Indispensable Goods in a Time of Crisis

This may seem an unpropitious time to be releasing a book.  Especially one that is self-published, and has a rather radical agenda.  

And it is true that Indispensable Goods is not likely to sell many copies.  I don’t expect it will get reviewed, not even in—I should probably say especially in—the radical media outlets.  It just isn’t the kind of book that will appeal to large audiences.  We expect books to comfort and reassure us—not least those books claiming to be in some way “radical.” They should reassure us that we are among the chosen few who already understand everything correctly, and that we need do nothing but feel smugly satisfied by our specialness, by our superiority to others.  This is what most people read for, after all: to be reassured that they need not do anything differently—and that in fact they need not even think differently, since they already think in the most radical way of all.  It is a sort of Calvinist ideology of literature, in which all that is required is seeing ourselves as one of the chosen. The assertion of superiority over others is all the reward we want from a book, most of the time.  (This is why supposedly radical writers like Zizek or Eagleton are so popular with young neoliberals today.)

This book won’t give such reassurances.  It doesn’t even reassure me!  Rather, I find it a bit unsettling how long it has taken me to understand the lessons that so many great thinkers have tried for millennia to teach—and how much I have yet to do to really implement the lessons of this book in my daily life. Far from a reassurance, it is a challenge.  So I expect a small readership of those who are poorly interpellated into the hegemonic neoliberal ideology of global capitalism.  (If you don’t understand that last sentence and that annoys you—this book might not be for you yet; if you don’t understand it but want to…you’re exactly the person this book is for!)

I remember reading that Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams had an initial printing of 600 copies, and only 365 of them ever sold.  I don’t know if this is correct—but it does seem likely.  This was a book that transformed the way people thought about the human mind, and only a very few people were willing to read it.  My goal in Indispensable Goods is also to transform the way we think about our minds…and our social institutions.  Such troubling work of thought won’t be popular with most people—especially  those who claim that this work of thought is their profession.  But it only takes a few engaged and intelligent readers to make a difference.  That’s why my goal is to sell 365 copies of this book.  

So if anyone has any suggestions about how to bring this book to the attentions of the right kind of audience, let me know!  If you are in a position to write a review that might reach the audience for a book like this (so, NOT in a venue that would appeal to a  reader of the New York Times Book Review), let me know.  I don’t have my author copies just yet, but I can try to get you a copy soon: or, you can do me a huge favor and order a copy, which will likely get to you quicker!

I believe this is the perfect time for this particular book.  I envisioned it as a book to give my daughters when they graduate from college, facing a disastrous world not of their making.  Right now, that’s the position of many young people, about to finish their college education with online courses and not even get a commencement ceremony.  I’d love to put this book into the hands of as many of them as are willing to take this time locked in or homes to think rigorously about what to do next.

The book is available in the US on Amazon here :  Indispensable Goods US

And at Amazon in the UK here:   Indispensable Goods UK

So far as I can tell, it is not yet available in other countries—although I’m hoping it will be at some point (I’m working on it).  It doesn’t come up with a search yet—not even with a search for my name, so feel free to copy and paste these links.  (Again, I’m working on it.)  

Anyone who has read the book, I hope you’ll post questions, disagreements, or other responses here!  And a few reviews on Amazon never hurts…

Think, think, think…

Among other pastimes, I’m spending the time in lockdown rereading Boccaccio’s Decameron.  It reminds me that things could be a lot worse—they often have been in human history.

But we shouldn’t settle for that reactionary bromide.  Our goal should never be to avoid the worst, but to make the world better.  

So I’m suggesting we should use the time provided by the general slowdown to think…think…think.  What can we learn from this crisis?  What will we learn if we think beyond what we hear in on the endless and horrifically dull newscasts?  

For one thing, we need to remember that the economic crisis we will be left with when this ends is not a result of the corona virus.  It was already going to happen, we were on the verge of a collapse as the false “solution” to the 2008 financial crisis was about to run out of steam.  Of course, the capitalist apologists will want us to believe the virus caused all this.   But we should take a different lesson: capitalism is inherently always in crisis, and so is unable to handle even a minor bump, much less a serious emergency.  The corruption of a relatively small group of bankers led to a crisis a dozen years ago, and now a moderately serious illness is beyond our ability to handle.  What if it were a crisis on the order of the Black Plague?  

On the economics of the crisis, take the time to read the marxist analysis offered by International Marxist Tendency:

One thing we can learn from this crisis is how much we can really do if we are motivated.  Instead of the usual right-wing proclamations of our inability to overcome our evolutionary psychology, we can see just how much we are capable of doing differently if we  see the need.  Maybe we can take this time to figure out how to persuade people that global warming really will kill more humans, and far more other species, than this virus?  

We all recall Zizek’s recommendation that we “Don’t act…just think!”

What if we take the time to think about what we will do when this ends?  When the hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate bailouts have left the majority even deeper in debt slavery, while the 1% have once again used disaster to get richer?  How can we respond in a meaningful way?

I’ve been using this time to finish up the book I’ve been working on.  I’ve decided that self-publishing is the only way to go, since all the supposedly leftist presses have declined to even look at a prospectus.  There are a few other avenues, but they would produce an overpriced book that few would be able to afford, and would take years to get it into print.  And frankly, I think this is a book that is perfect for just this situation.  

Because the entire project of this book is to start us in the direction of thinking more productively about changing the world.  The book will be print only, because I am convinced that it is essential to read such a book in physical form.  All the research demonstrates that we don’t retain what we read online (including on blogs like this…much less when and extended an complex argument is offered).  

