Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Summary and Notes.

I recently read Mark Fisher’s fantastic Capitalist Realism. It’s a short book and all, but engrossing. So I put it down in one sitting.

It’s a fantastic book. I’d recommend anyone who is interested in social critique of any sort.

Here are the notes I took on each chapter. It’s a fantastic book, and I’d recommend anyone who is interested in the same sort of societal themes and critique that I am to look into it. My intention is for these notes to help you get more out of it, though it’s also a nice, straightforward text. Maybe let them supplant discussion, if you can’t find anyone else to talk about the book with.

Chapter 1

The brutal dystopia as a cultural concept in entertainment serves to justify our increasing alienation, and increasingly competitive economic context. It idealizes the brutal individual, because this is what we are forced to become.

If we are increasingly driven to adopt the ideals of the brutal survivor in the post apocalypse, what might that say about the economic and spiritual realities we’re currently navigating?

This is, in the worst case, simply known as ‘being realistic.’ But we need to valorize it. Otherwise we are only victims of a horrible world, rather than possible victors.

Chapter 2

Much as per Zizek’s critique of Starbucks: do not worry, you can save the starving African children by purchasing this latte. Would you like a venti or grande?

Chapter 3

There are tacit ontologies we take on board as a matter of course. These assumptions make their rounds on the basis of their compatibility with the dominant narrative of economic success. Namely, they are that there is no way but capitalism; that there are infinite resources for capitalism; and that there is infinite affective capacity to endure the stresses of capitalism including individualization and the privatization of stress in the absence of the sort of communities that capitalism is hostile to.

Chapter 4

It is now ‘known’ that there is no way to get around capitalism. Once you accept this, whether it is true or not, there is only the pursuit of pleasure. Fisher calls this ‘depressive hedonia: wherein constant distraction and stimulation is the only solution to hopelessness.

He cites his experience teaching hopeless students– Capitalism’s new illiterates. Deleuze via Fisher: ‘Capitalism is profoundly illiterate.’

Strangely, the role of the teacher is no longer the disciplinarian who uses power to impose form and function a la the sort of analysis we see in Foucault. Instead, the teacher is present to justify the exercise of sitting in a classroom without any desire to learn at all. It would be difficult to believe the students had satisfactorily consumed the knowledge in the lesson without the presence of a teacher, though much more than that is unneccessary.

One of Capitol’s most effective ploys was to orient success around motivation: this was the privatization of stress. For Fisher, this was the moment whereby winners became the most effective perpetrators of the system.

Flexibility as an idol becomes a chain for the freelance professionals that embrace it.

Chapter 5

If schizophrenia is the disease at the edges of capitalism, as per Deleuze and Guattari, then bipolar disorder is the disease of the interior.

When workers are incentivized by the ‘freedom’ of neo-liberalism, they get chained to it too. But those chains aren’t external any more. Instead, they’re internal. The modern workplace offers pensions schemes after all, which are investments. Workers themselves become part of the market– they are psychically coupled to its cycles.

Chapter 6

Work in both public and private sectors have ceased to be oriented towards production, and instead have become oriented towards the image of production, with a constant battery of assessments, objective statements, targets, outcomes, etc.

This in some sense is a repeat of late stage Stalinism, according to which the plan was all that mattered: a valuation of symbolic achievement over achievement.

For capitalism this can be explained in terms of the stock market, wherein the perception of success is far more important for valuation than genuine success. This, ironically, is what trickles down.

Who isn’t allowed to know how bad things really are? Why are we performing as though this were a perfectly oiled machine? Who would be upset if we admitted how dire circumstances really are?

TV’s Big Brother as a perfect paradigm case of internalization. We are Big Brother. There is no Big Orwell, there is only Big Us.

My own thought: the only way to overcome the continual deferral of the beaurocratic instinct is to willingly act where you would not be empowered to: beuro-kratos.

Chapter 7

We are deciding to ignore this. We are complicit. ‘Life is but a dream’ and we are willing to pay for it. We are willing to forget that we have done this. The only remainders are our implicit memories– the procedures that we use to forget in the first place, and which we employ without any memory of why.

Chapter 8

The call center as the clearest illustration of decentralization. The generation of a hatred that has no proper object, because this mess is no one person’s fault in particular.

