Pointlessness of Unplugging

 

There’s an article in the NYT called THE POINTLESSNESS OF UNPLUGGING. The author writes:

It suggests that the selves we are online aren’t authentic, and that the relationships that we forge in digital spaces aren’t meaningful….

This sort of stunt presents an experiment, with its results determined beforehand; one finds exactly what one expects to find: never more, often less. It’s one of the reasons that the unplugging movement has attracted such vocal criticism from the likes of Nathan Jurgenson, Alexis Madrigal, and Evgeny Morozov. If it takes unplugging to learn how better to live plugged in, so be it. But let’s not mistake such experiments in asceticism for a sustainable way of life. For most of us, the modern world is full of gadgets and electronics, and we’d do better to reflect on how we can live there than to pretend we can live elsewhere.

But there’s more.

Pointlessness. Yes. Really.

Whether one calls them digital detoxes or just taking a break they are often used as a means to announce something determined to be defiant to the world. A “Look at me! I’m a rebel.” kind of narcissistic gesture.

About as useless as turning off your lights for an hour on Earth Day.

A symbolic gesture that is meant as a feel good palliative and is forgotten the next day. No questioning of why one is plugged in (communicatively or electrically), the larger implications of the consumption of media and it’s infrastructure, or the privilege of being in the position to actually turn these things off and post a posed selfie, with hand drawn sign, the next day indicating another uptick of fake social awareness and in-group cultural capital.

MLK and Maladjustment

Interesting article about Martin Luther King Jr. and a speech he gave to the American Psychological Association Martin Luther King Jr and the psychology of creative maladjustment 

Here’s an excerpt:

“Always be maladjusted” — Most powerfully, Martin Luther King said: “There are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we … must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry.
“We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. … There comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right…”

 

Here is his full speech King’s challenge to the nation’s social scientists on the APA website.

Superstars

I broadcast a few links that were less than flattering about Aung San Suu Kyi. Someone felt it necessary to take me to task about that.

Here’s my preliminary response that I put on Facebook:

Now I’m grateful that there are people in the world who stand up against injustice and people who are willing to sacrifice their lives via imprisonment or worse for that. World would be much more horrific than it is without resisters.

Resisters, dissenters and rights fighters are still human though. Still with human motivations, political considerations and so forth. Elevating them to godlike or celebrity status clouds the issues, removes focus from what they represent, doesn’t allow us to see their human failings…and they are very much human and ultimately can lead not only to huge disappointments but even backlashes against both them and their causes.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, MLK and so many others are as much politicians as activists (in some cases literally). It is necessary, especially for movement leaders, to not only understand the political climate in which they are trying to effect change but to have the savvy to effect that change. Sometimes that means political maneuvering, leveraging other, less savory elements of the political landscape and consorting and compromising with those who may be diametrically opposed to their ends. It can be a very ugly business behind the scenes.

So before people jump on me for harshing the mellow on the superstars consider the bigger picture. The spotlight only shows a very small and particular moment of their entire lives.

Comment on An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

For the past few days I’ve watched the discussions of many members of the Buddhist community in the United States, Canada and Europe about events happening in Burma regarding the persecution of a particular Muslim minority. Like all situations of oppression and persecution there are many nuances and complexities that are often lost in the media. History, colonialism, geography, group loyalties, language, culture, tribalism, economics, politics and religion are some of the primary factors within such complexity.

It was suggested that a statement from this self-assembled Buddhist group be forthcoming on the issue.

I am one who thinks stating one’s position on an issue is a good idea, particularly if that issue involves oppression and asymmetrical power relationships. A few concerns cropped up for me initially, in that it can be a delicate thing for a primarily well-off, primarily white, primarily male group to condemn events in which they are not directly involved half-way around the world. You know what I mean…imperialism and all that jazz.

Fortunately initial impulses gave way to broader context and more reasoned thought and the document signed and released covered the broader spectrum of Islamophobia in general. It also did not focus exclusively on events in Asia but brought some amount of cultural self-scrutiny along with it.

This is a good joint effort and kudos to the group for taking a public position.

The document is available here:

An Open Letter from the Buddhist Community on Islamophobia

Mindful war

Who knew that US military personnel were using mindfulness techniques in the field of intelligence work (aka spycraft) and elsewhere?

This article, Global Intelligence Gate: From Confessions of an Economic Hit Man to the Stratfor Corporation from WL Central, which deals with Wikileaks related news appeared recently.

It’s not only for the sake of relieving PTSD  or anything quite so compassionate. It’s more like how to keep your shit together when you’re waterboarding someone.

Why would mindfulness be useful in spycraft? One of the leading providers of this type of mindfulness training is The Mind Fitness Training Institute. They provide an 8 week course for “existing groups”. No it’s not your average warm and fuzzy retreat.

From The Mind Fitness Training Institute website:

With mindful attention, we can directly perceive an experience without the filter of biases and judgments that often accompany our thoughts about an experience.

That’s an interesting and accurate statement. To be able to just engage in an experience without filters can be a remarkable experience. Quashing that pesky conscience, home of moral judgments could also be quite remarkable. In some circumstances one might even go so far as to induce psychopathic behavior. Imagine a fighting force trained in that manner. Pretty horrific.

Now consider the context.

Mindfulness as an inoculation against PTSD sounds like a good idea. It might help prevent some of the veteran’s suicides, the numbers of which have increased dramatically in recent years.

The reading list in this program is quite extensive and wide ranging, from 

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face
stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delacorte Press.

Begley, S. (2007). Train your mind, change your brain: How a new science reveals our
extraordinary potential to transform ourselves. New York: Ballantine Books.

to

Asken, M. J. & Grossman, D. (2010). Warrior mindset: Mental toughness skills for a nation’s
peacekeepers. Milstadt, IL: Warrior Science Publications.

Grossman, D. (1995). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society.
Boston: Little, Brown.

Well if the Norwegian mass murderer can use meditation to help him kill better why can’t the US Army use a little mindfulness for the same thing?

Anders Behring Breivik used meditation to kill – he’s not the first