the UK and to Iceland. My plan is to return with some interesting interviews for you. At the very least, I know I have on deck a London-based economist with a vision for what a post-Capitalist global economy might look like.

Be well. Happy Friday.


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The things we never used to say:

Is our president willing to sacrifice all Americans to a violent, civil war for his own gain?

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vol. 1 issue 31


About two months ago, I wrote a piece about what has felt increasingly like a barrage of military helicopters coming way too close for comfort here in DC, and in other U.S. cities. I didn’t draw any direct conclusions, but I pointed out that there are things happening that we aren’t getting straight answers on, but that empirically, there are more military helicopters and it just feels wrong.

The reaction I received from readers was varied, and indicative of the fractured and surreal moment in time in which we now live.

Some thought I was a paranoid dork. Others blasted my naivete for not knowing that such missions are essential because of course, didn’t I know that there are foreign hostiles embedded in the US just waiting to take over.

But most chilling was the person, an official in the government, who remarked, “Isn’t it horrible, that educated people such as we are, now are actually worried about these things? That things we never used to say, we are saying?”

Now there is this from New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall, who actually mused out loud in print that it is possible POTUS is counting on using military force to stay in office should he either be impeached or lose in the upcoming election. Edsall canvassed a range of normally sanguine experts across various specialties such as US election historians, poll watchers, political scientists, Constitutional law professors, and others to gauge their thoughts on whether we would be forced into a civil war by this man if he doesn’t get his way.

There was no consensus, but there were some upsetting explanations for why it’s entirely possible. Too many to enumerate here, which is why I hope you will read Edsall’s column. But this stood out to me:

Bruce Cain, a political scientist at Stanford, argued in an email that Republicans will be very reluctant to turn against Trump. “In the Republican mind-set, the rules about transparency, legislative process and conflict of interest were driven by liberal reform groups not by people who actually wield power in America’s interest. America is teetering toward socialism and cultural chaos. Hence, the President has the right to push the boundaries of his power to achieve the right outcomes…”

Cain described current events as, “Nixon redux but worse. I naïvely thought we passed this test as a country already with Watergate and Iran-contra but it seems that our periodic assaults on democratic values are like a bad weather cycle made worse by a more extreme political climate.”

These are not the frightening scenarios outlined in Edsall’s piece, which include the stark assessment that the president has been not-so-subtly signaling to guns rights groups to prepare to take their ammo to the streets and not be afraid to use it; but they are currents that we most definintely are riding on, ones that the docu-mental podcast with former Senate Secretary Kelly Johsonston pointed to during my discussion with him about post-Watergate ethical over-corrections having led to there being an undue influence of special interest groups.

I think that is important to cogitate upon. In another docu-mental podcast, the one that actually enraged some listeners, I spoke with Dr. Allen Dyer about the president’s narcissism (which neither Dr. Dyer nor I ever denied exists) being a reflection of our larger ills. Namely, that he is evidence of us being a sick electorate, that we are and have been fractured and obsessed with our special interests rather than our unity and progress for some time. And if it’s true that this goes back to the Watergate era, then we’ve been ignoring the symptoms for decades, and now we are in full-blown crisis.

Does anyone remember the Michael Cohen testimony to Congress? I know it seems thousands of years ago, but it was only this past February. Aside from the surprising — but encouraging — admission on this brief docu-mental soundbyte that Congressmen Elijah Cummings (D, Md.) and Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) are friends and have used that friendship behind the scenes for the sake of equanimity in dealing with this president, there was this: If Trump loses in 2020, “there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” Cohen said.

Pillory Cohen all you want, why on earth would he say something so disturbing and otherwise unrelated to the testimony he was giving about paying off porn stars unless he knew something tangible and material about the president’s thinking on this?

There are real monies being spent in preparation for urban warfare. That is undeniable, thanks to ICE not being able to properly redact its own plans. Is that due to the military’s fears of dystopia, as reported earlier here, or is it something even darker, which sounds impossible, and yet…

Amy Siskind, a former Wall Street executive-turned-activist, founded The Weekly List to document every single abnormality of our current political lives because, she says:

Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.”

