Mindfulness Myth Will Make You Miserable

Mindfulness has gone mainstream. From education to healthcare, the corporate world to criminal justice, parliament to the military, this ancient Buddhist tradition has been reignited in the Western conscience as the old cure for modern ills. The practice encourages, mostly through meditation, the observation of present thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations in a non-judgemental way. By being more mindful, advocates argue we can develop life-changing skills to temper the stresses of the modern world and begin the journey to enlightened, healthy and happy existence. 

But critics argue the evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness is not strong. In a recent academic article, a number of psychologists and cognitive scientists warn that despite the hype, ‘misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead the public to be harmed, misled, and disappointed.’

There are no doubt certain benefits to meditation and being aware of one’s emotional state. But the mindfulness industry has co-opted these tools and over-promised their utility to sell us more stuff, from ‘mindful eating’ to wellness apps.

Far from making us happier, modern mindfulness is actually inhibiting us from tackling the real issues causing stress in our lives by trying to sell us internal solutions to external problems. If we are overworked and underpaid the problem isn’t our internal wrangling but the external conditions of our unfulfilling work life. Mindfulness tells us our problems are all in our head. But no amount of meditating can conceal the fact we may just need a new job. 

 

Sources & further reading:

The Problem With Mindfulness:

https://theconversation.com/the-problem-with-mindfulness-115648

The Mindfulness Conspiracy:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/14/the-mindfulness-conspiracy-capitalist-spirituality

 

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The Corporate Capture of Social Change

“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”

Anand Giridharadas isn’t afraid of controversy. His debut book Winner Takes All is a blistering take down of the faith put in the biggest beneficiaries of capitalism to lead capitalism’s reform and change the world for the better.

Be it the next Silicon Valley start up or philanthropic foundation, the underlying assumption pushed by the rich is always that business, entrepreneurship and the private sector are the most efficient and effective means of tackling society’s collective problems.

Giridharadas describes how even the language of social change which has historically been associated with grassroots movements, social justice and mass protest has been colonised by market logic and the billionaire class.

Rather than discussing social change as being rooted in rights, justice and systemic reform, the new corporate conception of social change sees inequality, climate change and poverty as a set of technical problems with market solutions. For these people  fixing the world is not about challenging powerful interests and overhauling a rigged economic system but about empowering “global leaders and opinion formers” to leverage “capital, data and technology to improve lives.”

What this actually means is cutting the public out of decision making for what the future should look like. Instead of community leaders, unions and businesses engaging in dialogue to decide whats best for their communities, we are instead told to look to McKinsey consultants and Goldman Sachs analysts to crunch numbers and provide reports on how to “restructure” the economy, to prepare for “inevitable” disruption and spur economic growth.

The glaring contradiction of putting the winners of our broken economy in charge of its repair is that the winners are actually quite comfortable with the status quo. Why would Goldman Sachs want solutions to social change if social change threatens their status, money and power?

By capturing social change within their control they are able to ensure social change is not pursued at all. Angel Gurria secretary General of the OECD describes the top down approach as “changing things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all.”

[END of part 1]

 

 

“The truth is there are no races”

 

“The truth is that there are no races” Kwame Anthony Appiah controversially wrote in 1985 launching him into fame and notoriety among his professional peers.

In this fascinating conversation between two of the most esteemed and provocative thinkers on racial identity, Appiah sits down with Professor Priya Gopal to unpack the philosophy of race, it’s historical development and why it’s not a ‘biological category.’

For both, race should be understood as a historical categorisation usually used to otherise people by physical characteristics or geographical location.

One of the most interesting talking points of the conversation is the question of “mixed-race” identity. Taking the example of Barack Obama, Gopal explains that despite having a white mother and black father Obama does not walk in the world as a white man. He is racialised as black and American society categorises him as if he had two black parents.

Similarly Gopal is racialised as “minority ethnic” in the West and as “upper caste” in India. The key point is that for both Obama and Gopal, historical categorisation not biology determines how they are racialised.

Appiah argues if we want to eradicate racism we must begin seeing race through this lens of constructed rather than fixed reality. Once we see that having different skin colour is as unremarkable as having different hair colour, we will undermine and immobilize those who wish to exploit imagined divisions between us. Is he right?

