Johann Hari: Everything You Think You Know About Meaning & Happiness Is Wrong | E82 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Johann Hari: Everything You Think You Know About Meaning & Happiness Is Wrong | E82".
Note: This transcription is split and grouped by topics and subtopics. You can navigate through the Table of Contents on the left. It's interactive. All paragraphs are timed to the original video. Click on the time (e.g., 01:53) to jump to the specific portion of the video.
The most effective strategies for dealing with depression and anxiety are the ones that deal with the reasons why we feel so bad in the first place. We need to stop asking what's wrong with you and start asking what happened to you. If you think life is about money and status and showing off, you're gonna feel like shit. It's not like I'm explaining quantum physics, right? And we all had that experience where you crave a consumer object, you build up to it, you get it, you get home and you just feel flat. Is it's not the trauma that destroys you. It's the shame about the trauma and giving people ways to release that shame is an antidepressant. God, change is really possible. Today we have a real treat for you. This guest today, Johann Hari, is one of my all-time favorite ever podcast guests ever. And I'm not saying that's blow smoke or pizas. When I had the conversation with him and when I started reading his books many years ago, I can quite honestly say that no book I've ever read in my life has had more of a positive impact, a more transformative impact on the topics that matter most to my fulfillment and happiness than the work that Johann has done. He is a comedian on one hand. He's an incredible storyteller. He spends a decade writing his books. So you know the information he's gonna share with you today is both profound, it is evidence-backed, and it is compelling, true, important and everything that our society at this point in time needs to hear. This could well be the most important podcast I've ever recorded. If you asked me, if there was one podcast that I wish the world got to hear, it's definitely this one. Above all of the other podcasts I've ever recorded, this is the conversation. So without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett, and this is the Diaries CEO. I hope nobody's listening, but if you are, then please keep this yourself. Johann, it's a real pleasure to have you back on the podcast. You are one of my all-time favorite guests, top three. I don't know the order, but you're definitely up there. Who are these other two? I don't actually know. I'm really pleased everyone will know that I have not bribed you since you don't eat the money. Exactly, there you go. This is authentic, I'm very happy. But no, I mean that.
Exploring Connectivity And Meaning In Modern Society
Why do you like writing books? (02:28)
And not just because of the conversation we had, but because you changed my fundamental beliefs around depression, mental health, the importance of human connection and everything in between, and that had a really fundamental positive impact on my life. It's also, you feature heavily in my book. I talk about you on this podcast all the time. So the amount of times I've plugged, so really what I brought you here today was to get the royalties from all the time. No, but I talk about you on this podcast all the time. So... You're an old bag of crisps, please. Or you're getting. That's why I wanted to get in the podcast because you changed my life, and I'm not saying that to blow smoke up your ass. I genuinely mean that with your book lost connections. So the first question I have is completely off track, but I've just finished writing my book, published it, it's all great and everything. You're onto your third fourth book now? Yeah? Yeah. Talk to me about why you like writing books. What is it about writing books? Why are you doing that? Oh, for me, I write books because there's a question I want to answer for myself that I don't know the answer to at the start. So we had lost connections. For me, there's always a core mystery that I want to understand, right? So we had lost connections to core mystery, it was two really simple things. When the book came out, it was 40. All throughout my lifetime, depression and anxiety have increased in Britain, the US across the world. I wanted to understand why, right? Why is it that with each year that passes more and more of us are finding it harder to get through the day? I wanted to understand it for a personal reason, which is that I had been really depressed myself. I had done everything I was told to do by my doctors and I remained depressed. Or chasing the screen, but before that, I had a kind of core question, which was, you know, we had a lot of addiction in my family, one of my earliest memories is of trying to wake up one of my relatives and not being able to. And I wanted to understand, well, what causes addiction and what can we actually do about it? I want to understand on a personal level, but also at a social level, what we could do about it. So for me, I always start with a core question. So I've been working on for the last 10 years that I'm sort of writing at the moment about something I have to be careful what I said about, but a series of crimes that have been happening in Las Vegas. For me, there's always a core question, a mystery, and then I'm like, okay, I want to take the reader on a journey as I try to solve this mystery for myself, right? So all of my books are long journeys where I, you know, for both books, I travel more than 30,000 miles, went to a crazy mixture of people. And for me, the best journeys are not where you find yourself. And when it goes, all you've got on a journey to find yourself, to me, the best journeys are where you find other people, right? So I think about the crazy mixture of people that I've got to know for these books, who I love, who are still important people to me from, you know, for the addiction book, I think about Chino Hardin, who's a trans crack dealer in Brooklyn, who's one of the smartest people I've ever met, Rosalia Retta, a hitman to the deadliest Mexican drug cartel. He's unfortunately not one of the smartest people I've ever met. But, you know, or for lost connections, you know, I think about these people will probably talk about these people in Berlin who transform, who starting on position a terrible depression, transform their city and their country. I think about this couple, homeless couple I know very well in Vegas. So for me, it's always about finding people and solving mysteries. And I write to figure out, to try to understand the world and to figure out what we can do about the world, you know? So for me, it's, I would, I can't imagine writing a book where I felt I knew in advance. Of course, I've got ideas when I start, right? I don't start as a blank slate. But I can't imagine writing a book where I felt I knew in advance, I was standing above the reader and going, well, reader, you know, I mean, there are books that do that. You know, if you've been in it, I'm a journalist, I'm not an expert, right? So if you've been an expert for 30 years on, just read a fantastic book about octopuses, right? If you guys spent 30 years studying octopuses, you know, so shit ton about octopuses, I'm very happy for him to stand above me and say, let me tell you a lot of the crazy shit about octopuses that it is crazy shit, right? But that's great. It's called Other Minds. I really recommend that book. But I'm not that, I'm not an expert. So for me, it's about the journey, come on the journey with me, come to all these different places, come with me to Favella in Rio, come with me to the Killing Fields in Mexico, come with me to a Gulag in Vietnam, let's go on the journey, let's figure out what the fuck's going on. And of all the books, and this is, I know that I can probably guess the response here, the whole like, I'll choose your favourite kid, which one? Oh, Chasing Scream, I have a really answer to that. Because, only because, so Chasing Scream is a book I wrote about the addiction and the war on drugs. And it's because it's the book that I, it sounds self-aggrandizing and wanky, but it's the book that I've seen do the most good in the world. It's a place where I've been to so many places where people have used that book and the things that, to me, the happiest moment in any book, and the whole process of writing, is when, so I track down people I think are really interesting and important. So to give an example, there's a guy in Vancouver called Professor Bruce Alexander, one of the most amazing human beings alive, who did a really important experiment that's transformed how we think about addiction, called Rat Park. I suspect we'll talk about it. And Bruce, you know, that experiment was known before my book and before my TED talks and stuff. But as Bruce says, you know, it got a huge boost from that. And that evidence is now used, was used in Norway where they're just on the brink of decriminalizing all drugs, in all sorts of places in Mexico. I remember having a surreal conversation with some ex-compultitions about it, in all sorts of different places. And to me, the most exciting moment is when the people I've written about get in touch with me and say, oh, people are contacting me because of your because they've read about me. And it's that moment where you feel that you've been a conduit between someone who's doing something really important and people who needed to know it. And to me, that's like the blissful feeling, you know. So chasing the scream just because that's the book I've seen do the most work in the world. You know what I mean? Quick interruption. Today, we have Luke with us behind the scenes watching this podcast be recorded. Luke is a subscriber of this podcast. And as I said in the previous podcast, we're going to start bringing in subscribers to watch the show being filmed to sit behind the scenes and to meet me and the guests. If you want that to be you, all you've got to do is hit subscribe button wherever you're listening to this podcast. So let's talk about rap park. I read about this study numerous times, but I think it's, you know, you've probably talked about it before, but I think it's so important and foundational for so many reasons. And speaks to actually speaks a lot to Lost Connections as well, in many respects, that I would love you to tell the story of rap park and exactly what it is. You know, rap park was for me. I found it very challenging when I learned about rap park because I realized that all my life I've been misunderstanding some of the things I was seeing right in front of me. So like I said, we had addiction in my family and we still have addiction in my family.
Rat Park (09:28)
It's very difficult. And when I started doing the research for chasing the scream, God 10, 10 years ago, exactly 10 years ago, almost, I am, if you'd asked me, let's say heroin addiction because that was close to me. If you'd said to me, you know, how and what causes heroin addiction, I would have looked at you like you were thick and I would have said, well, Steven, the clues in the name, right? Obviously, heroin causes heroin addiction, right? We've been told this story for 100 years, this become totally part of our common sense. It was definitely part of mine. So we think we're sitting here in East London. We think if we kidnap the next 20 people to what pass your flat in East London and like a villain in a saw movie, we injected them all with heroin every day for a month. At the end of that month, they'd all be heroin addicts for a simple reason. There's chemical hooks in heroin that as you use it, your body starts to crave. You want more and more of them. And so at the end of that month, people would have this tremendous physical hunger for the chemical hooks, right? So why we call it being hooked. And that's the story we have in our heads. Now, that story is not completely wrong. It turns out it's a very small part of a much bigger picture. And the first thing that I remember, the first thing that alerted me to that was when in my research, I was interviewing doctors and experts and it was explained to me, right? Here in Britain, if you want me step out into the street and you get hit by a truck, right? God forbid, terrible loss to the world. You would be taken to hospital and if you say you broke your hip, you'd be given a lot of a drug called diamorphine, right? Diamorphine is heroin. It's much better than the shit you'd buy just like the road from here on the street because it's medically pure heroin, right? And anyone watching this, if you're British and your NANs had a hip replacement operation, your NANs taken a lot of heroin, right? Now, if what we think about addiction is right, that it's caused primarily or entirely by exposure to the chemical hooks, what should be happening to all these people in British hospitals who've been given a lot of powerful heroin? Some of them should be leaving and trying to score on the streets. You should be meeting people in their name meetings who say, "Well, you know, I started, I had a hip placement. This has been studied very carefully. It never happens," right? And I remember when I learned that, just thinking the first person who told me that was Dr. Gabbal Marte, and I remember thinking, saying to him, "Gabbal, that can't be right. How could you have a situation where you've got someone in hospital bed, they're using a shit ton of really powerful heroin, they don't become addicted, and you've got someone in the alleyway outside who is shooting up actually a weaker, shittier form of the drug, and they do become addicted. How could that be?" And I only began to understand it when I went to Vancouver and interviewed Professor Alexander, Professor Bruce Alexander. So Bruce explained to me, "The story we've got in our heads, that addiction is caused primarily or totally by the chemical hooks, comes from a series of experiments that were done earlier in the 20th century. They're really simple experiments. Your viewers can try them at home if they're feeling a little bit sadistic and bored in COVID times, right?" "It's not heroin, is it?" "They don't have that." "You take a rat, you put it in a cage and you give it two water bottles. One is just water, the other is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drug water and almost always kill itself quite quickly within a week or two, right? So there you go, that's our story, that's how we think it works. But in the 70s, Professor Alexander was working where I met him on the downtown East Side of Vancouver, which has a lot of, he's working with a lot of people with very bad addiction problems. And he starts to look at these experiments and he says, "Well, hang on a minute, you put the rat alone in an empty cage. It's got nothing that makes life worth living for rats. All it's got is the drugs. What would happen if we did this differently?" So he built a cage that he called Rat Park, which is basically heaven for rats, right? They got loads of friends, they got loads of cheese, they got loads of colored balls, they can have loads of sex. Everything that makes life worth living for rats is their own rat park. And they've got both the water bottles, the drugged water and the normal water. This is the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, they don't like the drug water. They don't use it very much. None of the music compulsively, none of them overdose. So you go from almost 100% compulsive use and overdose when rats don't have the things that make life worth living to no compulsive use and overdose when they do have the things that make life worth living. And obviously, we are not rats. We're more complicated. But the core of this, and there's lots of human evidence that I can talk about, but what this taught me and the other evidence taught me is the core of addiction is about not wanting to be present in your life, because your life is too painful a place to be. The action makes you realize why our approach of punishing people with addiction problems is such a disaster actually makes the problem worse. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, although that is valuable for some people. The opposite of addiction is connection. And we're living through a great example of that right now. It just, I think, two days ago, the government announced massive increase in alcohol-related deaths, massive increase in other drug-related deaths in Britain and in the United States. Why would that be? Right? I think rightly, in order to suppress the virus, which we had to do, we have had to become more disconnected, and that has caused an increase in addiction. Now, that tells us something about what was causing addiction all along and what the parts are out of addiction are. I thought that was a very long answer to the perfect answer. And obviously, with that in mind, COVID has accelerated the adoption of remote working, which there's been a lot of debate around that, whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. My stance is pretty clear. I think it's an awful thing. And I say this because, after reading your book, I understand that organic connection in our lives has been on this sort of macro decline.
