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Dotcom slash August. Hey, guys, the virus has exploited so many weaknesses in our culture, but having exploited and in the process exposed these weaknesses, for example, the inequities and reckless individualism in our culture, could the current crisis lead to a fundamental shift for humankind? That's a fascinating question, and it may sound utopian, but our guest today believes it's genuinely possible. Dr. Jonathan Salka is an adult and child psychiatrist at UCLA. He's been thinking about the future of our species for about 40 years, starting when he co-authored a book called A New Reality with his dad, Dr.
Jonas Salk. You might have heard of him. He invented the polio vaccine 65 years ago. And so today with with Dr. Salk or the Doctor Szulc Jr., we we dwell in the past a little bit with some some fascinating memories of the polio vaccine process from his perspective as a as a little boy.
And then we project into the future and in ways that I found to be both hopeful and realistic. So here we go with Dr. Jonathan Selke. Well, Jonathan, nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you as well. Then you wrote a column recently. The title was What Jonas Salk would have said about covid-19. There are a lot of really fascinating points in there that I want to drill down on, but. Generally speaking, what do you think your dad would have said about the current predicament, he would have said that it's really important. Obviously, he would say that the development of a vaccine is really important. He would have understood the necessary kind of interdependence and cooperative work that would go into creating one.
But he would understand that the actual effectiveness of the vaccine doesn't just depend on having a vaccine that works, but it's a whole social, political and economic issue, like a human issue and a human systems issue, getting that distributed, getting people in a place where they can take it, and so that eradicating a disease or defeating a disease or even suppressing it involves things from every level, from the technological to the political or economic. I think the additional thing I would say is that he would urge a lot of caution at this moment in time.
He knows better than anybody or he knew better than anybody what the pitfalls of something going wrong with a vaccine can be and how important it is to get it as right as possible before you go in to distribute it. And I think it was distributed too quickly and there are side effects or their adverse effects. I think we kind of only got one shot of getting people to take a vaccine. Mm hmm.
I want to go back to what you said about interdependence. It's become a trope. We're all in it together. But in so many ways we're not. Right. We can't agree on masks.
Uh. The massively disproportionate impact based on. Economics, pigmentation, so many other aspects of our humanity.
And while the era in which your dad was developing the polio vaccine was by no means perfect. There were a lot of problems in our society back then. We were, I think, a little bit more public spirited and and a little bit less mistrustful of one another. I think that's maybe safe to say which which made it a more fertile territory for doing the testing that needed to be done and then getting it out to people.
I think that's absolutely right. Then I think that that period in the late 40s and 1950s was really a different time, certainly in terms of the public trust in science and public trust in technology and even in government. And there was I think there was a more particularly around the polio vaccine, there was a total pull together spirit. The whole concept of the March of Dimes, which funded much of the vaccine work, was based on what's the amount that that anybody could give.
And so there was a whole groundswell of what we now call a grassroots effort to do this, so everybody was part of it. So it was looking back, it was kind of a unique time where a lot of a lot of things were able to be gotten done in a cooperative way. How where do you think your dad would be? I mean, you talked about a little bit, but given the current. Climate. And the fact that we've got, you know, mistrust in one another, mistrust in government, a pretty vocal anti Voxer community, never mind the work of developing the vaccine, which peerce, as a non-scientist and an outsider to be reasonably well, from what I can see at some stage, three trials going, etc, etc.
, the successful promulgation of the vaccine into the society. How worried do you think your dad would be given the current landscape?
I can't say that he'd be worried, but he would really identify it as a as a challenge and as something that had to be addressed. And then this gets into a whole other aspect of my father's thinking, because in the last part of his life, basically, he was very interested in sort of problems of humanity and with human problems or what happened, what went on in the human mind, what went on with people's behaviour, what went on on kind of a broader existential level.
So he would really see it in that context of this is a human problem that needs to be solved. But he would see it definitely as a problem. There was a one line from the article. That really struck me, and I think I think it's going to pick up on what you were just driving out there. Here is the quote. He would have recognized he being your father. He would have recognized the covid-19 pandemic not only as something to be feared and fought, but also as a moment to embrace wisdom.
And then I'm going to do a little bit of an ellipses here. And a few seconds later, you write, Paradoxically, self-interest in this case is best served by generosity. Mm hmm.
So can you please hold forth on that? I'll do my best. Let's step back for a second and put it in a broader context. My father really saw us at a transition point in history and evolution from a rather extraordinary time of unfettered growth and acceleration, both in population and growth, changing over to a time where we encountering planetary limits and things are slowing. And he really saw that that was a inflection point, a very important point of a change from a certain set of values to another set of values.
And we can come back to that. And that's of interest.