I expect the book will be available within a week—I have a few proof copies if anyone reading is interested in doing a serious review to help publicize the book.  I’ve kept costs as low as I could ($12.95 is the best I could do for a 300-page paperback).  When the book is available for ordering, I’ll post a link.

In the meantime, click on some of those links above, and start thinking!  This virus won’t last forever, and we’ll have a lot to do if we hope to survive in the dystopian world it will enable the very rich to create.  Anyone read the MaddAdam novels?  

Thanks for all the feedback on my posts as I worked on this book.  Next project: getting some contributions to the online journal Imaginary Relations!  And, probably, a book on addiction, intention, and akrasia…

Update: Here’s the link to Indispensable Goods on Amazon.

Thoughts on things other than Trump, coronavirus, stock market corrections, and the fear of Bernie Sanders…

Really, I’m not going to talk about any of those things.  Too depressing.  Just some ramblings about what is on my mind right now, as I try to avoid the news.

Still struggling with finishing up the book, and deciding what to do with it now that every publisher I can think to submit it to has declined to read it.  I suppose self-publishing is the only option left.

In the meantime, I’m preparing to relaunch the old “Imaginary Relations” online journal from several years back, trying to drum up some submissions—the goal there is basically to do marxist/feminist/psychoanalytic readings of individual aesthetic objects, trying to puzzle out what kind of subjects we are made into when we consume or participate in these particular aesthetic experiences.  If anyone is interested in writing something, contact me for more information.

I’m also contemplating something on the nature of addiction, involving the concepts of intention (central to the current book project) and akrasia.  

But on a completely different note: I recently got an email add for an upcoming Buddhist online course from Tricycle.  Frankly, it appalled me, but it also reminded me of how important, despite the apparent futility, the kind of critical work I keep struggling to do might be.  Perhaps if others more gifted than I am would lend a hand, we could do some good.  

For your amusement, here’s the description of the online course, for which you would pay a mere $199!

The Whole Path: Kindness, Meditation, and Wisdom, our upcoming online course with Sharon Salzberg, begins on March 23. This course will cover each aspect of the Buddha’s eightfold path to guide you toward the transformative wisdom that is to be uncovered.
The Whole Path unfolds in six units covering the following topics:
Unit 1 | Ethics as a Source of Self Respect: Sharon will show how ethical conduct supports a healthy view of ourselves and, in doing so, supports our meditative development.
Unit 2 | The Five Precepts: The Buddha recommended that lay practitioners abide by five simple guidelines. They provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our values and to train our self-discipline in ways that gently support our wellbeing. 
Unit 3 | Concentration: We will learn to gather our scattered mental energies and settle them, find tranquility, and empower ourselves to take action. Sharon explains how concentration arises and can be cultivated.
Unit 4 | Mindfulness: The ability to really know what it is we are experiencing is a critical ingredient for deep insight to arise. Sharon will help us understand and apply mindfulness as we bring receptivity and a kind, curious awareness to our practice.
Unit 5 | The Three Characteristics: Through mindfulness, the Buddha saw that all experiences have three characteristics. Seeing these characteristics for ourselves is decisive. We begin to loosen up. We don’t take life quite so personally. Sharon will explain the significance of these characteristics and how they free us.
Unit 6 | A Life of Wisdom: With these insights, we will see so much more of who we are and how connected we are to others. This will inevitably lead to the development of greater love and compassion in our lives.


I imagine any regular readers here, or readers of Speculative Non-buddhism from days gone by, will see immediately what is so horrifying.  Have you ever seen a more perfect account of the development of the modern, Western, neoliberal subject?  Or a “Buddhist” course more obviously dead wrong about the fundamental concepts of classical Buddhist thought?  Well, sure we have: name a popular Buddhist teacher, right?

So here we begin by reducing ethics to improving our image of ourselves, move on to self-discipline as a way of increasing our happiness, then mediation to create the illusion of a detached Cartesian mind…and wrap it all up with some nice ironic detachment, because we shouldn’t take the world or ourselves too seriously.  What do we get?  A new and improved atomistic self now able to freely choose to enter into social relationships with others to our mutual and maximum pleasure!  

John Stuart Mill himself could be teaching this class!  

Of course, I don’t expect that Salzburg has any idea she is even doing this.  She’s simply doing what all the “celebrity” x-buddhists do.  She takes an untenable, even horrifying, contemporary model of the subject, and finds that it is really what ancient Eastern spiritual teachers were saying all along, if you (mis)translate carefully and think ahistorically!  I’m sure she believes in the deep truth of this position, and its benefits.

And, of course, we know it can’t do much harm.  That is, nobody who isn’t already a good neoliberal subject would plunk down a couple hundred bucks for some lame videos and PDFs, meant only to reassure them that of what they already think, and give them one more bit of proof of their spiritual superiority. 

On the other hand, what it does do is prevent people from seriously considering what we might learn from Buddhist thought if we could stop finding in it an exact mirror of our desires.  But then, who wants to make that kind of effort?

I hope that a handful of people might someday be able to begin to question the common-sense conceptions of ourselves and our world that inform silly nonsense like this “Buddhist” course.  I hope my book may help with that…and even more, that a journal devoted to examining the ideological functions of our most loved aesthetic objects might make this questioning more possible.  So do let me know if you have any interest it writing anything for a new, and hopefully less “academic”, version of the “Imaginary Relations” online journal!