Thursday, 29 December 2016

How Small Cities can get Big Benefits from Flexible Bikesharing

by Cat Johnson, Shareable:

Big cities, such as New York City, are celebrated for their successful bikesharing programs, with thousands of bikes and hundreds of smart docking stations. For smaller cities and towns, however, this is not a practical model.

Big and small cities have the same need for bikesharing: to fill transportation gaps, reduce traffic and parking congestion, promote sustainability, build a bike a pedestrian culture, promote active lifestyles, and support local business. They differ, however, in the following ways: small cities have lower densities, established driving cultures, and a smaller tax base.

In a recent webinar, bikesharing provider Zagster and the Shared Use Mobility Center, a public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility, spotlighted flexible bikesharing systems, in which the technology necessary to borrow and lock a bike resides in the bikes themselves rather than in expensive, fixed docking stations.

Flexible bikesharing offers an alternative that's more realistic for smaller budgets and ridership. Where traditional bikesharing systems can take millions of dollars and years to implement, flexible bikesharing, which uses lightweight kiosks or even bike racks as hubs, can be quickly and affordably tested and implemented.

The webinar was designed to give those living in cities with less than 50,000 people an overview of flexible bikesharing systems, including the benefits and challenges of launching one. Here are the key takeaways: 

Benefits of Tech-on-bike, Flexible Bikesharing
  • There are fewer “ingredients” with flexible bikesharing. All you need is a bike, though kiosks and racks are helpful.
  • Flexible bikesharing melds into the streetscape as it has a lower profile footprint
  • The hardware is lightweight
  • Data gathered from bikes during demos and pilot programs can inform project planning
  • Riders can access to the bike system via an app
  • Flexible bike sharing is easy and inexpensive to upgrade
  • It’s an investment toward more bike infrastructure in cities
  • It’s easy to install and move

Flexible bikesharing enables cities to diversify their fleet of bikes to include accessible bikes for riders that would otherwise be unable to participate in bikesharing. While flexible bikesharing is generally accessed with a smartphone, a smartphone is not necessary. You can use simple SMS/text messaging or even a code given out at a local library or community center. 


There are various funding models, including nonprofits, businesses, advocacy groups, government organizations, real estate organizations and universities. Fort Collins, Colorado is an interesting case study as its collaborative sponsorship model includes public funding, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and businesses.

Grant funding sources at the federal level may include Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), STP Transportation Enhancements, Transportation Investments Generation Economic Recovery (TIGER). Grant funding sources at a local level may include energy and R&D pilot funds, public health grants, parking credits, toll revenues and affordable housing funds. 


Flexible bikesharing allows cities to easily and affordably test pilot programs before scaling. Scaling to more neighborhoods and surrounding municipalities is easier and less expensive than with traditional, docking bikesharing systems. Payment can be integrated with existing public transit payment systems, such as transit cards. 

Challenges of Flexible Bikesharing
  • Flexible bikesharing is not as visible as traditional bikesharing systems with docking stations.
  • It’s still relatively new so there’s limited data about sponsorship and models
  • Long-term and/or high-volume durability is unknown
  • Flexible bikesharing is less friendly for a tourist who may not be interested in downloading app and learning how the bikesharing system works.
  • Small cities have to determine whether they’re targeting their bikesharing system for residents or tourists.
Download the webinar: Making Bike Share Work Outside of the Big City

More bike share resources from Shareable:
Photo: David Marcu (CC-0). 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

'Crime and Punishment' is 150: and its Politics are More Relevant Than Ever

Raskolnikov and Marmeladov from Crime and Puni...
Raskolnikov & Marmeladov, Crime & Punishment (Wikipedia)
by , Senior Lecturer in International Development, University of Birmingham, in The Conversation:

It is now 150 years since the publication of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. An incredibly influential novel, Crime and Punishment also has a particularly contemporary political significance.

The plot hinges on how, one summer’s day in St Petersurg, a penniless student, Rodion Raskolnikov, murders an old woman pawnbroker. He does it partly to prove an idea that he has written about: that exceptional people, like Napoleon, can be above the law. Besides, to him the pawnbroker is a “louse” whose murder will be a net benefit to society.

But during the murder, the victim’s kind and vulnerable sister walks in. Raskolnikov kills her, too, without a second thought. The reader sees how Raskonikov has become desensitised and how his ideas (influenced by his reading of Hegel and Bentham) have unintended consequences.

Raskolnikov’s name means “split in two” or “schismatic”. His split personality inspired Stevenson’s story of Jekyll and Hyde. One of the first psychological novels, Crime and Punishment is also deeply political. It reflected a wave of reaction against economic liberalism, not unlike that which has occurred during 2016. Raskolnikov is shown to be a confused hybrid, both reflecting liberal thought and rebelling against it.

Balzac and Dostoevsky

Widespread disillusion with liberalism emerged in France during the July Monarchy (1830-48) of Louis Philippe, for whom liberalism meant the rule of the self-made rich. Liberalism became a convenient scapegoat for social problems, especially if it could be presented as an alien (Anglo-Saxon) import.

Balzac’s novels, especially Le Pere Goriot (1835), portrayed Paris under the July monarchy as mired in corruption, social climbing and materialism. The anti-liberal Balzac became an admirer of Russia. In his Lettre sur Kiew of 1847, he praised Russia’s absolute power and “so-called despotism” as preferable to France’s “mob rule”. Balzac’s influence can be seen in the concepts and characters of Crime and Punishment. And the anti-liberal message is even stronger.

Liberalism in Crime and Punishment is represented by its most negative character, the wealthy businessman, Luzhin (meaning “puddle”). When we meet him, he is arguing the case for what would now be called “trickledown economics”. Luzhin seeks to marry Raskolnikov’s sister, taking advantage of the family’s genteel poverty.

The indignity of this proposal is, in Raskolnikov’s mind, the last straw that propels him towards murder (although the pawnbroker is in no way responsible). Later, Luzhin’s attempt to frame Sonya, Raskolnikov’s saint-like friend, as a thief, provides the dramatic climax of the novel - as if to make quite sure that the reader sees Luzhin, and what he represents, in the worst possible light.