I think it is. The issue of wisdom was very high in his mind and very, very important. He actually wrote a book in the early 70s called Survival of the Wisest, and he felt like the evolutionary pressures were now going to select for those who were wise rather than those who are biologically fit in different ways. So wisdom was a big subject for him. And the phrase about generosity, serving self-interest is that in this change in the new conditions that we're entering, which involve approaching a planetary limits and a need to be more realized, we are interdependent, that we're one world and that cooperation will be better than competition.
That in that change. That happens not just because it's morally right or it's better or spiritually right. It happens because it's actually practical that us being more generous, us being more understanding of looking at Win-Win Solutions to what's good for you is good for me rather than than what's good for me, is bad for you and the opposite that under those conditions, paradoxically, that generosity of being good and being giving and being able to get along and work cooperatively, that serves my self-interest, that serves our self-interest as well as the the benefit of the other person.
So it's a kind of enlightened self-interest. Yeah, it is, but it's in a sense, I think it will become increasingly so that it's not that you don't even need to be that enlightened. It will be clear and obvious that we're not going to get by without doing that.
So if it's so clear and obvious, is it wisdom anymore?
I would say yes, I would. I would say that wisdom can be widespread through a population. It doesn't have to be just held by a few oligarchs. Right, so it's a communal collective wisdom. Yeah, what did your dad and what do you mean by that word?
I think for my dad and I guess for me as well, that means the application of accrual of knowledge over a long period of time and a lot of experience and the understanding and being able to look at things from a distance, from a point of view of the long term, not just looking at the short term and being able to see the whole picture. My father, much more than I also talked about the wisdom of nature, and he really had a whole philosophy based on the idea that what goes on in the natural world is there are a certain kind of guidelines and laws and information.
And so in a sense, consulting the wisdom of nature is also important as well. And he felt like the evolution was a wise process as well. So it's for him it's the term subsumed a lot. What's your problem with nature? Why does he talk about it more than you? I think the distinction I was making is I actually very much ascribe to that. And I think that what we are as natural human beings is what we kind of need to get back to and return to.
So it is very important to me. He actually, I think, took it to another level where it was almost a spiritual concept to him. I think that's fair to say. So he really had a sense more than I have of being able to look at natural laws and natural processes and draw wisdom from them. And I think that he was much more withholding skepticism. I think he was much more in touch with that to a degree that I'm not just as a human being.
You said something about getting back to the way we used to be, and I've seen in some of your writings, too, this idea of a pre-industrial tribal wisdom. And as I read it, it's not that you.
Want to return to the Stone Age living, it's that you want to combine the wisdom of the indigenous with the market based system we now have, and I believe you write something to the effect of actually pull up the exact quote that we can be both in harmony and compete.
So to answer the first part of the question, yes, I refer back to you. We are basically primates. So from an evolutionary and social evolutionary standpoint, there are certain things, a certain environment that we evolved in and that involved both being able to compete and to cooperate. And we're social beings. But in that period of time and what I'm sort of looking at it and you said it perfectly down, I mean, the idea is to take those those practices and integrate them into current society with our technology, with our level of government.
So there are certain practices that were part of those traditional societies. And I'm not I have a little bit of idealism about them, but I don't have the idealism. Those pre-industrial societies, they have difficult lives. You know, there's disease, there's death, there's a whole lot there's scarcity. So that sort of fantasy of along the lines of Rousseau, of the noble savage and the idealising that I try not to go there. But nevertheless, those societies operated in a state of equilibrium with each other and with nature.
And so on one level, there was a certain respect and a cooperation with nature in the natural world that was very much part of their lives. In addition, there was not the same kind of divisions, I think, that we find in modern society, there's less of the mind body dichotomy, there's much more a sense of kind of the oneness of each person. There also is a social system that is much more closely integrated and closely dense. And the other thing is the child rearing is very different in those societies and how children are treated from birth and raised as we approach a time when we're going to be in equilibrium again in terms of population growth will be at a plateau similar to what we had a long time ago, that I think that in order to adapt to that, we're going to have to benefit from those practices in that knowledge that we're going to have to have a different relationship with the planet.
And rather than an exploitative relationship with the planet, a cooperative and interdependent relationship with the planet and with other species, I think that our social and family structure is going to necessarily change in that period of time where we're not reinforcing limitless growth and competition from the very beginning. One of the practices that harkens back to our more natural selves has to do with how much children, babies and infants and children are in physical contact with another human being and what percentage of time.
And in primates and in those early societies, an infant was in physical contact with another human being 60 to 90 percent of the time or early in life. In industrialized societies, it's much more like 10 percent or was, you know, back 30, 40 years ago. That creates a whole different. I think a whole different physiological and psychological mindset for the human organism. I think it is a really different in the arrangement of how they cope and their relationship to their bodies and their relationships to their own being.