Working from home, living through screens (15:04)
And one of the institutions in our lives that has held that together has been the office. So most of my friends come from working in a big office. If I think about where 90% of my connection came from the office, and to think, especially as a young person who hasn't built a family or kids, whatever, that that is also now going to move to a screen, I think is a fucking terrible idea, to be honest. I wanted to get your thoughts on that because I think people think of the convenience factors, but we thought of the convenience factors when we created social media and dating apps and all these other things. But the unintended consequences of the convenience tends to be stripping us of connection once again. And what do we have left? Like, everything else is on a screen now. So if you take away work from me, I'm like, I probably wouldn't see anybody. Like porn. I can do that online now. Dating, swipe, swipe, swipe. So it feels like the last institution of connection is being at war. I think that's really interesting. I think there's two things I was thinking about as you talked about that, Stephen. One is what a lot of us get out the web, the relationship between social media and social life is a bit like the relationship between porn and sex, which you mentioned porn, because I'm not anti-porn. Porn's going to meet a basic itch, right? But no one spends an hour looking at porn and feels like satisfied and seen. Spook, speakers. Not the way you do after you've had sex, right? Unless you have the phone about sex, Stephen. I've got virtual reality headset. There's definitely a satisfaction to look at porn, but it's not as satisfying as sex, right? Of course not. Unless something's going very wrong. No, I promise you. I promise I'm just going to talk about that when the camera's off, you know, I'm very happy to have that conversation. But in a similar sort of way, you know, it's not that a lot of these technologies are unhealthily relationship with the technology itself is neutral. A lot of our relationships with these technologies are attempts to fill holes in the way we're living. I feel holes in some unfortunate movie talking about porn, but you know what I mean? And even if you just think about when the internet arrived, right? So internet arrives for most of us, the early 2000s or 1999. I got my first email address in 2000. And a lot of the things that we're talking about had already been gone rising for a long time, big increase in loneliness before that. And what happens is the internet arrives and it looks a lot like the things we've lost, right? You've lost friends, here's Facebook friends. You've lost status in the economy. Here's some status updates, but then not the things we've lost. It's like giving porn to a sex-star man in prison, or something. It's not the thing you've lost, right? I mean, it'll meet a certain basic kitchen, but it's not the thing you've lost. And if interacting through screens met our basic needs as human beings, we would all be very happy zooming all the time, right? Sitting on Zoom would be as good as sitting in the office, right? You know, and people often say to me, why do you travel to so many places to do all these interviews? Why don't you just talk to them on on Skype or Zoom? And I always say, because you get 10% of the experience through a screen. People don't open up to you. They don't feel they've met you. All these people I'm describing to you, I can picture them so vividly. People I've interviewed on Zoom, I can never remember even what they look like, right? So these forms of interaction, they've got a place, you know, it's better to have Zoom in a time of a plague than nothing, which would have been the alternative in the context of COVID. But it's not, it doesn't, we evolved to interact, to look into each other's eyes, to see each other, to interact in three dimensions. We did not evolve to interact through screens. It doesn't meet our deep innate. That is why I've never done this podcast over Zoom, despite the temptation. Yeah. So we started doing it, we started, we upped everything in December and really started going for it, you know, build the team and all these things. And that's obviously in the middle of the pandemic, there's flight restrictions no one can fly in. And we've got the most amazing guests in the world that want to come on via Zoom. And I just said, I do this because I enjoy it, right? That's like the fundamental reason. That's the reason why I'll keep doing it for the next 10 years. And I would not enjoy doing it over Zoom. It would become like a job to me because I like meeting people. And obviously the conversation we have now, you can feel the emotion, you can hear the, you know, you can see it my eyes and you can see it at certain points, you know, you can feel what I'm thinking. And that unlocks for a podcast that's meant to be a little bit more deeper. It unlocks that depth. We've had, you know, tears and we've had all sorts and I formed real friendships from it so many pretty much all of my guests. I'm like, I feel like I'm friends with it straight after because of the vulnerability. So I just made a rule that I would not do anything over Zoom. And when people ask me to go on their podcast over Zoom, the answer is the same. I don't want to do it. And I, with my team, Myalfa's is actually downstairs. So we come in every day. There was one thing about work. I think everything you said is totally true. So there's one thing about work I would say, which is a slightly different point, but relates to remote working, which is so, we can talk about some more detail if you want, but just for the purposes of this part of the conversation, there's a lot of evidence that lacking control over your work makes you depressed, right? I'm sure we can talk about that more. One thing that people do benefit from, I think, from Zoom, not actually, funnily, interestingly, not so much in COVID times as evidence people are working more hours under COVID than they were normally. Partly, because Zoom meetings take so damn long. But some people, I think, as we come out of this, which we will, as we come out of COVID, the pandemic, some people, I think, would like to have more leeway about when they are in the office. Oh, yeah. And would like to, and I think it's interesting, when you look at the research on this, it's not so much the ratio, is it 20% at home? It's whether you can choose, it's the amount of agency you have. So in that sense, I think that's where, and of course, we didn't have any choice about COVID, but that's the bit where I would say we'll probably have some value going for. 100% degree. I actually wrote about motivation, intrinsic motivation, and one of the big factors is people feeling motivated in work is, as you say, autonomy, feeling like you have control of your work. And that's also the balance that I've always tried to create at my companies, which is one where you can book as much time off as you need without having to tell a computer and ask it for approval. And there is no bitchiness. There is no one that's going to look at you the next day and be like, oh, you've had a couple of days off, and giving people the same level of freedom that I've always had has been super important. But at the same time, I've been super clear, even though it's an unpopular narrative right now, I think this remote working future where these companies are coming out and doing all their virtue signaling, whatever, I think it's a load of nonsense. And I think they're actually harming people by supporting the idea that we're going to all, especially younger people, live our lives through screens. And I think that people are going to figure this out. I actually think people have overestimated the stickiness of remote working. Because the narrative is, companies that offer remote working will attract all the staff, all the good talent. So you're going to have to do it. But I actually think companies that are able to offer community and much more than work, which for me is what a good job is, much what it's the friends you make, the experiences you have, the challenges you're driving towards together, the worthwhile, it's like the worthwhile striving for a challenge with a group of people you love. For me, that's like become my, the reason for why I live. I managed to get it down to those three things, which is people I love, worthwhile challenge, right? And I don't know how that links into your work, but that's, I think, the most foundational I've managed to get with like my reason to live is like, oh, at least my reason to work. So if I think what you've gone to a really important, one of the most important things that relates to depression and anxiety in your own life, which is meaning, right? So there's all this, I mean, it's funny, exactly a little bit more than a year ago, a year and a month ago, I was in Moscow. It was the last thing I did before I got COVID, it was grim. I interviewed this fascinating Russian psychologist called Dimitri Leon Tiev. And his, so his dad had actually been a super famous, so his grandfather had been an incredibly famous psychologist, but he's a very distinguished psychologist as well. And I remember him saying like, British and American people, British American philosophy, if you go back, it's very often about happiness, the belief that you should try to make yourself happy, right? Obviously it's in constitution, the pursuit of happiness, right? And he said, when Russians hear that, we just laugh, right? That's a child's game, trying to chase happiness, that's a child's philosophy. So you can't, you don't have that much say about whether happiness will come ago. He said, what life is about is not happiness, but meaning, right?
