McMindfullness – Ronald E. Purser

I have always been an advocate of the idea that you always get something from reading a book. At times, the least you get is a clarification of your own ideas.

I picked up this because mostly because I thought the title was catchy, and it immediately made me curious as to what it had to say. We see a whole lot about mindfulness these days, and there does not seem to be much in the works to distract from these opinions. Mindfulness seems like such a wonderful idea in theory that it would seem no one would even think to contradict it. A contrarian view seems to be in order.

I am not sure if that is exactly what this book is. McMindfulness is not a take down of mindfulness per se, but a take down of the profiteers that are working in that industry. It is truly a sign or our times that something like ‘Mindfulness’ could be an adjective for ‘industry’, but welcome to the current year. The book tackles the industry largely from three major avenues – it is being used as a form of social pacification, the science isn’t truly there, and it is something co-opted from religion. Those are three very different points, and the extent to which they don’t really mesh is review enough for this book.

I wanted to like this book when I first started reading it. I wanted to like this book as it was going through its first point – that Mindfulness can be used as a way to blunt efforts towards social progress. But as I got more into the weeds with the other two points, I lost enthusiasm.

The hardest thing for me to comment on is the science. I always feel this way when I read a book of this nature, because I don’t have the time, energy, patience, or background to double check the work. I can believe that many of the studies might be flawed in some way or the other. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

The author spends a lot of energy complaining that Mindfulness peddlers divorce mindfulness from its Buddhist origins when it is to their convenience, and utilize its origins when it behooves them. That is certainly a problem for those of us who value honesty. I would be perfectly happy if the two were just divorced, but the author clearly is not. Buddhism is not a perfect religion. It is as bad as all the rest. If there is any efficacy to mindfulness, if it actually works, then we can and should take what works and toss out the rest. We don’t accept everything Isaac Newton said. We took the good and buried the bad. The notion that mindfulness is somehow improved by coupling it with Buddhist ethics is only true if the ethical standards of the person practicing mindfulness has a worse ethical stance. But most of us have a better ethical stance. Karma is the belief that if I go out in the street and punch a person at random, they had it coming. The ethics behind the belief of reincarnation is laughably sophomoric.

The two above points meet at the author’s bringing up the idea of epistemic violence. Here the author fails to see his own hypocrisy. He tries to have his cake and eat it too by telling us that Buddhism should be sheltered from the methodology of science. The whole brief sections demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of what science even is – a methodology for coming to conclusion about the reality of the natural world. Yes, religion is to some extent outside of the realm of science. But the discourse here was not meant to be about Buddhism. It was meant to be about Mindfulness, and if science has no place in this conversation, you should find yourself indifferent to how the other side uses science. His very bringing this up renders a lot of what else the author said as redundant. Make up your mind about how you would like to have it. But for the love of mercy, do not accuse those of us who are first and foremost passionate about what is true of violence. If your beliefs are so pathetic as to need protection from such methodologies, you should abandon them anyway. Epistemic violence is a moronic, useless term.

What I was much more on board with was the notion of using this ‘you are the author of your own malaise’ attitude spread by this new age meditation as a way of making us ignore to what extent modern capitalism may be the true cause of many of our problems. We are largely an overworked and under-compensated generation, and the fact that our society fails to compensate everyone fairly is not our fault. I feel like that point is really spot on, but what I would later become skeptical of, particularly after encountering the above problems, is to what extent I can really be sure that these mindfulness programs really promote that mentality. But considering the author’s stance on what science is, I doubt he will ever get to the point where he proves it in any significant way.

After reading this, I came to learn something about myself. I, for better or worse, lean towards socialistic tendencies (despite having some neo-liberal leanings, but this isn’t the place for those thoughts), but tend to side more towards science and have next to no value you for religion. While I am open to changing my mind on these issues (which does explain the seeming contradiction in the above sentence in this paragraph) this book did nothing to move my thoughts.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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