So we’ll remember? It feels like a wail to commit to memory something once glorious, before it slips away, like Atlantis sinking to the bottom of the sea.

It is depressing. Would our leader put us all at such risk, does he hate us that much?

From the Edsall piece:

Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at Harvard, reiterated the importance of norm violation in Trump’s governing strategy. “It signals to Trump’s (overwhelmingly white) supporters that he’s willing to represent them at any cost, even that of liberal democracy itself.”

Bonikowski contended that, “Whether perpetrated by “journalists, independent judges, career civil servants, or legislators,” Bonikowski wrote, “any attempt at checking his power is seen as a betrayal of him, his supporters, and ultimately, the nation.”

If you are one of those who does despise what you see happening before your very eyes, then what is the solution? It is not to retreat into despair. Don’t treat this presidency like the Alamo; we are not all automatically doomed, not yet. And anyway, what makes the Alamo special is that there was no way the Texans trapped inside could win against the Mexican forces, but they fought anyway: they kept hope.

I believe hopelessness is a sickness. It’s what leads to the election of people who do not have your best interests at heart.

First, as Johnston told us in that podcast, elected officials will actually do what you tell them, not the media. You have to call them, write them, and talk to them in person. You can’t outsource that to special interest groups and the media. You have to engage with them, you have to make them tell you themselves, “Why do you support this president?” Make them look you in the eye when they tell you. And then tell them your feelings and expectations about that.

You’re not the media; you don’t need to worry about whether they will give you access if they don’t like you. Make them worry that they won’t have access if you don’t like them.

I know, it’s so much work. Then take the time to write letters to your local paper. Elected officials do read them. Consider this op-ed in a recent Washington Post from former Congressman Jeff Flake (R., AZ.). It’s headlined, “Fellow Republicans, there’s still time to save your souls” and features this call to action:

At this point, the president’s conduct in office should not surprise us. But truly devastating has been our tolerance of that conduct. Our embrace of it. From the ordeal of this presidency, perhaps the most horrible — and lasting — effect on our democracy will be that at some point we simply stopped being shocked. And in that, we have failed not just as stewards of the institutions to which we have been entrusted but also as citizens. We have failed one another, and we have failed ourselves.

Let us stop failing now, while there is still time.

My fellow Republicans, it is time to risk your careers in favor of your principles. Whether you believe the president deserves impeachment, you know he does not deserve reelection.

Jeff Flake’s words alone aren’t going to push his former colleagues over the edge: Yours are the words that will translate into their action, or their inaction.

If you’re complaining that Congress isn’t doing their job, then ask if you are doing yours. You are supposed to have oversight of every elected official. Do you regularly give them a performance review that they can see and understand came from you, their constituent?

But also, set the tone, people. Consider that your words, whatever they might be, have the potential to be inflammatory to someone, enough to incite them to react in ways we never used to react, at least not openly, to one another.

That is not an exhortation to be quiet. It’s a plea to listen very closely to one another regardless of what you believe. Because you really and truly might be wrong. And more so, you might be surprised by what you learn, which could include that the things we never used to say are real, and that you personally are in physical danger at the hands of this president.

Friday’s podcast will be with Ronald Purser, PhD, a San Francisco State University business professor and ordained Zen Dharma Teacher in the Korean Zen Taego order of Buddhism. Dr. Purser is the author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. We will be discussing how mindfulness might be robbing you of your power to act, even if you feel good about that powerlessness amidst all that bliss.


How monopolies have stolen the debate over affordable care


vol. 1 issue 29


Have you given up talking about how healthcare in the US might be delivered more efficiently and affordably? Do you figure it’s a lost cause at this point, and so just hope for the best while you grit your teeth to make your monthly premium?

If so, then listen up.

My guest on this episode of the docu-mental podcast is Olivia Webb. She’s a healthcare consultant at The Open Markets Institute, a think tank dedicated to reclaiming the debate over how best to apply antitrust laws in this country.