Finding meaning within the machine (24:07)
The pursuit of meaning. And actually, when you've got meaning in your life, you can tolerate a lot of unhappiness. And you even think about something as simple as a denti, or a big example, a dentist drill, right? So if I now took out a drill, opened your mouth and, you know, jabbed it into your teeth and it was agony, because that would have no meaning in the context between us, it would be, it would literally be torture, it would cause you terrible suffering and you'd be traumatized for ages. But you've been to the dentist and they've done that, right? And it didn't traumatize you most likely some people do get traumatized dentists, that's a different story. It's rare. Why? Because it had a meaning, right? You could tolerate the pain because there was, because it was for a purpose. Oh, right, if I don't tolerate this pain, my teeth are going to get fucked up, right? It's worthwhile. And I think there's one of the things that's a big, a big driver of depression anxiety. It was one of the, actually, it was one of the two hardest causes of depression and anxiety that I wrote about in Lost Connections for Meater. It was the one, one that was most, one of the two that was most challenging for me was this crisis of mean it. So for thousands of years, philosophers have said, if you think life is about money and status and showing off, you're going to feel like shit, right? It's not an exact quote from Confucius, but that is basically what he said, right? But weirdly, nobody had ever scientifically, I'm looking into it, is this true? How do we know? No one had actually scientifically investigated this until an amazing man I got to know named Professor Tim Casser, who did an incredible amount of, spent 35 years researching these questions. He discovered loads of things, but I think for what we're talking about, there's two in particular. Firstly, he discovered exactly as the philosophers warned, if you think life is about money and status and showing off, all the values you get from advertising, Instagram, everything like them, the more likely you are to become depressed and anxious by a significant amount. And secondly, he discovered as a society, as a culture, we have become much more driven by these junk values, right? They've been rising all throughout my lifetime, your lifetime. And I was talking about, well, why is that, right? And there's many reasons that I go through, but why does that make us feel so bad? A key reason I think is just it trains us to look for happiness in all the wrong places, right? You know your technical crew, know everyone knows, everyone watching this knows, you're not going to lie on your deathbed and think about all the likes you got on Instagram, right? You're going to think about moments of love and meaning and connection. But as Professor Casser put it to me, we live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life, right? We live in a machine where we are bombarded, more 18-month-old children know what the McDonald's M means than know their own last name, right? So from the moment you're born, you are trained to think, if you don't feel good, there's a solution for that. Work harder, buy shit, display it on Instagram to make people go OMG so jealous, right? That is the script in our society. And it's like KFC for the soul, right? You're not going to find happiness there. But the more meaningful values are lying just beneath the surface, right? Nothing I just said. I mean, it's almost like a Hallmark card at the level of banality. Everyone knows that at some level. And yet we don't live by it. And this is true of a lot of things and level of connections. It's not like I'm explaining quantum physics, right? It's not like I'm not that I could do that. It's not like I'm explaining I don't know I'm Tom Schies linguistics or something. These are things at some level we all know, but we live in a machine like Professor Casser put it. We live in a machine that has taught us to neglect, to mistrust our own instincts about what will give us a good life and to pursue other things instead. Do you know what I mean? Does that make sense to you? Of course it makes for a consensus to me. Of course it makes sense to me. Do you feel, but I really feel the reason it was challenging is because I could see how much of my own life was driven by these drugs. I was never a materialistic person. I was never, I was once nominated for an award as the worst-dressed gay man in Britain. So I was never like a kind of material. No, I was beaten by David Furnish. You I've always thought it was very well dressed. So I showed so much I know. But you know, a big part, not it was never like I was never like Trump. It was never 100%. But a big part of my life was driven by trying to think about how people perceive me, managing people's expectations. Does it still? Yeah, of course it's still a part of my character. But it's a radically smaller part of my personality than it was 15 years ago. Because I was thinking, was you're saying that I was just thinking, I was thinking this is also true. But again, the question posed in my mind was how would I get out of the machine when so much of the things I enjoy keep me within the machine? So, you know, I could I could have scond and go to Bali and go and live on a beach and just surround myself with a couple of friends and you'd give up my Lou Vuitton shoes. I don't have Lou Vuitton shoes, but you go, I mean, go up my land beginning, which I also don't have. And I could I could escape. But much of the joy of my life comes from doing things like this, having conversations with people like you, which means that I have to live in London. And then to promote this, I'm going to have to use Instagram and social media. And then I'm going to get a little pat on the back from the algorithm, if it's good or bad. And so in the pursuit of some of my intrinsic joy and goals, I I've played this a lot. I I'm I'm putting myself in the machine. And I can't see another way to live. The best I say to myself, the best you could probably do, Steve, is live within the machine, but just live much more consciously. Know that you're in the machine. And it's the minute that you don't know you're in the machine that the machine becomes your puppet master. And then I'll start fucking buying Lou Vuitton again. So it's funny. There's a student saying Lou Vuitton because I once a party met Calvin Klein. And until that moment, I I thought Calvin Klein was a fictional character. So someone said, Oh, this is Calvin Klein, I almost said, Oh, like the clothes. And then I was like, Oh, wait, is this like, it was like something meeting should have gone on McDonald's or something. But I am gap. Yeah, I think he thought I was an anti like, really, well, I'm pedal standards. I think he thought I was an absolute twat. But but no, the, the, so I think Tim Casser discovered two answers to actually lots of answers, but it's two specific things that he discovered that I think really helped answer your question. So and they operate at different levels. So what can we do about the fact we live in the machine? There's two things. There's one thing that's going to sound very big and is very big, which is we can dismantle the machine. The machine was created by human beings. And it can be dismantled. And again, I went to places that have started that. Sao Paulo in Brazil. City was full of advertising. It was doing people's heads in. They banned outdoor advertising. People felt much better. Do you remember the campaign that happened here? When was it? It's in the books. It must have been at least four years ago, five years ago, maybe there was a campaign on the choose. Skinny tea. No, this was the, yeah, exactly. So who don't remember there were, it was a picture of super ripped guy and a super lean woman. And it said, are you beach body ready? Right. And it was an advert for some, I'm so out of touch with the sort of, I don't know. I don't want to plug. So what was it? A protein shake. It was like a protein powder. Right. Right. You see, I'm so unhealthy. I don't even know what that powder is. You could see what you would do with that powder, except snort it, which I see was not what you did. But anyway, and city can't just ban it. Just said, you know what, this makes me feel like shit. It's got an insidious vile message, which is if you don't look like these people, i.e. if you're like 99.99% of the population, you're not fit to go to the beach. Just ban it. There was a campaign to vandalize that poster, which people vandalized it just with the slogan, "Aptetizing shits in your head." So that was a great slogan. So you can do a political thing. We don't have to allow all this stuff, right? And we can build up to that in all sorts of ways, smaller steps. And one is a more personal one. And that's something I now do. I have a group of friends. We talk, you know, once every couple of weeks, we talk about, okay, what are the times where we've been tempted by bullshit? You know, like, we had the conversation the other day. And one of my friends said, you know, oh, she'd got retweeted by some famous person and it lifted her move for five minutes. And then she was like, I need more, I need more. And then we're like, okay, but did you write that day? She's right. She said, no, no, it distracted me. I didn't write. And we're like, okay, but, and of course you only had to say it, don't you? Oh, yeah. That's the thing that gives my life meaning. That's the moments when I feel flow, not the sugar hive, you know, I've tried to remember who it was. It was someone really famous. So just having these, so I would say, and those things are complementary, by the way, when we have those conversations with the among ourselves, it makes us feel more powerful to take on the aspects of the machine that are fucking us up as well. What you've described is like a counterbalance, right? Because you've got the machine whispering in your ear every day, every time you log on social media, walk down the street, look at the internet, look at a newspaper, and it's saying, bye, Louis Vuitton, motherfucker. And then what you've described there is just by having someone in your ear once and while going, don't buy Louis Vuitton, live your life for, you know, intrinsic, your intrinsic values, you know, things that actually matter. It acts as a bit of a counterbalance. And it's so true because I know this stuff, right? Done a lot of reading about it. Your book really helped me understand it. Lots of other books I've, you know, you talked about Professor Tim Casser, read his writings after you wrote about it in your book. I know this stuff yet. Once every quarter, I'll pop up in the WhatsApp group with Dom and Sophie, and I'll go, what about a Lamborghini? And they'll respond to me. I mean, Dom goes, fucking get it because he's a, he's a bad egg, but he's like, you might as well know, but, but my, all it takes is one of my good friends to go to me. But why do you need that? And I go, yeah, of course, you're right. But this is what Casser puts it really well. I remember him saying it to me. We all have a need intrinsic values, but intrinsic values are very fragile. Yeah. And they can be very easily hijacked by signaling around us, which is why you're right. We need to counterbalance it. We also need to actually get less of this bullshit pumped out. Right. And that's a social thing that we can fight for. Right. There's all sorts of, there are countries that regulate these things, Sao Paulo, Band out, or advertising. There's all sorts of things we can do. We, but also, it's not just that we've bombarded with the advertising externally. We then police that among ourselves. Right. When I remember when I was a kid and people were obsessed with Nike sneakers and I was a kind of fat kid who sat in the corner, really, I didn't give a shit about basketball. And yeah, I wanted these things, right? Why did I, and it wasn't, it partly was exposure to advertising, but actually it was more the way we police it among ourselves. So once you set and train those values, people then police them among themselves. So that's about how do we undo that? And it's partly about saying to people, how does this really make you feel? Right. Very occasionally you will meet an extremely materialistic person who will tell you, or Donald Trump would be a good example, right, who will tell you, this makes me feel good. And yet you look at them and you see that they are achingly unhappy, right? I've rarely seen a more unhappy person than Donald Trump. So you can see, but one of the dangers of these values is one of the reasons it makes us, they make us feel so bad, is that those values can then pollute your relationships. When you measure it scientifically, people have high levels of junk value. What's called extrinsic values is the scientific term. People have high levels of extrinsic values, drunk values, have less successful relationships that break up more often. Because relationships where you value the other person for very superficial external things, like, you know, other men feel jealous when they see me with this person, those aren't good relationships, right? I've been in so many of them. Are you a nodding very? I thought it was just so laughing true. Yeah, no, it is. And you talked about how, you know, there's the fear, one of the reasons why people are less happy in these relationships is the fear that this person would leave if I lost my money or my looks, whatever. And then you alluded to the point that I was thinking most about, which is you formed your connection with them based on something basically extrinsic, something superficial. So you have these like surface level connections, and then your life with that person, your psychological needs don't get met because you don't have the, you know, in my case, like an intellectual connection with them, you can't talk about the things you want to talk about. You haven't formed that basis on a deeper level. But then I just wanted to, this is if this was a confession box, this is what I would say. In the same way that as a young 28 year old guy who's been successful, you know, I guess that word in my ear that just says, "Bye, Lamborghini." Like a little comet every three months. I also get, in the same ear from the same little fucking evil comet says to me, there's that hot girl who is completely, I don't know, I don't want to get canceled because I've got some stuff coming up in the media, but there's that hot girl who has made herself look beautiful on the outside using. There's a distinction, Stephen, right? Like, there's nothing wrong with sexual attraction of other people. We don't want to count the codes. A world of junk values versus Puritanism and the joyless, do you know what I mean? It's like sexual attraction is one of the great joys of life. Yeah. I was just trying to, I don't want to say it in the words though, there is that person who offers nothing more than just they look good, they offer nothing more. And the same, it says, "Come on Steve, go for it." And every time I've gone for it, it doesn't take me very long to be miserable in that situation. And then on the other hand, I've got this other person in my life who is the antithesis of that, who is all substance. And something in my life tries to sway me back to the junk people. But I think there's a thing about, I think there's several ways to think about what you just said is really important because it's not like there's this category of saintly, benign human beings who are immune to all these temptations. And we need to be more like that. Every human being is a conflict of intrinsic and extrinsic values. And extrinsic values are a certain measure of them is healthy, right? Desire for external successes, nothing to be ashamed of, finding people hot and wanting to have sex with hot people is something we all have, right? At the expense of a meaningful relationship. It's like a balanced diet, isn't it? You want to have you want these things to exist in a balance with all your other motivations. But what I don't think what definitely doesn't work is because I tried this myself, I remember being quite cut off from my own status seeking behavior and sort of not owning it. And I think actually, when you just acknowledge, Oh, yeah, this is part of me. This will always be a part of me. There are some pleasures to be found there. It's not it's not barren, right? But you always want that to be one part of a much bigger picture, then you can have a healthy conversation with yourself and with other people about these aspects of yourself. That's very different to, and especially if you live in a society and culture that is all about getting you to be that one thing and, you know, presenting as images of success. I mean, you and I have both met lots of rich people. And I've got to say, they are the most miserable bastards. Or you're one of the very few cheerful rich people I know, right? If I think about, says a handful who were happy and they're almost always, I'm trying to think of, I can look well, one person who inherited it. So I don't count that. Some artistic people, like a few people who pursued their artistic dream, like Elton John, and became really rich. He's happy after a fucking rocky journey as everyone knows. And the machine that's faking us all up, do you believe that because it's making us all care, it's conditioning us to care more about extrinsic values and these like, you know, all this nonsense?