Another powerfully negative character, Svidrigailov - the upper-class predatory libertine who represents the evil amorality of de Sade - is given some redeeming features by Dostoevsky, but Luzhin is given none.

Identity politics

Dostoevsky’s hostility to liberalism may have been irrational but he succeeds in depicting the social and psychological dislocation brought about by rapid economic change. Dostoevsky’s poor are drawn from the downwardly-mobile middle class whose deprivation is compounded by loss of status.

This recalls the fate of many in the years following the the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union but also those “left behind” English Brexiters or Mid-Western Trump voters who lost their livelihoods or social roles through economic globalisation from the 1980s onwards.

Dostoevsky also anticipates how the dislocation brought about by economic change leads to identity politics (whether of the right or left). Raskolnikov is finally redeemed, not by priests, but by Sonya’s preaching. Forced into prostitution by her stepmother, Sonya’s spiritual strength transcends her suffering and she symbolises “rootedness” in the people - pochvennost in Russian.

For Dostoevsky, religion is primarily about identity. Crime and Punishment shows how those, like Raskolnikov, who are alienated or confused by liberal modernisation may take refuge in mystical nationalism or collectivism. It happened in Russia following the reforms of the 1990s and it may explain the upheavals in Western democracies during 2016.

Russian psychology

Crime and Punishment may also provide an insight into the psychology of Russia as a geopolitical player. As with Raskolnikov, there is currently much speculation about Russia’s real motives in its international relations.

The most likely explanation, for both, is wounded pride. Raskolnikov’s state of mind is influenced by his family’s loss of status and reduced circumstances. He sees them as vulnerable to predators like Luzhin and Svidrigailov. This recalls the parlous state of Russia and (for many) the sense of national humiliation during and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Raskolnikov’s reaction to his humiliation is to step over the line to prove that he is exceptional, like Napoleon. The word for crime in Russian, prestupleniye, means “stepping over”. Whether or not the annexation of Crimea was a “crime”, it was without doubt the moment when Russia “stepped over”, as if reasserting its own version of American exceptionalism.

Dostoevsky would no doubt have approved. His messianic nationalism was, as Freud put it, “the weakness of this great personality … a position which lesser minds have reached with smaller effort”. But his depiction of the tensions between individual, community and modernity in Crime and Punishment cuts across political lines and has lost none of its insight or relevance.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

6 Ways We’re Already Leading an Economic Revolution

New Economy Garby , Yes Magazine:

Many years ago, while researching the history of the U.S. decision to use atomic weapons on the people of Japan, I came to understand something: there was something deep at work in the American political and economic system driving it toward relentless expansion and a dangerous, informal imperialism.

I began thinking about how to fundamentally change America out of concern with what America was doing - and is still doing - to the rest of the world.

Many experiences since - especially working in the U.S. House, Senate, and at upper levels of the State Department trying to resist the war in Vietnam; and thereafter with activists in the antiwar and civil rights movements - taught me something important: it wasn’t enough to stand in opposition to the injustices America inflicted on the world and its own people. It was equally important for these movements to operate with an idea of what they want instead.

Could we imagine a system that undercuts the logic responsible for so much suffering at home and abroad?

It was reflections like these that brought me to first sketch the idea of a “pluralist commonwealth” - an economic and political system different from both corporate capitalism and state socialism grounded in democratic ownership, decentralization, and community that could fulfill two key functions.

On one hand, it offered a general map of where we might want to go - a design for a next system in which a plurality of overlapping institutions reinforce each other to democratize our common wealth. On the other hand (and unlike other more utopian blueprints), I’ve always believed that the Pluralist Commonwealth, grounded in everyday American reality - like the deep cooperative tradition of the Wisconsin where I grew up - was also an effective guide to how we might actually get there.

While progress is never strictly linear, I believe that we are beginning to see an accelerating development of the foundations for a system that looks a lot like the Pluralist Commonwealth, and a growing recognition of how they begin to fit together.

So how do we maintain and deepen the momentum? Here are six areas where it’s particularly strategic to be organizing and building institutional power in the current moment.

1. Public banking: take it to the cities

Public banking, which invests capital for the common good rather than Wall Street’s bottom line, has existed at the state level for nearly 100 years in North Dakota.

Now, activists are taking this model to cities and uncovering exciting possibilities. In Santa Fe, for instance, organizers have worked with Mayor Javier Gonzales to begin serious consideration of a municipal-level public bank. As an official city study released earlier this year showed, instead of the city’s $200 million in cash deposits sitting in large, non-local financial institutions, a municipal public bank could leverage those deposits to reduce borrowing costs for the city - saving millions of dollars of taxpayer money every year that would otherwise go toward costly bond offerings.

Similar efforts in Philadelphia and other cities are also picking up steam as more and more people discover just how much money is wasted on Wall Street to finance the growth and development of city infrastructure. Why make a bond trader rich when you could build better schools and lower taxes instead?

The publicly owned Bank of North Dakota has long strengthened the state economy, expanded access to affordable credit, and contributed its revenues to supporting vital services like education. But the institution is also the product of a unique history, in which progressive populism was able to use the state Legislature to create this innovation. Today, in the face of relatively unresponsive state legislatures, progressives are proving that cities are promising spaces to channel energies for creative action.

By demonstrating the power of finance as a public utility, the public banking movement is building momentum for and giving shape to a democratic system of investment that is much larger. Public banks, credit unions, and community development financial institutions can all grow over time to displace the financialized, profit-seeking banking sector, helping turn the tables to put the public’s money to work for the benefit of everyone.

2. Worker ownership: build the ecosystem for economic democracy

There’s been an explosion of interest in worker cooperatives as a simple solution to begin democratizing ownership of the economy. An ecosystem is emerging that allows people all across the country to accelerate these cooperatives’ development by engaging local governments for support, converting existing businesses, or even investing personal savings into their expansion.

Worker cooperatives, by directly shifting ownership and control of the workplace to workers themselves, are some of the most intuitive and immediately appealing institutions of the Pluralist Commonwealth. Studies show that worker-owned companies don’t just democratize wealth, they can also operate more efficiently and are more likely to stay in business than “normal” firms.

