Archive for 2012

If Capitalism is Sociopathic, How Should We Make a Living?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

[As background to this long post, I highly recommend that you read another set of long posts from Venkatesh Rao entitled The Gervais principle. I will be using terminology from his first article but summarizing a bit at the beginning of this post, so reading Rao’s isn’t strictly required.]

Let’s start with a hypothesis. I won’t present arguments for it, which itself could take many long posts or books, just what follows if we posit it.

“Capitalism is Sociopathic” Hypothesis: Capitalism is structured in such a way that rewards sociopathic behavior, i.e. maximizing personal gain and corporate profits for a minority, inevitably leading to things like inequality of wealth amongst the population, etc.

If the Capitalism is Sociopathic hypothesis is true, then everyone not at the top is effectively enabling sociopathic behavior (by being a Loser laborer not paid a rational wage or a Clueless middle manager who’s main job is to hide the class struggle) and/or participating in it (e.g. with investments in publicly traded corporations, entrepreneurs, etc.). (more…)

Will Setting Goals Help or Hinder Your Life Achievement?

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I suspect that the future of personal development is being born right now, but not in the sophisticated online marketing scams techniques of some bloggers and ebook writers. No, the future of personal development is being born primarily in social psychology and neuroscience journals. My hope for the future is that the next generation of personal development readers, raised on Snopes and Wikipedia will scream out [citation needed] whenever a claim is made or “a study” is referenced. The Age of Information has arrived. Self-help books written B.G. (Before Google) will shock future generations with how confidently wrong they were, how they made broad even universalized claims with only anecdotal evidence. Or at least I hope this will be the case.


Just today Guardian columnist and self-help critical author Oliver Burkeman wrote an interesting piece for Fast Company, entitled Why Setting Goals Could Wreck Your Life. He points out that the oft referenced “1953 Yale Goals study” which allegedly concluded “the 3 percent of graduates with written goals had amassed greater financial wealth than the other 97 percent combined” is an urban legend.

That’s right–the study never existed. Nobody can find any reference to it existing. (more…)

Mindless Mindfulness and Sorting for Novelty

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Ellen Langer’s perspective on mindfulness continues to blow my mind the more I think about it and do it.

Mindfulness is often defined as “bringing all of one’s attention to the present moment” or “paying attention in a particular way.” But how should one bring all of one’s attention to the present moment? And what should one pay attention to in order to be “mindful”? And for what purpose does a person engage in mindfulness?

A frequently used mindfulness meditation technique is to notice the breath as it goes in and out. This task is very boring and done over long periods sitting upright can be very painful. They don’t tell you that in the marketing though! The benefits emphasized are things like gaining a more peaceful mind, “changing your brain,” reducing stress, and improving concentration. Let’s take the last claim. What is concentration exactly, and what kind of concentration do we want to develop? (more…)

More is More, Until More is Less

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

A huge number of personal development books and blogs are dedicated to the principle of leverage, also known as efficiency, the 80/20 rule, productivity, etc. But the thing is, many people use a “less is more” strategy far too early in the game.

In this great article “Is less really more?” I found via @andyfossett on Twitter, movement, strength, and conditioning coach Clifton Harski challenges the notion in exercise that less is always more.

He brings up three main points: (more…)

Authentic Spirituality and the Double Binds of Power

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Let’s say you are a famous spiritual teacher, and someone asks you in an interview what your biggest challenge is in your life.

That’s the basis for this teleseminar series, Teaching What We Need to Learn.

The most likely answers will be things like “I get mildly angry at other drivers when I’m in my car.” This is of course not the biggest challenge the person actually has in their life, it is a harmless vice other people can relate to and won’t severely judge the person for, thus resulting in no loss of power. (See Law 46 of The 48 Laws of Power.)

This Q&A is similar to the infamous interview question, “what’s your biggest flaw?” The correct way to answer this question is to be honest yet inauthentic by framing a flaw as a strength, like “I sometimes just work so hard I forget to take care of my own needs.” Nobody ever answers this question by saying, “oh, that’s got to be my meth habit”…nobody with a job that is. (more…)

Personal Development and Justice for All

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

So much personal development and self-help culture encourages achieving personal financial goals so that one can help others, either simply through the invisible hand of the market or by one day becoming a wealthy philanthropist. I think it’s a crucially important part of one’s personal development to understand why this quest is a myth, ultimately failing to understand the structural violence endemic to global poverty.

Today I watched an excellent documentary, available free on YouTube, on the recommendation of a twitterer named Matthew Stillman. The documentary is entitled “The End of Poverty? Think Again” and makes a strong case for what the root causes of poverty really are (hint: it’s not lack of natural resources) and what real solutions might look like (hint: it’s not aid from first world nations).

I highly recommend that you check out this movie as part of your personal development.

The World is Not Your Mirror

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

hall of mirrors

“The world is your mirror” is a popular phrase in self-help culture. In reality the world is not a reflective glass surface. So this is a metaphor that means something like, “instead of blaming others, examine your own thoughts and behaviors and how you are contributing to the problem.”

This can be a very helpful strategy in many contexts. For instance, if you have the same kinds of problems in intimate relationships with partner after partner, finding yet another partner (“The One”) without determining your role in the situation is not likely to be a good approach. A better strategy is to introspect and change your behavior first. For instance you might ask yourself, “how do I manage to choose the same kind of partner again and again? How can I improve myself in this situation instead of blaming the other person? In what ways am I contributing to creating this problem?” This approach is commonly referred to as taking responsibility and is a sign of maturity. (more…)

Anthropology Grad Student Looking For Help With Research Project

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

We recently received a request from an Anthropology graduate student looking for people involved with personal development programs. I am sharing this person’s request here:

Hi Beyond Growth Readers! My name is Araba, and I’m an anthropology graduate student at UC Berkeley who is conducting research on personal development programs, identity, and narratives of self-help in the U.S. I’m currently looking for personal development program participants who are interested in taking 30 to 60 minutes out of their day to reflect on their experiences with me.

Whether your participation in a personal development program has led to subtle changes or radical transformations in how you think about and frame your life experiences, I am interested in hearing your story. If you live the in the Bay Area, I would be happy to meet up for coffee or lunch to talk. For non-Bay Area residents, I will be conducting interviews over Skype. Please email me at araba [at] berkeley [dot] edu if you would like to participate or have any questions about what will be covered during the interview. Thanks!


Please contact Araba to help with the research project if you are interested.