Are we struggling to form meaningful connections (40:16)
Do you think it's hindering our chances of forming meaningful, romantic connections? I, for just from what I've grown up in this Instagram era, where it looks like everybody's getting prettier on the outside and everyone's getting uglier on the inside, because Instagram and the machine have told us that this is what society values, how big is your X, how white is your Y, how perfect is your hair, you know? So it feels like life has gone, okay, the game, everybody getting, everybody getting, okay, you're going to, this is how you win. You'll get the most points in life if you have the best hair, the best eyes, the best boobs, you know, the biggest six pack chest, that is the game. Do you understand everyone's gone? Yeah, okay, okay. And if you see someone that has that as well, pat him on the back and we go, okay, cool, cool. And we've had 10 years of this black mirror experiment, so all of our values have gone, you know, extrinsic and junk values. And I think we're struggling to form meaningful connections because that didn't, the machine told us that that didn't matter. You know, it's funny after the book came out, a group of people I did not expect to, so I was absolutely inundated on, it was particularly after my TED talk about it came out, inundated on Instagram by massive Instagram, start what we call it, stars influences this word. It's so good. You don't know that word. Like really, people with some of the biggest Instagram followings in the world, messaging me saying, you're so right, I feel like, and I remember getting a message, I won't say who it was, but from someone who was a big Instagram influencer, messaging me saying, I'm so depressed, I don't want to get a bed in the morning, my life is terrible, I don't know who this person was, so I clicked on the Instagram page and literally five minutes before sending me that message and five minutes after she had done a kind of glowing, my life is, you know, a kind of, the words, but you know, a kind of, my life is so great, bragging, and I really, yes, but the thing I would say that is so important about this, it's a funny thing to say, I know it might sound odd, but the widespread nature of our depression, anxiety, and addiction crises, in one sense, although terribly painful and horrible and excruciating, and I've been there, is a positive thing, because the system is not working for more and more people, and it becomes harder to defend this system and these values when it makes everyone feel like shit, right? At some point you have to go, you know what, this ain't fucking working for us, so think about where we are, I lived here, so I said for 10 years, right, just not far from here, so tower hamlets, you know, I mean, the tower hamlets are some of the, I think if I remember rightly when I lived here, it was, I think it was the constituency in England that had the highest level of poverty, right? So there's a lot of distress in tower hamlets, right? I mean, and by the way, you can be distressed to not be poor, a lot of this distress is happening in middle class and wealthy areas, but think about where we are, look for signs of distress, connect with the people who are distressed, bite together with them for something better, and of course that has to be something people do, I can't tell people what the signs of distress around them are, and they'll be different in, you know, a coastal village in Kent to, you know, glass go where my mum's from, to the island sky, different, there'll be certain shared factors, but look for the signs of distress, I mean, you're spoiled for signs of distress, they're all fucking around us, right? I mean, think about the number of people who drank themselves to death in Britain last year and how much that went up as we said, and then meet them where they are because God changes really possible, right? And I think about that in my own life, you know, I'm gay, right? I didn't hear the concept of gay marriage till I was 20, and my friend Andrew Sullivan wrote the first book advocating it, right? Literally, I did never cross my mind. I remember the first person I was ever in love with when I was 16. I never had a sense of a future, didn't even occur to me that we could get married, it never even entered my head, right? You think about the scale of that transformation, I remember just before COVID, I was on the tube, and there were these two girls who can't have been more than 16, and they were making out, and I was staring at them, and I think they thought I was like an elder in a parlor, and I had to better go, "Oh, no, no, I'm gay, I'm just really, this is really a move, this could never have happened when I was your age." Like I said, I just thought I was like a mental person, but the, the, how did that happen, right? It happened because ordinary people came out, they appealed to other people around them, lots of heterosexual people saw that it was pointless to be cruel to gay people, and they could be loving and accepting instead, and that change happened. You basically got 2,000 years of gay people being horrifically persecuted, and then like 70 years of this, from person, from less than 70 years, 60 years, from send them to prison to, yay, they can get married, right? So absolutely change it on, when we talk about things that, "Oh, you know, we've trapped in this machine that's making us depressed," right, that can sound like such a big thing, right? We had 2,000 years of homophobia, right? And I'm not saying that we've completely overcome it obviously, but there's stunning progress, right? The things we're talking about are much more recent inventions than homophobia, right? Like infinitely more recent, and homophobia, terrible though it was, only ever affected a small part of the population. The things we're talking about, fuck, make, they don't make everyone depressed, but they make everyone less happy than they could be. So these are, you know, these are absolutely things that can be challenged, they can be challenged in individuals' lives, and we can deal with them at the political level as well. It requires a transformation in consciousness, which is happening, and we can talk about addiction if you want in places that's solved, that made extraordinary changes in that, and massively reduced their addiction deaths that I went to. But we need to understand this differently, and we need to listen to our pain. We need to stop insulting our depression, anxiety, and addictions by saying they're assigned a weakness, or madness, or purely biological, or that there are some biological contributions, and start listening to them, listen to the signal as a society and as a culture, because it is telling us where we need to go and what we need to do. I've been a heel fan for a long time, as you obviously know by now, but in the last six months, I've got a real opportunity to get to know the people, to get to know the CEO of heel, which is James, to get to know the founder, which is Julian, the teams that agonize over the ingredients that go into these amazing recipes. I can honestly say with my hand on my heart, my appreciation and admiration for heel and its people has multiplied by a factor of 10, because, and these singularities, not only are they nice people, but because I've seen firsthand how much they are non-negotiable about the values of heel. They will not compromise. They will not compromise on the goodness of the ingredients that goes into the products, the amount of proteins and minerals and these things, regardless, if they can't get to where they want to get to with the products, they will cancel the product. I've tasted products and they've said we've not managed to make it this, we've not delivered on our promise of eganism, we've not added enough fiber, so we're canceling it. And that sort of non-negotiable set of values has made me realize that they have my back when I choose heel. Let me talk about you and your connections.
How good are you at making connections (48:00)
Yeah. And your romantic connections, your friendships and all of those things. Sometimes I find it fascinating that obviously, people can know a lot of stuff, but applying it to oneself is challenging. Some of my favorite guests that I've sat here with, I'm thinking about Jamal Creshee, who I sat here with, who's like a, you know, you one could call him like a motivational coach, you know, probably doesn't quite characterize who he is, but my last question to him was, are you good at taking your advice? He would absolutely fucking not. He was like, I'm the least motivated motivational coach in the world. So my question to you is, how are you doing with your connections in your life and your mental health in all of these questions? I think people are often most articulate about the things they most struggle with. Right. So, and it's interesting because sometimes that's presented as a popular, I'll give you an example, there's a left wing politician, I know, who is incredibly articulate about greed and how terrible it is and is incredibly greedy. Right. Now, you could look at that and go, that's hypocrisy. And of course, at one level, a kind of boring, the obvious level it is. But to me, what's much more interesting is that is a person who's internally struggling against his own floor. Right. That is a person who has this force within him and is genuinely trying is so articulate because he's wrestling with it all the time. And so I think in a sense, taking your own advice is sort of like the fact that you needed to articulate the advice suggests that internal struggle, do you know what I mean? Yeah. I think about EM Forster, one of my favourite writers who famously said only connect, who was someone who really struggled with connection, partly because he was a gay man of a much earlier generation who, well, his connections, his loving romantic connections were a crime, right? So he was really, there were other ways in which he struggled with connection as well. So in terms of myself, I was always very lucky with friendships. All my life, I've had amazing friendships. For me, you know, I said before, there were two causes of two cause out the nine causes of depression anxiety. They're right back in the book. There were two that I struggled with a lot. And the one was drunk values. The other, it was this was a hard journey for me in the book. I learned about this through a story of a scientist discovered it, who I met. And to explain, I think people understand it better if they know the story, even though for like a minute you're going to think what the fuck is this got to do with what he just said, but just bear with me. So in the mid 1980s, there was a doctor called Vincent Felitti who was approached, he was in San Diego in California, and he was approached by Kaiser Permanente, who are one of the big not-for-profit medical providers in California. And they came to him and were like, we've got a problem. And we need your help. And the problem was obesity. Obesity was massive rising. It's hugely exposure to them, but it was rising and rising. And they were like, look, nothing we're doing is working. We give people diet advice, we talk to them about nutrition, we even give some of them personal trainers, nothing is working. And so they just gave him a quite big budget and said, just do blue skies research work with really obese people, just figure out what the hell we can do. So Dr. Felitti starts working with 250 severely obese people, people who weighed more than 400 pounds, so people who are really terrible danger. And he's working on this thing and he's interviewing them, he's thinking, what can I do? And one day he's talking to one of them and he has an idea, which sounds like it actually is a quite stupid idea. He said, what would happen if really obese people literally stopped eating? And we gave them like, vitamin C shots that didn't get scurvy, we gave them like vitamin shots. Would they just burn through the fat supplies in their body and get down to a normal way? So with a shit ton of medical supervision, they try it. And incredibly, at first, it worked. There's a woman, I'll call her Susan, that's not her real name, who went down from being more than 400 pounds to 138 pounds. It's amazing, right? And people are like, how can this be? What's going on? And her family are like, you've saved her life. And then one day something happened, they didn't expect Susan cracked. She went to KFC, that's me projecting whatever it was. Some fast food place. She starts obsessively eating and pretty soon she's back at a dangerous way. Not where she's been, but a dangerous way. And Dr. Fility called her in, he's like, Susan, what happened? She said, I don't know, I don't know. And he's kind of dumbfounded and he says, well, tell me about the day that you cracked. Did anything happen that day? It turned out something had happened that day that had never happened to Susan. She was in a bar and a man came up to her and hit on her, not in a nasty predatory way, in a nice way. And she felt really freaked out and she goes and she starts eating. It feels like, huh, well, what's the significance? Could this be significant? And then he said to her, so you never asked his patients before, he said, Susan, when did you start to put on your way? In her case, it was when she was 11. And he said to her, well, did anything happen that year that didn't happen any other year? Anything when you were 11? She said, she looked down, she said, yeah, that's when my grandfather started to rape me. Dr. Filly to interview everyone in the program and he discovered that more than 60% of them have put on their extreme way in the aftermath of being sexually abused or assaulted. And he's thinking, what's that about? How? What? And Susan explained it to him really well. She said, overweight is overlooked, and that's what I need to be. This thing that seems so destructive, and of course, is bad for you to be severely obese, was performing a positive function for all these people. It was protecting them from sexual attention, right? And just being like, oh, this is kind of interesting. So he, but this is a small group of people. It's 250 people. It's not much. You can't draw big scientific conclusions based on this. So Dr. Filly, he goes to the CDC Center for Disease Control, who fund a lot of medical research, and he got funding to do a massive study. Everyone who came to Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, so more than 17,000 people, for a whole year, no matter what for headaches, schizophrenia, broken leg, anything, got given two questionnaires. First part says, did you have any of these bad experiences when you were a kid? Things like