Yet while there are more than 10 million Americans working in companies in which they also own a share, the number of worker cooperatives - where these shares are equal for all workers, and come with an equal vote in the future of the business - is far smaller.

But this isn’t because of some intrinsic problem with worker co-ops. Traditional businesses, in which workers labor for someone else’s profit, have an entire ecosystem of support - from the business schools that train their managers to the banks and public subsidies that finance their creation and expansion.

Worker-cooperative advocates are building a parallel ecosystem of this kind all across the country. Cooperative development projects like the Wellspring Collaborative in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the CERO cooperative in Boston are creating exciting new crowdfunding mechanisms to help communities launch democratic enterprises. Organizations like The Working World and the Shared Capital Cooperative are building national networks to channel financial resources into the cooperative economy, creating diversified opportunities in which both institutions and individuals can invest. 

In cities like New York, Madison, Wisconsin, and Rochester, New York, municipal funding is now being used to support the work of cooperative developers focusing on creating worker-owned businesses in low-income communities. There is no reason why every city and town’s existing infrastructure for helping small businesses cannot be turned toward democratic alternatives, and the more this happens, the easier it becomes to make the case to community stakeholders and policymakers.

A key opportunity here is conversions of existing businesses. As the boomer generation retires, the future for hundreds of thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses is unclear. Without a succession plan, many of these businesses may get absorbed by financialized private equity or simply cease to exist.  If we organize to take advantage of this historical moment, we can convert many of these to worker-owned businesses instead.

3. Procurement politics: “buy local” at a bigger scale

Solid local organizing is shifting the purchasing behavior of place-based nonprofit institutions - or “anchor” institutions - toward sustainability and economic inclusion. This means big steps toward the Pluralist Commonwealth can be achieved with relatively small amounts of activist resources.

Consider the Real Food Challenge: In less than a decade, this network of student activists has secured pledges to shift more than $60 million of food purchases at 73 colleges and universities across the country into more sustainable and just options.

Opportunities exist in every aspect of anchor institution operations. A student-led study at the University of Michigan found that just a 5 percent shift in procurement to local suppliers would increase local economic activity by more than $13 million and create more than 450 jobs.

Non-profit hospitals may be particularly open to such demands with new rules under the Affordable Care Act mandating “community health need assessments” - reports that can illuminate the role that poverty plays in poor public-health outcomes and make clear the responsibility of health care institutions to use their resources to address economic inequality.

And campaigns to alter purchasing can strategically link up with campaigns to shift investment dollars in the same institutions. For instance, the Reinvest in Our Power campaign is mobilizing students to demand not just divestment from carbon in their schools’ endowment portfolios, but active reinvestment in community-controlled financial institutions.

“Buying local” may make us feel better about the consequences of our consumer choices, but when we change the way our public and large nonprofit institutions like universities and hospitals spend their money, we’re shifting hundreds of billions, if not upwards of a trillion, dollars into local economies - and creating a kind of decentralized planning system in the process.

This is the concept behind the Evergreen Cooperatives, which channel the purchasing power of Cleveland’s biggest anchors into a network of green worker cooperatives, creating opportunities for ownership in some of the city’s hardest-hit communities and communities of color.

As we work to shift the dollars spent by public and nonprofit institutions into patterns that support and stabilize thriving local economies, it’s important to remember that we must defend our right to do so politically. Right-wing state legislatures and large-scale international trade agreements like TTIP and the TPP aim to remove barriers to the global movement of capital and undermine local procurement initiatives.

4. Participatory governance: organize for renewed democracy

At the heart of the Pluralist Commonwealth is the idea of renewed democracy. We all know that American democracy is severely broken - but just “getting the money out” of our political system is insufficient.

A compelling alternative is suggested by participatory budgeting, which allows residents of a community to vote directly on how a portion of public money is spent. The mechanism, developed initially in Latin America, has been making substantial progress in the U.S. in recent years and can be built upon, shifting our political culture away from spectacles of personality and toward real engagement with the project of self-government.

Following the lead of city officials in places like Chicago and New York who embraced participatory budgeting to manage discretionary funds, smaller cities like Vallejo, California, and Greensboro, North Carolina, have embarked on citywide participatory budgeting processes. Santa Fe, New Mexico, is pioneering a participatory budgeting process tied to a fund for renewable energy investments.

While the amounts of money in each project to date remain small, participatory budgeting at once normalizes the demand for direct community control over the allocation of resources and provides a site in which the muscles of community self-government can be strengthened and scaled up. In short, it is an organizing process as much as it is budgeting process. And it’s only through such organizing and development that we can build toward higher-order processes of truly participatory planning.

Boston’s trailblazing participatory budgeting process, for instance, recognizes the key role it can play in developing long-term community leadership by prioritizing the city’s youth. Boston has placed $1 million of public money under binding, directly democratic control of Boston residents between the ages of 12 and 25.

And even in cities where municipal officials aren’t ready to embrace direct participation in budgeting, there are plenty of opportunities for creative grassroots organizing to expand participatory budgeting. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has officially endorsed it as a way to implement required community oversight of money allocated locally through Community Development Block Grants. In Toronto, for the past 13 years public housing residents have had direct, binding control over millions of dollars of annual capital improvement funding.

As we seek to reinvent, reinvigorate, and revitalize American democracy, we can begin by empowering the communities far too commonly denied the right to meaningfully participate.

5. Energy democracy: plan it by region

Building democratic ownership at the community level opens up the possibility for planning. In Boulder, Colorado, citizens felt that their city’s power supplier - corporate giant Xcel Energy - was not taking the threat of climate change seriously. Rather than trying to force the company to comply with regulations, the residents of Boulder decided to take their utility back. When this municipalization (currently in progress despite multiple political and legal roadblocks thrown up by the corporate incumbent) is complete, the city will be able to democratically manage its own energy sources.

Boulder proves that planning is by no means necessarily undemocratic or centralized - in fact, one of the reasons I believe changing the underlying ownership patterns of the economy is so important is that it begins to unlock possibilities not just for a more equal distribution of wealth, but for the kinds of decentralized planning we need.

