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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Fakebook: Why Deep Fakes Mean Deep Trouble

Video and audio are the most visceral mediums of human communication. From the movies that reduce us to tears to the music that lift our spirits, what we see and hear has huge power to shape our beliefs and guide our behaviour.

We all know when we watch Star Trek or immerse ourselves in EDM that we are suspending reality in order to feel a thrill of escapism. But what if reality was suspended permanently?

The rise of “deepfake” technology has the power to fracture society’s ability to tell fact from fiction. The term ‘deepfake’ refers to video or audio that has been altered with the aid of deep learning technology, to usually show a person doing something they never did; or saying something they never said.

Though media has been artificially manipulated for decades, faster computers and easy-to-use, publicly available technology makes convincing deepfakes increasingly easy to produce and proliferate online.

The most famous example is film director Jordan Peele’s 2018 deepfake of President Obama (below) to sound the alarm about the potential abuse of the technology. Being a film director, Peele is well placed to speak of the power of video and audio to manipulate emotions and persuade us to see events in a way the creator wants us to.

Many experts have recently raised their heads above the parapet and began publicly expressing concern. “There are a few phenomena that come together that make deepfakes particularly troubling when they’re provocative and destructive,” said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland “We know that as human beings, video and audio is so visceral, we tend to believe what our eyes and ears are telling us.” Citron was talking about deepfakes in the context of politics. And how a foreign government may release fake videos to sew chaos in democracies and make citizens believe things that never happened.

But technology expert Jamie Bartlett has recently expressed the opposite concern. That the most damaging effect of the rise of deepfakes may not be that we are all duped into believing fakes, but that we will become so cynical that we will believe nothing at all.

“If everything is potentially a fake then everything can be dismissed as a lie.” If a future Trump is caught saying “grab em by the pussy” It’s a deep fake! He will proclaim.

What Can We Do To Protect Democracy?

A recent hearing of the U.S House Intelligence Committee sought expert advice on the best means for governments to respond to deepfakes. Professor Citron contrasted two recent viral examples. The first was a video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which her voice was doctored to make her sound drunk when delivering a speech. The second was a parody video of Mark Zuckerberg by the artist Bill Posters in which Zuckerberg is synthetically made to say he controls the world’s data and therefore controls the world.

Citron suggested it was right for the Pelosi video to be removed while the Zuckerberg video allowed to stay online:

“For something like a video where its clearly a doctored and impersonation, not satire, not parody it should be removed.. [but] there are wonderful uses for deepfakes that are art, historical, sort of rejuvenating for people to create them about themselves…” 

The moral and legal principle which Citron seemed to be suggesting is that deepfakes should be permitted in instances where a reasonable person would be able to distinguish it as a fake equivalent to a piece of satire or fictional art but prohibited in instances where the primary purpose of the video is to deceive and injure.

David Doermann, former project manager at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) echoed this sentiment and added that he believes another layer of verification will be needed online. He advocated a new law for social media companies to delay the publishing of videos until some initial verification can be done, akin to the Facebook ads verification.

“There’s no reason why these things have to be instantaneous.. we’ve done it for child pornography, we’ve done it for human trafficking.” 

Public debate continues to rage as to what legal measures should be implemented to protect our democracies from falsification and confusion. But there is at least strong consensus emerging that there is a need to act and to act fast.

As the political scientist Hannah Arendt wrote in the 1950s, the ideal conditions for authoritarianism to thrive is a society where “the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” 

The health of democracies all over the world will depend on finding ways to re-establish truth and authenticity of video and audio content. I’ll leave you with this final quote from Jamie Bartlett on what we can expect if regulation is not urgently implemented:

“In the face of constant and endless deep fakes and deep denials, the only rational response from the citizen will be extreme cynicism and apathy about the very idea of truth itself. They will conclude that nothing is to be trusted except her own gut instinct and existing political loyalties..” 

