breakdown of recent articles in response to the brief protest that occurred at the recent Wisdom 2.0 conference. Odds are the "mindfulness wars" are only beginning to heat up, as more and more areas of the military industrial complex adopt mindfulness programs. While Justin's post offers excellent insight into some of the highly thorny issues coming up when mindfulness enters the world of big business, the ending offers at least a mildly optimistic tone, citing research suggesting mindfulness alone can increase ethical behavior.
First off, let's consider the source of two of the three studies: the University of Chicago and the Wharton School of UPenn. The former is home to the Milton Friedman Institute, while the latter is one of the highest ranked business schools in the world, with numerous alumni leading Fortune 1000 corporations around the globe. On the one hand, it makes sense that they would be doing research on mindfulness in the workplace. On the other hand, these are places with a vested interest in maintaining our current economic system, including many of it's numerous abuses.
I would really like to see some significant research from universities and other organizations that aren't driven by highly pro-capitalist models. In addition, what I find problematic about much of the research on mindfulness that I ave seen is that it tends to focus on individual benefits and changes in intrapersonal and/or interpersonal dynamics. It's fairly easy to find articles on psychological and therapeutic benefits, and I'm guessing that folks who get upset with the wholesale rejection of secular mindfulness by some Buddhists (and others) are thinking in part from this place. And the fact that mindfulness programs clearly do seem to offer folks stress relief, healing or significant improvement of depression, anxiety, and similar conditions. In addition, there seems to more and more articles and perhaps research on the improvement of intrapersonal and/or interpersonal dynamics in groups such as large workplaces. I frequently see appeals from secular mindfulness proponents that point to better boss/employee relationships, as well as less hostile work environments in general. Which, if it's true that mindfulness programs are doing this, is certainly a positive in my book.
However, none of this readily translates into systemic social change. Just because the corporate workplace is filled with more caring and less stressed people doesn't mean they'll be more likely (in my view) to act (individually or collectively) in ways that significantly reduce manufactured economic inequality, environmental destruction, and numerous other issues. Not when the main, even sole purpose of corporations is to make profits for the elite.
What incentive does a corporation like Google have to actively address (from their own sense of conscience) something like gentrification? Why would they bother to do anything unless public pressure threatened to cave their financial bottom line?
Google has been at the forefront of corporate mindfulness programming for a good decade now, not only influencing programming incorporate Silicon Valley, but numerous other places. And yet, Google's ethical track record is fairly lousy. From avoiding taxes to exploiting the digital commons in Africa, Google isn't exactly demonstrating the supposed social ethics of a mindfulness-based business.
Overall, I think this discussion needs to move beyond the mindfulness produced "zombies" and "mindful sniper" examples that keep being brought up by folks on both sides of the table. These extreme, individualistic memes are highly charged distractions that keep us from taking a deeper look at the interdependent systems that mindfulness programs are plugging into, and how the oppressive forces within those systems impact whatever programs are being offered, regardless of how good the intentions are.