Dr. Gabor Maté’s new book strips back the realities of the neoliberal system that has been plaguing the health of U.S. and the world citizens.

Gabor Maté: Who’s Crazy, You or Your Nation?

By Robert Scheer  Scheer Intelligence  Podcast  by     Click to subscribe on: Apple / Spotify / Google PlayAmazon / YouTube

This week’s Scheer Intelligence podcast brings together host Robert Scheer and author and renowned physician Dr. Gabor Maté to talk about Mate’s recent New York Times best-selling book, “The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture,” written with his son, Daniel Maté. After decades of treating thousands of patients in myriad fields, including general family practice and palliative care, Maté began to foster more attention to his work involving stress, addiction and childhood development.

A recipient of the Order of Canada, that country’s highest civilian distinction, Maté’s work is recognized worldwide, with four bestselling books published in more than 30 languages. His latest tackles the uncomfortable reality of the interlinking of politics and culture with health. The neoliberal order in charge since the days of Reagan and Thatcher serves as one of the fundamental factors within much of the US and the world’s suffering today. “Globalized neoliberal culture has been exported to the rest of the world and is creating a worldwide crisis and as a result, health is suffering internationally. It’s systemic and it’s globalized,” Maté says.

Maté finds the days of FDR’s reforms to be a mere interlude in the system and thinks the beginning of neoliberal policies as the days “the gloves came off again and the system revealed its dark underbelly that had never actually been shed. It’s just been covered up. Since then, inequality has risen. The power of corporations has risen. The direct influence, in fact subservience, of governments to corporations has become inescapable.”

Through his new book he hopes to shed some light on the actual health impacts of this growing system through his own life’s journey and those of others and believes “a system where people are so committed to power and profit, I don’t know that they still have the capacity to reform the system in order to save itself.”


Check out the video version of the interview here:

Credits

Host: Robert Scheer        Producer: Joshua Scheer

TRANSCRIPT

Robert Scheer:

Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests and in this case, no question about it. Gabor Maté, Dr. Gabor Maté, the author of a bestselling, New York Times bestselling book called “The Myth of Normal Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture.” And welcome. Dr. Maté, let me just say, I feel I know you. I’ve never met you, but I spent the last three nights with your mistress, this book. And as I just said, closed the chapter about an hour ago. And I didn’t realize it’s 500 pages. Now I’m saying that not to turn people away because it’s a page turner. It’s brilliantly written. I don’t know if that’s a result of your son, Daniel, who worked with you or you. But so I don’t want people to be frightened of the pages, but I do feel this obligation to actually read to the end of a book before interviewing someone. And I feel like I’ve been doing it for three days now and it’s fascinating.

I would say it’s the indispensable book if you want to know where we are, not only our own culture, but where we are in the world culture. And I’m making a very big claim for the book, not that there were any really great answers in it, by the way, you very honestly at the end of the book say you’re not particularly good at that. You will give us some therapy about how we can cope with it and then improve and not lie to ourselves. But I don’t want to lay out the big thesis, but what I found fascinating about it is that it basically described our illness. You really discount the role of genetics. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your colleagues, but, you know, pre existing conditions and, you know, DNA structure etc.. There’s a lot of science in the book and that’s your specialty. But what you do is you set it in an international context of an alienating culture. And I think that’s an incredible contribution, that these are not our individual ailments. They are national. They are international. So why don’t I turn it over to you to sort of tell me, you know, what the book’s about and I do want to raise one question. I mentioned before that it’s a best selling book. It was on the New York Times bestseller list, I think, for about seven weeks. But I’m trying to think of somebody you kind of put down a little bit, Dr. Benjamin Spock, who I actually knew I’m older than you, about ten years older. And this is the first time I’ve actually seen some criticism of this baby doctor’s book. And I think it ran true to me, even though I raised children on the basis of it. But I would contrast it with it. Dr. Spock basically said, it’s in our hands. We can make it all better. And you actually end up saying, no, the culture is toxic and we have to recognize that and then do our best to be honest and cope with it and try to change it. Is that a fair summary?