 

 

“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:

 

Selfie: How We Became So Self Obsessed

We live in strange times. A generation of selfies and self harm. We create edited online personas of people seemingly living perfect lives. Yet behind the screens insecurity, vanity and depression are the defining characteristics of our culture.

People absorb culture like sponges. Every time we open our phones we internalize the competitive game of likes, retweets and follows as we strive to reach the false cultural concept of the — “perfect self” —  (why did I only get 12 likes on my last post?! I’m better that that!) and when we don’t receive positive, dopamine fueled feedback we hate ourselves for failing. Hence the recent spikes in self-harm, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and suicide can be attributed to this damaging culture of ‘social perfectionism.’

This is the argument of a brilliant new book by author Will Storr who traces our story of self obsession back to Ancient Greece and Aristotle. Storr describes how the Greek concept of “selfhood” was heavily based on individual self improvement and through the persistence of personal will one could obtain the optimal level of spiritual, mental, physical, and material being.

Fetishizing the self permeated the Western conscience ever since. Storr decides to live with monks in a secluded monastic settlement, enrolls in the infamous California retreat centre named the Esalen Institute where the “self-esteem” movement is said to have been born and finally stays with the tech evangelist entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley to try and piece together how the modern self was formed and how we can survive it.

This is a phenomenal exploration of Western culture and through Storr’s blend of interviews, personal reflection and analysis the book reads like a Louis Theroux documentary. There are times when chapters can feel verbose and Storr spends a third of the book discussing the Esalen Institute and the libertarian movement’s impact on the social and political direction of the 20th century. Yet it’s a book that has stuck with me a month after reading and opened my mind to the extent our motivations and opinions of ourselves are products of a deeply individualistic culture of perfectionism.  I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Selfie ohoto

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.

 

Why Storytellers are the Most Powerful People on Earth

Our entire lives are governed by stories. From the idea that certain pieces of paper are worth “$20” to the belief that to live a good life one must follow their passions, the stories we believe shape the course of our lives.

Humans have harnessed this power to co-operate in large numbers and create ordered communities governed by a common set of beliefs and inter-subjective reality. The most obvious example of this is global capitalism. We universally are told to believe in a system of ‘credit’ and that by imagining coins and paper as having real value they can be exchanged for tangible goods. We are also told to believe in brands called “Google” and “Starbucks”, countries called “France” and “India” – beliefs that have such an overarching influence on our lives we tend to forget they are the product of human storytelling rather than scientifically discovered objective facts.

As individuals we are bound hand and foot by these inter-subjective realities. If you wish to disagree and not believe in money or government you won’t get very far. The only way to break free from such entrenched beliefs is to convince people on a mass scale to think differently. The most common way of doing this is by telling new stories.

From Jesus to Karl Marx, compelling storytellers have been able to shape and influence the direction of human history. Hundreds of millions of lives have been affected both for the good and bad by the beliefs and ideas of certain individuals.

It can be disorientating to think just how powerful these stories are. Yet it’s crucially important and relevant that we begin to understand the story of planet earth we are all apart of.  In the face of global challenges such as climate change, artificial intelligence and nuclear weaponry in the hands of man-children, most people feel they are at best unimportant extras in this precarious story of the twenty first century’s fragile fight for its collective future.

Powerlessness is also a result of the ruthless individualism and isolation which is at the heart of our fundamentalist beliefs in the modern economic system. The most powerful way we can counter these feelings and pave the way for change is to begin to tell better and more optimistic stories about what the future for humans could look like.

It won’t be the politicians, the engineers nor the scientists who will solve the crises the world faces today but the storytellers who give them the reasons why.

 

Teach Your Daughters To Break Glass Ceilings Not Break into Glass Slippers.

Why parents should worry less about their daughters fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.

Author: Ana Rasheed

 

Attend tuition 100 hours a week. Check.

Make sure you get 4 A*’s at A-Level. Check.