The collective entities that in actual fact make up the capitalist structure do not have agency the way we think of it; therefore, they cannot have moral standing and cannot be responsible. This is not a problem of people. Anyone would do the same if they were a CEO or a banker.

Chapter 9

The death of paternalism. Now, there is only the injunction to enjoy. The idea that there might be anyone who ought to tell you how to live, as if they could possibly know better than you do, is dead. This structure requires people to know what they want. Which means that nothing new can ever be made.

But consider the following: From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.” (PP.81)

Status Consumption and the Costly Signalling Treamill.

I’m not sure when it will be sensible to end the measures we’re currently taking to kerb the spread of coronavirus. It is by a long-shot not my field.

But I do think this is an opportunity for us to reconsider the course that society is currently taking. Some of my more climate conscious friends have been rejoicing at statistics in the news to the effect that carbon emissions are down 50% in some areas. Some workaholics I know have been reflecting on the surprising value of being forced into a small space with their families.

For me personally, this has been a period of time where I’ve allowed myself to slow down on my own pursuit of career goals. The lockdown hasn’t made me spend more time at home than I would have otherwise, but it has given me the opportunity to sit still for a second, comfortable in the assumption that everyone else that I’m racing is also sitting still.

I’ve described three facts of the life that we usually live: pollution, isolation, and stress. With nothing to say of pollution, the scientific literature is pretty unequivocal in the way it describes the effect of stress and isolation. These effects aren’t just mental or emotional, by the way, social isolation and stress have demonstrable correlations with physical health measures like heart rate variability and risk of heart attack.

I wonder whether we’re going to go back to normal after all our respective lock-downs are lifted. When I consider that eventuality, I ask myself: do we have to!? The answer is somewhat complicated. While we certainly don’t have to, we won’t be able to avoid it without some serious self-reflection.

I tend to lose patience with pieces of writing that recommend self-reflection and then don’t provide anything useful to reflect on, so let’s try and come up with some reasons to change, and some ways to change. It’s very easy to point out that something is broken without even contemplating an alternative. My alternatives might not be particularly attractive– but neither is going sober from the perspective of an opiate addict. From where I’m standing, we are substantially addicted to a few things, and it’s always important to admit there’s a problem.

I. Progress Mythologies

One of the biggest cited advantages of the capitalist system is that it incentivizes growth through competition. Now, it might be true that competition pushes innovation– though Noam Chompsky has some rather convincing evidence to the contrary, citing the range of important research in the 20th Century prompted by government funding as opposed to the free market— but we also need to recognize that growth is only necessarily valuable in the context of the social mobility mythology.

When I say social mobility mythology, I’m not trying to say that social mobility doesn’t occur. I’m instead trying to use mythology to point out a socially sustained conception of morality or good-ness that is propagated via the stories we tell ourselves and each other as opposed to a set of propositions.

The social mobility mythology is attractive because it lets us feel good about ourselves. Beyond that, it’s attractive because it prompts us to work for ourselves and for the good of those around us that we care about. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a story. It might even be true— though I’m not sure what truth means in this context. But it’s still a story.

Stories need to be revised when they cease being adaptive. While we might be able to justify the social mobility story as adaptive just by a fingernail from our current perspective, I’m not convinced that pushing for individual or even local-collective progress is going to be morally defensible once we realize that we really were all in this together and that we really don’t have anywhere to live any more.

The point of a critical approach to culture is to be able to appraise the values of these mythologies in a multiple step process. The first step of this process is always to acknowledge that these are mythologies. Unfortunately, many would-be critical eyes point out the mythological component of a cultural practice they don’t like, acknowledge to everyone else that it’s simply mythological, as if that were sufficient to motivate throwing it out, and then they conveniently ignore the mythological component of their own favorite cultural practices.

One common criticism of baby-boomers is that they believe they’re responsible for their successes, where in reality it was an economic serendipity that they were able to purchase their homes at ridiculously low rates while making relatively massive salaries stocking shelves at the grocery store.

The difficult part to acknowledge is that we’re all capable of that sort of cognitive dissonance, and in fact we do it all the time. I’m not particularly responsible for my own success– I was lucky enough to be born into a family with enough money to send me to good schools, and at those schools I was lucky enough to be inculcated with a belief that knowledge was valuable, which prompted me to work hard enough… and so on.