Ultimately, we need to be scaling up beyond the city level to the regional level if we really want to plan effectively for a new energy system.  Those most affected by the old energy system already realize this - and in many cases are at the forefront of efforts to imagine what a just transition looks like at a regional level.

A particularly exciting effort is the one being led in parts of Appalachia by groups like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Mountain Association for Community Economic Development. Faced with a recalcitrant state government opposed to implementation of the federal Clean Power Plan, local activists have been engaging stakeholders on the ground to develop a clean power plan of their own, from below, with a particular focus on rebuilding economic opportunity for the workers and communities that have traditionally depended on the coal industry as one of the few sources of jobs in the region.

Even without the ability to directly translate this popular planning process into public policy, such activism, oriented around large-scale alternative visions, can be a powerful organizing tool as we work toward a post-carbon future.

6. Stop imperialism, tame growth 

I have worked nearly my entire life in the United States, inside what has been the most powerful capitalist state in the world. And while bottom-up, grassroots experiments at increasingly larger levels of scale are key, it is important to remember why they matter.

Simply put, without dismantling the engine of growth at the heart of the American economy, we don’t stand a chance of making the world a sustainable and equitable place for the human species to thrive. This ultimately means transforming some very large corporations into public utilities, preferably at the regional level. Such entities would not be subject to the Wall Street maxim of grow or die, nor would they drag the U.S. into support of right-wing dictators willing to allow American corporations to control a good deal of their development. 

Building the Pluralist Commonwealth in America is, to my mind, an act of anti-imperialism. But recognizing this deep connection between building a more local and sustainable economy at home and the well-being of the rest of the world does not absolve us of responsibility to oppose the government’s efforts to reassert America’s grasp on global hegemony. 

The same good conscience that leads us to reconstruct the American economic system over decades should also lead us to oppose the rattling of sabers, the support for the overthrow of inconvenient foreign democracies, and the destruction wrought by American military action overseas.

Gar Alperovitz wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Gar is the former Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. His most recent publication is What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution (2013).

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Cutting Through the Corporate Mindfulness Hype, Part 2: Mindfulness and Self-Care: Why Should I Care?

Photo credit: Alison Bennett
by Edwin Ng, Author and cultural critic of contemporary Buddhism and the mindfulness trend and Ron Purser, Professor of Management, San Francisco State University, Huffington Post:

Part One considered the current hype surrounding workplace mindfulness against the dubious history of management science. Part Two here considers the use of critical mindfulness in experiments with ethical self-care.

Though we are skeptical about celebratory claims, we actually do hope that mindfulness might become a disruptive technology to transform prevailing systems. However, we insist on the importance of collective attentiveness towards the workings of power, which have shaped the dominant individualistic-therapeutic approach to mindfulness and the stresses we face in our private and public lives.

I’d like to clarify the notion of governmentality that guides our work. The blended concept of govern-mentality derives from the work of Michel Foucault. Governmentality does not refer only to the processes of the state. Rather, to think about governmentality is to explore how diverse types of knowledge, expertise, and practices are developed to guide people’s voluntary conduct.

Consider, for instance, the contemporary interest in "wellness". We learn about the research conducted by medical institutions on exercising or meditation. This knowledge filters through the advice we find in the media. With the help of a trained expert or through our independent efforts, we might cultivate a daily practice of jogging or yoga or mindfulness. Companies and institutions might incorporate a wellness program into their operations.

To put it another way, governmentality plays out formally and informally as the everyday “rules of the game” for responsible conduct. Under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism, the logics of governmentality are imbued with the moral rhetoric of “free choice” and are geared towards self-optimizing, consumerist and entrepreneurial ends.

When we say we are concerned about the workings of power, we are not imagining some conspiracy of coercion, “brainwashing,” or “mind control.” We are mindful that the exercise of power over people cannot do without people’s power to act.

Foucault’s curiosity about the ethos of the care of self guiding Ancient Greek practices of spiritual cultivation is instructive here. The care of self was a vigilant attitude that individuals adopted towards their behavior and thought. The aim was to expose and transform unacknowledged habits, and to enable fresh ways of relating to others and the world. With ethical self-care the Ancient Greeks developed mastery over their passions and fostered their responsibilities as citizens.

Foucault distinguished this relational approach to self-care from the narcissism of “the Californian cult of the self.” Ethical self-care is a mode of expérience, in the way Foucault evoked the dual meanings of this French word as “experience” and “experiment.”

An academic friend recently started a small business in handmade facial care products. Together with her like-minded friends, they have been experimenting with self-care to work through the existing “rules” policing their experience as women/people of color/minoritized individuals within an increasingly corporatized university and in broader society.

Some colleagues of mine have also started a blog featuring selfies and stories of the fashion styles of academics. The blog showcases these practices of self-care to experiment with experiences of anxiety and insecurity, and the implicit “rules” on gendered life and labor within the institutional space of academia.

In these projects of self-care the “I” is turned from a given to a question. Consumerist, entrepreneurial practices of self-care have the potential to become disruptive technologies against prevailing systems of inequality, racism, sexism, and so forth. But importantly, this potential must be nurtured with critique.

When we speak of “critical mindfulness,” we are following Foucault in performing critique not simply to decry that things are not right as they are. Rather, it is “to show that things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such.” Critical mindfulness does not pretend to offer predetermined “solutions”. It doesn’t say “This, then, is what should be done” because that’s not its task. As a questioning attitude critical mindfulness questions.

I’ve mentioned two scenarios involving academics, but the task of critique is not restricted to professional intellectuals. Let me quote Foucault on this:
I believe it is quite possible ... to do one’s job as a psychiatrist, lawyer, engineer, or technician, and, on the other hand, to carry out in that specific area work that may properly be called intellectual, an essentially critical work. When I say “critical”, I don’t mean a demolition job, one of rejection or refusal, but a work of examination that consists of suspending as far as possible the system of values to which one refers when ... assessing it. In other words: What am I doing at the moment I’m doing it?
We’ve witnessed a friend who works as a nurse use critical mindfulness for ethical self-care. His personal practice of mindfulness has helped him to manage PTSD, and to cope with the stressful and potentially violent working conditions of a psychiatric ward. The hospital’s management is advocating workplace mindfulness.

