The world needs a ton of fixing and some serious reframing and how we can move humanity in a direction that is both healthy for our environment, for our communities and certainly for ourselves. My next guest offers a unique glass-half-full approach and offers many practical solutions to humanity’s biggest problems.
Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and my next guest is James Baker, who is here to talk about his newest book, Live Forever and Fix Everything: A Practical Plan for a Future That Works for Everyone. Let’s get into it.
Hello my friends and welcome back to Author Hour. I’m super excited today to have my, friend James Baker on the show. James, how are you feeling today? I’m super excited to have you on.
James Baker: Nice to talk with you Hussein, I’m thrilled to be on the show and I’m thrilled to have my book out. I can’t wait to talk about it with you and your listeners.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I’m super excited because you know, like I said, before we got on the recording, that I’ve had a little bit of time with your book and I’ve been kind of sifting through it and man, it is so powerful. It really, like I said earlier, it has this really, glass half-full perspective but it’s much deeper than that.
However, before we get into the book, I really want to give our listeners an idea of who you are and your personal background, perhaps where you grew up and maybe someone that inspired you the most while growing up or something that inspired you. Do we go there a little bit?
James Baker: Well, I’ll date myself here. I remember as a child, I watched my parents watching the television and I’m pretty sure when I pieced it together, it was President Eisenhower’s farewell address but the TV was funny and the top of the TV made everything enlarged, so it looked like he had this big pointy head, a very cone-shaped head on the TV and I could just tell how intent my parents were on what he was saying and I thought, “You know? I don’t think I’m ever going to be that guy on the TV but you know, I could fix the TV, I could make it. Someday, I will be able to make his head look like a normal human being.”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. I love it. So that got you into what world? More technology, what did that lead you into?
James Baker: Well, it just led me to this kind of confidence with physical reality that things can be fixed or changed or you know, it’s making things and modifying things in physical reality is like a language and it’s a language that I spoke and a language that I understand. I used to love to build tree houses. I didn’t really care to play in the tree houses but I would. At one point, when I was seven years old, I had 60 tree houses in this woods behind my house and I got in big trouble because the owner of the woods found them and found my parents and found my house and said, “Don’t do that.”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow, so it sounds like you grew up sort of curious but also seeking ways to fix the world’s problems and in your case, building things, making things, shapeshifting reality and really understanding your place in the world and how you could be, I guess, in a way of service. So that leads you into university thinking in this way and what kind of line of work did you get into?
James Baker: Well, I took a little detour there. My father then became a US Foreign Service officer. So I lived in India, Turkey, Pakistan for a number of years and then came to college in the United States and I had this fantasy that I would be among my own, you know, my own countrymen, countrywomen and that I would find a place and fit right in and feel at home in a way that never had.
Because I was used to being a foreigner, to the point where it was almost more my identity than my circumstances but I also had this fantasy that there were circumstances where that wouldn’t be true. So I show up in college in Portland, Oregon. I went to Reed College in Portland, Oregon and I felt just like a complete fish out of water, “What was I thinking? This is not…” I kept turning over every rock and not really finding this notion of home that I thought was there.
Although, you know, I couldn’t have said any of this in words but one day, it just clicked that, “Well, you know, if I don’t find a place, maybe I can make one.” So at that point, I kind of changed my focus from literature and philosophy to more of…well actually, I got a job working in a radio station. I fell back on my sort of tendency or my interest in electronics and technology and so I became a self-taught engineer.
Over the course of years, I then worked in that field and started businesses in that field. So that’s kind of my background in a nutshell.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Very powerful. Yeah, what a journey, man. You know, for me, this is the place where I feel like humanity connects to who you are and how your book came to be for me and our audience, of course. For me, you know, by just you sharing that, you know, I grew up in Portland, Oregon, I actually live very close to Reed College. So it’s just interesting, you know, the way the fabric moves us, right?
But I came from like a refugee family and sort of immigrated here and so it’s interesting to me that you also kind of grew up in the Middle East or at least had a taste of what that waws like for you and feeling like a foreigner in that kind of environment to where I felt, of course, a foreigner here. So you know, these kinds of stories and these kinds of things happen in this overlap when we get to share our stories, which is so powerful about you know, writing a book and who we are.