II. Status Consumption.

As long as we believe that progress is the aim, and as long as we acknowledge that individual progress is important because it’s scarce, then we’re always going to be trying to beat each other. That’s great as long as we aren’t leaving behind loads of out-dated luxury goods to rot in landfills, for example, but that’s also exactly what we’re doing.

Status consumption is when you make a purchasing decision on the grounds that is either explicitly or implicitly associated with what we usually call a ‘lifestyle statement.’ The costly signalling treadmill is what happens when the exclusivity of a given commodity is a component of its status value; when signals for that exclusivity become reproducible without the actual exclusivity; and where as a result those who yearn for status.

In its worst form, this can result in a sort of status costume: purchasing decision can be made on the grounds that the decision signals social status or the association with it. The problem with this is that it the actual good that had once been inherent in the thing to be desired, which is that it resulted from the ability to do difficult things– such as acquire scarce or exclusive resources, for example– ceases to be associated with the actually positive quality with which it had been originally associated. 

In the course of working with some of the most putatively deprived members of society, I’ve noticed odd purchasing decisions. I have come into contact with homeless schizophrenics who can afford to abandon council properties costing far in excess of my own rent in housing benefit, and who still have enough money left over to spend multiple hundreds of pounds on designer clothes. 

What struck me as most salient here wasn’t the incongruity of a homeless man having so much gross income as such. Instead, what I noted was that his decisions all were oriented around consuming goods that we usually think of as high-status, or luxury goods and that those goods took such high priority. I how on Earth that situation could have come about, and I wondered at what sort of implicit mythology must have been at work supporting it. I also feel the need to note that this was not uncommon. It is in fact so common that you would be dumbfounded. In the absence of any meaningful long-term purchases, some of these people resorted to flash sneakers instead.

I came up with one of two possible explanations: the first is that money is an analgesic, and that we as a society are happy to give it to those who suffer the most so as to absolve ourselves of the very difficult work of helping them in more substantive ways; the second is that a vibrant consumeristic lifestyle is actually one of the best things we can think of to give someone who is suffering. Maybe we see it as a genuine improvment to furnish our poorest and most downtrodden with the ability to buy a bunch of status signalling personal possessions. Though the reality, I suspect, is somewhere between the two.

I hope you agree with me: the idea that our social structures are uninfluenced by own our unconscious biases and beliefs is a pretty ridiculous one. It doesn’t take much psychonanalytic insight to realize people project their values without meaning to.

It’s also my experience that people are far more likely to ignore ugly truths rather than act on them. That might support the money-as-analgesia explanation, but it also might support the consumption-as-genuine-gift explanation. 

III. How to Get Off The Costly Signalling Treadmill.

But what happens to luxury goods when the lowest strata of society can purchase them in ridiculous amounts? They cease to be worth much in terms of signal value. That means that something new must emerge, just so that there is something more exclusive, less easily procured, and therefore signalling greater amounts of social capital. 

I’m pretty sure that’s the best thing we can conceptualize as the good: just the unending refreshment of social capital and the refreshment of our self-image. I don’t think that needs to be the case.

In some cases, one of the really wonderful things that emerged in recent history is the idea that consumption is less of a signal of excellence than the ability to self-deny. The problem is that it’s possible to commodify the image of self-denial through sorts of rough-textured health food or aesthetically pleasing water bottles. It is oh-so-easy to be diverted from genuine self-control. 

I criticized above the sorts of people who complain and don’t offer alternatives, so here’s my offer. It seems like one of the best ways as a society is to orient away from unhindered consumption towards an increase in self-control as an acetic-aesthetically pleasing end in itself.

It would even in theory be possible to justify this on a social signalling level. Self denial is hard, it requires skill and training, and it requires focus. All of these are valuable and difficult and scarce and beneficial. But we don’t really make much of them in the public sphere, which strikes me as so odd.

At one point in the near past, we were able to take these skills seriously– to the point that we accidentally landed ourselves in all sorts of Protestant-authoritarian intellectual wastelands. But certainly we can look back on then, look squarely at the present, and then realize the two aren’t mutually exclusive nor mutually exhaustive alternatives.

