I spoke with Johann Hari – whose new book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again – is already a New York Times best-seller. I was fortunate enough to meet Johann in September 2019 when he was writing this book. He came to my house here in Pacifica, California – and we spent the whole day together and discussing a range of topics – from cruel optimism to the privatization of mindfulness as the new neoliberal, capitalist spirituality.
Johann Hari is the author of three New York Times best-selling books, and the Executive Producer of an Oscar-nominated movie and an eight-part TV series, The Fix, starring Samuel L. Jackson. His books have been translated into 38 languages, and been praised by a broad range of people, from Oprah to Noam Chomsky, from Elton John to Naomi Klein.
His latest book, ‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention’, was published in January 2022, and received rave reviews everywhere from the Washington Post to the Irish Times to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Johann’s first book, ‘Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’, was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film ‘The United States Vs Billie Holiday’.
I first came across Johann’s work when I read his , ‘Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions’
Johann’s TED talks have been viewed more than 80 million times. The first is named ‘Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong’. The second is entitled ‘This Could Be Why You Are Depressed or Anxious’.
He has written over the past decade for some of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Politico and many more. He has appeared on NPR’s All Thing Considered, HBO’s Realtime With Bill Maher, The Joe Rogan Podcast, the BBC’s Question Time, and many other popular shows.
Johann studied Social and Political Science at King’s College, Cambridge, and graduated with honors. Check out our show notes on The Mindful Cranks for links to his website.
Check out our new trailer!
In Episode 37, I spoke with Kathleen Gregory about her chapter “The Modern Mindfulness Movement and the Search for Psychological Redemption” recently published in Richard Payne’s new edited volume, Secularizing Buddhism (Shambala Publications, 2021).
Kathleen offers a unique perspective on modern mindfulness as she is both a licensed therapist and clinician, as well as long-time Buddhist practitioner. Our conversation explores the process by which mindfulness was psychologized, which accounts very much for its widespread diffusion and popular appeal in Western cultures. One of the key lines of inquiry in this conversation is how mindfulness meditation was reimagined and repurposed as a technique – that speaks to familiar ways of how we see ourselves. Mindfulness became a tool for fixing the self, namely, for addressing the seeming deficits that are in need of improvement and psychological redemption.
A little more about Kathleen Gregory…Kathleen is an Australian psychologist with a PhD in Comparative Philosophy; she has taught for many years as an associate professor in graduate counselling programs both in Australia and the US. She currently works in the graduate careers development program at RMIT University. She is also former Dean of the Graduate School of Counselling and Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She has been a student of late Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche IX.
In this episode I spoke with Michal Pagis who is an associate professor of sociology at Bar Ilan University, Israel about her new book Inward: Vipassana Meditation and the Embodiment of the Self published by the University of Chicago Press in 2019. Using micro-sociological analysis through participant observation and auto-enthnography, Michal studied Western Vipassana practitioners of SN Goenka 10-day SILENT meditation retreats. We explored a range of questions and topics – especially her observations of socialization process of these practitioners into modes of collective solitude, as well as the tensions, conflicts and complexities these practitioners face with such a secularized practice. It was a lively and deeply engaging conversation that I think you will enjoy.
Dr. Pagis studies the transformations in self and identity in contemporary post-industrial culture with a focus on the intertwining of religion and psychology. Her research includes the modern practice of Buddhist meditations, life-coaching, spiritual care in the medical system and the penetration of popular psychology into ultra-religious and anti-liberal communities.
In this Episode, I spoke with Daniel Nehring, who is an Associate Professor of Sociology at East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. Daniel is, in my opinion, an ascending and prolific scholar in the field of critical sociology, and an amazing networker who has brought together a diverse group of international collaborators from multiple disciplines who are doing cutting edge research on therapeutic cultures across the globe. Our conversation explores how therapeutic discourses have not only penetrated a range of institutional regimes, but also how such discourses have a global reach, with mass consumption in China, for example. We talk about the rise of the “self-help entrepreneur,” and how such figures as Jon Kabat-Zinn utilized various rhetorical and discursive strategies to bolster his narrative authority and commercial success. We also talk about the relevance and important of C. Wright Mills and his classic work, The Sociological Imagination, in contrast to what Daniel calls “the psychological imagination” which informs the self-help genre and the mindfulness literature – focusing on an article he recently published this year with Ashley Frawley in Sociology of Health and Illness. Our mutual admiration of C. Wright Mills is evident in that we both share in the view that academics have become beholden to a bureaucratic ethos and the stranglehold of neoliberal audit culture – and that academics need to wake up, speak up and become actively engaged as public intellectuals.
His recent publications in this area include Transnational Popular Psychology and the Global Self-Help Industry (Palgrave, 2016), Therapeutic Worlds (Routledge, 2019), The Routledge International Handbook of Global Therapeutic Cultures (2020), Imagining Society (Bristol University Press, ). He is also the convenor of several international academic networks ‘Popular Psychology, Self-Help Culture and The Happiness Industry’ and Open Minds. Daniel is an editor of the book series Therapeutic Cultures for Routledge and hosts the Global Therapeutic Cultures podcast.