Further reading:

 

Why Universities Are Just A Corporate Conveyor Belt

A Career Fair is a microcosm. A dizzying snapshot into the absurd world of work. Fake smiles, branded ‘gifts’ and the unnaturally perky trainee enlightening you how his internship last summer really gave him an insight into “the culture of the firm” and explaining how he is now “making a global impact” working with multinationals seeking to “restructure their taxes more efficiently.”  

The hollow atmosphere and disorienting degree of pretense is an apt introduction into the artificial and often contradictory way of corporate life. The initial flood of smiles and joy mimic the beginning of the corporate career. Lively work nights out and complimentary company perks are used as bait during internship programs to give the illusion that life at the company is a balanced, eclectic mix of work and fun.

Yet as soon as you sign your name on the dot the fun quickly evaporates and is replaced with entrapment and demands of constant productivity. Fourteen hour days at a desk drowning in cesspools of endless files and spreadsheets sacrificing every piece of your soul to help Company A merge with company B to make profit X – because “that’s just how the world works – whether you like it or not.” 

Yet it’s our resignation and acceptance of this status quo which is most baffling. With the existential crises of climate change, smartphone addiction and global corporate domination all looming large, why are we content with the best and brightest minds of our generation being snapped up by banks and law firms putting endless energy into continuing the cycles of profit maximisation and wealth insulation to further cement and exacerbate the problems threatening our collective future?

Former head of Data at Facebook, Jeff Hamerbacher aptly summarised the situation when speaking about his genius graduating class from MIT, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads – that sucks.” 

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

The people best equipped to tackle and solve the world’s problems are the ones being actively recruited to make them worse.

Universities should carry a considerable portion of blame. The biggest banks, investment funds and law firms have been allowed to monopolise the career opportunities of graduates and given an unfettered access to students without any pushback. Luxury events, sponsored lecturers, paid internships and on campus brand ambassadors are just some of the ways they cement hegemony and normalise corporate careers at a time when students are apprehensive about their future.

Many are not even aware that there are viable alternative career options outside corporate. One minute your in university, then suddenly all your peers are scrambling for job application deadlines and your family keep asking you “what are you doing after college?” In a flurry of insecurity and pressure you decide to apply for lack of better alternative and take the security of salary over the time to do something different. 

Many of those who enter these industries never re-emerge. They initially justify taking the position by saying things like it’s a steady income straight out of college or a good stepping stone to the career they really want. Yet after two years the lifestyle becomes so draining, so exhausting and so financially comfortable that most never decide to take the risk of stepping outside and trying to do something with meaning and value.

In order to confront this corporate capture of youth and redirect the next generation of work to meaningful, constructive and fulfilling jobs it’s essential we begin to break down the false image and empty branding of the corporate lifestyle. It is not glamorous successful and prestigious, it is brutal, greedy and callous. The sooner we accept that the sooner we move forward.

 

How Cryptocurrencies Are Building A New Internet

Author:     Henry Benjamin of SkyCoin

 

At present, no one knows how the FCC plan to roll out their unwelcome Net Neutrality Repeal. Nor does anyone know how it will affect end users and companies who might have conflicts of interest with large Internet Service Providers (ISP’s).

Whatever way it turns out, we know there are going to be changes in the way we use the internet and most will benefit the Service Providers rather than businesses or individuals.

What We Know So Far

When ISP’s decide to change the way they provide us with internet, a lot of companies might find they no longer have access to the fast lane and either have to pay surcharges to keep up full bandwidth, or will have to rethink what and how they conduct their business.

Yet ultimately it will be end users most affected. Services which are now free to sign up to might soon become subscription based with a fee to join. Users will also have to worry about increased data tracking from which is something that has become increasingly profitable and popular.

Running alongside the story of Net Neutrality in the media is the explosion of cryptocurrencies. Yet little discussion has connected the two and asked how the repeal of net neutrality will affect blockchain transactions?

Cryptocurrencies may just be negatively impacted in the same way larger corporations would be. It’s quite easy for an ISP to throttle connections where any cryptocurrency is in use or restrict access to exchanges where coins are traded.