And that's the kind of thing that I can see as we evolve, being incorporated and being more a part of society. And that early upbringing will be more conducive to the kind of sense of interdependence and community and cooperation that we're talking about. So there are lots of examples of that. But that that's in the ballpark of what you asked about. I'd love to hear more about what this would look like, what the world what this transformation of of the species would actually look like on a day to day basis, how would the lives of regular people change if we were to incorporate interdependence into a modern market based system?
Putting it the way you did incorporate into a modern market based system. I actually think that we have to evolve into a. A future nonmarket based system or a very different kind of market than we're used to. Because our current market based system is based on an idea that we're can continually grow is based on kind of infinite and the assumption that all success is measured by by economic growth and by dollar growth. And that just can't continue when we're at a time where we're we're not expanding use of resources.
In an economic situation where growth and success is not measured by dollars and cents and by GDP, but by enhanced well-being of human beings and IT well-being of the planet. Is an alternative kind of model for an economic system that may not be market based in the same way. I mean, this sounds like sweeping and potentially wrenching, destabilizing change on the on the structure of societies in the way we live our lives. I actually see it in a slightly more optimistic point of view.
Yes, I think the transition to it may be wrenching for some members of society. I think that that this change will not necessarily be wrenching because people will be life will be better. There will be more sense of well-being that comes from a more even distribution of resources that comes from the sense of interdependence and the well-being of other people. I see it as being less of a wrenching process as one is moving toward a more positive conclusion and a positive situation.
And so whatever we work out and that needs to be worked out and I don't have the answer for how it's worked out. That's what you know, I'm just not sure that it will be a wrenching change. It'll be more of a more of an evolutionary change. Kind of the next step in human evolution. Exactly, and it's only wrenching, depending on how much people are resisting that. But your view is that people won't resist it because it will become the benefits will become self-evident.
I yes, I think so. Do you get accused occasionally of being a utopian? Only in my own mind. Well, you're you're then you're back kicking yourself for keeping yourself in line.
Yeah, yes. Occasionally I do. And I'm sure people think that more about me than they say to me. But, you know, I confess to having somewhat of a utopian view.
Of all of this possibility, I think I can easily scale it back to more along the lines of your thinking, if we can make it some percentage toward a utopia or to a beneficial situation, we can in in emailing with Marisa, who's producing this episode, you you talked a little bit about how this pandemic could be an event that precipitates this transformation you're you're describing, right? Yeah. I mean, I'd like to think that will come out of this pandemic stronger.
I'm not seeing it quite yet. It's not so much I see we're going to come out of it stronger persay and there are so many negative things about it, but there are little windows of positivity. And sort of what I meant when I when I emailed that to Baraza is that there are lessons that we may be learning now that will stand us in good stead in the future. The easiest and biggest example is we went into lockdown and our carbon emissions plummeted and our use of fossil fuels plummeted.
So we may be able to use this as a learning experience in ways that we can live our lives with less energy consumption and with less frenetic lives. That end up exploiting the planet to death. That's one possible outcome of this. Another and again, this is without specifics, but but I've recently been in contact with a guy named Muhammad Yunus who invented the system, micro loans to the poor. And a few days ago, he said something very similar to this.
He was talking about setting up. In supporting rural economies and making the poor and the rural part of our economic system rather than peripheral to it, and he made he just said that this epidemic is an opportunity to make bold and sweeping changes in our economic systems. So I just see little bits of thinking along these lines among other people as well. You know, when when you talk about the dip in carbon emissions, two things come to mind. One, you know, I've traveled the world and seen as a journalist and seen the impact of climate change on endangered species, on indigenous populations in the Amazon.
So I'm very worried about climate change. And I also think back to that word wrenching.
Along with this dip in carbon emissions, we saw a massive contraction of the economy that left people.
In jeopardy of being evicted from their homes, hungry, anxious about the future, so this is when I use that word wrenching. I mean, I just think about these changes that could come about whether the pandemic does it or not, or just this transformation that you and your father envisage. It just feels to me like it's. The end result may be positive, but getting there seems. Bumpy, yeah, bumpy, bumpy, to say the least, and if you're talking about in that sense, yes, it is in reality going to be a wrenching change.
There's going to be tremendous conflict. It's not going to happen without, you know, unfortunately, widespread famines. There's a whole lot of really difficult things to come. So in that sense, yes, I totally agree that that is wrenching. I mean, what's interesting is that dip in carbon emissions came alongside all of those things and in at least in countries where they could afford it and ours was one of them, we were able to mitigate that to some extent through distribution of of money that decrease the amount of that.