But our friend questions the management’s professed concern for staff well-being. He finds it hypocritical because the management has also been pursuing budget cuts, reducing health insurance benefits, and undermining union efforts to advocate for adequate staffing and support.

We take first-person reports seriously. But we recognize that it is impossible to document the experience of everyone. There is no such thing as an objective self-reporting of subjective experience. We accept that some people may speak positively about workplace mindfulness, and that there is suggestive evidence for both the benefits and risks of individualistic-therapeutic mindfulness. But the dubious track record of management science reminds us also to be cautious about celebratory hype.

Yet, commentators have responded to such concerns by saying: “This is not what I see”. Personal incredulity is not an argument; it is gainsaying. Personal incredulity is not proof that the limitations and dangers are not there. Personal incredulity is a subjective appeal; it expresses disbelief in one claim whilst inviting trust or good faith in another. In using anecdotal reasoning as a counterclaim, they affirm rather than refute our argument - that we all share the same conundrum of faith-as-trust, an open question of "who knows?".

One possible objection is that I too have relied on anecdotal reasoning. Yes, I admit as much. Because this is not a scientific conversation about objective facts but an ethical conversation about subjective habits.

Critical mindfulness invites people to be receptive to “who knows?” by questioning for themselves the everyday “rules of the game.” To use critical mindfulness for ethical self-care is to perform an experiment. But this is not an experiment to gather evidence about subjective experience. This is an experiment to expose and transform the assumptions and conditionings shaping subjective experience.

We could perform this experiment by probing the motivations steering our preferred approach to mindfulness (or other practices of self-care) - to what end? for whom or what? in whose interest?

But perhaps before all these we must ask ourselves: why should I care?
Edwin Ng, Ph.D. is an author and cultural critic currently based in Melbourne, Australia. His writings on the cultural translation of Buddhism and mindfulness have appeared in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Religion & Ethics blog,, and in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s Turning Wheel Media

Ron Purser, Ph.D. is Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. His article, “Beyond McMindfulness,” in the Huffington Post went viral in 2013.

Follow Edwin Ng on Twitter:
Follow Ron Purser on Twitter:

Cutting Through the Corporate Mindfulness Hype, Part 1

Photo credit: Charley Quinlivan
by Ron Purser, Professor of Management, San Francisco State University, Co-authored with Edwin Ng, Lecturer, School of Communications and Creative Arts, Deakin University, Huffington Post: 

There has been a chorus of recent articles touting the benefits of mindfulness at work. But have they really distinguished between fact and fad, science from ideology, and the risks versus the benefits with regards to mindfulness at work?

Part One addresses how the corporate mindfulness movement draws from the dubious discipline of “management science,” which historically has been a political endeavor to secure and legitimate the interests of corporations.

Part Two will clarify that we are not dismissing the potential of mindfulness as a disruptive technology against prevailing systems, and invite readers to consider how they might use mindfulness to experiment with critical self-care.

“Will mindfulness be another passing management fad? In a word, no!” write Darren Good and Christopher Lyddy with their colleagues. Their confident prediction is based on their recently published article in the Journal of Management which integrates the research evidence of some 4,000-plus scientific papers on mindfulness.

Yes, publications on mindfulness have accumulated over the last decade, but most are from outside of the area of management. To this date, there still are no reliable studies confirming that mindfulness training impacts organizational performance or organizational culture in any of the top tier management journals.

And yes, there are many empirical studies suggesting that mindfulness may lower stress or improve focus for the individual - but none so far show how mindfulness training for employees has any efficacious or verifiable impact on organizational outcomes.

The authors make strong claims about "big impacts for performance, decision-making and career longevity." The so-called evidence they cite draws from laboratory studies that employed self-report questionnaires to measure trait and dispositional mindfulness - subjects who’ve never actually received mindfulness training.

No matter, because mindfulness improves performance on graduate exam scores, it must also improve performance at work. Similarly, decision-making at work must also improve, because college sophomores who listened to a 15 minute guided mindfulness meditation recording showed better judgment on a hypothetical decision-making task. For those seeking to extend their career beyond a decent retirement age, laboratory research is showing the effects of mindfulness training on increased telomerase activity in DNA.

While the authors admit to the limitations of over-generalizing from laboratory studies, they are not shy in celebrating the efficacy of mindfulness at work. More troubling is not the methodological issues of their review, but the tone.

Despite attempts to hedge with qualifiers like “mindfulness ... appears to influence a wide variety of workplace outcomes,” “evidence suggests,” the public reporting of this and other studies in media outlets still exhibit unwarranted levels of exuberance, relying upon over-inflated claims and unsubstantiated research as selling points in the marketplace - what Jenny Eklöf refers to as the “scientization of mindfulness.”

Why such unbridled enthusiasm that conflates speculative hypotheses with the veracity of scientific findings?

As I pointed out in my recent article in Tricycle, management science has a long and dubious history of exploiting claims of scientific objectivity to secure organizational imperatives. It’s surprising that Good and Lyddy, both of whom recently graduated from Case Western Reserve University (my alma mater), have apparently glossed over the history of management theory and practice. As the prominent sociologist C. Wright Mills noted, management science readily accommodated to management’s need to find ways of securing the cooperation of employees.

Whether through motivation studies, counseling, personality and attitude surveys and many other schemes, social scientists became complicit in the managerial enterprise. Indeed, a lucrative “social science industry” gave rise to management consulting firms, corporate trainers, leadership coaches, and a growing market for popular business books.

Even the American Psychological Association, in 1962, provided a positive endorsement:
... while the psychologist’s most basic interest is human behavior, he can help with management’s most basic aim, increasing profitability ... Essentially what the industrial psychologist attempts to do is to help the employee come to ... a recognition of how his interests and management’s coincide ... [to] help the employee adjust to the requirements of a successful enterprise.
In fact, history shows that the so-called ‘science’ inherent in industrial psychology and management scholarship has never been neutral or objective. The nature of the management project has always been to organize human life to serve particular interests, historically, in favor of the elite.