sexual abuse, severe neglect, that kind of thing. Second part said, have you had any of these problems as an adult? It was initially only going to say obesity, but this is where it comes to our story. The last minute they had loads of other things like depression, addiction, suicide attempts. And at first, when they ended up with figures, people were like, no, there's been a mistake at it up again, because the figures were so extreme. For every category of childhood trauma that you experienced, you were two to four times more likely to be depressed, obese, and addicted. But when you got into the multiple categories, the figures just went crazy. If you had had six categories of childhood trauma, you were 3,100% more likely to have attempted suicide, and 4,600% more likely to have an injecting drug problem. I mean, these are just insane figures. You very rarely get that in science, right? And I remember Dr. Feliti saying to me, like, that he realized it was like there had been a house fire, and we had been focusing on dealing with the smoke, not on dealing with the fire. Dr. Robert Ander, who's one of the other scientists who worked on it, said to me, he realized when you see things like obesity, depression, addiction, we need to stop asking what's wrong with you, and start asking what happened to you. But he's kind of got to talk about this, but so Dr. Feliti's was a super nice guy, right? If you met him, you'd really like him. When I interviewed him, he was like 81, so ages ago. Lovely, good, decent, admirable man. And when I interviewed him in San Diego the first time, I was sitting with him, and I was getting angrier and angrier, and I actually ended the interview early because I was getting so angry. And I remember walking to the beach in San Diego, walking around thinking, what the fuck is this about? Why am I so angry with this lovely old man who's done this amazing research that's helped so many people? And I remember thinking, so when I was a child, I'd experience some very extreme things from an adult in my life. And I didn't want to think about that. I didn't want to think about that in relation to the depression I had experienced. I didn't want to give this individual power over me now. But one of the reasons I'm glad that I went back and carried on talking to him is because of what Dr. Felicity discovered next, which I think is really relevant to what you're asking. So obviously they'd asked all these people who came up to health care about their childhood trauma. So suddenly they've got all this data. So they said to people's GPs, don't call them back in, but next time they come in, look at the childhood trauma thing, and if they've experienced childhood trauma, say to them something like this, I see that when you were a child, you were sexually abused, or whatever it was, I'm really sorry that happened. That should never have happened to you. You should have been protected. That was a failing. Would you like to talk about it? And 40% of people did not want to talk about it, but 60% of people did, and they wanted to talk about it on average for five minutes. And then it was randomly assigned. Some of them were told we can go to therapists to talk about it more. What they found was just five minutes of an authority figure saying, I'm so sorry, this should never have happened to you. That alone led to a significant falling depression and anxiety. And people are afraid to have therapists who hadn't even bigger form. And what this shows, it fits with a whole load of other evidence from people like Professor Steve Coles at UCLA, Professor James Pennabaker at Florida State University, is it's not the trauma that destroys you. It's the shame about the trauma. And giving people ways to release that shame is an antidepressant. So for me, learning that, and it's one of the reasons I made myself put it in the book and talk about it, is very often people who survive abuse as children internalize the voice of the abuser. Right? Almost invariably the abuser says, you made me do this. You're a bad person. You made me do this. Right? And so although, of course, there was never any point in my adult life where I thought that was a rational, you know, it was never a point where I would have, if you, you know, if someone had told me they had been abused and told me negative things they've been told, I would never have thought, yeah, the abuser was right. Obviously, I didn't reckon with that internalization in my own life. And I think it meant that a lot of the time, although I always had great friendships with romantic relationships, they would, I would often cauterize them at a certain point because I didn't feel at that time that I deserved to be loved. I didn't feel that I deserved to be treated well. So it would mean that sometimes I would get into relationships with people who didn't treat me well. Or sometimes if they did treat me well, I would end it prematurely at the point at which they were treating me well because I internalized so many of these negative and destructive and untrue ideas. And the process of thinking that through, obviously I had a therapist as well, the process of thinking that through and releasing that shame made me much more open to, you know, love, you know, because I didn't, it was possible to overcome that. Does that make sense, David? Does that? Are you still on that journey? Oh, yeah. And I think anyone who, you know, how would I put it? Yeah, of course, of course. And through all of your, your work and your writing, you've, you know, you've highlighted to the world, but also clearly to yourself the importance of that, of romantic connections. Well, it comes right back to where we started, isn't it? Why do I write to understand, to understand things I didn't understand at the start, to go on a journey. There are things I want to understand. And sometimes they're big things, right? And sometimes they're very personal things, and sometimes they're both. And then to track down, okay, who knows a lot about this? Who's found interesting things out about this and go and sit with them and kind of pestle them and keep going back year after year until I feel I understand it. And I feel now, I understand it. And it, and I've got to say, it's quite frustrating watching some of the COVID debate at the moment, because, you know, it's been this big increase in addiction, depression. And a lot of the way it's taught, even by super well-meaning, admirable people, as almost everyone in this debate is, so many of the ways in which people are encouraged to think they are helping people with the best will in the world and with a good heart often strip these things of meaning. So there's a thing, for example, that very well-meaning people will say, which is, oh, depression is just like a, you know, depression is a disease like diabetes, you know, you wouldn't shame someone having a broken leg. They're absolutely right that depression actually people should never be stigmatized. But actually that's not the way you remove stigma. You don't remove, I mean, no one ever doubted that leprosy and AIDS were biological phenomena. And you might notice there was a damn lot of stigma about them, right? Saying something is biological, and it's true, there is some biological components we can talk about that. If you want some biological contributions, your genes can make you more vulnerable to these things, or they do not write your destiny. But saying something that's biological does not, actually the some good scientific evidence increases stigma because it makes people think that God, those people are really different to me, they're like a different species. What actually under stigmas to say, whether there are some biological contributions, any of us would feel like this in this situation. Actually, that your pain makes sense. Yeah, there's a moment that really, all this really fell into place for me as well as one of the two totally revelatory moments for me in the research for Lost Connections. I went to interview this South African psychiatrist called Derek Summerfield. And he told me this story about something that happened to him. So Derek was in Cambodia in 2001 when they first introduced chemical antidepressants for people in Cambodia, they never had them in the country before. And the local doctors, the the Cambodians were like, what are they? They didn't know what they were, were antidepressants. And Derek explained, and they said to him, oh, we don't need them. We've already got antidepressants. And he was like, well, what do you mean? He thought they were going to talk about some kind of herbal remedy like jinko below or something. Instead, they told him a story. They had a farmer in their community who worked in the rice fields. And one day he stood on a landmine left over from the war with the Americans and he got his leg blown off. So they gave him an artificial limb. They're good at that in Cambodia. They've got a lot of landmines. And after a while, several months, the guy goes back to work, right? So he goes back to work in the rice fields. But apparently it's super painful to work underwater when you got an artificial limb. And I'm guessing it was pretty traumatic to go back and work in the field where he got blown up. The guy started to cry all day. After a while, he just wouldn't get out of bed. He developed what we would call classic depression, right? This is when the Cambodian doctor said, "That's when we gave him an antidepressant." And Derek said, "What was it?" They explained that they went and sat with him. They listened to him. They realized that his pain made sense. He only had to talk to him for five minutes to realize why he felt so shit. One of the doctors said, "Well, we realized if we bought this guy a cow, he could become a dairy farmer. He wouldn't be in this position that would screw him up so much." So they bought him a cow with a couple of weeks his crying stopped. Within a month, his depression was gone. It never came back. They said to Derek, "So you see, doctor, that cow? That was an antidepressant. That's what you mean, right?" Now, if you've been raised to think about depression the way we have, that it's primarily or entirely a malfunction in your brain, that sounds like a bad joke. I went to my doctor for an antidepressant. She gave me a cow. But what those Cambodian doctors knew intuitively from this individual, unscientific anecdote, is what the leading medical body in the whole world, the World Health Organization, has been trying to tell us for years, right? Your pain makes sense. If you're depressed, if you're anxious, you're not weak, you're not crazy, you're not in the main machine we've broken parts, you're a human being with unmet needs. What you need is practical help and support to get those needs met. One of the things we have to be asking as a society and culture is, what's the cow for the things that a screw-in-us up? What's the cow for the things that are making us depressed? Instead of seeing depression as a malfunction, we've got to see it as a signal that's telling us the person is distressed and has unmet needs. Together, help them get those needs met because what the doctors didn't say is, "All right, mate, this is your problem, you're on your own." Together, they help to solve the problem. We've got to solve the underlying problems for which depression is a signal. You said, you tweeted about this, you said, there is good evidence that after COVID, we can reverse our spiraling depression and anxiety crisis. But to do that, we need to radically expand the menu of responses to it. Yeah, think about what we're doing. I'll give one example just from up the road. Social prescribing, right? Every single doctor surgery should have a social prescribing wing. It should be the first thing that is suggested, certainly for mild and moderate depression, is figure out if the person's lonely and disconnected from the natural world. If they are, suggest they're prescribed. There's a real power in doctors prescribing. Not just saying, "Oh, you might want to think about this," because people feel so disempowered to find each other in such a lonely and atomized society. That's one example of the last third of lost connections, is loads of very practical examples of what we can do. We have to see that in our own lives, right? We can socially prescribe ourselves. Yeah, I think there's an authority in doctors doing absolutely we shouldn't. We should be doing it for ourselves and we should be urging other people to do it. But in a culture that's become so disconnected from understanding our needs, and actually where we've been told a rival story, that has some truth in it. As I stress a lot in the book, I have a chapter about this. There are real biological contributions to depression and anxiety that can make you more sensitive to these problems and can make it harder to get out. But what's happened is an overly simplified biological story has become the main thing we say about depression. When I went to my doctor and I was a teenager and I felt like pain was leaking out of me, my doctor was a very well-meaning, decent person. Just said, "The same wrong with your brain, all you need to do is drug yourself," right? And chemical antidepressants gave me a little bit of relief for a while, also gave me really severe side effects in my case, or not everyone. And ultimately, I remained depressed, right? So what that story did, that oversimplified story, which has some truth in it for some people, well, that oversimplified story did is cut me off for many years, for 13 years, from exploring the deeper causes. If right early on, there's no criticism in my doctor, they're just part of a system that's not of their own creation, and a lot of doctors want to do better and want to have better options to give people that they haven't been offered them themselves. It cut me off from a deeper, more nuanced story that helped me to find a way out of my depression. So I think one of the things we've got to do is help people to find stories that make sense of their pain, because that's the way, once you understand why you feel something, you can begin to find your way out of it. But just being lost in a haze of you're just biologically broken, no one is, there are some biological contributions, but no one is broken by their biology. No one is with it. There's nobody who with the right support can't find their way out, but with the right support is a crucial clause there that we have to build as a society that we have not built. We just haven't built. Got me thinking about psychedelics for a number of reasons, because psychedelics, I think there's a bit of a revolution going on in the perception of psychedelics.