That's an interesting, you know, other area for people to be looking at in terms of. Over, overly simply put, distribution of wealth and distribution of resources that we may be able to explore other ways of doing that than we have in the past. Much more of my conversation with Dr. Jonathan Selke right after this. If you like getting the story behind the story, check out start here, the Daily News podcast from ABC News every morning. Start here will get you ready for your day with insightful, straightforward reporting on a few of the day's biggest headlines.
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I was reading an article yesterday in The Atlantic is written from a pretty partisan standpoint, but it was nonetheless a quite compelling blow-by-blow history of how the U.S. got felled by this virus, how it exploited all of our it was just like made in a lab to a that's not a conspiracy theory. That's just to exploit our weaknesses.
And one of the one of the themes that the author and I'll post the article in the show notes here, but one of the themes that the author, whose name I believe is Ed Young, but one of the themes that the author pointed out.
That he didn't expand on that much, but it seemed really resonant to me, is the dominant culture, consciously or subconsciously, that we have in the United States of rugged individualism? Mm hmm.
That we are out for ourselves. And I see this at work in my own mind in many ways. And it has so many knock on effects, I think in particular for men, but I don't have any evidence to back that up. But I've heard smarter than me advance that theory.
And and so I just wonder whether that's a resonant theme for you when you think about what's happened in our culture, particularly in the United States, in our society and polity in the wake of this virus.
Yes is the simple answer. And you touched on a couple of things, but in terms of the rugged individualism, yeah, we have a society that's based on that and that I can take care of everything myself. And people end up like that, particularly males. Through a whole series of developmental experiences and that I think to some extent shapes or reinforces that kind of attitude. And that that sense of of value, I think that a lot of things and I'll be interested to look at the article because a lot of terrible things went wrong and they really overlap with holding on to the kind of values that have worked in the past and that really don't work in the present.
But I think it comes into play on a societal level and comes into play at an individual level. I think the other thing to say about it, Dan, is that. That very emphasis on individualism, that emphasis on me first, that short term thinking, short term benefit, let's, you know, eat the marshmallow now kind of thing, is has played itself out in spades throughout all of this. And I don't know if we're going to learn the lessons of it, but the consequences are are huge.
And I won't say necessarily, although it's true, we could have dealt with it in another way. The question is how we're going to deal with it in the future. And whether we can learn some lessons from this kind of a society and the jury's out on that, what I'm hearing from you overall is. Sort of a long term optimism, but short to mid-term could be bumpy.
Yes, you're absolutely hearing that from me. This kind of optimism is based on a really long term view of looking at tens, if not originally. I thought it would be hundreds of years. I think it's going to have to happen more quickly, but it's looking at it at a much longer view than a than a three to five to 10 year window. I think if you look at that window, we're screwed. I mean, things look just totally chaotic.
There's conflict, there's famine, there's plague, there's everything. And there seems to be no way out. That comes, I think, from this conflict between two value systems. One set of people are looking at this facing uncertainty, facing danger and saying, well, let's go back let's go back to what worked in the past. Let's go back to fossil fuels. Let's go back to individualism. Let's go back to nationalism and the ultimate sort of withdraw from all kinds of interdependent relationships.
Then, you know, we're seeing that writ large. I do believe, and this is partly on faith, but it's partly on rational belief as well, that there are a vast number of people who are looking at the same uncertainty and saying what we have to do is we have to go forward. We have to adapt. We have to adapt new values. We have to adapt new strategies that are going to assure our survival and work out for us and at the same time may well not only ensure our survival, but increase our level of wellbeing throughout the world.
As we. Lurch toward potentially this next step in human evolution. And as this collective wisdom, to use the word that you would and your dad have used potentially takes hold, what role do you see for spirituality in particular?
As you know, I'm a I'm a big believer of and proponent of mindfulness and meditation. And I know you've dabbled in that. But it you know, wisdom can come in many forms. I think, you know, you're psychiatrist. I think there's psychology has an enormous amount to offer us spiritual practices, both secular and sectarian.
What role do you see for those kind of practice that you do of meditation and the growth and transformation that comes through that? I see that as being certainly synergistic with, but also essential to that broader sweeping change. We're not going to be able to change our collective behavior without individuals being different. So I think that that level of practice is certainly important and special and necessary. Being more in touch with your basic emotions, being more aware of your bodily functions, being more unified with less incorporation of the kind of stress and craziness that we're all part of, that's going to be part of our lives and future society, whether it comes to meditation, whether it comes to child rearing, whether it comes from from different places in terms of a more religious sacred spirituality, I don't know.
