It’s always interesting to me to see which drugs get thrown under the bus. Most of them are the ones that are illegal but the reality is, as you’ve heard on this show, that drugs are used for all kinds of reasons. Some of which are “pharmaceutical” and have to do with capitalistic interest and some are “recreational” and have to do with spiritual or social interest. The use of all those drugs has everything to do with the intent of the person or company behind it. That’s why I wanted an episode dedicated to GHB, often labeled the date-rape drug. As you’ll hear, there have been many date-rape drugs. GHB has some amazing benefits to it that has nothing to do with it’s date-rape branding.
There’s an incredible separation between the stuff we consume— like food or products— and the people who are making that stuff for us. Certainly in the States we walk through stores and everything is plastic wrapped— none of us can imagine that all the pieces came from an animal let alone the work environment that people who created the product for us had to endure. Our products are created for us in the same way— we have no idea how they’re made or how it’s affecting other people’s lives on the other side of that chain.
The reality is there’s huge industries obsessed with obfuscating the scary truth because when you strip it back, people are having incredible life-threatening situations and we have no idea. The reason we have no idea is because there’s effort made to constantly pivot or rename bad things so that we think the products that we’re buying are “green” or otherwise humanely created.
We crave belonging. As crazy-distracting and decisive as the world is, it’s easy to forget this simple fact. Deep down we want to be accepted and feel part of a tribe. I had an amazing opportunity to dig into what it takes to connect to very different groups by talking to someone who has done the extreme version of this. Bruce Parry had travelled to some of the most remote places on planet Earth and inserted himself into wildly foreign communities. For some of these tribes, meeting him was “first contact” of any outsider not part of their tribe. Imagine making connection with groups of people where you don’t speak their language, look very different, don’t eat their food or wear their clothes. How would you do it? What could you learn about yourself by making those connections?
When you live in the Bay Area you pass tons of folks who appear to be mad. Most of us don’t spend enough time focusing on how our culture handles folks on the spectrum of some level of mental illness. When you think about it— the range of “madness” ranges from people with very serious mental illness to people who don’t socially fit in. As you look back across history, you can see just how we’ve dealt with it, who we’ve blamed for it, and what crazy treatments we’ve put in place.
Who better to talk about that than someone who studies it for a living. Andrew Scull, this week’s guest, is exactly that person. As a professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego, he’s written a ton of books on this subject over decades.
Clearly throughout recorded history we’ve been fascinated by things like the Fountain of Youth and anything that would reverse the aging process. Let’s face it, if you’re over 40, you feel it physically. Your systems just start to break down. In modern medicine, this process has been seen as disease but this week’s guest, Aubrey de Grey, sees it more like an engineering challenge.
Aubrey is a very controversial biomedical gerontologist and crusader against aging. He has a very specific plan that identifies the various components that cause human tissue to age, and he has very specific remedies for each of them. That’s what his non-profit, The SENS Research Foundation focuses on and it’s got some interesting people behind it, like Peter Thiel (one of the founders of PayPal) and Aubrey himself who has invested a large part of his inheritance to the cause.
Way outside our cities and towns are societies of disappearing and endangered indigenous people . Some of us may think that’s natural— it’s been happening forever. Others fight to protect those cultures and have very strong opinions about what’s right and what’s wrong for those people.
One of those opinions is whether there’s a “right way” to depict people who are different than us— who are not living in urbanized or Western societies. I was surprised by just how controversial this subject really was. I guess it’s ok that we’re surrounded by spectacular images that romanticize cars, sports, and marriage. Really anything commercial— but to apply a similar heroic lens to people who are different than us, well, that could be sacrilege. It seems there are people out there who believe that the only way to photograph those folks needs to be as an anthropological documentarian— capturing people only how they’re actually living vs in their Sunday best— proud, celebrated, glamorized.
If you’re like me you might ask, where has imagination gone? We seem to have forgotten that muscle. How to even tap what’s really inside us. It’s sort of amazing when you think about it, we’re born into a world where there are tuning forks on any topic that pump out a story about what that topic should be— how we should think, feel, and behave when it comes to marriage, love, money, work, religion— or really any topic.
So we find ourselves trying to adjust our harmony to those other tuning forks. We’re reacting to them. We’re trying to make them happy. We’re trying to satisfy all of the demands that those containers and shapes are asking us to conform to.
It’s almost impossible to get in tune with reality. There’s a lot of guests on this show that have talked about how fake everything we’ve created really is and certainly that is true when it comes to one of the most fundamental topics: our sexuality. How we encounter and express intimacy— physically, emotionally, spiritually, and cosmically— with someone else. How we share it and what it should look like.
If you listen to this podcast it’s not a surprise that I love bizarre. What better way to extend that lens then to look beyond people? So when author Matt Simon was recommended by a listener as a guest for Grow Big Always, I thought it was a great idea because he’s a science writer at Wired and specializes on Zoology, specifically some crazy fucking creatures.
It’s hard to describe his book, The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, because it’s a fusion of the insane things creatures do and also incredibly funny. Where else can you glance at a title of a section that says, “Adventures in having a six inch long clitoris.” Actually, don’t answer that.
It’s amazing when you stop and think about how much we’re told about what shouldn’t be lovable. So much is vilified. It could be our own feelings, other groups of people, different faiths, or distant countries. There’s so much that falls into this unlovable category— so many stories where, “those people are the bad ones.”
Now imagine you’re someone who decides to unravel those narrative containers. To build bridges to them and shine lights on the kinds of families, emotions, places in the world that keep us apart and keep us from understanding them. That’s exactly what this week’s guest, author Andrew Solomon, has done with his life. He’s a writer and lecturer on politics, culture, and psychology as well as a very important activist and philanthropist and behalf of LGBT rights, mental health, education and the arts. He’s won The National Book Award, he’s a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, and he was included in The New York Times list of 100 best books of the decade.
As we begin to heal on the other side of a painful presidential election, we're left with deep cultural divides that frankly have been growing there for a while. So it's worth taking a giant step back and examining ourselves and the insulated bubbles we've put ourselves in. As comfortable as this social insulation is, it--along with a culture of intense sensitivity that lobotomizes what we say for fear of offending others-- keeps us from the free exchange of ideas. Instead we perceive someone with even the smallest deviation from our point of view as "one of them.” While those with extreme liberal views fight for a unrealistic level of absolute inclusion which flies in face of our objective differences, extreme conservatives feel their side of the coin is just as right and they passionately defending their own strict point of view and seek inclusion as well. Both sides arm themselves with friends and Facebook feeds which reinforce and fuel what they already believe. It’s worth taking a step out of that fray and examining ourselves and yes— fearlessly climbing out of our safe and comfy pods to try to understand and accept people who are different.