Gabor Maté:

Well, first of all, you’re quite right, this book was my mistress as well. And it took all my time and it broke my heart many times. So, yeah, it worked like a mistress in a certain sense. I did write it with my son and it took the literary skills of both of us to bring it to completion. In terms of Dr. Spock, I first became aware of him much around the same time I first became aware of you in the late sixties, early seventies, around the anti-Vietnam protests. And your magazine Ramparts was just a rampart in that struggle. Spock at that time, I had a lot of great respect for as a brave individual, you know, who really stood up for principle. However, his child raising principles were toxic in some ways. So, for example, he taught parents not to pick up their kids at night when they were crying, but to leave them alone. No, that’s toxic to the child. So Spock, you know, great man as he was in many ways, he had some things horribly backwards. And if you look at what’s happening in society today, we can look upon the illness that we see, the overdoses, the rising tide of overdoses, of suicides, of mental health conditions, of autoimmune diseases as individual problems, this sort of genetic misfortune which scientifically is complete nonsense.

Or we can see them as manifestations of a culture that itself is toxic, that the way it treats people, the way it induces people to treat each other, the way it teaches parents to ignore the child’s needs, which is unfortunately part of Spock’s legacy. It actually toxifies people. We end up developing, not in accordance with our true nature, but we end up developing in a way that’s designed to make us fit into an exploitative, consumerist, inequality ridden, materialistic culture. And that’s very far from our needs and our nature as human beings. So, yeah, I’m saying that illness is not a manifestation of personal misfortune. For the most part, it’s a manifestation of a culture. If you’re of color, if you’re a minority, if you’re an indigenous person, you’re much more likely to be sick, not because of any genetics, but because of all kinds of social factors and emotional factors that have to do with racism and inequality, for example, and so on.

If it’s in our hands, that’s not an individualistic sense. It’s in our hands as a society, as a community, as a culture. And unless we deal with the larger issues that beset society, we’re going to miss the source of our pathology. Now, it’s not that in the book I don’t provide healing solutions, but what you’re referring to very accurately is in the last chapter, I say I can’t provide a formula for healing society. That’s a much bigger question than any individual. And for that we need communal input. But what we need to do is to lose our illusions. And we have to recognize this culture. What may be considered the norm in this culture is neither natural nor healthy, and we have to solve the problem on a communal basis. I hope that sums it up.

Scheer:

Yeah. No, it doesn’t sum up the book. There’s a lot more to the book, but I think it’s a good introduction. And what I found so powerful in this book is, yes, it makes demands on us as individuals. It’s a good criticism of Dr. Spock you know, don’t let the baby cry. The baby has no consciousness, you introduce us to the vulnerability of the fetus and then the child. Something as a parent of three that I never really fully considered before and what’s going on. And so already in reading the book, I think, yeah. So it doesn’t take away our individual responsibility to learn, to think, to be sensitive. But it is very liberating and making it clear this is not because we were born with the wrong genes or something, or that we screwed up individually. But it’s a very big charge and I happen to think why is this book not forever on the bestseller lists? You know, it’s one reason why I wanted to do this podcast. I, you know, from what I had read when I contacted you, I thought, wow, this is really a very powerful book. But then I realized when I got through about half of it, it was going to be a very, very big success as a self-help book, as a parenting book.

But when you turned your vision on, wait a minute, is our general society healthy or unhealthy when you put Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the same shelf in a way, not that they have the same politics or, you know, but that they’re driven by the same kind of unhealthy forces, dare one say, you got into a very provocative area here, and I’d like to pick up what was buzzing in my head as I was reading your book. I covered Bill Clinton’s welfare reform, so-called welfare reform, I interviewed him when he was still governor of Arkansas for the L.A. Times, where I worked. And then I interviewed him after he was president and so forth. I examined the program down there, and everything I read about in the first half of your book was an example of what was done with welfare reform was exactly incorrect. It took the most vulnerable population. 70% of people on aid to families dependent children were children. It punished the mothers who were trying to do their best. It said we can end it. He told me personally, Bill Clinton, when I interviewed him, you’d have to spend a lot more money, you’d have to provide more… They didn’t do any of that. I’d like to begin with that, because this book attacks the conceits of liberals as well as conservatives and at a time of individualism. So why don’t we use that as sort of a case study, which I guess has not featured prominently in your book, but the book really allowed me to understand it better.

Maté:

Well. So the reason, one of the reasons the book was only eight weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list, which is not a bad thing, it has not had a stitch of coverage in the mainstream media. I mean, I’ve not had a single interview or a mention or a review in any major newspapers or television program or even the big NPR programs. And I think there’s a reason for that, because I’m challenging the premises of the whole system, and I’m saying that, I quote Ralph Nader at some point, who said that the two parties are basically one long clown with two heads that look different. So I’m not saying there are no policy differences between the two major parties in the U.S., but fundamentally, they both serve the same system.