That's certainly something that is ubiquitous in human societies and human culture.
Basically, where it's problematic is when that spirituality becomes fixed and in some sense fundamentalist and not able to adjust to. New conditions and different situations. That kind of I mean, looking at the broad, broad term, that kind of spirituality was coincident with the development of our of our modern world and our modern society getting away from agricultural societies. I'll speak on my father's behalf and somewhat on my own, but I think he believed in a kind of spirituality that was based on nature.
And so there was a kind of spirituality that he had that, as I say, was based on nature and natural laws and learning from and adapting to those principles in those processes. That certainly has a place. I don't have a clear answer on what place. Standard spirituality, whatever that may be, would have, but it's a need that people have and so it would have to be incorporated in some sense. You brought your dad up and I was just sort of curious, were you alive when the vaccine came out?
Do you have any memories of that time?
Sure. I was around. It was developed. They really had the vaccine around the time I was two or three. So a whole set of memories are of getting injections and blood tests from my dad sitting on the kitchen table. That's my dad as the four and three or four or five year old. But I have some unpleasant associations with that. And by the way, just to clarify, he did not give it to us using us as guinea pigs.
There was no sense of that at all. He had a product that worked and he wanted us protected against polio. It was as simple as that. People oftentimes ask us, well, what what was it like to be a lab rat at home? And it just it didn't feel that way at all. And then I have lots of memories of so what happened was that that they did this huge field trial, bothered a million and a half, two million children in the summer of nineteen fifty four.
It was double blind trial with a placebo and a guy named Tommy Francis, who was my dad's mentor, really what he was doing, early research, headed up this effort from the University of Michigan, and they tabulated the data and it was kept a closely guarded secret. And then it was announced on April 12th. Nineteen fifty five. So in April, like fifty five, we flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and there was a meeting, a conference where the results of the vaccine were announced.
And when Tommy Francis said and I was actually out of the room at this point, but when Tommy Francis said it's safe and effective. There was a standing ovation, and then at the end of it, there was just bedlam, the reporters all wanting a copy of the report. And finally the guy who was invited just stood on the cart and just started tossing them into the crowd. So there was there was a certain amount of instant worldwide fame.
He was well known beforehand and in many ways the other memory I have in these are five year old memories was we got back to Pittsburgh and there was a waiting crowd and reporters and a whole lot of hullabaloo, which I really enjoyed. And then we got into the limousine and we had a motorcycle escort back to our house.
So I was in heaven.
I will I will confess.
Another family story about me is that my mother often said, and I have no memory of this, is that the first thing I did is I went into the house, I picked up the telephone, called my best friend, Billy Frank. I said, guess what? I'm famous and so is my dad.
That's a great story. That's what I would have done, the same thing. One point that I want to make is just coming back to the whole concept around this kind of societal transformation that I'm talking about.
Includes two concepts that I just want to make sure clear, one is based on this concept that we're moving from a time of accelerating growth to a time of decelerating growth, and that in order to adapt to that, different human values and different human behaviors are selected for and come to the fore. I believe that as human beings, we are born with a panoply of abilities and proclivities for different kinds of behavior and for different kinds of thought and values. How those develop and what are predominant in society comes from the environment that you're in.
So the whole concept is really based not on totally pie in the sky, thinking about how nice it would be if we could all get along. It's based on the actualities of that. We are social creatures as much as we're independent creatures and that. In the different environment of going into limitations that will select four, that will move us toward a more cooperative nature as opposed to our more competitive and destructive nature. But I don't expect those other values or some of the behaviors to be completely suppressed.
I'm not talking about like a complete transition to another species, but we're still the same species. But what predominates will be different, can be different and can can transform society in that respect. The phrase is coming to mind is the title of your father's book that you mentioned, the survival of the wisest. So it doesn't mean in this future society doesn't mean that it's all unicorns and rainbows.
It just means that the sort of norms may shift away from the individualism that has predominated, at least in our corner of the world, toward a more collective view.
It's not exactly 10 percent happier, but I'm talking about if we can change the balance to 60 40. From one to the other, that's what we're looking at, or maybe 70, 30, but not a complete eradication of any negative human traits, right.
So it's not utopian and in that sense. It's not a new concept that I think is going to exist just because I wish it so or because that would be nice or because it's a nice fairy tale, it really has its roots in the sort of the reality of the human organism in human society and just how we may shift. And how we really have to shift if we're going to continue being a species on this planet. I'm looking at another title of a column you wrote, there's a rational this is the title, there's a rational evidence based argument for optimism for humankind, really.
And, you know, parenthetically, it's like.
