In the years that most informed my early adulthood — those from my mid-teens to my mid-20s, say — I frequented the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. I had many late nights and long, deep conversations at the now-closed Fire & Water Cafe (you can now see remnants, or indeed, a new iteration, at Cafe Evolution up the road in Florence).
I visited friends at Smith College, which has an all-female undergraduate student body.
And the city is also known for the Northampton State Hospital, a mental institution that grew so big in its first century so as to be serving nearly 2,500 patients by the mid-1950s.
Northampton State Hospital was also a terrible place — you can actually see some of it in the asylum scenes in the movie "In Dreams" — that in 1978 a judge ordered the institution to reduce its patient load to 50 by 1981.
While the Brewster Decree (or Northampton Decree, as it's sometimes called) didn't fully close the hospital until 1993, you don't go from serving over 2,000 patients down to 50 without largely just discharging your patients out into the streets of the city.
A number of those wandering, previously committed souls were still out wandering the city in the 1990s and early 2000s while I was also out wandering the city. So I learned some stuff from them, too.
"You need to be a little crazy to change the world," write Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler on page 233 of Abundance, "and you can't really fake it."
I drink a lot of coffee. My wife will have a cup when she wakes up, and sometimes, on a day off, she might have a second. On my days off, I'll drink one cup when I wake up, and two or three more throughout the day. If I'm working, I'll have one when I wake up, one while I'm making dinner, and then it's a fairly steady stream of joe until midnight or 1 a.m., depending on when I'm scheduled.
It was probably more like the seventeenth century when we started mass producing coffee and slurping it like we do.
Something else I enjoy drinking is beer, which we've probably had since we figured out agriculture (leave some grain in a pot, head out for a hunt, it rains, you come back in a few days, drink the water out of the pot and get drunk).
When water wasn't safe to drink because we had sewage and dead animals running into our water supplies and no treatment plants, we were drinking beer, because the fermentation process made it safe to drink.
So, for centuries, we were drinking beer, and then we figured out coffee. We didn't go from half-drunk to sober, Diamandis and Kotler point out, we went from half-drunk to wired.
In his essay Java Man, Malcolm Gladwell gives coffee (and tobacco) a lot of credit for really getting us going as a species.
It is worth noting, as well, that in the original coffeehouses nearly everyone smoked, and nicotine also has a distinctive physiological effect. It moderates mood and extends attention, and, more important, it doubles the rate of caffeine metabolism: it allows you to drink twice as much coffee as you could otherwise. In other words, the original coffeehouse was a place where men of all types could sit all day; the tobacco they smoked made it possible to drink coffee all day; and the coffee they drank inspired them to talk all day. Out of this came the Enlightenment. (The next time we so perfectly married pharmacology and place, we got Joan Baez.)
In time, caffeine moved from the café to the home. In America, coffee triumphed because of the country’s proximity to the new Caribbean and Latin American coffee plantations, and the fact that throughout the nineteenth century duties were negligible. Beginning in the eighteen-twenties, Courtwright tells us, Brazil “unleashed a flood of slave-produced coffee. American per capita consumption, three pounds per year in 1830, rose to eight pounds by 1859.”
What this flood of caffeine did, according to Weinberg and Bealer, was to abet the process of industrialization–to help “large numbers of people to coordinate their work schedules by giving them the energy to start work at a given time and continue it as long as necessary.”
I've certainly had at least (and probably more than) my fair share of focus and productivity thanks to caffeine. Just listen to Kelvin and I slurping away during our JKWD podcasts.
OK, so let's talk about the lessons we learn from Abundance. This was supposed to be a post about the book, remember?
First, let's look at how we move from thinking in a scarcity mindset to thinking in an abundance mindset.
Abundance is wrought of technology.
If I have an orange tree and I pick all the oranges on the lowest branches, I now have a scarcity of oranges. When someone invents the ladder, I now have an abundance of oranges, since I can reach all the fruit on the higher branches.
In the mid-19th century, aluminum was more valuable than gold. The top of the Washington Monument is capped in aluminum. It cost more per ounce than the average daily wage for someone working to build it. In the ensuing decades, researchers in America and France would figure out how to isolate the metal with an electrolytic process, and now it's so easy to get aluminum we wrap our cold pizza in it.