Yet many cryptocurrencies have looked at the way the internet works and taken it upon themselves to see if decentralization is a way they can operate independent of ISP’s. 

To truly decentralize the internet is no easy task but some crypto’s has taken a radical approach to achieve it.

Decentralizing  and Creating A New Internet

To find the best solution to creating a decentralized internet, it is best to look at the cryptocurrencies themselves to see what answers to the Net Neutrality problem they have. Here are some of the ways the internet could be decentralized:

  1. Blockstack

The way this works is through a dedicated browser. The lower layers of the internet are still used while Blockstack focuses on the application layer.

Here users are able to decentralize their storage along with user identity and authentication.

Central points of control are removed, and users run decentralized applications through this browser where they can give explicit read and write permissions to their data.

All data is retained on user devices so there is no central point or data warehouses that can be hacked into.

2. Maidsafe

The SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) network is next generation and very secure.  It decentralizes the internet and data management. With this, unused computer resources can be shared around the system.

Every user on the SAFE system shares a proportion of their computing resources be it storage, CPU power, and internet connectivity.

All data on the Maidsafe network is broken into separate pieces and spread throughout the network. This is then allocated space on various systems.

These pieces are stored without any users knowledge or having access to it, so the entire process is highly secure and private. Each user that participates in providing these resources receives compensation in the form of Safecoin crypto tokens.

3. Golem

In its purpose Golem is similar to the previous coin in that it shares computing resources in a decentralized network. All resources shared can be from a single user to spare capacity in a data center.

Uses can be anything from hosting a website to the rendering of images or film which takes considerable amounts of computing power.

Golem also pays incentives to users who share their resources by renting out spare computing capacity. These incentives are paid through exchanges, and the entire network runs atop the Ethereum Blockchain.

4. Substratum

This is one coin that many people are looking toward after the FCC-Net Neutrality decision. On this network, users are able to browse or host services between each other compared to a centralized network that has many of these services stored in large data centers on their physical servers.

When the network runs, users will only pay for network bandwidth they consume. As with other systems, users are free to allocate a proportion of their resources to earn coins for themselves.

All this can be set to run specific times, so there is no conflict if their system is in use. Through this method, Substratum offers both browsing and hosting that can be a much cheaper alternative than what end users subscribe to now.

5. Continual Flaws

There is a good deal of cryptocurrencies that aim to fix flaws with first generation or second generation cryptocurrencies, or they seek to offer services in which they think users will be interested in.

One problem though is many still run on top of the current internet infrastructure rather than being separate altogether. They might bypass any restrictions ISP’s imposing yet they might find they are still in the same situation further into the future.

Building a New Internet

One company which has done things a little more radical is Skycoin.  What we are proposing to create is a new internet which is separated from the current Internet. This is done using nodes (miners) which are all interconnected wirelessly.

This takes away the need for current infrastructure and creates a mesh-network that is secure and private.

ISP’s are unable to track users, and as data is divided between these nodes on the Skywire network, no single point has a weakness. The coin also brings benefits as transactions are instantaneous and the coins require no mining.

The miners are paid for hosting the mining rigs, so the entire network is self-sufficient and brings with it plenty of value and interest.

Unlike the BTC Blockchain SKY has their own Blockchain that uses a new web of trust (consensus) to perform transactions. It also gets faster and more secure the more users who join the network.

The company has been developed by some of the original BTC and Ethereum developers who have looked at all the flaws with first and second generation cryptocurrencies and looked at the best way of addressing these issues.

As the network grows, this is one to watch as users will no longer be tied to a connection at home. It will give security, privacy and will be fully mobile. A new internet. 

 

To learn more about Skycoin check out their website here: 

https://www.skycoin.net/

Why Young People Are Ditching Social Media For Good

The featured image is a work by the incredibly talented Steve Cutts.

Kids growing up in 2017’s digital dystopia are sold one of the biggest lies ever told. That social media is an innocuous online tool to “connect” with friends.

In reality social media has destroyed meaningful connection and replaced it with artificial online packs of “like-minded individuals” who all hold the same beliefs and subscribe to the same dogmas. This meticulously designed,  hyper-addictive technology’s only mantra is to keep the audience hooked for as many hours of the day as possible, monetize their attention by collecting data and sell it to advertisers.