Yes, we're not making this up, we're not pulling this out of our fondest hopes and dreams is based on reason and science and. It's not necessarily going to be a perfect world and it's probably not going to be pretty getting there, and I guess the two things to add to that are it's not going to be pretty getting there. And that's anticipated. If you look at the long term, the kind of period that we're in, it's just part of a natural developmental and evolutionary process.
When I say just we're living through it and it's just horrendous and lot there's there are untold amounts of human suffering that are going on as we speak. So that takes it into account.
It's not going to be pretty getting there, but it's not pretty right now. Correct. Let's just go back to individualism for a second, because I'd be wondering I wonder if you've seen this in treating patients or in your own mind. I had a guest on a while ago, Johann Hari wrote a book called Lost Connections. And I went back and listen to it recently just because it was related to something I've been thinking about and writing about. And, you know, he makes the case that just as there is junk food, there are junk values and the junk values are or have to do with this myth of the rugged individual.
The measure of a life of the worth of a life is, you know, dollars and cents, achievements, et cetera, et cetera. And that focus on me, me, me, which, by the way, you can see if you I don't know if you're on Instagram but or Facebook, but you can see it on social media with people sort of spending so much time just curating their own public image, their own personal brand, which Johan referred to as.
Ego itching powder that that this the predominance of these junk values, he argues and marshals' a lot of evidence behind this argument is what he's a journalist and a social scientist and is what is leading or contributing massively to this epidemic of depression that we're unhappy when we ignore our nature and our nature is to be connected to other human beings.
That sounds just right all the way from there being junk values in there, like they're being junk food to yes, we're in that respect. We're, you know, sort of this extreme point of getting farther and farther from our nature. And it's it's almost the the logical playing out of a certain direction, a certain premise. And. Again, in the optimistic point of view, seeing it as that's kind of the last vestiges, I mean, it's just exaggerating itself, hopefully out of existence.
But that sense of individualism, that sense of me, that sense of. The acquisition of material wealth or fame or popularity or number of visits or likes on on social media, you know, that's really satisfying a. A deep hunger for something. And this gets into the sort of the more psychiatric aspects of it, I think that deep hunger in part has its roots in kind of social and value deprivation early in life. And rather than, in some sense, having contact and social contact with a human being, getting things.
And that's reinforced really, you know, throughout development, and I think the outcome of that is people being hungry, eating as much as they can and still not being satisfied.
Yeah, the Buddhists call that hungry ghosts. Yeah, they represent these these deities, but they're not the kind of disease that one would aspire to be that have huge mouths and tiny neck or huge.
What is it? I can't remember anyway.
They're they they're eating all the time and never sated. Yeah.
So are you saying that so I have a five year old I, I ought to have more time bouncing him on my lap, physically connected to him, playing ball with him, et cetera, et cetera, than giving him the super hero gifts that he so voraciously craves.
You know, I'm not exactly saying that in the fantasy life of a five year old is gratified and enhanced by a certain amount of security gifts, it's when there's an imbalance, it's when one is taking the place of the other. It's a problem. And the kid, it just doesn't know where to scratch, gets a superhero gift, has a temporary relief, and the itch or the discomfort come back and then you're in a cycle of doing that. So it's not that kids shouldn't have wishes, gratified and get things, but what's important is that they'd not be correcting for a deficit or avoiding some kind of difficult interaction and protecting them from ever feeling disappointed or deprived and being emotionally connected to them in an intimate and reflective way that that they need that.
That's really important, really, from the first days of life and do you think many parents are failing to provide that kind of deep emotional sustenance in favor of superficial sort of capitalistic rewards?
I guess the answer is yes, I think that there are that that's really sort of endemic to our society. That it's very widespread, again, it's not an either or thing, there's a spectrum, so there are families where things have gotten really out of control in that respect. And then there are families where that solid sense of values, that solid sense of connection remains the basis of what's important. What else is on your mind as you survey the current landscape in the middle of this pandemic from the point of view of a psychiatrist who's treated both children and adults?
In terms of the epidemic, there's both kind of good and bad aspects to it, the the bad effects are easier to list. But I think that for many families, the degree of stress, the degree of trauma, the degree of disruption, the degree of uncertainty is certainly going to affect these kids and in kind of in unknown ways. Now, at the same time, within those families, I do think that there has been in some in many families, at least temporarily, a salutary benefit of having being at home, being with kids, living in a way that's much more like our distant past.
And I think that there have been lots of positive experiences that have happened. I'm much more familiar with our privileged social class, so I don't really know how that's played out in a family that's living a marginal existence, but nevertheless, there has been that sort of positive thing. The other thing is that for kids and adolescents, there's been a severe constriction of social interaction, which is really an important part of development, of just being with the kids, sorting things out, playing, fighting, quarrelling, sharing, not sharing what the effects of that are going to be.