And Clinton’s legal reform, for example, ended up sending hundreds of thousands of black men to jail. You know? And his welfare reforms devastated a lot of really poor people. And Clinton, for all his liberal rhetoric and his progressive and somewhat attractive image, really was swept along by the same neoliberal wind that began under Reagan and Thatcher. And that’s been going on for 40, 50 years now. And the result is increasing loneliness in this society, which itself is a risk factor increasing obesity, [inaudible], increasing isolation, breakdown of communities, the hollowing out of the American industrial heartland, the jailing of millions of black people, and the rising tide of suicides what Clinton himself has called deaths of despair. Well, these don’t come out of nowhere. They come out of social conditions. And Clinton’s neoliberal policies did much to entrench those conditions. And you know, we do have to look at it systemically like.

I’ll give you an example. One study, just one study that I quote, that the more experience of racism a black woman experiences in the U.S., the greater her risk for asthma. So the lungs being inflamed has a lot to do with the emotional stress because you can’t separate the mind from the body. But then the question becomes: is that woman’s inflammation in the lung and constriction of her airways a sign of individual pathology in an isolated organ? Or is it a social malaise? Or clearly you can separate the two. So the reason I bring in politics and political trauma and inequality and who controls the society into a book about health is because it’s all one thing. It’s inseparable. And Rudolf Virchow, the great British, sorry German, physician in the 19th century, said once that politics is only the continuation of medicine on a larger scale.

Scheer:

You know, a big theme in your book, you kind of resurrect, I wouldn’t attribute it only to Karl Marx, but he certainly made it front and center in relation to labor and production, the notion of alienation. And it’s because the U.S. model is, in effect, becoming the worldwide model. I mean, China may be led by a Communist Party, but Apple loves it. Now, maybe they’ll switch to Arizona for some, you know, chips and so forth. They love it because they have a docile workforce and the docile workforce. And you quote Erich Fromm, you refer to Huxley seductions throughout your book and you know it’s the same gimmickry of the consumer culture and the same alienation that you have in China right now, which is causing discontent.

You know, I teach at the University of Southern California. We have 6000 students from China, so quite a focus group. And, you know, these are people who are successful. And, you know, somebody was able to help them go there. But they’re feeling that alienation in China. Yes, we make this great technology. We have new consumer goods. We don’t have what we had in the old village. Because, after all, if you look at China, back to Confucius, there was a notion of society. So, what is Confucius’ wisdom? You know, even the emperor has to be worried about social cohesion. You know? That, after all, was one of the promises, presumably, of Maoism. At some point that’s all gone with China’s version of neoliberalism. And what you’re basically saying is this is not a sustainable model there anymore than it is here, because its key ingredient is alienating people from any mechanism of security. Right? Sense to their lives. I thought that was a very bold assertion of your book, and we don’t teach it. And I want to add something else about teaching. I mean, I wish this book will come out in an affordable, although textbooks are very expensive anyway. I’d love to assign, you know, just have… In fact, I will. I think I’ll assign it anyway, even though it’s a little more money because really, you open up all of these questions.

Maté:

Isn’t it $27 in the U.S. Is that a lot of money?

Scheer:

That’s nothing compared to a textbook. I think I will make it a text. Okay. Let me have a day to think about it. But seriously, I mean, I’m being serious. We can’t consider… Look, right here where I teach, at USC, we’re surrounded by a homeless population. Unbelievable. You know, 70, 80,000 people out there on the streets right around it. The students get alienated from them. They are threatening. Who are they? Some of them could have been your neighbors just a few months ago. You know, we also have daily crime reports. Most of the time, it’s a black or brown person. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why are they stealing a cell phone? The second time they do that, they’ll be put away for five years. Who are they? So alienation, as far as I can see, is a defining word for our time. And it explains a Donald Trump, as you point out in your book. And, you know, when I say the book is essential reading, I think if you’re going to read one book about our time, it’s this one. I really believe that because you take… You’re a brilliant doctor, physician. You’ve handled tens of thousands of patients, a lot of mental problems as well as others and you put it in a context that does not dismiss the science or the individual, but it tells them why—you have a refrain throughout the book—why they are not the cause. I forget what you have, the way you put it in the book, but it’s empowering.