Facebook says it has an eye-popping 2 billion users. It is staggering to see how globally, so much of our lives have migrated to platforms controlled and designed by a few Silicon Valley engineers. The exciting explosion of smartphone technology has overshadowed the questions as to whether tech companies should have such an invasive, intimate role in our lives. Leader in tech design ethics Tristan Harris explains why we should be concerned about tech changing our behaviour:

“Companies say, we’re just getting better at giving people what they want. But the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Is each one a conscious choice? No. Companies are getting better at getting people to make the choices they want them to make.”

Young people are particularly vulnerable. Being introduced at such a young age to this addictive, disconnected lifestyle has created drug like dependencies among teens and desensitized many to sex and violence as they are daily exposed to porn and brutality online. This constant stimulation and competition for our attention also leaves many miserable, anxious and eventually feeling they have lost valuable time and years to aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds and trying to convince others that they live a perfect life.

Is there hope?

Yet this business model of enslaving us to our phones is unsustainable. History shows that when advertisers and attention grabbers go too far, the people fight back. No more so than in 1860’s Paris when an aspiring young artist named Jules Chéret discovered the “billboard” as a technological innovation in commercial advertising. By creating seven foot tall, brightly coloured posters displaying eye-catching imagery such as half dressed women Chéret quickly became widely famous as a pioneer in art and commerce and others quicky began imitating his work.

Eventually though it became all too much. The constant attention grabbing of commercial advertising stripped Paris of it’s architectural beauty and engendered a social revolt. Parisians declared war on “the ugly poster” and began lobbying the City government to limit where advertisements could be placed, ban billboards from train tracks and heavily tax them in other public spaces.

The government took aggressive action and today many of the advertisement restrictions are still in place which is why Paris remains in many parts a beautiful city, unperturbed by the constant assault of advertising.

Will a similar revolt occur today in relation to social media? It’s difficult to say, we have become so individualized, I sometimes question whether young people still have the drive to organize and mobilize on mass or whether our conception of protest amounts to signing an online petition and joining a protest Facebook page.

But I do have hope. The first sparks of rebellion are already beginning to fly. Figures released in October show that 57% of schoolchildren in the UK would not mind if social media never existed and an even larger, 71% say they have taken “digital detoxes” to escape its constant stimulation, distraction and pressures.

The BBC also reported that pupils in Kent have  set up a three-day “phone-fast”. With sixth former Isobel Webster, describing:

“There’s a feeling that you have to go on Instagram, or whatever [site], to see what everyone’s doing – sometimes everyone’s talking about something and you feel like you have to look at it too”.

One Year 10 pupil, Pandora Mann, 14, said she was a bit annoyed at the phone-fast initially, but soon realised “we don’t enjoy our phones as much as we think we do”.

“In terms of the way we view ourselves and our lives negatively,” she explained, “I think people put what they see as their best image forward – it’s not always the real image.”

Isobel said that the ban stopped her from sitting in her room scrolling through social media and encouraged her to spend her work breaks chatting to friends.

She said it reminded her “what it was like before” – when as a Year 7 (aged 12) she would spend more time socialising in person.

Kids today are showing that they are not just the most tech savvy among us they’re also the most tech sensitive. Counterculture movements are cropping up and tapping into the undercurrent of anger and disillusionment experienced by many.

Folk Rebellion is one interesting example. A movement dedicated to reconnecting people with reality, creating a more balanced relationship with tech and ‘living in the present with actual things.’ Young people are gravitating to these movements as they begin to rediscover the pleasures of physical books, reconnect with the physical world and relearn what it means to live a fulfilling life.

The resistance is rising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CALL FOR WRITERS

Have some ideas you’d like to get off your chest? Want to expand your online presence and engage with other bloggers online?

The Conversation Room has been featuring some great op-eds lately and I’d love people to keep contributing rather than me just giving my opinions and perspective all the time.

We’ve already featured some amazing contributing writers from Kenya to Pakistan, Greece to Spain and are looking to add to the global team.

If interested you can contact us at: dreamersthatdo2016@gmail.com

Thanks,

Conor