I don't really know, but. They're going to be effect's. And I'll be interested to know how, if this depending on how long this lasts, what those will be, I think if it's a year or two. That will still have effects, but kids are pretty resilient, so getting back in those environments, you know, I think they're liable to do OK if it goes on longer than that, I don't know.
So the resilience of children is maybe I've been self soothing with this, but I heard a story about some sort of study. I don't know if it was qualitative or quantitative on the kids who lived through the bombardment of London during World War Two. And and I'm probably butchering this, you know, take whatever I say with a grain of salt. But they it appears that they turned out to be fine because kids do bounce back so well, which really that whole issue is really interesting.
I distantly familiar with that work. And and it's true that by many measures, kids turn out well. I think that what kids experienced or heard a lot about what what was happening, I mean, if they were there with their families and feeling somewhat security, it's there. But I think there still was a real threat and they really understood the fear. And I think that everybody turns out well in a way, but they may have corners of anxiety or darkness.
And I've seen this in a couple of people that they lived a very normal life. But when they're older, some of those early experiences are coming back in a more traumatic way. I've known older people who've I've watched primordial early traumas surface.
The other thing that's really of deep concern is that there has been a rise both in suicide, but also in terms of domestic violence. And so that's of concern. But what it does is it is exposing something, I think that it was already there in terms of domestic violence. It's just that there's no outlet. And so it's being played out more. But that's that's a big concern as well.
I echo that concern. It is something, in fact, moreso the aforementioned Worsoe producer of this show and I were talking about this issue the other day. It's a it is a huge issue, something to be very worried about. And there are a lot of children tied up in that as well. And so that's just that is a that is a real trauma. Yeah. Are there any questions I should have asked but failed to ask?
No, I really don't think so, although I have a question for you. Sure. And I just be interested to know more about your thoughts about the.
Relationship between psychotherapy and meditation. You know, you and I were talking about this a little bit before we started rolling. In the first book I wrote, I talk about having seen a psychiatrist after having had a panic attack and and that ultimately leading me to meditation, he had done his job well and I was in a much better place and was now meditating. And but in recent years, I've gotten back into, I would say in the last two years seeing a therapist.
I also have an executive coach who very much approaches it like therapy, both individually with me and as a sort of couples therapist with me and the CEO of our company. I've done couples therapy with my wife, which has been really sort of we didn't have an acute issue, but we did it kind of out of interest and, you know, an investment in our relationship and. And so I've really come to The View and I'm just speaking for myself here, that meditation isn't enough for me on its own and that having other ways of looking at your stuff in conjunction with mindfulness and the training of other mental skills, such as compassion, can be an incredibly virtuous cycle.
And the last thing I'll say is that, you know, I I've talked about this on many shows, so I won't belabor it. But I had a 360 review, which is where people from all aspects of your life give you feedback anonymously on your strengths and weaknesses and the amount of information and insight that resulted from this very painful report that I read. I don't know if several decades of meditation would have gotten me there. The 360 was accompanied by a lot of very careful, thoughtful.
Talk based work with my coat. All of which to say that I think meditation is incredible, but and I'm very dedicated to it, but I think there are other modalities that can feed into one's maturation that are that are really powerful as well.
Yeah. Now, that's that's great. That's really interesting. And it does touch on something that I would like to mention or talk about, if I may. And this is separate from sort of the work that I did with my father and more work that I've done in the course of my development as a psychiatrist and in my career. But there are two aspects to it that I want to mention. One is the the whole mind body issue. And reading your book, one of the things I was really struck with was that that sense of looking in the body and seeing things and seeing the sensations that are going on, being very much central, all of that is very much central to my work as a psychiatrist that I think talk therapy has its place.
But there's a much deeper kind of therapy that really includes deeper emotions and bodily experiences that are essential, I think, for a certain level of growth and a certain depth of change, and that emotions are really exist inside the body, not just in the mind. And that seems to be a piece of overlap with your experience, in your thinking. And I can see where there's a real synergy between the two. The other thing is to looking at some of the things that I talk about in terms of broad social structures is that I do think I do ascribe to a model that.
Kids have been growing up if they experience overwhelmingly difficult. Situations in an emotional sense, that that experience is sort of sequestered in the body, if they can't deal with it all, that that there are a lot of many traumas that happen to kids that are analogous to but very different from the kind of traumas that happen with the big kind of traumas that happen to some kids. And that gets kind of sequestered and put aside. And I do think that that is a source of some of the behaviors that I've talked about today.