After four decades of antitrust law enforcement being in service to something called “consumer welfare” — essentially, practices that lead to goods and services being offered at the lowest price possible — I think it’s important to examine how this has cut into our rights as citizens. I even wonder aloud in this episode if the primacy of consumerism is antithetical to citizenship in a democracy, whether being told that the kind of “convenience” that is offered by conglomerates like CVS comes at the expense of informed choice.

Think about it: without the power to choose, we no longer have the power to exercise our freedoms. Without freedom, what is democracy?

And, when health insurers, of which there are fewer now than ever thanks to a series of mergers in the last decade, are the ones telling us which doctors we can and can’t see, and are the ones telling physicians which drugs they can and can’t prescribe, where is our freedom, much less, the “consumer welfare”?

We are all witness to the fact that our healthcare is not delivered at the lowest cost possible. But we don’t know why, and we don’t know what “the lowest cost possible” should look like because the system is so opaque.

It’s opaque because those who stand to gain from our ignorance — monopolists and other profiteers — want it that way. In America, while we’ve been told that we have the market power as consumers to choose what is best for us, instead the opposite has become true.

In the US, if we truly had consumer choice — and consumer welfare — we would be the ones directing how healthcare decisions are made. But, as my guest in this episode points out, we do not have the facts, we are not allowed to see actual costs, and worse, the lanugage of healthcare economics has become so obtuse, many of us are afraid of looking too stupid to talk about it.

I argue that by outsourcing our choices over how we will receive care and thus of how our bodies are utilized by this profit-driven system, we’ve become the suppliers and the products, not the consumers in a pernicious system that we are told is one thing but is really another.

This is a podcast that I hope will get you thinking so that you can demand current and future elected officials speak plainly about healthcare rather than pretend that what they say is true — that of course, we all want basic care for all in this country — is not actually subsumed by the greater truth: profit is more important.

We don’t have to accept we are powerless. And they don’t either.

If you have a reaction to this podcast, please leave it in the comments section, and feel free to tweet, or otherwise share it. Best of all, suggest to your other thinking friends and family members that they subscribe to docu-mental. It’s free, unless you also want to be a premium member. Either way — the more thinking people, the better.


The perils of 'always winning'

vol. 1, issue 28


Consider this another chapter in my musings about what happens when the story you tell yourself no longer fits your reality, only this one comes with a twist…what happens when the story comes true and you refuse to believe it?

Recently, I attended a social gathering of Washingtonians with learned points of view on what is happening in US foreign policy right now. The chit chat there got me thinking about the interplay of personal narratives and politics.

A high level person from a branch of government currently led by one of the many “acting” secretaries observed that our president is incapable of internalizing that he is already the most important man on the planet. Instead, he turns every interaction with every official, every foreign leader, every member of Congress, every member of the media, everyone else on the planet, into one where he must demonstrate that he is tougher and more powerful than the other person.

“He is a bully,” said another guest, this one a former watchdog of federal monies, and so no stranger to rebuffing big egos. “Which is why now that Iran, or whomever actually attacked that oil field, hit back, he doesn’t know what to do.”

I reflected on this. You can bully people into submission by wearing them down with lawsuits, you can erode a competing nation’s economy with tariffs, but you can’t bully a drone or missile strike from hitting your electorate.

How many world leaders see this as a time to strike the bully before he strikes first?And that is now a real possibility. It was, of course, always a possibility, but now that the bully’s story has been disrupted, the possibility is in the ascendant: thanks to the so-called strong man’s personal narrative of “always winning”, we are all more vulnerable than before.

For the first time in my life, I am not sure who the American president regards as our nation’s enemy. Our current president’s actions seem to say that everyone is our enemy. What ally is there left who trusts us or that has not been overtly alienated by POTUS45?

If even our allies don’t trust us, then I conclude the global leader we must fear the most is our own.

If he can’t absorb the fact that he is powerful enough to have made his personal story come true — that he is in fact the most important person in the room, in the country, on the planet — what will be the natural conclusion of this cognitive dissonance?

Only we, as the electorate, know the answer.

And here is your Friday funny…

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