If anything, it seems as though the skills of focus and self denial are even more important to develop in the current age of multicolored and ubiquitous advertising designed to drive us into decision fatigue, alongside the near ubiquity of sugar– which I’m sure you no doubt know is potentially more difficult to kick than cocaine.

What does this look like in concrete terms? It means wearing second-hand clothing, preferably old enough to still have been made to last. It means using old phones, again, as old as possible so they can still have been made to last. It means boycotting companies at our own inconvenience simply because despite convenience offered, they still operate in immoral ways– that’s one of the real keys to untangling this issue, but without religion it’s unclear how we might rescue morality.

How can we make it so self-denial constitutes a good? I certainly don’t think we can ground the value of self-denial in the mythology of improvement per se. If we tried that, then it would be difficult to stick with when it became uncomfortable or difficult or when it actually started costing the individual in a material sense.

In order to undertake the sort of collective reorientation that a rejection of capitalism entails– the reorientation toward ecological sustainability for example– the idea of the energetic individual as the consumptive end in itself has to be consigned to the flames. The idea that the growth of the self and its development has to go the same way. The idea that the natural and domesticated spheres serve as nothing more than clay for the live expression of the individual has to be rejected.

Pragmatically speaking, we’ll need to get people to feel good about having less rather than by having more. I think the best way to achieve this is to promote an ethic of neighborly giving, as trite as that might sound. If anything, the apparent triteness might go some distance to indicate how alienated that value has become at the moment. We could say that a good metric for the necessity of considering an alternative to the mainstream in the case of particularly all-encompassing ideologies is to examine how absurd the alternatives might seem; the more absurd the alternatives, the more all-encompassing the ideology has become under our noses.

IV. Joy at Loss for the Self and Others.

Consider the following thought experiment: a young professional has been working as a manager at a job for the past two years after having worked there for a prior three. At a review, it is collectively decided that our young professional is to be demoted again– they are simply ineffective in their role and were doing a much better job in their previous position.

In the managerial position, they were an active drain on the group, and in their return to their prior role, they are once again a net positive for themselves and for everyone with whom they work. Anyone who has ever had a job has also met someone who was both a manager who should not have been a manager. I put it to you that we will have become appropriately self-determining when we can earnestly see this move as something to celebrate rather than something to lament.

The initial intuition is to be sad for our young professional, because they have lost status. Instead, we should be happy for everyone, because a bad structure has been reoriented towards actually producing good again.

If the young professional, their family, and their co-workers could be happy that a collective benefit had been rendered rather than sad because one individual’s status had been lowered, then I suggest this would be a social mythology that was, if not free from the status-progress mythology, at least less enthralled by it than our current society. 

That would indicate we had done away with the obsessive compulsions toward status and personal progress that are currently alienating us from those around us, and which continue to incentivize the destruction of our planet and already anaemic communities.

Beware the Optimization-Effiency Constraint! Also: A Hope for Freedom.

I.

Here are some ideas to play with: that culture affects thought through language; that culture can be impressed and enforced in relation to some incentives; that culture is incentivized to impress certain modes of thinking, speaking and being in order to reinforce its own position. These are all sort of standard moves if we’re talking about ideology.

An example of how culture might impress itself on your thought is as follows. You might work in an organizational environment in an entry-level role. In plain English, there are some consequences of that. You’re expected to shut up on things you aren’t qualified to discuss, and you’re expected to learn a sort of organizational argot. There are enough pieces on “Business English” to nauseate a world, so I won’t bother writing this piece to add to those.

I also don’t want to argue whether or not “Business English” as a plain example actually affects anyone body and soul. I think the claim that language affects how you behave and thing is actually uncontroversial. For those who doubt me, here is a way you can test this: learn another language, and then see how your personality changes in that language. I learned Spanish, and I found that I was arguably a distinct person when speaking in Spanish. The relationships I built in Spanish and what sort of nonsense I got up to ended up forming a distinct personhood.

So we’ve heard an example of a distinct culture, and we’ve heard about how a distinct language might affect a mode of being, but how might a distinct culture impress a mode of being by a language? That’s a somewhat slipperier contention.

Let’s see how a mode of being can be opened up by learning a new language, as impressed by a culture. When you learn about anatomy, you are shown a language for describing the parts of your body. As such, you get the opportunity to become more aware of your body. If you take advantage of this opportunity, then you end up with the desired outcome. I don’t see how this could be anything other than positive, other than that it might end up distracting you from other things.

