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Self by Eilís Ward, Cork University Press

This book argues that we have got it wrong in the West in our pursuit of what we consider to be ‘self’: an autonomous, self-driven, entrepreneurial entity, always on, always positive and always improving. This is a neoliberal self, a being stripped of the social. In a radical critique, this book argues that this is a deeply harmful view and is the source of much of our suffering. More, through what is called the ‘therapy culture’, life hacks and self-improvement programmes, we have learned to endlessly dig deeper into this view to try and ‘fix’ ourselves, resulting in increased suffering. The book suggests that we need a conceptual jail-break from this view and that Zen Buddhism, in its clear-sighted and penetrating critique and its different account of a self, holds out the possibility of both our liberation and of a kinder world. It offers a way of evaluating our current preoccupations with happiness, success and mental health from a view that ‘self’ and ‘other’ are not separate. Understanding and acting on this is the key to human flourishing. Written for the general reader, the book assumes no prior knowledge of either neoliberalism or of Buddhist thought. All it requires is a willingness to let go of some preconceived ideas and a curiosity about a different way of being.

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