Get into a Russel Group university. Check.

Get a first in your degree. Check.

Now sit at home, get a job near home and wait to get married. Urm…what?

Something I have always struggled with in my community is this disparity we seem to have between our sons and daughters when it comes to pursuing a career. (Alhamdulillah, I never faced this in my personal experience but saw many of my female peers go through something similar which prompted me to write this article.)

Parents will push and push and push from the moment we start school to college to university, endless tuitions, endless lectures, endless study groups – to ensure we are following the pre-determined path to get top grades, all the scholarships that the school budget can afford until we get that damned degree paper in our hands. Parents will impatiently wait till we graduate so they get the opportunity to hang our graduation pictures – hats, gowns and the whole shebang – on the wall (my grandma has an entire wall in her room dedicated to all our graduation pics) – a metaphorical trophy up for display for anyone and everyone to see.

But then what? Can we honestly say that we as daughters are given the same liberty and impartiality to pursue our careers with the same determination as our brothers? Can we really #jetsetgo from the onset? For many of my peers, unfortunately, I found that that was not an option.

To my dear parents out there…if you are going to educate your daughters to the same caliber and resolve as your sons, you must give them the same amount of autonomy to go and pursue their careers just like you give to your sons.

Surah Al Alaq (96: 1 – 5); Read in the name of your lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read!”

This “read” in this ayah for me is not just subjected to us obtaining a paper education to fit the social norms we are constantly confined within as a community – but rather a continuous journey to not only attain but also implement knowledge. We encourage our daughters through laborious projects, dissertations and examination stress for 10 years of their lives, yet to what objective – have a framed degree certificate on the wall and stop achieving? Why do we expect our daughters to start slowing down after their degrees whilst we push our sons towards achieving the next milestone?!

We must ask ourselves, how are we supporting our daughters to continuously develop and learn? What are your daughters doing to break the status quo and become the next directors, managers and leaders of their companies, of their cities or their countries? What example are they setting to pave the way for other girls to follow suit. Why is it that less then 10% of executive directors in the FTSE 100 companies are female? (Guardian, n.d.)

This is a real cause for concern in our communities that we must address and work towards rectifying. The stress of getting our daughters married is sometimes so prominent that it becomes the forefront of our priorities – tunnel visioning us from being able to see the social and developmental growth that a career brings for an individual. Nothing else seems to matter then finding the right match for some, even if it means telling our daughters to “find jobs closer to home”, “nothing with too long hours”, “nothing where travel is involved” and the list of constraints can become an endless abyss if we are not careful.

The task of getting your daughter “married” should never be a hindrance to her career, rather a spring board for its success. The right partner will support your daughters in her career, not hinder her. Both can run in parallel and there is no greater example for us in this than that of the companionship between Bibi Khadija (a.s) and the Holy Prophet (SAW).

An esteemed, brilliant and independent business leader upon her own merit – one of four of the most remarkable women of mankind. Bibi Khadija traded all sorts from furniture to pottery to silk through primary commerce centres comprising from Mecca to Syria and to Yemen even. Her business was larger than all the Quraysh trades combined and infamous for its fair-dealing – gaining her the title Al-Tahira (The Pure One). Yet did her pursuit of brilliance stop when she got married? No. She only got bigger and better.

1400 years ago, in a severely male dominated Khadija was slaying in trade and commerce. So why in the 21st century are we not letting our daughters effortlessly follow this incredible example? If these are the role models we want our daughters to aspire towards, we as parents we need to pave the path for them to follow suit.

Thus, we as parents need to stay consistent, if you are educating your daughters to the highest levels, let them pursue their careers to the best of their ability. Indeed, teach your daughters to worry less about fitting into glass slippers and more about shattering glass ceilings.

Ana Rasheed is an engineer, blogger and contributing writer at the Conversation Room. You can check out her blog ankaraweb here:

https://ankaraweb.wordpress.com/