One way a culture could alter your mode of being then, is by incentivising you to acquire a knowledge of anatomy, which would lead you to developing a familiarity with your own anatomy. I suspect medical students have this experience, but I can personally confirm that students of partner dance or athletic pursuits like martial arts or rock climbing are also incentivised to acquire this sort of knowledge. The way that the culture around these activities incentivises certain knowledge is simply that they incentivise excellence in the pursuit. If the pursuit is such that familiarity with your own knowledge makes you better at it, then you’ll acquire the knowledge. That will lead you to acceptance and a sense of accomplishment and so on.

A discrete example: all of the above pursuits require you to get acquainted with the fine muscles in your abdomen and legs that allow you to balance. They also require you to get acquainted with your startle response and your anxiety response, both of which will throw those fine muscles and the awareness you need of them to havoc.

Those are all very positive ways that a culture might affect your mode of being. You could say the reason we trust culture at all is that culture is actually a fantastic transmitter and motivator when it comes to acquiring useful modes of being– or skills, I guess you could say. If you’ve ever tried to teach yourself something and then realized how much easier it is to learn something when embedded in a community dedicated to learning that thing, then you might have an inkling of what I mean. It is simply much easier to muster the dedication required for skill acquisition if there is some external motivational support. I won’t say reward as such, because I don’t know if anyone pursues the activities we’ve been talking about so far for just social acceptance. If anything, social gains seem like supplemental gains.

But what about those skills you pursue solely for social gains? I’m somewhat reluctant to call them skills at all. But take the “Business English” example. If we model language acquisition as a skill, then learning how to speak “Business English” is a skill. It’s socially incentivised, that’s for sure. If you don’t have experience of this, just consider any organizational culture you’ve had to learn to fit into.

The question I want to ask is: is there any danger to acquiring these skills? Is it possible to reduce your mode of being by acquiring easy or comfortable ways of thinking implicit in these skills? As I write it, it sounds a bit alarmist. Instead, perhaps it’s more worthwhile to consider how to sidestep possible pitfalls, and what those pitfalls might be.

Let’s consider a general principle of economy: if you can do something more easily, then you will do. Is this true of your emotional or being oriented habits? Let’s consider emotional avoidance as an economic tactic. If you model yourself as having a finite amount of emotional resource, you might tend towards becoming emotionally avoidant as a way to protect yourself and maintain your integrity.

This is where the danger comes in my mind. Let’s think evolutionarily about the cultures and linguistic patterns that emerge in

A quick example of “Business English” in an odd context: I once heard a colleage talking about ‘actioning’ a problem in a procedure. This was noteworthy, because it seemed to abstract away what was actually happening. To be precise, we were talking about ways to make sure we were adequately safeguarding our clients, many of whom have mental health problems or learning disabilities. While I don’t think the effect I’m talking about was present here– namely that emotional reality of the situation seemed present to my colleague– it does make me wonder whether there are cases where we might tend towards thinking in abstract ways as a technique of unconscious avoidance.

II.

When I talk with my friends about eating the rich, I am always cautious. I don’t want to blame money-hoarding Capital holders. The reason for this is that I am certain I would feel an unbearable temptation to do exactly what they’re doing in those situations where they’re doing it.

Let’s always bear in mind a principle from Evolutionary Psychology: the human organism did not evolve in a socio-cultural context like the one we currently live in. If we look at the meaning of the term Anthropocene, the academic facon de parler that dubs our current geological era, we can start to understand just what an odd pickle we’ve got ourselves into, speaking in terms of resource.

For the longest time, mankind was made for the flow of resource. The flow of resource was not made for mankind. This is now, to an extent, no longer the case. The relevance here of these ideas is to illustrate that the people on the top of our social structure may have unconscious mental maps of resource in terms of uncertainty and uncontrollability. This means that they may be far more likely to hoard than is warranted by their wealth. This may go doubly if we considered which types of people are most likely to become Capital holders in the first place, who I would suggest have a tendency toward conservative behaviours.