Maté: 

It’s not your fault, you know? Well, Marx’s concept of alienation. I mean, who could argue with the truth of what he said? That under capitalism, we become alienated from ourselves, from our fellow human beings, from our work, and from nature. I mean, just look at the impacts of alienation from nature in terms of what we’re doing to nature today. Look at the impact of alienation from work. Now, if you look at what stresses people, physiologically, psychologically and physiologically, because psychology cannot be divorced, separated from physiology, they’re one, they’re really one dynamic, is what causes stress for people’s uncertainty, lack of information, loss of control and conflict, and that characterizes materialistic society, those four features. Elon Musk can with a flick of a finger throw 7500 people out of work overnight.

There was an article in the British Guardian about an American, in the southern United States, a furniture factory where 2500 people were fired while they were sleeping. When they woke up in the morning, they got a text saying “Don’t come to work.” So the uncertainty, the loss of control, you know, the fear this stresses people’s emotionally, therefore, it stresses their immune systems, their hormonal apparatus, their nervous system.

And in terms of what you said about China, I quote an American social scientist, Maurice Burman, who said that if the 19th century was the, sorry, if the 20th century was the American century, then the 21st century will be the Americanized century. And basically, the American system has been globalized, whether it’s governed by a communist elite, so-called communist elite in a country like China, it is a materialistic, competitive, alienated culture. And we can see some of the impacts of that in China today. Addictions are going up, mental health conditions are going up, more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD. There’s a crisis in China. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in China as well. And as we saw with this recent COVID protest, I think you’re referring to them without naming them in the last week or two. People are starting to push back. They don’t like this culture that they’re living in. So, globalized liberal, neoliberalistic culture has been exported to the rest of the world and is creating a worldwide crisis. And as a result, health is suffering internationally. It’s systemic and it’s globalized. And we do have to…

Scheer:

But you go further in the book. You say it’s untenable. It’s inconsistent with really the human experience.

Maté:

Yes.

Scheer:

And then you put it in the context of global climate change, of unemployment insecurity, and you dare to make an assertion, which, after all, was what the New Deal under Franklin Delano Roosevelt was all about, which is that societies have only one excuse for existence, which is to support people. Support, whether their families, tribes, or what have you. And they lose that as Confucius kept warning and as Aristotle warned, you know, Alexander and others, they lose that. They lose their reason for being, but they’ll also have instability, chaos, and be overthrown. And we’re seeing a lot of chaos. And. You and I, you are 75, I think, now.

Maté:

78, thank you very much.

Scheer:

78. Well, I’ve got I’m only… Well, how old am I? I’m 86 but I grew up in the Depression. You grew up in Hungary and you know, the Nazis first and then you know, the Soviets. You had a much greater trauma in your early life. But I daresay, I can’t speak for you, but I think people of our generation expected society to be a lot more stable now and a lot more… I mean, when I came out, you know, I was a young kid, Roosevelt said we were guaranteed all kinds of things. Decent health care, good public schools, you know, good benefits for workers, strong labor unions, which is another way of preserving society. Now, the very idea of organizing at the new Tesla plant in Arizona will be treated as suspect. You know, Arizona might even pass a law saying you can’t do it. I mean, what happened to… Well, let me take it back to you. Because one of the wonderful things about this book, you don’t spare yourself.

Maté:

No.

Scheer:

You ruthlessly examine that there were times you were not a good parent, that you failed in your respect. You know, we all should feel that way. We all should recognize that. But you’ve had a hell of a life. And before I let you go, you know the book when I said, you know, I slept with your mistress. You know, the book is a great life story as well as a work of political caution. It should be read. It really is a novel, you know, based on this interesting character, you. So start with the mother who has you at a time when she has to give you away to save your life.