This comes as no surprise as management science has a track record of hyping corporate programs with the veneer of science in order to gain credibility and corporate buy-in. According to Economist magazine staff writers John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge, “Modern management theory is no more reliable than tribal medicine. Witch doctors, after all, often got it right - by luck, by instinct, or by trial and error.” A close reading of this history would reveal that management is more a political art than rigorous science.

Michel Foucault made an astute observation: “You know the difference between a real science and a pseudoscience? A real science recognizes and accepts its own history without feeling attacked.” Hopefully, management science scholar-practitioners promoting corporate mindfulness research would contemplate on this statement.

Google’s "Search Inside Yourself" flagship corporate mindfulness training program has received a great deal of media attention. Search Inside Yourself (SIY) curriculum is touted as being “scientifically grounded” on rigorous research in neuroscience. The premise is that mindfulness training increases emotional intelligence (EI).

Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, was warmly embraced as a scientifically valid method that assured career success. Empathy, self-control and agreeableness have become the new managerial ethos, not unlike the message in the immensely popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which Dale Carnegie penned in 1937.

Before the SIY program was developed, Google offered Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes for its engineers. Few enrolled as stress was regarded as a badge of honor among its youthful engineers who typically worked 60-70 hours a week. Dangling the carrot of career success would become the new hook. By linking mindfulness with emotional intelligence with greater prospects of promotions and career advancement, engineers started enrolling in SIY courses in droves.

But where is the scientific evidence for these claims? Goleman’s concept of Emotional Intelligence has been criticized by prominent psychologists as an ill conceived “far flung network of concepts” that lacks rigorous empirical support.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg, writing in the foreword to the book Emotional Intelligence: Science & Myth, summarized it best: “Goleman’s work does not represent a systematic scientific program of research ... in that there appear to be no refereed published studies where hypotheses are predictively tested against data.”

A recent pilot study of SIY graduates in three technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area found no evidence that EI was anymore efficacious than mindfulness. In fact, post-test results showed that mindfulness training was associated with increases in both work exhaustion and disengagement. One could speculate that mindfulness training increased an awareness of just how exhausted these employees really were; their response was to withdraw and disengage from work as a form of relief.

But such findings are rarely reported in existing literature, and certainly not in sales and marketing materials. Instead, corporate mindfulness researchers and consultants sound more like evangelical cheerleaders (see Wisdom 2.0), preaching the imperatives of “brain fitness,” offering sales tactics for “overcoming skeptics,” and communicating what amount to provisional findings as if they were an authoritative constellation of “facts.”

Meg Levy who directs the SIY teacher training program seems to want it both ways. She aggressively pitches SIY as a scientifically-informed curriculum. Yet, when interrogated on a recent interview regarding the paucity of scientific evidence of corporate mindfulness programs, she hedges: “I think we culturally privilege the science ... I want to make a case there is a validity to subjective experience, and everyone has their bias, and I am only talking from my experience.”

Since the science supporting corporate mindfulness is thin and virtually non-existent, advocates like Levy ask us to simply trust them, to keep the faith that in due time science will catch up with their experience on the ground. We’ve addressed this quandary of "mindfulness’ truthiness problem", and suggested that the lack of evidence for the purported good of workplace mindfulness confronts us with an open question of "who knows?"

Corporate mindfulness apologists are quick to dismiss critiques that raise legitimate concerns about the limitations and potential dangers of workplace mindfulness programs. They typically retort, “Well, that’s just not what I am seeing ...”. Levy and others resort to this anecdotal form of reasoning. “Take my word for it”. This is a personal appeal not a counter-argument.

David Brendel’s recent article "Mindfulness in the Workplace: Benefits, Risks and Complexities" believes that a more nuanced understanding of this movement in emerging. But he trots out the same old tropes like “The neuroscience of mindfulness is more convincing than ever,” or it’s an “impressive movement”, or that conversation is deepening because luminaries like Dan Harris and Congressman Tim Ryan are keynotes at an exclusive mindfulness conference ($1695 for two days). Celebratory hype is not evidence.

Brendel does offer an important cautionary note: employees should not be pressured or coerced into taking a mindfulness program. Unfortunately, there is little consensus among corporate mindfulness teachers as to the standard of practice.

Michael Chasklason, a leading corporate mindfulness consultant in the United Kingdom, presented a case study of a corporate mindfulness program at a large European energy company, where the chief executive made participation for 360 of his senior managers compulsory. Shortly after the program many of these managers were terminated due to massive downsizing and restructuring. Chasklason considered that, since they had the benefit of taking his mindfulness program, it could be considered a “parting gift.”

We clarify yet again our concerns. In a recent article, Jeremy Adam Smith, editor of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center newsletter, claims that we are dismissing the potential therapeutic benefits of workplace mindfulness for individuals.

Proponents of workplace mindfulness responding to our critique could perhaps apply their mindfulness to attentive reading, since we have explicitly stated that we are not dismissing the potential benefits to individuals. Or they could take an undergraduate course in logical reasoning, since it does not necessarily follow that to critique corporations’ structural and systemic habits is to dismiss the therapeutic benefits of mindfulness. Therapeutic benefits is one thing, callous institutional imperatives are another matter.

As much as corporate mindfulness apologists would like to pretend that workplace mindfulness is “evidence-based” and politically neutral, this is simply not the case. To be sure, it is important to facilitate the well-being of employees. But the drive to celebrate the links between mindfulness and wellness and organizational good is not free from the workings of power.

Cederstrom and Spicer have interrogated this with the idea of “biomorality.” The guiding framework that connects our concerns with theirs is Michel Foucault’s notion of “governmentality”. In Part Two, Edwin Ng will examine this notion of governmentality and consider how we might use mindfulness to experiment with critical self-care. 

Ron Purser, Ph.D.. is Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. His article, "Beyond McMindfulness," in the Huffington Post went viral in 2013.

Edwin Ng, Ph.D., is an author and cultural theorist currently based in Australia. He has written commentaries on the cultural translation of Buddhism and mindfulness for and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

What is Resilience?
by the Resilience Research Centre:

Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual's ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development.

However, the RRC uses a more ecological and culturally sensitive definition. Dr. Michael Ungar, Co-Director of the RRC, has suggested that resilience is better understood as follows: 

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways” (see also Ungar, 2008 and Ungar, 2011).