It would be odd to have acquired and stockpiled a large amount of money if you didn’t want to do those things, and given that you exist in a world that has people who do want to do those things, it’s likely difficult to acquire a large amount of money unless you do things that specifically optimize for acquiring large sums of money at the expense of other things. Casualties of this process might be social or emotional well-being, or time to pursue creativity, or other human goods.

I think the central Marxist thesis, or at least the one which appeals to me the most, is that the problem with Capitalism is that it ends up producing a system in the end that actually does incentivise against human goods, and instead results in an all-or-nothing, where you have to either commit entirely to money or not at all.

Basically, I’m trying to say that I feel sorry for the people who compulsively hoard money. I’m also trying to say that they likely suffer from an extreme over-specialization into modes of thinking and being that optimize for money generation and not much else. In the past, when I’ve spoken to successful middle managers, I’ve often been shocked by how little they knew or did that wasn’t related to the promotion of their own image.

It didn’t seem to be something I could justifiably be sicked by, because it seemed like it was a survival-critical strategy for them that they couldn’t shut off. It also seemed like they didn’t have much of anything else to offer.

From a Cognitive-Behavioural standpoint, a personality disorder can be understood as a pattern of adaptation that was at one point useful– likely during the course of an incredibly traumatic early life. If we took the same sort of perspective towards people who happened to have a particularly acquisitive or conservative nature, who had then been railroaded by the way Capital abstracts possession-value from use-value and trapped in a particularly empty mode of being by the process, then it gets a lot easier to feel less scorn for those who have much.

We might want to say that people like these have been trapped in a cycle by the optimization-efficiency constraint. This constraint might turn up in any system where scarcity is a problem, or where it is a perceived problem.

I’m not saying all people who have large amounts of money are like this, only that some seem to be. I could see myself falling prey to this sort of cycle if I wasn’t careful.

III.


What if there were more conservative ways of thinking or being with our emotional resources, assuming that we view ourselves with the ego-depletion model? Well, one way I could think of would be to avoid developing modes of being that we were weak in, and where the expected rate of return was low. That would lead to the sort of overspecialization of self that I was talking about in the earlier part with middle-managers.

The problem with expected values in considering personal development is that what you value changes with the sort of personal experiences and transformations that you undergo. For instance, I value a stable relationship and community substantially more than I used to. You could account for that in terms of my ageing and becoming more mature, but I would be reluctant to accept that explanation– you can see plenty of exceptions to it. Plenty of people never end up with that sort of view, despite all the age and maturation they acquire.

Let’s round up again: so far we’ve spoken about how language and cultures can affect modes of being; we’ve spoken about how the impressions of culture on modes of being can be really beneficial; we’ve played with some examples of how modes of being might be bad adaptations; we’ve seen examples of how economically conservative behaviour might trap us in bad modes of being; and we’ve seen that transformation in modes of being across time might change what we value, and therefore what we aim at.

So here’s the kicker: if we’re incentivized to develop poor modes of being, for example in an organizational context; and if we lose the opportunity to develop compensatory modes of being as a consequence of economically conservative modes of behaviour such as emotional avoidance, then we may put ourselves in a hamstrung position, where all we can safely optimize for is more avoidance.

Which sounds hellish.

IV.

So what are our routes of escape? As far as I can see, there are at least two useful personal virtues that help us avoid these problems. The first is self-awareness, and the second is focus. The importance of self-awareness is that you can’t correct what you don’t know is a problem. Things that don’t hurt don’t get changed. The importance of focus is that it is often very painful to acknowledge personal failures. It is much easier to ignore problems than to acknowledge them. But remember that this means overcoming the detrimental effect of Capital and the optimization-efficiency constraint. That’s motivational enough for me.

As far as I can see, contemplative practice is the best option for developing both of these traits. However, there are many, many problems that I can see with contemplative practice as it’s currently presented via marketing and understood in the West– the culture which is patient zero of the optimization-efficiency constraint.

I don’t want to criticise traditional forms of meditation as practised in Eastern cultures, or the mythological-cultural structures that animate them. I don’t think that from my current historical state of consciousness I could ever understand what the texts mean. In fact, that’s related to the problem. Those ideas emerged in at a specific point in history, and are completely divorced from the history of thought that I was raised on, and that is implicit in both of our modes of being, given that you’re reading me in English.