We had the war on nixons, war on drugs in the 50s or 60s or whatever it was. I wasn't alive then, so excuse my inaccuracy. We were lucky you dodged the bullet in Nixon. Not a good thing to get on. I wasn't there either, but I've not read a tale about him, but I know that he was pivotal in slamming the gauntlet down on the chance of even researching some of these compounds, psychedelic compounds. But whatever come to learn over the last six months, working in one of the world's leading psychedelic and non-psychodelic mental health companies, which is a tie and spending some time there, is how remarkable the stats, evidence and findings are for things like psilocybin, which is a compound derived from magic mushrooms, at helping those with treatment-resistant depression to overcome their feelings of depression. It matches up perfectly to the philosophy and really the perspective that your book gave me on mental health, because it approaches the correct word to use, the indication of treatment-resistant depression from the stance that something has happened to you. That thing might live in your subconscious. It's an unlocker of that thing in the same way that therapy might be for some people. Having written this book in a studied depression for so long and anxiety, what do you think of psychedelics? As you know for the book, I was chapped about psychedelics because I went and interviewed the leading experts in the world on this. People who've been doing the cutting-edge research, I interviewed them in Johns Hopkins in Baltimore at UCLA, here in London at UCL, NYU, and somewhere else, Owen Brazil. I'm struggling with psychedelics for some people. It's a slightly complicated picture in a way that I think helps us to understand what's going on. Think about treatment. You mentioned treatment-resistant depression. Some really good research was done on this here in London by professor David Nart and Dr. Robin Carhart Harris. They get people who've been depressed for a long time and nothing's helped them. They've tried lots of things and nothing's helped them. They gave them, remember rightly, three doses of psilocybin, the active component magic mushrooms might be wrong on the number, but something like that. Exactly as you say, huge numbers of them have a... It's amazing. They feel a strong feeling of connection to the natural world, to their own traumas, to everyone around them, as anyone has used psychedelics or most people who use psychedelics experience a really profound spiritual experience. That deeply lifts their depression and anxiety. A taste of connection, this wasn't true for literally everyone, but it was a very high percentage. An intense feeling of meaning and connection helps to lift them out of their depression. There's a coder to that, which Robin talks about. I'll give you an example of one of the people who told me about. So a woman in the program who worked in... She worked in an office in a coastal town in Britain. It was quite run down and grim. She's very depressed. She takes the psilocybin, her depression lifts, she feels deeply connected, and then she goes back to working the office. And she comes back and is like, "I can't go around my office acting like raw connected, all equal, nature is beautiful. I have to live in this disconnected way to exist in my office." Over time, her depression comes back because she had a taste of connection, but then she goes back to living a disconnected landscape, a disconnected emotional landscape. What the evidence shows is the way I think of psychedelics is administered in the right way, of course, and that's an important clause. What they can do is give you a taste of how it feels to be connected to have meaning. But I think of that as like a compass that can point you in the direction you need to travel. It gives you a flash of what it's like to be at the end of the journey, but then you're back at the start of the journey and you know the direction in which you need to travel. What it doesn't do is do the journey for you, right? Or not for more than the six or seven hours. You're under the effects of the psychedelic. This is true of a lot of the... I mean, there's some... I'll come to this in my complexity of the evidence in a minute, but most people are not going to want to take psychedelics a huge amount of the time, right? I mean, there's some exceptions Amanda Fielding. I don't know if you'd met her. So Amanda, people don't know Amanda is kind of amazing British-era who's a great champion of psychedelics, who... Sumterma, I don't want to get it wrong because I didn't write about her, so I didn't... I don't remember the exact number, but I'm symmetrical her saying she took psychedelics for the whole of 1986 or so, just every day, right? So some people will have the means and want to take psychedelics all the time, but that's a very small part of the population, right? So what we know works is giving people psychedelics to give them a sense of what it can be like to be connected and then helping them to integrate into their lives ways they can take that connection forward. So there was a guy interviewed who was part of the Johns Hopkins study who had had this very profound experience where he took psychedelics. His dad had died when he was very young, no one had talked to him about his dad's death when he died. It was just kind of silence, and when he died he had this vision where he saw his dad, he found his dad in a wood, and his dad said to him, you know, you built up these walls to protect yourself, but we can take these walls down now. You're safe, go and seek, right? Because he'd been cutting himself off for so long from things like romantic connections, and then when the psychedelics, the effect of the psychedelics, the immediate effect of the psychedelics went away, he then started becoming like a very deep meditator doing all sorts of things that kind of built in that sense of connection into his life. So I think that to me is the great value of, now there are some people who say they have more enduring effects beyond just that immediate taste of connection and my kind of compass metaphor, so the good evidence for that would be the Johns Hopkins study. So the guys at Johns Hopkins did, who are amazing scientists, did, I always think about this in relation to my mother because they took really long-term smokers. So my mother smoked 70 cigarettes a day, and there's an amazing, there's a photo of me and her. Two at a time, she's like, there's a photo of me in her when I'm about six months old that I found a few years ago where she's breastfeeding me, smoking and resting the ashtray on my stomach. And when I showed it to her, she said, my mother showed it to her, she said, you were a difficult baby, I needed that cigarette, you fuck her. She's a bit unrepentant, but so they took people like my mother who were super, super long-term smokers, she's been smoking since she was 14, and they gave them, I think it was three doses of psilocybin over a few months, and 80% of them stopped smoking, and a year later, 60% of them were still non-smokers. So there's some evidence of both positive long-term outcomes, it's quite a small study. So yeah, I think this is a really important, I think some people oversell it and say it's the answer, which is not right, but I think it can be a very useful tool. When I talk about with depression, what we've done up to now, it's basically since the 90s, as with depression, when people present with depression, almost all the time, there is one option on the menu, which is chemical antidepressants, which do give some people some relief. We need to radix, that needs to stay on the menu, but we need to radically expand the menu of options, and psychedelics are another great example of something that should totally be beyond the menu, should be available to people in a medical context, and I would argue outside medical context as well, and it's part of the argument of my book chasing the screen about how we need to end the war on drugs and move towards regulated models of access to drugs for all sorts of drugs. So yeah, I think it's really important. I think we're getting there as well, it's the public markets and the commercial model and the amount of investment that's going into psychedelics is just staggering. At high, I've raised, I think, 400 million in the last 24 months. So another thing we think about change, when it feels like we're up against the, and we are indeed up against these very powerful forces, we're thinking about cannabis, right? When the day George W Bush becomes president in 2000, 15% of American citizens support legalising cannabis, today it's 70% and because New York just legalised, that hasn't started yet, they've just voted, the legislature voted legalised. Now, half of all American citizens live in a state where cannabis is legal, right? So you think about how quickly that happened, cannabis being unbelievably demonised from the 1930s to the, to the, to like your lifetime, and then this huge shift in opinion really quickly, because people saw it in practice, right? People saw cannabis legalisation in practice, Colorado went first, Mason Tavern, who led that campaign, I interviewed a lot for Chasing the Screen, just all it takes is one place to breach the dam, two places Washington state did at the same time, and people are like, oh, is this the thing we were so fucking afraid of? Oh, actually, you know, it's, you know, pretty straightforward. - Does, I feel like social media has played a, played a role in this because we now have this like connected consciousness of like a whole country or the whole planet where we can we can pick up on an idea, share it, and like virtue signal it, signal it rapidly into existence, into where we will go.
is Social media helping us rally together (01:18:18)
Yep, that's right. Yep. Like a whole country can do it. And you think about if you go back hundreds of years before the advent of the internet, if the king of the land or whatever the politician had said something, we couldn't sort of get together in the same way and form our own opinion as this like, because I see like, I think about Twitter as this one brain, and one day it will say, you know, same sex marriage is great. And that idea can very quickly become adopted because you can get that idea to work like a billion people and basically vote it into existence using like, you know, likes and retweets and a couple of influencers. And so I, you know, so I would have said that a few, I would have said that 10 years ago, what you just said, I would have had the optimistic view. I think the evidence since then has gotten, you're definitely right. One of the good things about social media is we're geographical distance feels much more collapsed. And we feel much closer to the whole world. Ideas are spreading. Yeah. And ideas. But if you look at the mechanisms by which those ideas spread, this is not inherent to social media. This is inherent to the current business model of social media. So if you look at my friend, Tristan Harris has done, he's totally interviewed, has done a really important work on this. He was a Google engineer who saw what was happening inside Google and spoke out. So if you look at how these ideas spread, so we tend to think of it as a neutral playing field, right? So here's a good idea, gay marriage, psychedelics, health depression, whatever it might be enters this level playing field. Some people like it. It spreads. It grows, right? Now, sometimes that happens, of course. If you look at, so these business models are premise, the business model of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook is all premise on. You pick out your phone now, you scroll through Twitter, you scroll through Facebook, the longer you are scrolling, the more money Facebook makes, obviously, because of both exposure to adverts and because they're learning more about you every time you do anything. So their business model is premise, every time you put down your phone, it's a disaster for them. And every time you carry on scrolling, it's great for them. So they've designed very complex algorithms to figure out what keeps you scrolling, what keeps everyone who walks past this building scrolling. And it turns out because of quarking human beings that we could talk about, why if you want things that make you angry will keep you scrolling longer than things that things that things that outrage and anger you will keep you scrolling longer than things that make you feel good. If you say something that makes you feel good, it makes you want to go and be out in the real world. If you see something that makes you angry, you want to keep scrolling, you want to express your rage, right? If it's in raging, it's engaging. So although that's not the goal of YouTube and Facebook, they want you to be angry, their algorithms have figured out angering and enraging content keeps people scrolling longer. Therefore, although it's not the intention of the designers, the practical effect of these apps is they are designed to make the algorithms function in such a way that they will feed you things that make you angry and upset. So this thing that you thought was a level playing field, right? Oh, good ideas will prevail, bad ideas will die out. It's not right. Actually, on in the main, it will select for things that make people angry. So you look at the NYU study, if you look at the figures for the 2016 US presidential election, I think the figure was 19 out of the 20 most shared stories on Facebook were lies, like actual lies, like the Trump, Donald Trump was endorsed by the Pope, right? Which was not true, in fact, the Pope criticized Donald Trump. So you see, we're in a, I mean, if you think about infowars, the disgusting filth, this guy, Alex Jones, who is a cynic, not even a lunatic, a cynic, who says things like the Sandy Hook massacre didn't happen, their parents were our liars, their crisis actors. So you think about, you know, having many children, it was 26, I think were murdered at school. And he unleashes a mob against these parents whose children have been murdered, where those parents have had to move loads of times because they are hounded by his supporters, threatening to kill their surviving children. It's hard for me to imagine a more evil thing. Infowars, in the 2016 election, more info war stories were shared on Facebook in the world than the entire New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian and BBC combined. So you think about this landscape that is enraging people. So it's not, now, you don't have to have a business model like that. Social media doesn't have to work that way, right? You can have all the good things about social media, the collapsing social distance, the connection of the world. Without that, if you have a different business model, we can talk about another time. And Tristan talks about that brilliantly. But so I, I get what you're saying, and I understand that there's a truth in what you're saying, which is we can hear ideas more readily. But there's a cost. Well, especially there's a cost, there'll be a cost at any model. But actually, we're communicating through a poisoned mechanism that doesn't promote the spread of good ideas, that actually promotes the spread of force and hateful ideas. And we've got to fix that as well as, yes, then we can have all the joys of connection without this, you know, info wars bullshit or other forms of. I completely agree. And you, you know, I saw you'd written when you went off to write your new book, which we're probably not allowed to talk about on this computer.
