Sunday 27 September 2015

Mindfulness and bureaucracy

Several of the big British bureaucracies - the National Health Service, and the State education department - have got hold of a notion they called 'mindfulness' (which they claim comes from Buddhism) which is now is being officially promoted... by the usual network of committees, recommendations, protocols and quality-monitoring methods.

(If only the ancient Buddhist monks had known about modern Managerial and accountancy methods... If only they could have recognized that modern officials would be able to reduce mindfulness to a set of processes... Think how much they might have achieved!) 

For example, mindfulness has been added to the compulsory school curriculum in some places, 'taught' by advisers and experts, evaluated by the same kind of systems as evaluate the teaching of mathematics and history...

This has happened before with 'Quality'.

In other words, we can see here a precisely analogous process of getting a complex concept, making it into a word, then making that word into... well, pretty much whatever the bureaucracy happens to want at that particular time.

As always, we must ignore the high minded introductory spiel (always ignore what managers say), and the assertions that mindfulness is a good thing... and see what it boils down to in practice.

Are there bullet points about doing mindfulness? Checklists? Who is telling us to do mindfulness - are they the kind of people who might know something - or anything - about the subject?

Do they in the slightest degree behave mind-fully or show any evidence of actually caring about actual mindfulness?

(How would the mindfulness-managers react if someone began being mindful while attending (or giving) a lecture or committee on the subject? - or mindfully filled in a form being used for external evaluations? - or became mindful instead of preparing a Power Point Presentation for the clients? - or experienced an intense and prolonged episode of mindfulness during a Personal Review and Staff Development session?)


Roger W said...

I don't doubt that your criticisms have considerable merit as far as they go here. Any attempt to bureaucratize spiritual practices (which really means the use of a faux-objective externalised procedural system to direct and regulate actions that by their very nature need to be directed towards the subjective, intuitive and personal) is inevitably going to undermine the goal of deepening spiritual insight. However, what worries me more about the spread of this phenomenon is the very fact that the ever-malevolent British Establishment appears to have developed such a strong commitment to pushing "mindfulness" on the population. Whether or not it is such in its original genesis within a broader complex of Buddhism and dharmic "Eastern" spirituality in general, it is certainly in its present manifestation a practice with the potential to undermine and substitute traditional forms of Christian spirituality and belief, and it would thus seem wise to regard the Establishment's fondness for it in this context.

They have perhaps been too successful lately, with their various propagandistic and philosophical attacks on Christianity and the notion of theistic faith in general, at driving people away, not just from true Christianity, which was their goal, but from those relatively lifeless and easily managed forms of Christianity followed by the majority until recently, which were nevertheless still able to provide some limited consolation while being no real threat to the status quo, nor offering much opportunity for real spiritual development. It is becoming increasingly evident (to the powers-that-be, or maybe we should say to those who are directing their thoughts and actions) that mere science-worship, philosophical rationalism, and their derivatives, are not capable of filling the void left by the wholesale destruction of even nominal faith, at least in countries where the destruction is as far advanced as in the UK.

Our current state of spiritual malaise has become so pervasive, and so painful for people to exist in, that there might be a real danger of a genuine Christian revival in the UK soon (as is well underway in much of the former Eastern bloc, for example and is threatening to happen in other recently de-Christianizing lands, such as Brazil). I don't think those who have created the present state of things want this to happen in the countries over which they have most influence, which would undermine all their "good work". Much better, they imagine (so far as they can be said to imagine anything at all) to propagate spiritual (or pseudo-spiritual) practices which have little to do with Christianity in principle, and can in practice be easily directed to essentially anti-Christian goals such as self-worship, solipsism, and non- or anti-theism.

My apologies for de-lurking on your blog with such a long post!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Roger - No need for apology - terrific comment!

Kristor said...

Are there bullet points? How not? What would a PowerPoint presentation on mindfulness be if it had no bullet points?

I bet those are some really zingy PowerPoints. No doubt they feature flowcharts, too.

somercet said...

Any attempt to reduce human values to rules fails. We do not value things because the rules say so, nor do we decry as immoral something that only adds up to 0.99 of a moral unit.

We have morals and our value hierarchies, and we sometimes apply rules to moderate or strengthen our responses to them. For example, you could call me a lot of (in my opinion) rude or unfair names for this comment, but as long as you did not pursue me I would not have many options aside from yelling back or leaving. We have a rule, see, that says freedom of expression is a bit more important than bruised feelings.

Since the NHS breaks the direct customer-supplier feedback inherent between patient and care-giver, they spawn an endless series of cookie-cutter make-work plans designed to paper over the fatal disconnect. But, how can any rules decide whether I am happy with my care? They can't. But they can blow more of your tax money on another useless program that employs more bureaucrats.

Are there poor people who need help, or a tax break, to pay for health care? Sure. Is that an excuse for the coercive Procrustean (Hospital) Bed of the NHS? No.

jjbees said...

"Mindfulness" just has such an air of falsehood and scumminess to it. Like they took something good, like contemplation and reflection, sanitized it, made it boring, and have repackaged it for the masses. It's the perfect tool for know nothing, think nothing, do nothing bureaucrats to use as a vehicle for their lame careers putting out rules and materials to further their soft authoritarian plan to regiment anything and everything, even the correct way to find peace and tranquility. It's absolutely barbaric, and anytime someone brings up mindfulness, I scoff. It's just so milquetoast and lame, you'd have to be entirely gullible to be taken in.

jjbees said...

I'm deeply skeptical of anyone proposing systems or systemic changes...these types always seem to want others to give to charity but are always selfish themselves.

Pbuxton's comment reminded me of a great quote:

What is divine in man is elusive and impalpable, and he is easily tempted to embody it in a concrete form – a church, a country, a social system, a leader – so that he may realize it with less effort and serve it with more profit. Yet the attempt to externalize the kingdom of heaven in a temporal shape must end in disaster. It cannot be created by charters or constitutions nor established by arms. Those who seek for it alone will reach it together, and those who seek it in company will perish by themselves. -Hugh Kingsmill

Bill said...

Carter Power will soon go away
I will be Fuhrer one day
I will command all of you
Your kids will meditate in school
Your kids will meditate in school

Close your eyes, can't happen here
Big Bro' on white horse is near
The hippies won't come back you say
Mellow out or you will pay
Mellow out or you will pay!

Now it is 1984
Knock-knock at your front door
It's the suede/denim secret police
They have come for your uncool niece

- excerpts from, Dead Kennedys, "California Uber Alles" (1980)