Some 70 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water, but 97.3 percent of that is salt water. Lots of people today die from lack of clean drinking water, but when we come up with a good desalination technology, the scarcity will go away.
The bottom of pyramid, the domino effect and reworking Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Right now, hundreds of millions or billions of people live in poverty, food scarcity, water scarcity, lack of health care, etc. These people represent the the bottomm of the pyramid — a swath of humanity large enough to boost up the rest of the world, except for the fact that they're suffering.
If we can take care of these people, they can contribute to society, solving more (world) problems.
Think, also, of a mother who spends her day toting water for cleaning and drinking and cooking. Giver her clean running water in her home, and now she can go to work, raising both the wealth of her family and her nation's GDP.
Give Bill Gates enough money to pay his bills, now he can go defeat malaria. Give a painkiller-addicted, depressed MMA fighter a new purpose, and he can go Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who, in the mid-20th century, developed a fundamental hierarchy of needs. It starts with basic human needs (food, water, air and such) at the bottom, and once you can get that taken care of, you can move on to the next level, with the top being self-actualization, or the ability to be personally fulfilled.
Diamandis and Kotler argue for reworking Maslow's pyramid into a three-tier pyramid starting in about the same place, but basically replacing the middle three tiers with a single tier that includes education, energy (as in power, be it solar, battery, etc.) and communication. At the top, you find liberty, freedom and other things that many of us take for granted, like health care.
Other Notes and Resources
The amygdala is an almond-shaped sliver in the temporal love responsible for assessing danger and then looking to neutralize it. I talked about this in the our crazy brains spisode of the podcast. It's an anxious slice of your brain, and once stimulated, it almost never shuts up. It's responsible for fight or flight, and the biggest problem it has right now is there are very few real reasons to be naturally concerned, so it makes up worst-case scenarios to find a reason to panic.
Don't get caught up in what your amygdala's telling you, or you have problems, and probably not even real ones.
Four motivations for innovation
From the weakest to the strongest, there are the reasons people innovate:
In other words, money is actually a stronger driver than many people might admit, but it's still not as strong a driver as the esteem in which you'll be held.
A few places you can connect with Diamandis and his projects:
Lewis Howes releases three podcasts a week. One of those is a quick take on Fridays he dubs "Five Minute Friday." The one above is from April 14, 2017 and is called Be True to Yourself.
It's a look at what is commonly called crab mentality — the notion that one crab in a bucket will scurry out, but if there are a lot of crabs in a bucket and one tries to crawl out, the others will grab that crab and pull it down.
I know this wasn't the point, but I did try to look up whether this is actually true, since in my experience crabs are merely delicious. All I found was this:
[C]rabs pull on stuff when they can't swim. They're trying to move. If there's nothing else around, they'll pull on the other crabs. And there's nothing else in a bucket of crabs.
Back to the crab mentality.
The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress.
Howes notes that we don't want to feel lonely or excluded or to disappoint or upset other people.
"Don't be afraid of losing people. Be afraid of losing yourself by trying to please everyone around you." https://t.co/2V1M2iwAyp
It's worth noting here that for survival, humans as a species had to conform to our communities or we'd be ostracized and not receive the benefits of collective living, like sharing in food gathering, child-raising, etc.
While that's still true in many communities, if you're in a position to listen to podcasts or read blogs, you're most likely not stuck in such a community. It might be difficult physically or emotionally, but you can change which communities you're a part of.
If you're missing out on what's possible in your life, Howes does offer some tips for dealing with people who try to hold you down while never climbing to achieve anything in their own lives:
Have a conversation with the person hold you back. Request that person's support for your endeavors.
If you can't garner that person's support, don't get caught in the trap of being dragged down by others. Set boundaries. Know when you have to get up from the table and not be part of the conversation.
If necessary, significantly cut back on the time you spend with people who hold you back. Instead, go find people who life you up
You can love and support negative people from a distance, he says, but don't spend time around them allowing their negative attitude seep into your world.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a post about Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler's book Abundance. Until then, I just want to borrow their concept of the bottom of the pyramid — the four billion or so people who are the world's poorest but could mean big bucks for someone willing to go in with cheap products.
One of the things that happens is, if you can get this group of people clothes and food and water and electricity and cell phones, they can solve more of the world's problems. If you're worried about clean water and where your next meal's coming from, you could be the world's top engineer and you can't help anybody because you have to feed yourself first.