your new book & your writing style (01:23:53)
My publishers will tase me. They've told me very specifically. I'm so excited to read it. It's January next year. January next year. Yeah. How exciting. Yeah. Can you, you can say the title. That's when Amazon. It's called Stolen Focus. Nice. Okay. I've no, I'm saying, what's the subtitle? Now, literally, yeah, we're going this boy. Sometimes why you can't focus on how to think deeply again. Okay. But my publishers literally like, I can't do an American accent. Does that fucking word? They don't actually smell like that. I've done them like that. They're actually like very nice New York. We won't talk about that. But what I would like to talk about is focus. And what are you doing in that process? Well, you're writing, you're writing a new book now. What are you doing? Are you out researching you on the internet? You reading other books, you speak into people. What are you doing? So I spent a long time researching my books. So the book that I'm going to, the book that I'm writing now, which is about, I'm really not meant to talk about because it's about a specific set of crimes that other people haven't written about. I don't want to set up the journey. I'm writing about it. But so I've been going there for 10 years, and I've been getting to know the people for 10 years, and I've been deeply researching it for 10 years. And there's a thing about when you're trying to understand a subject, whether it's depression or Las Vegas, or I'm writing a biography of Noam Chomsky that I've also been working on for a really long time. And I probably won't write for another 10 years at least. There's a thing about such an important part of my books is people opening up to me. And people generally don't open up to you the first time they meet you. You know, the thing, who is this person? Why do you want to ask me these very personal questions? What's going on here? Generally, people open up to you at the end of the second year. So for me, it's so important. It's an incredible privilege and luxury that I get to do this. For me, what's so important is this very long span. So I spent 10 years writing in this moment, since you're asked what I'm doing at the moment. So I'm writing about Vegas. So there's a couple, Tommy and Shay, who I knew over many years, he was murdered. And what I'm doing at the moment is I've got all the audio I've ever recorded. I've got hundreds of hours of audio with them. I paid to have it all transcribed. And I'm just reading through just man's and man's or transcripts. They're like, "All right, that's a scene. That's a moment." Oh, I forgot he said that. That's the time this happened to us. That's the time we were in Caesar's Palace. And then, "Oh yeah, the guy." So it's just going through. So at the moment, I'm in the stage of what I think of is finding out what jigsaw pieces I've got. I'm not even assembling the jigsaw at the moment. I'm just like, "Oh, right, okay." You know, there'll be, I'll read through 100 pages of transcripts and go, "We've got nothing that time." You know? And then another time, there are days when you're like, "Oh, they were so articulate that day," or, "This crazy thing happened." So at the moment, I'm assembling the jigsaw pieces. And then, probably in two months, I start to put the jigsaw pieces together. So I'll have some, I'll like index it and I'll be like, "I'll write a case." So he talked about his charting in Hawaii this time, that time, that time. Okay, then you put all that together and then you go, "Okay, this is where he described gambler. Oh, right, okay." So you're trying to piece it all together slowly over time. But to do that, you've got to initially immerse yourself in the actual place and go back a lot and build up a huge reservoir of just stuff. And the other thing, and this was hard for me because I was a newspaper journalist for a long time where, you know, everything had to be, you know, you've got 24 hours to write it, you don't have time for dead ends. You have to have a high tolerance for dead ends. So for every expert I've quoted to you, I interviewed 10 experts who were decent people and told me nothing I used in the book, right? There's a great, I know absolutely nothing about nature, so this could be bullshit, but there's a metaphor that Thoreau, the American, 19th century American writer, used where he said, "Apparently, if you want to find a beehive and you don't know where the beehive is, if you stay in a place and wait for a bee to come along and catch it in a jar, just keep it there for a couple of minutes, it will fly off in the direction of the hive. So you let it go and you run and the bee is faster than you will. Then you stand, you follow it as far as you can, and then you wait there, you catch another bee, let that one go, follow that. And if you do that like 30 times, you'll find the beehive, right? I don't know if that's true, but that's what Thoreau says. And I think of writing as a bit like that. It's like you start with the subject, it's really big. Why are so many people depressed? You look for people who've talked about it in an interesting way, you go and talk to all of them, and then at the end of every interview, you say, "Who else should I talk to?" And you go and talk to all of them, and you say, "Who else should I talk to?" And you get this kind of growing concentric circle until sooner or later, you find the person who goes, "Vincen, Felite, I need to tell you how many people I need to feed about childhood trauma and depression, many of whom were nice people who told me nothing of interest." And I forget who it was. It was a chain through about five people who said, "You should talk to Vincent Felite, and that's all." He said, "He went to San Diego." And you're like, "Ah, this is the thing, right?" And some of that can be, "Sometimes you're lucky. I knew in chasing the screen I want to tell the story of a drug dealer." And I remember Chino was the second drug dealer in Sweden to be the guy in Baltimore. And I remember Chino, first thing he said to me, almost the very first thing, was, "I was conceived from my mother who was a crack addict, was raped by my dad, who was an NYPD officer." And I was like, "Tell me more." And I never looked for another drug dealer. I was like, "Chino's my person, right?" And Chino's an unusually incredible human being in all sorts of ways. He's no longer a drug dealer. He's, um, he, he... Arrested. I mean, he was arrested. He was rikers. But he, uh, he now campaigns to end the war on drugs and actually had to shut down the horrific, spaffered the horrific youth detention center that he was detained in. He's a completely incredible person. But, um, yeah, so sometimes you're lucky and you don't have to do the long chain. You just find the right person very early. And sometimes you spend five years finding the right person. But for me, it's, uh, the, the fun is the, the, the journey, right? The part of the fun is sometimes it's the fun of getting an answer. Vincibility, you're like, "Oh, I now understand child's trauma and addiction and depression." But, yes, it's a long, a long journey. But I, I, I'm really lucky. I just love you. Sometimes you meet writers who go, "Oh, agony. It's agony." And I always want to go, "I'm going to fucking work in a call center for a week and come back and tell me how difficult." I'm not saying there aren't challenges in writing. There are, but anyone who is a writer, a professional writer, whose attitude is not every day, thank God, I'm going to say this, but metaphorically, thank God I get to do this job. I'm so lucky. That's got to be your default position. It's a, it's an incredible privilege to get to do it. I know that sounds hashtag blessed and wanky, but like it really is like a great, um, to get to kind of investigate complicated things and try to find answers and explain them to people who need to know. And there's a lot of people who need to know the answers to these questions. It's, it's a great thing. But that's clearly why you've written so many great books because you have a, it intrinsic joy for your work because the lengths you've described there, 10 years, five years, three years, the MRs you must have done to write these books. There is a whole part of Greenland that has melted because of my books. There you go. Like, yeah, I, I, I am not going to bullshit. I finished, I wrote my book, um, over the space of a year and a half, but I wouldn't have done what you did. I, I, and, and that speaks to where my intrinsic motivations and joy comes from. I enjoyed the process of writing the book, but the thoroughness that you put into your books is just staggering to me because I don't share that intrinsic joy for the process, which you clearly do. Um, but you have a lot of intrinsic joy for the other things that you get exactly. It's a shame. It's just a shame to some degree. I think part of my conditioning growing up in the social media era where we get instant gratification made the, the thought of, you know, when I've got a instant Instagram story I can do or this five-year book project. But that's why I really restrict, I give you an example, I won't say his name, but there's someone, a contemporary of mine, a British writer who's now based in the US who is one of the cleverest people I know, a totally brilliant, I mean, just politically, intellectually, just an outstanding person. And 10 years before, if he'd been exactly the same person 10 years before, he would have written three brilliant books that changed how people think about the subjects. And I've watched and it's been really depressing as he just atrophies his energy tweeting all the time. And he's got a huge Twitter following and I'm not saying that doesn't do any good. It does sound good. But and whenever I see him, I, whenever I'm in, in the cities, you know, say he, you know, we see him and he's just adult. And you know, that is a line, and Ginsburg, the poet said, I saw the best minds of my generation consumed by madness. I feel like I saw the best minds of my generation consumed by Twitter, just fucking, I'm not saying there's no value in it, but atrophying the energy. And I've been there, right? And years ago, but and so for me, you're right, a huge part of writing a book is deferred gratification. I've got to interview people for this biography, for example, I'm writing a Noam Chomsky is an incredible person. I interviewed someone two days ago, knowing I'm not going to look at that transcript for seven years, right? And knowing somewhere down the line, I'm going to be glad I did that interview because that person is quite old and they'll be dead if I wait seven years. And you know, and so you've got to, but it's very hard to defer gratification if you can get an immediate hit of, but it's a very shallow hit, right? When I meet people, and I always have a difference, right? Sometimes people come up to me in the street and they go, I follow you on Instagram or whatever.
Discussion On Social Media
Social media (01:33:59)
And those, and it's a very shallow connection. And sometimes people will come up to me and they'll say, I read your book, and they will, even their physical demeanor is different. It's like being approached by someone who is a friend, right? And they will always have some, not always, but most of the time have some much more detailed story. I always feel like, I feel like if someone follows you on Twitter, it's the equivalent of shouting to you across a crowded bar. We're selling exactly where it is. If you're lucky, we're saying I'm always likely throwing the pint at you and glass at you. But there, whereas if someone's read my book, I feel like I've gone on holiday with them, right? The level of kind of intimate, because it takes a long time to read a book, right? That's deeply personal. And they've been in your head, right? They've been in your childhood. Yeah, and they've been on this, if they're in my book, it's a really big journey, right? So there's an intimacy to that. So I think it's worth, it comes back to what we say about porn, right? You could spend your whole life sitting at home wanking over porn, right? I'm not against porn, right? I look at it myself, but sometimes, but we all know the hard work of having a relationship is ultimately going to be more satisfying than your whole life wanking over porn, right? Speak yourself. Exactly. I'll tell you again. Very sad story. I'll tell you again, you have to speak yourself. Exactly. I did notice all the screens around us, they're constantly streaming porn. How about the, we won't talk about that, but the, and I feel like a lot of life is on that principle, right? Like, of course, you can, to me, the people I know, I don't know who are tweeting all the time, and I know a lot of people with really big Twitter followings. It's not just that they're, partly it's that atrophy in their lives on bullshit. Also, it makes them really fucking unhappy. I know someone I won't say who, but someone who's got a very big Twitter following, who's got an extra, it's a bit like our Instagram inspence that we were talking about before. Huge Instagram for, oh, sorry, huge Twitter following bumped into in the street a good few years ago now. Again, like miserable as shit, right? And made more miserable by, I mean, I was thinking about someone I know, this is not a famous person, someone I know who uses a lot of meth and is on Twitter all the time. And genuinely, if you said to me, should this individual quit Twitter or meth first, I would say quit Twitter, it's worse for him, right? I don't mean that as a glib joke. Not the meth is so great, but just such a negative effect on people. The thing I dislike most about it is for me, almost everything about being an effective person in the world is about being sincere and open-hearted, you know, with humor and comedy and all that stuff, but you want to be sincere and open-minded. And what I don't like about Twitch, and I feel, again, it's one thing that's happening to me as I look at it, is the voice of Twitter, the kind of generic voice, is you are sarcastic, you're cold, you're- One-upmanship. One-upmanship, all of these things that are antithetical to just a good life, right? If you want to succeed on Twitter, and I've seen this happen to so many people I know, how do you do it? Be sassy, be nasty, be maximally judgmental, there's no tweets in going, oh, this person screwed up, but we all screw up sometimes. Let's move- You know, let's forgive the person to move on. There's no tweets in that. All the tweets are in, kill the person, destroy them, escalating outrage because of the algorithms and because of the way they work. Binary. Exactly. Just- It's not a forum. It's a forum that promotes unkindness and aggressive certainty when almost everything in life that's meaningful comes from kindness, doubt, listening to people, also encourages people to respond to different. To me, the worst possible way to go through life is to- And again, this is a big lesson for me. I think about chasing the screen as a person who's a good example of this. I could say, worst way to go through life is to meet people who are different to you and say that they're terrible and condemn them. To me, almost all the pleasure in life is encountering people who are different and listening to them. I think, this person's different to me. That's really interesting. I think about someone, the people I most admire in the world is a woman called Christina Dent who read, chasing the screen, which is why she got in touch with