Instead I want to offer a very simple set of instructions I’ve been playing with. They work a treat for me. The idea of these is to interrogate them and to experiment. But bear in mind that they will likely be uncomfortable at first. The main aim of the instructions is to practice resisting the optimization-efficiency constraint, and to get proficient at it in a habitual way. In doing so, you’ll have to develop both self-awareness and focus. You’ll develop self-awareness by being forced to examine yourself implicitly by the activity itself, and you’ll develop focus by doing something difficult that you’ll have to continuously recommit yourself to doing.

Maybe these ideas won’t make sense at first. If so, go try this and then come back and read them again. Remember, the ultimate goal of this practice is to weaken the need to serve the sense of scarcity within you. If you try this, you ought to do it in the spirit of freedom.

I do also want to note that I am suspicious of “Mindfulness” as a cultural movement. This isn’t because there’s anything wrong with Mindfulness as a personal quality. Saying that would be silly. I try and cultivate it myself, and I find it deeply rewarding to do so. My problem is just that “Mindfulness” has become an excellent buzzword. It has been appropriated by a profit machine disguising itself as good organizational practice in some cases, and by a profit machine disguising itself as a healthcare system in others. That’s all I want to say on the matter, as plenty of interest has been written on it lately.

V.

Back to the instructions. You might find these familliar.

1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Grab some cushions if you want. I use a meditation cushion called a zafu. But make no mistake, I am not sitting Za-zen.

2. Assume a sustainable posture. That means a soft and ‘S’ shaped back. There are plenty of guides on good sitting posture in the world. If you don’t know what good posture is, go research it. The posture needs to be sustainable, because you are going to be sitting in it without movement.

3. Set a timer for twenty minutes, and put it nearby. Don’t look at it, no matter how much you want to. that would count as moving.

4. Set an intention with yourself. Say to yourself ‘no matter what happens, I will not move.’ Be ready to be gentle with yourself– you’re probably going to move.

5. Focus on your breath, and do not move. You’re going to really want to move, but don’t. Get used to choosing not to. Keep doing this until the timer goes off. If your attention goes somewhere else, bring it back to your breath. If you can’t bring it back, let it go where it goes.

6. Be grateful. I like to bow until my head touches the ground. I’ll explain why later.

You might have suffered the entire time, thinking about all the tasks you have to complete, or the fear you have about your career, or the lack of money in your bank account, or how little you’ve done in your life to meet your parent’s expectations. But for at least those twenty minutes, you resisted the urge to react.

You might be full of thoughts, or you might not be. Either is fine. Eventually, you’ll probably experience what it’s like to not have any thoughts. That isn’t the point. Don’t think that’s the point. That being said, it’s nice while it lasts– and you might say that it’s one the few ways you have to break from ideology.

These instructions might sound familiar, and that’s because they probably are. Don’t think about them too much. The main idea is to get used to feeling your own body, and all of its urges and fears. There is absolutely no substitute for doing this if you want to understand how to free yourself from the awful structures of optimization we live in.

Don’t think of this practice as meditation– it isn’t. And don’t think of it as ‘mindfulness’ either. Both of those conceptualizations trap you in an ideological structure. I have plenty to say about mindfulness and the way it’s been appropriated by Capital, but I’ll save that for another day. Whether it’s Buddhism, or Taoism, or Zen, or Capitalism, or whatever. I don’t want my body and soul to be a slave to a structure of ideas, nor their optimization constraints. So let’s not adopt too many ideas around this practice if we can help it.

I would suggest doing it every day. I do it twice a day. I really don’t like the feeling of being a slave to scarcity. But I do really like the feeling of freedom from slavery, even if it’s just internal. Additionally, remember the hellish picture we painted in section II, about the money-oriented slave to the optimization-efficiency constraint? Well, you can take my word for it that practising this will make you less likely to become that guy, at least so long as you do it right.

Bear in mind that I am not a meditation teacher, and would not be accepted as anyone of any value by any existing spritual tradition, probably.

If you do this for long enough you’ll probably have periods where it feels really good. If you do it long enough, you might also have lots of really weird emotional disturbances. Hopefully those lead to some productive self-inquiry. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also have humongous periods of ego-inflation that make you think all sorts of weird things– that’s why I bow every time I’m done, to counteract those tendnecies. But remember: I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.