Maté:

You know, you’re reminding me of the first paragraph of David Copperfield where he says whether or not I’ll be the hero of these pages or not, only time will tell, you know? Look, as far as the world, let’s be realistic about it. The Roosevelt interlude of relatively liberal and socially minded capitalism was a brief interlude in the history of capitalism. Capitalism began with the ruthless exploitation and genocide of indigenous people all around the world. And if you look at the history of the United States, the massacres of workers, the illegalization of workers organizations, going back to the twenties and before the union busting and all that. Then came the Depression, and the system was really under threat. And Roosevelt was bright enough to realize that to save the system, they had to institute some reforms. They did. But those reforms where there was relative labor peace in the United States, and relative benign social policies that would have characterized your youth or my childhood. That was a brief interlude in the history of the system. And then when Reagan and Thatcher came along, the gloves came off again and the system revealed its dark underbelly that had never actually been shed. It’s just been covered up. And so since then, inequality has risen. The power of the corporations has risen. The direct influence, in fact, subservience of governments to corporations has become inescapable. So union busting and anti-union laws are again being brought in and practiced. The union system, the union movement has been largely decimated in the United States and largely in Canada as well. So those halcyon days that you look back to, I think was sort of a relatively brief interlude in the life of a world system that whose essential motives and slogans are always domination, power and profit, and it continues to be that way, and that, in turn, has huge health effects on the bodies and minds of the population. And so my little story maybe helps illuminate some of that, as I suppose yours would. But there’s a big story going on here that involves all of us. And the question is, do we recognize that it involves all of us? Or do we continue to look at it as purely isolated individuals? That’s really the issue I’m addressing in this book.

Scheer:

Yeah. So let me take issue with something you said. First of all, I don’t mean to suggest… I was born in 1936, my father lost his job when my parents were garment workers. And, you know, life was very rough. Not quite what you experience and, you know, under Nazi occupation and then in the chaos and then fleeing Hungary after the Russian invasion, reinvasion and occupation of power. But you know, I didn’t present them as halcyon days. And I think it’s important to discuss because they were an attempt not just by capitalists. Obviously, Roosevelt was pushed by a trade union movement to see how, you know, workers struggles, veterans strikes, but they knew something. And you have people, enlightened capitalists in your book. You know, you have Warren Buffett, for instance, saying, yeah, there is a class struggle where we, the rich, are destroying the poor. He goes further than Marx. You got Stiglitz, who was in the Clinton administration, warning, we have plenty of enlightened—well, not plenty—we’ve got a number of even enlightened, wealthy people, which is what Roosevelt came out of. Their point was not that they were halcyon. Their point was: does the system have the capacity to save itself? And that is really… When I got to the point in your book with the very powerful midsection linking… I have to tell people you will find this book very liberating. Not that it denies science, it embraces science, but it frees you from the tyranny that you have the wrong gene or you got the wrong ancestor or so forth. It frees you from a kind of arbitrary babble, mostly, of science. And in that sense, you have to really examine what is the evidence. But when I got to your discussion of why our society is sick, which is after all the big claim of this book, is that our culture is abnormal. The reason I bring up the Roosevelt era, which neoliberalism means, is basically dismantling the wisdom of Roosevelt. So I know this. I interviewed Ronald Reagan at great length in my journalistic career. His father worked for the New Deal. In his own autobiography, he says family would have starved if not for the New Deal. Roosevelt was a hero in Ronald Reagan’s house. Bill Clinton told me exactly the same thing about, you know, coming from a poor background, what was done for them. So, you know, you’ll even have people on Wall Street, Lloyd Blankfein, whose father worked in the New York Post Office telling you, yeah, we had good public schools. What I’m saying is that they’ve even given up that notion of reforming capitalism to save yourself. As a doctor, giving you your analysis, the power of this book is to say, wait a minute, you are not taking care of the patient, which is the public. Right.? Isn’t that the message of this book, that you can just count on your therapist or that pill or that diet to bring you, you know, happiness here? Right? Isn’t that your message?

Maté:

You have the beautiful art of posing a million questions in five or six sentences. And so the question you raised earlier about can this system reform itself? Well, I think theoretically, yes, but it’s at a certain point, in its decline, almost every system comes to a kind of sclerotic relationship to itself. And so you might say the French ruling class could have reformed itself prior to the revolution, but they didn’t. You know? And the signs were coming for a long time. I mean, it’s not that the French Revolution broke out just all of a sudden by accident. You know, it was a long time coming and there were warning signs and the philosophers were warning the ruling class about what was coming and they didn’t reform themselves. You might say the same thing about the Russian ruling class. Prior to the Russian Revolution, there was a revolution in 1905 in Russia. Did the ruling class pay attention and learn its lessons? No, they didn’t. And so at a certain point and I don’t—I’m not a prognosticator, I’m not a futurist, so I don’t know what’s going to happen and when. But ultimately, I think in a system where people are so committed to power and profit, I don’t know that they still have the capacity to reform the system in order to save itself. If that’s the case, let them prove it. My concern is at this point to show people this is how it’s working, people. Don’t look to the leaders who are entrenched and who are at the apex of the system. Don’t look to them to solve the problem for you because they are the problem, you know, and the system that they enforce and and celebrate is the problem. So if you think it can be reformed, more power to you. Prove it to me. But at this point, let’s get realistic about what’s going on. And so you’re quite right, in the last chapter, I’m more of a diagnostician than a surgeon. You know, it’s up to the public. It’s up to all of us to decide what to do with this information. But I do want people to get disillusioned in a very positive sense. I want people to lose their illusions. And that’s why I quote James Baldwin, who said in the last chapter, I quote Baldwin, he said two things that we have to remember. One is he said that not everything that’s faced can be changed, but nothing that’s not faced can be changed, he said. So we have to face the way it is. And he also said that in this country, words are used more to cover the sleeper than to wake them up. And in this book, I’m trying to use my words to wake people up. Really, that’s the essence of it.

Scheer:

But, you know. Okay, I understand that. And yet what… First of all, let me pick a bone here. We last section because… And before we run out of time. And that is, you do seem to embrace… This is where you know, and I think Michael Pollan is great guy. And, you know, I’ve actually had Japanese food with him in Berkeley, but I think, you know, drugs, it’s almost like I ended the book where I started out. You mentioned Ramparts. I mean, I was doing some psychedelics and peyote back then. I get to this end of this book and that’s what we got? I’m going to. I’m going to drop acid or I mean…

Maté:

I didn’t tell anybody to drop acid.

Scheer:

Well, no, but.

Maté:

But listen, I had eight chapters on healing. Okay. Yeah. 32 chapters in the book, eight on healing. One of those is on the potential of psychedelics to help some people overcome mental health issues and addictions. That’s all.

Scheer:

I welcomed that. I think…

Maté:

I’m not a psychedelic evangelist. I don’t think psychedelics are going to change the world or save the world. I’m just saying, among the many healing modalities there is one that is worth considering, that’s all I’m saying.

Scheer:

Sorry, I wasn’t. And by the way, I don’t think Michael Pollan is saying these are going to save us. And I know, I don’t want to demean his work, I think it is quite brave that he did it. What I did feel at the end and as I say, look, I got really engaged with this book in a very positive way, very positive. And I criticize a lot about you know… I have grandchildren and children and I live a normal life. And it raises a lot of questions, as it did for you. You very honestly examine your own behavior, it forced me. I turn to my wife while I was reading it, quoting from your book paragraphs that apply to my misbehavior as a human being, as a parent, and so forth. However, the reason I bring up the end of the book is that in a way, you are still giving us your professional advice as a healer. And I understand that. And I took that away. Yes. Okay. It’s worth the price of the book just to help Bob Scheer heal better. You know, and that’s good. But really, my healing, particularly if I do care about the future of my grandchild or grandchildren, is how do we stop this run amok, world culture now of consumerism of, you know, Huxley’s, you know, officially condoned escapism and drugs. And we are in a dystopia. You know, I did one. You have Chomsky in your book. I did a couple of these podcasts with Chomsky. We talked about which dystopia we are facing is that Orwell or Huxley? Let me kind of end with that for you. And is there an alternative to it?

Maté:

Well, I think there is. And I think some very great people throughout history have offered those alternatives. The world didn’t need my little voice to write them another formula. But I can think of some great people who have provided all kinds of alternatives. They’re called the Buddha and they’re called Jesus. They’re called Kong. They’re called Karl Marx. They’re called Eugene Debs. They’re called all kinds of Martin Luther King. They’re called all kinds, Nelson Mandela they’re called all kinds of names. So the world didn’t need one more blueprint from me because the world doesn’t follow blueprints. My job is just to lay out folks, here’s how it is. This is what it looks like. This is how it functions. This is why it’s working. Now let’s look at some solutions together. The one little suggestion I do make that I think would be essential if we introduce trauma awareness into the education of doctors and educators and legal people. If we become understanding of the pain in this society that’s driving so many people, that’s the underlying dynamic in so much of our politics. Let’s just get realistic about what’s driving so much pain, so much dysfunction. As far as social formulas, I could offer my own particular vision, but much greater people than I have, have offered theirs and I didn’t need to do that.