It's the same reason they tell you on airplanes to put your oxygen mask on first before you help anyone else with theirs: If you can't breathe, you're not of much use in making good decisions for someone else.
OK, so there's the bottom of the pyramid. Let's look near the top of the pyramid: professional athletes in the U.S.
The Boston Red Sox are off to a slow offensive start to the baseball season. A lot of that is due to the fact that the starting lineup has been decimated by the flu.
These are pro athletes, so they're generally in really good shape. They're also by and large wealthy — minimum salary for someone on a Major League roster all year is over a half-million dollars (approach that number without judgment — just recognize it as a statistic in relation to other incomes in the US).
While healthy people do tend to get rid of the flu more quickly than unhealthy people, the flu doesn't give a crap about your bank account.
Doctors and insurance companies, however, might.
Whether you're making $535,000 or $10,000,000 as a member of the Red Sox, if you feel like garbage and miss several days' work, at least your family is going to be well-cared for and it's hardly a matter of life or death.
If you're closer to the bottom of the pyramid, as far as US workers are concerned, several days with the flu might mean you miss several days' pay and perhaps you get fired. Maybe your job doesn't offer health insurance. Maybe your family isn't going to get to eat, or turn on the heat or lights this week, whatever you choose to forgo.
The thing about the flu: It spreads. If you have the flu, you risk your family getting the flu. If you go into work, you risk spreading it to their coworkers, and they to their families. If you work a bottom-of-the-pyramid type of job, say, at a department store, you might get a few dozen people sick. If you work in a restaurant or grocery store, there's a good chance you'll get some customers sick.
But if you work those bottom-of-the-pyramid jobs, it's hard to not go to work. You risk a lot.
Still inside the first few months of a new presidential administration, a lot of people are looking for a change in our health care system. Leadership royally botched its first attempt.
My congressman replied to my letter to him (see the post linked in the preceding paragraph), pointing out the Congressional Budget Office said the American Health Care Act would have saved the federal government money.
Yes, I responded, but they also said it would leave 24 million (more) people uninsured. Some people call that "patient choice." It's really not a "choice" if you have to decide between spending three-quarters of your paycheck on insurance and having a home and food and such.
So what do we do for those folks who, once the Affordable Care Act is replaced, won't be able to afford health insurance and won't be able to afford to miss work?
I don't know the answer. We have lots of smart people who could be working on it, but I'm not convinced any of them are.
If you're not subscribed to the JKWD Podcast, I suggest you try our most recent episode. In fact, here it is:
Kelvin and I have been doing our podcast for about 10 months or os — JKWD stands for "Josh and Kelvin World Domination" — and normally we have a fairly standard routine.
We'll get on a call about 10:30 a.m. on a Friday, talk about our week and whatever else for an hour and a half, then figure out what we're going to do for a podcast, go refill our coffees, and then record the podcast.
This time, we had to reschedule, and neither of us was really at full speed when we started speaking. We got into our routine as we always do, and 45 minutes or so into our typical ongoing babble, we both realized without saying anything that we were actually recording the podcast.
I am of the opinion, generally, that unscripted podcasts are best, but since we often tackle a specific subject, we tend to at least outline and have a pre-discussion.
Kelvin and I are very different people. We often mention that we're of different generations, of different races and faiths, with different upbringings.
We're into very different things, and we have very different approaches to almost everything.
A little bit ago, Kelvin said we should read The Power of Now and discuss it on the podcast. So, I read it. Much of it wasn't meant for me. No harm, no foul. But that doesn't mean I had to like it.
We hadn't planned to discuss the book yet, but I had been reading The Antidote, which is subtitled Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking. Burkeman interviewed Tolle for a chapter, and it gave me some new insight, so I wanted to talk about it.
Kelvin and I often mention that the discussions we have before we record the podcast would be fun to eavesdrop on, and we recognized that this was so far the most glowing example of that.
It's unscripted, entirely raw (even Kelvin cusses a bit, and we had to bleep out names that we said because we weren't planning on it being a podcast), and more importantly, we have an active disagreement.
Not an argument, mind you, but a disagreement. We were civil to each other throughout, and we simply moved on to another topic when we were done with that subject.
I think there are a lot of people in political power who could learn a thing or two from it.