That that you learn to be independent, that you learn not to count on, that you learn that your your needs are not going to be met in a particular way. And the transformation that I'm talking about, there's very much an individual aspect to it. And in my ideal, when I'm working with people, I want to work at that level. I want to really see that kind of organic change rather than just an exchange of information or exchange of ideas.
So I think there are lots of levels to that. And then if I extrapolate that if we have a society where there's less of that kind of early trauma and less of that kind of early deprivation, then you've got a really different looking society. That that kind of experience is going to feed a more cooperative society and similarly society has to be set up so that it reinforces those values and those experiences as well. So flexibility in the workplace, being able to spend more time with your kids, all of those are important.
And then I think that goes all the way up to an economic system that's based on mutual mistrust and mutual exploitation. And that all then pans out in some very destructive ways. So what I'm talking about that that societal transformation, I'm really talking about that individual transformation as well. Yeah, the personal being, political in many profound ways, very profound ways and extensive ways, not just in the catch phrase of that, but being that. Where I go with that is and I'll say a bunch of words, I'll.
Sign posts in advance that they may not make sense, you may understand the individual words, but not the order in which I use them.
But as I review many of the I'm writing a book right now and as I review many of the interviews I've done, many of them on this show I'm seeing and I don't know if I can articulate this accurately, but I'm seeing a theme come through in many of them that I'll quote Bernie Brown, who's a best selling author and has a very popular podcast and a Netflix special, but also has done a lot of science. And she talks about for her, the big word is vulnerability and vulnerability.
She doesn't mean go out there and, you know, in the street naked where anybody can attack you. She means having the courage to be who you actually are, to be fully yourself and honest about it. And she says the biggest, if I understand her correctly, she's saying she says one of the biggest impediments to that is the armoring up we do in response to our sort of rubbing up against the uglier aspects of the world.
Yeah, and I hear versions of this in many of the interviews I've done that, you know, if you want to get really Buddhist about it, that we have a Buddha nature, that we are essentially good, but that it gets covered over by these obscuration, which the job of meditation and spiritual practice is to remove those so that we can be who we are meant to be. Does any of that land with with with what you said?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And it lands right at the heart of it that. I guess I do ascribe in a sense that basically we are good or OK at birth and essentially who who we are and that. A lot of things get pasted over it and the kinds of what I'm calling kind of mini traumatic experiences, those emotions, those those pains, that vulnerability that is then hurt or assaulted causes a certain level of armor that gets put up this both kind of character armor, as someone once referred to it, but also in terms of body armor and that the process of good therapy, the job of I think.
Good meditation is to. Undo and unwrap that armor and get at what's underneath, which tends to be a more vulnerable human being. But I'll even accept even the Buddhist concept that we're kind of we do have an essential good nature and that sense of Buddha nature and. That unwrapping that is kind of our job, whether it's meditation or whether it's therapy. In the future, as much as we can develop a society in which minimizes those early traumas. It will be a better world, people's true natures is basically good.
It's at least neutral. Yeah, and maybe. You know, I've gone down the rabbit hole of wondering, you know what, who's right, original sin or, you know, the Buddhist. I don't know that it matters what I you know, I don't know. I hope I'm not offending anybody. But for me, I'm not sure it matters really what the metaphysics of this are. But I do know that you can work to make yourself a happier and healthier a human being.
And what I'm hearing from you is that that work is not merely for yourself that actually could contribute to an evolution of the species. Yeah, well put, that's that sounds right. It's good work all in itself, and I would be doing it no matter what. But there is a little bit of a potentially higher meaning to it.
So I'd love it. Just, you know, people are probably curious about your work at this point.
So can you tell us a little bit more about your book for people who are interested in the concepts that my father and I wrote a book that it is available from booksellers, and it's called A New Reality Human Evolution for a Sustainable Future. And that addresses my father's ideas in more depth in a very visual presentation.
Well, it's been a pleasure to chat with you. I really appreciate your time. Really glad to be here. It's been great for me as well. And actually, it was really great to pick up your book and really enjoy that. And I'm learning a lot from it, so I appreciate that. Big thank you to Jonathan. Really appreciate his time, if you by the way, if you want a way to cultivate the values of cooperation and interdependence, check out Joanna Hearties meditation on the practice of generosity in the 10 percent happier Apple.
Put a link in the show notes. Thanks as always to the team who helped put the show together. Samuel Johns is our senior producer. Marisa Schneiderman is our producer. Our sound designers are Matt Boynton. And on Nashik of Ultraviolet Audio, Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We get a ton of really valuable input from colleagues such as Ben Rubin, Jen and Toby, Liz Levin and as always, big thank you to my guys from ABC, Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohan.
We'll see you all on Wednesday with the Deep Darma episode about Buddhism and relationships.