Scheer:

And I want to end this on… I am so positive about this book. And I’m even sorry that I…

Maté:

No, no, no. Listen, let me interrupt you. I love the debate. I love this engagement. I don’t…we don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, I wouldn’t expect us to, you know.

Scheer:

No, we’re not.

Maté:

What I love is how much you have wrestled with this book and how much you engaged with it.

Scheer:

Hey, I’m on my supposed vacation in Maui. I’ve had nothing but your book in my hand. But let me say, I think I do want to end on a significant note. I think we do all have to survive and we have to make the best of our circumstances. And trust me, I treated the book as a guide to healing myself. Okay. Because, you know, as you point out, you can be raised in some of these families where we just have to save the world, forget about saving our own children or wife or spouse or anything. So the book is a corrective on that. You know, healing yourself is important and you have these chapters that are very instructive.

I should point out you’ve done four major books. You’re not some you know, you’re a major public intellectual in the world. And, you know, and deservedly so. I only want to throw in that while we do that, and we have to do that because people we care about will be hurt if we don’t do that, if we don’t improve ourselves, if we don’t raise children better. I mean, I’m reading your discussion of child raising, I feel great shame, frankly, because I was so busy like you were. I was running around doing the very interviews I’m talking about with famous politicians and running to Washington. And I checked back and my wife was a big editor at the Los Angeles Times and where are the kids and how are they doing? Well,  your work is a great corrective to the people who say, I’m saving the world. No, you can’t save the world if you don’t get yourself straight, if you don’t challenge yourself and you can’t even be a positive force.

So, you know, I’m not nitpicking anything about that thesis of the book. I want to be clear about it. However, as I walk out after I’ve had my session with you as my shrink, I walk out and I say to myself, But also, what am I going to do to fix the larger picture? Because the fact is, we are in deep trouble. That’s what your book makes clear, that that we are in such deep trouble that when we’re talking about the vision of a Donald Trump maybe running the country or a Hillary Clinton with all of her cynicism and, you know, denial, including her husband’s behavior, but everything else about her own upbringing and about reality, the book has a very important message that the big picture is also important. Critical. Maybe we could end on that. I just think if you could summarize it, because you got here. You know, I keep mentioning it’s 500 pages. It could be three books. Okay. But while it’s powerful, it’s powerful. More powerful. Put together. Because while we’re dealing with our own individual family, job situation, it’s not going to make it easier reading your book to go work at an Amazon plant somewhere, but it’ll give somebody a perspective of how it fits in and that is also necessary to healing. Maybe we could end on that. If you kind of go…

Maté:

You just summed up the intention of my book beautifully when you said, What are we going to do to fix the big picture? If people end the book with that question on their lips and in their minds I’ll have succeeded because they have to get that the big picture is inseparable from the small individual picture. So if people can walk away from the book, really engaged with the question, what are we going to do together to solve the big picture? I’ll be very happy and I’m very happy for your understanding of the book. So thank you very much.

Scheer:

Well, let me just say, I think you cannot read this book without walking away, which is why I don’t want to be conspiratorial here. But I think it’s a reason why this book is not getting those reviews, those puffy reviews in the mass media organizations, because it has an uncomfortable message. It’s not all in your individual hands, even if you’re super wealthy, even if you have the biggest toys even of you… You have plenty of examples in your book of very successful people who are miserable and if nothing else, they’re visited with real medical, mental and problems that you can just wish away.

So the book is, again, I want to end by saying this essential reading, you know, it just brings these different worlds together. The people going off on retreats, the healing, the cults, everything else, all that searching for how to be a better person, how to improve, how to relate with, what do we do about maybe that we’re destroying the planet? Why do we have all these refugees? Why do we have so much violence and gun violence and everything? Why do we have the continuation of all these wars? And this is, let me just say it clearly, the book to read, if you want to understand your time. And it’s not just in America. It’s worldwide, it’s a worldwide culture that is examined and it is a culture that this book makes clear is untenable. It’s anti-human, and it cannot continue in its current form.

On that note, thank you, Dr. Maté. I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW, the very good NPR Station in Santa Monica for posting these. Joshua Scheer, our producer, and I want to thank the JKW Foundation and the memory of Jean Stein, a terrific writer, for providing some funding for this show. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.


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