Mindful (ˈmīn(d)fəl) n. Attentive, aware, careful.
–The Random House Dictionary of the English Language
The premise of the Mindful Resistance Project is that understanding and addressing the root causes of Trumpism is important—so important that we shouldn’t let Trump’s antics and outrages get in the way of this mission. To put a finer point on it: 1) We need to respond to each day’s news about Trump wisely—with moral clarity and forceful conviction but with awareness of the way overreactions to his provocations can play into his hands. 2) Meanwhile, we need to get a deeper understanding of the forces that led so many people to vote for Trump. These forces include globalization, demographic change, the loss of jobs through automation, and a political polarization that is grounded partly in the tribalizing tendencies of social media. This polarization is also grounded in what you might call the psychology of tribalism, in cognitive biases that afflict us all—so fostering an understanding of how our minds work will be among the goals of this project.
If you’re interested in joining this effort to more clearly comprehend our predicament so we can change it, sign up for the weekly Mindful Resistance newsletter, which comes out each Friday. And if you want to learn more about our mission here at mindfulresistance.net, read the message below from the site’s founder, Robert Wright.
Why “mindful” resistance?
When people hear “mindful,” they may think “Buddhism” or “meditation.” Which makes sense: “mindfulness” is the standard English translation of the ancient term sati, which refers to a kind of Buddhist meditation and to the frame of mind this meditation cultivates.
Still, the British scholar who settled on that translation more than a century ago—Thomas William Rhys Davids—was drawing on the simple, non-exotic meaning that the word “mindful” already had in English. And that meaning points to a frame of mind that even non-meditators can cultivate. Namely, a clear, alert, acutely aware mind. Rhys Davids said the Buddhist ideal of “right mindfulness” refers to “an active, watchful mind.”
So what does all this have to do with Donald Trump—and with fighting the dark forces he represents? For starters, an alert, attentive, watchful mind is, obviously, a good thing to go to battle with. But there’s more to it than that. If you delve into the mechanics of mindfulness meditation, you’ll see that the kind of alertness and attention it is meant to foster is a kind that’s unclouded by the sort of feelings that can lead to tactical blunders—such feelings as rage and hatred, and also subtler feelings that can distort our perceptions and color our thoughts.
One reason I started mindfulresistance.net is that I think the resistance to Trumpism is sometimes impaired by such feelings. To take one example: I think we sometimes react to Trump’s provocations with a level of outrage that, even if justified (as it often is), is tactically unwise because it winds up helping him. I’m not saying you have to meditate to avoid these overreactions (though I think meditation helps, and I do it myself). And I’m not saying I always avoid such overreactions myself. I just think it’s good for opponents of Trumpism—meditators and non-meditators alike—to be aware of this pitfall, and aware of how their feelings can lead them into it.
Another reason I started this project is that I think focusing too much on Trump’s antics and outrages can sometimes distract us from the larger forces that allowed him to become president. These forces include globalization, technological change, demographic change (including immigration), and political polarization. I think it’s critical to understand the impact these things have had on many Americans who voted for Trump and, for that matter, the impact they’ve had on people in other countries who voted for politicians who are like Trump. Any enduring solution to the problem Trump represents—a problem much deeper than this amazingly shallow man—will involve comprehension of these forces and solutions to the problems they have created.
I don’t purport to completely understand these problems or to have the solutions—but I do think the temptation to dismiss all Trump supporters as racists or fascists or any other kind of ‘ist’ is simplistic and counterproductive. And, for that matter, even when racist or fascist leanings are the problem, it’s still important to understand what forces created or deepened those leanings, so that we can make such leanings less common in the future.
Another thing I don’t claim to have figured out is when Trump’s outrages and provocations warrant full-throated protest and when a more subdued response is the wiser path. But I’m pretty sure that human nature inclines those of us who oppose what Trump represents to overreact to him—so vigilance against overreaction is warranted.
And speaking of human nature: a longstanding belief of mine is that humankind’s biggest problem is the psychology of tribalism—a set of cognitive biases that convince us that our group is right and good and its opponents are wrong and bad. I’d say this problem is a big part not only of political polarization in the US but of sectarian conflict abroad and national conflict in general. So thinking about the psychology of political polarization in the US could pay dividends beyond its borders. As could exploring this psychology introspectively, through mindfulness meditation—although, again, meditating isn’t some kind of pre-requisite for joining this cause, and there are ways to improve self-understanding and self-mastery without meditating.
The Mindful Resistance Project is an ongoing exploration, an attempt to shed light on the many difficult questions raised by the war on Trumpism. It’s an attempt, you might say, to make the war truly global, in the sense of trying to take account of all relevant factors, wherever they may be.
We’re starting out small, by publishing a newsletter every Friday. It will feature links to things we think are conducive to mindful resistance: good, sober analyses of recent Trump-related developments; explanations of how recent news looks from the point of view of Trump supporters (knowledge that can help us keep from inadvertently strengthening Trump’s base); pieces about globalization, trade, immigration, etc. that shed light on how Trump got elected and/or suggest policies that might address the grievances of his supporters in ways that are consistent with American ideals; and, yes, for those of you interested in the Buddhist kind of mindfulness, there will sometimes be discussion of all this in the context of meditative practice. I do think that mindfulness meditation can help a person be a mindful resistor, even if it’s not a pre-requisite.
OK, let’s get started! If you want to get our weekly newsletter, sign up here. (We promise never to sell or give your email address to anyone, and you can unsubscribe at any time.) The newsletter will keep you apprised not just of the latest insights and resources we’ve happened upon, but of important developments in what we hope will be the ongoing growth of the Mindful Resistance Project.