me. Christina is an evangelical Christian in Mississippi who's a Republican. Pretty different to me. I'm a gay atheist who hates the Republicans. Christina is very opposed to abortion and she put a money where her mouth is. She believes that if you're going to say that women shouldn't have abortions, you've got to help them look after the children that are then produced. She fosters a lot of children in Mississippi. If you foster children in Mississippi, most of the kids get taken away from their parents, their parents have addiction problems. Christina gets to know lots of women with addiction problems. The mothers are the kids she's fostering. Because Christina is a fundamentally kind and good person, she's just like, she starts thinking, "Why did no one help these mothers years ago? Why are they criminalized? Why are they in prison and denied access to public housing and all of these things? Someone should have helped them." She starts learning a lot about drug policy. One of the ways was through reading my book, "Chasing the Screen." She set up a group called "End It for Good." That is Evangelical Christians in Mississippi who are campaigning to end the drug war. I've got to know Christina well. She's an amazing person. I think if I had ever interacted with Christina on Twitter, if I got to know her through Twitter, we would hate each other. We would look like a diametrically opposed people. In fact, she's a friend of mine. I love her. She's a fundamentally, really a deeply admirable person. That kind of connection can't happen through anger-fueled algorithms. In fact, anger-fueled algorithms will destroy those connections. What was it that happened? Something happened with Theresa May, who I'm sure you can guess I was not politically sympathetic to. I was about to tweet something nasty about her. I knew it would do well on Twitter. I'm trying to be what the specific... It wasn't when she resigned. It was before that. I was about to tweet it. I just thought, "Don't want to be part of this fucking machine. Don't want to part this machine." Even someone who deserves to be criticized as I believe, or powerful people, deserved how criticism and I think Theresa May deserved a lot of criticism because I disagree with a lot of things she did. I just thought, "What is this adding to the world whether the more spite and more anger and more cruelty? There are ways to oppose harmful things that are not cruel and angry." I just see so many people that I've known for years, senior, media people who I just feel have been poisoned by these ways of interaction. It's made them cruel and I don't see any superiority. I was cruel when I was heavily using these sites. It's made them cruel and mean and petty and worst of all, unpersuasive. When I see people... I won't name the person, but I think someone who's one of the most followed political people on Twitter in Britain... Forrest Johnson. No, no, no. Kissed on me. I'm not going to go through it, but not a politician, but someone who's a publicly political person. Who I knew, god, 15 years ago, who was a thoughtful, interesting person when I met them and is now just cuddled with anger. When I met this person, you could have sat them down with any ordinary British person. They would have thought about what he said. They wouldn't always have agreed, but it would have been thoughtful. Now, he could talk to maybe 5% of the British population who would fire up to share the anger he has. 95% would just be like, "What is this? This is just so aggressive and hyperbolic and over the top." I don't blame this individual. It's not his fault. You've got a step away from these things. What I don't think you can do is be in the middle of it, be looking at it all the time, and not be made cruder and meaner by it. I just don't think you can. I do think we can change the algorithms in ways that wouldn't mean that we wouldn't have to be like that. We're a long way off that. For me, if someone's listening to this now and I had to ask you the very binary question, should they delete their Twitter Instagram or not? We're always encouraged to think in these deep... It's a perfectly good question, but we're always encouraged to think in these deeply individualistic ways. Think about global warming, the biggest crisis in the world, terrible disaster. We're always encouraged to think, "Oh, global warming's so bad. Should I personally recycle more? Should I personally buy this and not that?" The truth is your individual consumer choices make no fucking difference to global warming. You have virtually no power as a consumer. What you have is a huge amount of power as a citizen. If we band together as citizens, enough of us, and demand that everyone has to do certain things that are necessary to deal with the climate crisis, then you have power and agency. You personally tweaking your individual behavior. I mean, don't do grossly harmful things. I feel we mentioned my own flying. That's obviously a harmful thing. I never fly just to go on a holiday, but I do fly a lot to research my books. That is a big burden, but it's much more meaningful to focus on collective activity. If people want to think about the harm that Twitter does, the harm that Facebook does, I would say go to the website of the Center for Humane Technology, run by my friend Tristan Harris, which is about putting pressure on the... My friend James Williams, who's a former Google engineer, brilliant guy, lives in Moscow, he always says, talking about, "Should I individually delete these things? It's like thinking the solution to air pollution is should I put on a gas mask?" Well, all right. If the air pollution is really bad in Beijing, you might want to put on a gas mask, but a much better thing to do is to, as citizens demand, we deal with the sources of air pollution, which can be dealt with. In a similar way, deleting your Twitter may well be a good thing to do. I don't ever look at Twitter, almost never. I use go-through buffer app, but that's the equivalent of me putting on a gas mask. It gives me a very short-term personal protection. But if I then go out into a society where people are being made angrier, more politically extreme, having their attention destroyed, because they're all on this stuff, me putting on my own fucking gas mask, it's worth doing. I'm glad to protect myself, but that's not where we should start thinking about it, right? But if I'm a selfish bastard and I want to be happier, should I delete my Instagram and my Facebook and my Twitter? I don't give a fuck about everybody else. This is me being, you know, just pretending. I just want to make sure that my life is more peaceful, less chance of depression, less chance of anxiety, should I delete Twitter and Facebook and Instagram? I mean, I personally would say, you know, I mean, I have it because I'm a crudely because I want to reach people with my messages. You know, and there's a mixture of that. Some of that is the kind of benevolent thing. I think these things are important and people need to know about. And some of that is a more junk values. I want to sell my books, right? But I don't feel like a telling individual, they have to make their own assessment. What do they what do they get out of it? Maybe they're promoting their charity or whatever? I don't know. That's all sorts of- Following Kim Kardashian. I mean, what I would say is know that it comes with a huge cost. Now, you only, you can weigh is the benefit worth this huge cost. Yeah. And there's some people who for whom it will be, right? And there's many people for whom it won't be. But I would say the constant focus on individualism, even if you're purely selfish, to me, it's a bit like, okay, imagine we were having this conversation in 1937 and we're really worried about the rise of the Nazis. Yeah. And people who worried about the rise of the Nazis, let's imagine they were saying, well, I'm signing a pledge saying, I personally will not invade Poland, right? That's very nice. I'm glad you're not going to invade Poland, but someone's going to go and have to stop the people who are going to invade Poland. Yeah, yeah. And a similar way, fine, say, I'm not going to participate in these hateful anger filled algorithms. Good, good for you, just like you shouldn't invade Poland. But someone's going to have to stop the people who are polluting the society and fucking is all up, which doesn't mean shutting down Facebook and Twitter, it means changing their business model, which absolutely can be done. I mean, as James Williams always says, the Google engineer I was talking about, the axe existed for more, I'm going to get this wrong, the axe existed for more than 100,000 years before anyone thought to put a handle on it. The internet has existed for less than 10,000 days. We can change these things if we want to, it comes back to so many things we're talking about. People need to know that they have power, you are so much more powerful than you think. As a citizen, incredible changes can happen when enough people persuade the people around them, right? And do it in a spirit of love and compassion. I think that's the perfect way to end this conversation. Hooray. Optimism. Exactly. And it's not even like a kind of airy fairy, oh, let's be optimistic. No, it's true. It's very practical. Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, said, "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has." It reminds me of watching Martin Luther King's last speech, where he said to this huge black congregation on this stage, he said, he said to the mic, you know, when you guys get there, you guys get to the mountain top, he goes, "I don't get there with you, but you guys get there." And at that time, you never would have imagined that America could make the progress it's made to, as you said, to the point where it's got a black president now. And when he said those words, it sounded like wishful thinking or whatever. But obviously, the world, to some degree, last couple of years haven't been the best example of that. But we got there. Well, progress is possible. There's obviously still a long way to go on, as much of an idea, one racist, middle or something. But huge amount of progress is possible. And we must never, we've got to never discount the progress it's been made, because that's very disempowering, actually. You know, I remember, you know, even just things as simple as, of course, we've got a huge way to go on gender. But I think about my grandmothers, right? That's not some distant past. I know my grandmothers. I loved my grandmothers. I knew them well, obviously. When they were the age I am now, my grandmothers were not allowed to have bank accounts in their own names. My Swiss grandmother wasn't allowed to have a job outside the home with that husband's written permission. He could legally beat her. He could legally rape her. He didn't. But he could. In fact, it was legal for men to rape their wives everywhere in the world, where my grandmothers were the age I am now. There were no women leaders. There were no women leaders of companies. There were no women leaders of countries. There were almost no women elected representatives, right? This is not some distant past, right? And I know we've got a lot, and it's very aggravating for women to hear a man like me, man's, man's, blameless. I get that. But, and especially because we've still got so much further to go, but you've always bear in mind the incredible progress that happened and how did that happen, right? Women didn't blow anything up. They didn't tear the society down. They banded together and they fought for something better. I mean, my grandmother didn't even have the vote when she was 42 years old, right? And my Scottish grandmother had a fucking hard life, right? Incredible transformations and changes are possible. We need to seize the power that we have, because we were talking before we live in a machine that's designed to get us to neglect what's important about life. We also live in a machine that's designed to make us think we are not powerful. A machine that's designed to make us think we can't change things. Or the only mechanism to change things is to change the way you shop, right? And there's some value in changing the way you shop, but pick up the power you have, right? As citizens, we have incredible power. We are all better off because of the power that previous generations have seized. You know, think about, you know, I'm gay, you're black. Think about what the lives, just two generations back again, black people were in this country. They were a lot grimmer than our lives, right? So incredible changes are possible. We just need to fight for them. Thank you. I always say thank you to my guests at the end of the podcast for various reasons, but obviously, and I know it probably makes you feel uncomfortable because I just repeatedly blow smoke up your ass. But the, you know, literally, not with the cameras. But the effort you go to to put this work together is just like outstanding, right? And there's so much, as we've discussed, there's so much like, there's such a lack of patience and superficial nature to the society. We live in and people want instant gratification, but the delaying of the gratification in doing the hard work. I just, you know, it's just a tremendous service that you're doing to our society at a time that needs it the most. And especially the topics in which you're sticking your finger into and poking to understand our topics that are at the very heart of much of our sort of social problems and also present much of the opportunities if we find the right answers. So thank you. You've taught me a ton. I can't wait for your new book. When people ask me at any point in my life, they ask me to recommend a book. I always say Lost Connections because it was that transformative. And yeah, and what's your Twitter handle? What's my snap? My publishers give you this fucking horrendous blurb. I'm meant to say, knock it out. But I'm meant to say if anyone wants to know where to get the audiobook or the book, then go to, for the depression book, www.thelostconnections.com. Because it turned out there was a fucking band called Lost Connections. Oh, really? Really? Like in the day, it's coming out. It's coming out. Who knew? And the, they should have gotten the book. It's, I know, damn them. And the addiction book is chasing the scream as in, ah, dot com. And they, on those websites, you can find out where to follow me everywhere, except Snapchat because I'm strongly opposed to affiliate. Yeah. So, and your new book's coming soon. And soon, yeah, I can't wait. Fuck me. That's going to be amazing. And people can also watch the film adaptation of Chasing Scream, which I'm meant to plug, the Oscar nominated film adaptation, which is called the United States versus Billy Holiday and is where do we get it? In Britain on Sky Cinema, in the US, on Hulu, and you should interview Andrew, who played Billy Holiday, who is beyond a goddess and a fucking incredible person. We shall, we shall. We shall. Percile. Law her. I'll, I'll give you an intro. She's, she was nominated for the Oscar, did not get it. I am the true victim of COVID because I would have been in the Oscar's terminal as one of the producers. And I was gutted that didn't happen. Anyway, look, you're just a tiny, tiny of time, though. Plenty of time, though. You've that to happen. Exactly. No one suffered in COVID more than me. Thank you so much, Jan. Cheers, Stephen. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.