If you’re a regular listener to this podcast you’ve probably heard me bash capitalism a lot. The reality is there’s no escaping it, it’s taken over nearly every corner of the world. That certainly hasn’t stopped me from wincing whenever I travel to a far-away lands and am met with local trinket shops and people peddling their wares. But who am I to judge whether this is good or bad for a society. Oftentimes these are poor, macho communities with substantial pressures on them. They see the money come in and out of their world without them able to touch it. Often these countries also have remote destinations that house incredible archeological sites, but have a community that remains poor and helpless to take advantage of its history. And then there’s the question: should they? And if they do, what would that do to their culture? Would it be a positive or negative thing to suddenly take capitalism and mix it with something like archeology?
If you’re reading this and are middle aged (especially a man) you’re depressed and don’t have any friends. That’s right, I’m talking to you and so are big industries who capitalize on your sad state like pharma, shrinks, and the tornado of advertisers who prey on your pleas for help. Us middle-aged people are crying out for help, just like our babies who we put in nursery rooms by themselves. By now, our kids have left, our marriage may have left, and all the friends we used to have are on their own little islands, suffering just like us. We’ve all over-declared our independence, our society has built a super complex, reinforcing system around it. I’m one of these poor souls, too: a middle aged guy with my wife as my best friend, whose put everything I have into my family and most of those kids are now adults who have moved on and left poor, old me feeling really isolated and lonely.
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.
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 a BMW or automobile lover, you may have heard of Chris Bangle. At only 35, he was the man in charge of BMW design— so all models and brands from BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce— reported up to him— and his designs shook up the automotive industry for 17 years. People still write and talk about it today. Today he has his own firm re-approaching design for all sorts of products from smartphones to alcohol bottles. We talked from his studio near Turin, Italy, about everything from self-driving cars to AI to how he’s designed starting his own company and growing it as an inspiration for his employees as well as the community around him.