This definition shifts our understanding of resilience from an individual concept, popular with western-trained researchers and human services providers, to a more relational understanding of well-being embedded in a social-ecological framework.

Understood this way, resilience requires individuals have the capacity to find resources that bolster well-being, while also emphasizing that it’s up to families, communities and governments to provide these resources in ways individuals value. In this sense, resilience is the result of both successful navigation to resources and negotiation for resources to be provided in meaningful ways. You can read more about resilience from this perspective in publications by the Centre’s members.

To explore resilience as both a process and outcome across many different cultures and contexts, the Resilience Research Centre coordinates a number of different research projects. Click here for a list of the projects currently underway.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Work That Kills Us: What Being in the Black Lives Matter Movement Does to Activists’ Mental Health

(Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
For many activists, being a part of Black Lives Matter is essential to securing the rights - and lives - of black citizens. But what do you do when the work you’re doing to save lives starts to claim yours? 

To be an activist or organizer of any type is tiresome work. But in the movement for black lives in the context of the hyper-militarized police and ongoing consumption of black death, black liberation organizers are struggling, among other things, with maintaining the will to fight.

Often overlooked in conversations around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and the faces behind it, is what happens when the protest is over. Though we love to highlight organizers in their most visible and most militant moments, rarely do we examine how these organizers manage to survive in a world where they are constantly at war and often under surveillance. As conversation around the sustainability of a movement born in large part out of black uprisings continues, we must take seriously the issues of trauma for black organizers and the barriers to accessing mental-health services for people throughout the black community.

Undoubtedly, the movement for black lives has changed the lives of many. But, for activists, while there is something intrinsically fulfilling about fighting for a better world, issues of increased post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and trauma have come with the work.

“On one end, my involvement with this movement has saved my life. Prior to this movement, I was suffering from severe depression mostly due to suffering from poverty. After my involvement, I found myself suddenly motivated to live,” says St. Louis-based organizer Angel Carter. “However, [on] the other end of the spectrum … I constantly re-live the violence I endured at the hands of police [during Ferguson]. I consistently re-live those nights of never knowing if I would survive.”

Ongoing police brutality, increased violence in direct actions, and the wide-availability of videos of black killings are major factors affecting the mental health of black activists, but they aren’t the only reason for the crisis of mental health among organizers. Several organizers spoke about the problem of martyrdom in BLM spaces and the inability to maintain good habits of self-care under such overwhelming circumstances. 

“The fact of the matter is that we’re being asked to stare death and harm in the face every day, to immerse ourselves in it,” says graduate student and black organizer William Richardson. “That takes a toll on folks beyond any direct abuse that may happen while working in activist spaces. Most activists neglect their mental health because they take on the idea that they need to be a martyr for the struggle and any cost is worth it, including themselves.” 

“I see a lot of my friends and family in this movement running themselves to the ground in the name of liberation, particularly black femmes, queer, and trans folks,” says Adja Gildersleve, one of the founders of the Minneapolis BLM chapter. “We literally slave to kill white supremacy, then we look at each other with resentment when we think the work isn’t happening because too many people are stepping back. We are tired. We are depressed. We are wounded. And the very consciousness that empowered us - consumes us even faster than we can heal.”

This trauma doesn’t just lead to depression; it can have lethal effects on young organizers. Carter spoke of suicide within the movement as being grounded in the tradition of impossible choices for black people historically. “White supremacy often feels vast and hopeless. I believe suicide is what happens to some of us when our minds are in a place of, ‘We need freedom, but we can never be free here.”

Carter also spoke about MarShawn McCarrel, an Ohio-based activist who died by suicide on the steps of the State House last February. “Before doing so, he pissed on the statehouse steps, which to me sent a strong message about his reasoning. I’m reminded of the ancestors before us that saw this as a solution; jumping ships, intentionally starving themselves, and sometimes even murdering their own children because they would be ‘better off than to live in this system’. I’m not shaming this method of liberation, however, I think it speaks volumes that the black experience has been such a burden that dying is seen as a escape from racism.”

For Gildersleve, the uptick in suicides and failing mental health among her peers has been deeply personal. “I’ve lost three friends in the movement to suicide within a year; that was my wake up call. I want more of us to operate less like martyrs and more like elders-to-be,” she says. “After what this country has done to us and at the rate they are killing us, becoming a black elder is revolutionary. Self-care is revolutionary.”

And indeed no meaningful revolution can happen without first addressing the crisis of mental health and healing among black people and black liberation fighters.

“I have not seen many activists plan ahead in anticipation of mental-health struggles, but I have certainly seen depression manifest itself in tangible ways,” says Kevin Winstead, an American Studies Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland. “The mood and tone of some activists is becoming a little more pessimistic, there is potential for higher turnover in membership as people make choices to protect their sanity, and there is potential for isolation to occur between movement organizers and the communities they serve. I believe mental health has become the single greatest threat to black liberation movements.”

And though these issues affect activists in unique ways, the organizers I spoke with were quick to specify that the traumas that accompany experiencing and fighting against white supremacy don’t just affect activists, but affect the entirety of the black community.

“This is not just a problem among black people working toward liberation; this is a problem among all black people trying to survive in an era of black death,” says prison divestment organizer Anthony Williams.

But there are many barriers to accessing important mental-health services for black people at all levels of the movement. While conversations around mental health have become less taboo in black organizing spaces and in the black community as a whole, access to culturally qualified providers and financial constraints are primary concerns.

Christine Andrada, a community member and organizer in Oregon, said that the lack of black therapists affects activists’ access to mental-health resources. “Many of us felt distrustful of the mental-health resources available because every therapist/counselor is white, and probably don’t fully understand black mental health stigmas or how deeply the trauma and violence we are inundated with daily affects souls of black people,” she says.

Money is also a significant barrier. Many activists can barely afford to cover their basic needs while dedicating so much time to social justice work, much less be able to pay for the therapy and counseling they desperately need.

“My dad was an old school Nation of Islam dude,” says J Mase III, a black trans man who considers himself a supporter of the movement. “When I think about the types of training they did with their bodies, what they ate … they were always prepping for a larger movement.” But even this is challenging, Winstead says: “Los Angeles and Chicago Black Panthers both had severe mental-health challenges that went overlooked by scholars. Particularly in the form of PTSD for those who have been arrested.”

We may not get more critical study done around mental health and black social movements for some time. But, in the meantime, black communities are finding other sources of survival and restoration. Many activist spaces and black neighborhoods rely on the care of various healers, and, for many, the church has been an important place of refuge.

For Danielle Eubanks-Brady, a clinical social work student and former student organizer based in Indianapolis, the ministry center on her college campus became a place of support amid the depression that came along with organizing shortly after the death of Michael Brown.

“I’m not a religious person at all,” Eubanks-Brady says, “but the ministry center was my safe haven and I felt like somebody was listening to me. If I didn’t have those people in the ministry center, I don’t know where I would have been.” But even with this support Eubanks-Brady made it clear that the type of mental-health services many need is more than what ministry leaders are prepared for.

While mental-health care for black activists and the black community still has a ways to go, every person interviewed for this piece has said that large contributions could be made in this area by ordinary people doing very attainable things. Giving meals to people, being sure to pay for activists’ labor, donating toward organizers’ therapy bills, and even just creating spaces for organizers to be safe and be cared for all go a long way.

It is clear that the pain being inflicted on black people is more than just physical. Withstanding white supremacy is damaging mentally, and, for those on the front lines bearing witness to these horrors, it can have lethal consequences. 

 There are no overnight solutions to this unseen and often unspoken violence, but supporting activists’ basic physical, mental, and emotional needs might be one of the most tangible ways ordinary people can support the movement. There is no substitution for the professional care that black organizers need, but a meal, a hug, or a safe place might just be essential to the success of the movement for black lives.

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Myth of Mindfulness: Spiritual Heroin for Implosive Capitalism

by umair haque, coach, lover, vampire:

There’s a craze sweeping the globe. As old as time. You can’t go a moment without hearing the glorious benefits of mindfulness and meditation being proclaimed. And yet.

Here we are, in the ruins of modernity. Fascism’s rising while the global economy’s stagnating. That means very real pain for millions, billions, of real humans. And we’re … meditating? 

If the Buddha were alive today, he probably wouldn’t say: go meditate. He’d say: go fix your societies so there’s less suffering in them.

Meditation Isn’t a Substitute for a Working Society

Meditation isn’t a substitute for a working society. It’s point is not to let us turn our backs on our neighbors and peers. If that is all it is, then it is better not to do it at all. Because we aren’t really meditating. All the great spiritual masters say: everything is meditation. Watching a sunset, doing work with care, being gentle with people. All this is meditation. When we separate it as an activity we perform now and then, we’re not really meditating at all. So what are we doing?

You Don’t Need Spiritual Heroin if You’re Not Broken

We are using the techniques of meditation for the wrong ends. To escape, run away, dull the pain. Like taking spiritual heroin. But you don’t need spiritual heroin if you’re not broken. So what’s breaking us? Is the rise of mindfulness at the precise moment capitalism’s melting down a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Passive meditation and aggressive, savage capitalism are perfect bedfellows. The passivity of meditation is the perfect antidote, the ultimate American response to aggressively cruel capitalism.

Why? It’s personal responsibility taken to an extreme, isn’t it? You are hurt profoundly by broken institutions and failed leaders. What should you do? Challenge them? Rebel? No, go meditate. It’s your responsibility to not feel any pain. To numb it, escape it, bury it.

In all the senses above, mindfulness is capitalism’s latest greatest product. It needs a drug to pacify the broken soldiers on its front lines - and the collateral human damage - when the savagery of battle is over. We can meditate ourselves into oblivion right back to the Stone Age. But no spiritual master worth their insight would say that is worthwhile.

What’s the cheapest and most effective drug there is? Real therapy costs money. Real drugs have side-effects. Capital wants pure efficiency. No cost, maximum benefit. Meditation is the perfect drug for capitalism to finish the vicious job of eating itself. Someone’s got to do it, after all. Even though it will break their soul. What do you do with a broken soul? Find the cheapest drug you can.

The Purpose of True Meditation is Preventing Human Suffering, Not Absolving It

But that contradicts the very purpose of true meditation. Not to bury the pain, the injustice, the cruelty. But to prevent it. Mindfulness the way it’s being practiced right now doesn’t prevent cruelty. It excuses it, justifies it, sanctions it. Spiritual heroin is only really needed for fighting a war so savage the everyday horror must be numbed.

You’re a VP at Cruelty, Inc. Every day, you’re asked to do things that are morally repellent, abhorrent, deeply damaging to the very society you live in. Prey on the elderly, exploit the young, jettison the frail. It hurts. How do you deal with the pain?

Lucky for you, your HR department's running daily mandatory meditations. So you go. And you learn how to numb the pain a little. To detach. Float away. Hey, if there’s no self, you can’t be held accountable for your moral failings, right? So in learning to detach from your moral failings you numb the pain. All that’s really happening is your production of human cruelty is being excused, justified, encouraged, maximised. 

This isn’t real meditation. It is like using a cross to beat a child. It is a great violence against true meditation. Real meditation isn’t detaching yourself after cruelty, but learning to do no harm in the first place. That is why meditation is a humble, constant way - not a disjointed “activity”.

True Meditation Is This-ness

If you want to really meditate, to be truly mindful, what should you do?

The goal of true meditation is to make contact with the true self. The me in you and the you in me. Pure being. The raw stuff of existence. To get there, you must develop an awareness of awareness. See yourself seeing. Then the inner eye turn inwards, and sees the universe reflected in your soul.

Once you have a glimpse of this turning, then you suddenly know that all the cruelty and violence you have ever done has only been visited upon yourself. Karma. And so you know why happiness arises from finding one’s self in others, and others in one. That is reality, and happiness is just living it for a moment.

Now you understand what truly is, the greatest of all the universal laws of being. I am in you. You are in me. I must never harm you. But only act to lift you into the light. Then and only then am I fulfilled, because I am in harmony with genuine existence itself.

Now there is. You are. Really here. Otherwise, I am lost in illusion, delusion, self-destruction, ignorance. Only the moment that I love is the instant I truly exist.