But you know, in your book, Live Forever and Fix Everything, which is just an amazing title, you cover a wide range of topics that are impacting humanity. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of you sort of going through and choosing the topics to include in the book because it’s such a complex range, right? How did you go about that process?
James Baker: I guess I started from the premise that the world’s problems are interrelated and it’s probably not wise to try to separately solve everything piece meal, given that there is such a synergy between either cascading problems or cascading or reinforcing solutions or improvements and I guess I want to be careful here to not act like there’s necessarily one solution to everything and I don’t think that my book is by any stretch the only way that the future can turn out in a positive regard but it’s one way.
So I decided I would just thread my imagination through every problem that seemed overwhelming by itself and find the synergy there. So I talk about our relationship to nature, for example, including climate change and the oceans and you know, there’s hundreds of ways in which the way that humanity has dealt with the natural world is not, you know, not the best thing we could have done.
But probably closer to home, I try to deal with ways that people treat each other. I talk about you know, everything from mass genocide to micro-aggressions, along a continuum there. Again, try to weave together how taken from a stance of just kind of backing up and starting over, how would we organize human relationships, how would we organza society and with my emphasis and my background in technology, I see of course, the way that social media has changed relationships and you know, before that, literacy.
And so I try to project that into the future in terms of what could we do with new technology that’s on the horizon or maybe over the horizon but just not in widespread use yet. So then I found, you know, kind of breaking down all the world’s problems there. I don’t try to be exhaustive but I try to kind of batch things into a list that covers all the bases and I pretty much sorted everything into kind of eight big columns, eight big categories.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, it’s very powerful because again, you know, you talk about it in the beginning of this amazing book that you talk about, you know, you bring me right into the three sort of ultimatums that we have. Can you talk about those sorts of three things that we really have to understand about humanity moving forward? And then we’ll go in there a little bit deeper. Can you share with the audience what those three things are?
Three Directions of Humanity’s Future
James Baker: Yeah, right at the introduction of the book, I say the future of humanity can go one of three ways. Number one, we annihilate ourselves and go extinct. Number two, we continue to muddle along. Number three, we learn to live forever and fix everything. So and of course, this is my book is about option number three.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, so talk to me about that, you know? How do you — you know, to conceptualize this idea, it was living forever and fixing everything, obviously not all at once. So I guess, in your scenario and in your case studies, where do we start with where we’re at right now as individual, as I guess, businesses and perhaps policy making? Where do we go from here?
James Baker: Well, I separate out the live forever from the fix everything. I mean, death is one of the things I want to fix but I’m making it a separate category in this regard because living forever and the immortality is never a state that we obtain, it’s always a work in progress. We could, you know, live on for thousands of years and then die the next day. That’s always a possibility.
So it’s always one day at a time but what changes is the nature and the flavor of those days. If we’re not anticipating a long and painful decline or possibly a short and you know, it could be short and painless decline but in any event, the difference is that we live I think with more inner peace, with more resolve. It’s clear that procrastination will not pay off anything that’s worth doing eventually is worth doing now.
Anybody that we don’t get along with, we can’t say, “Well, I’ll just ignore them” and eventually the problem will go away.” No, we have to deal with that. Anything that we are going to the earth that’s unsustainable we’ll go, “Well, I’m going to be one of the ones here to reap the effects of that.” So it leads to a deeper sense of living. Then the very same way that phrase, live each day as if it’s your last, it’s the same thing.
It’s like if you live each day as if you’re going to continue living, you’re going to live more profoundly in the moment and I think that more than anything else, it’s that attitude that we need and I talk about immortality thinking and death row thinking and you know, I use the example, it’s really hard to maintain a healthy weight and stop smoking and all that if you’re on death row. You know, you know you’re going to be executed.
It’s sort of like, “What’s the point?” and I think we all suffer from some of that psychology just given the way that our lives have been but medical science and non-medical science is changing in a way that makes immortality sounds like a really long time but think about in terms of escape velocity.
In other words, if we can extend human lifespan like what we have done, we’ve extended it, you know, 40 years or so over the last hundred years. Well, if we could extend it another 40 years over the next 40 years, you can see where this goes, we stay ahead of the game.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Interesting and very powerful. I like this idea of, it’s bringing your attention back to the moment, bringing your attention back to the reality of your awareness and the more aware we become as to how all of these interchangeable, interconnected things impact us, then it’s time to make improved decisions, right?
I think, if I’m not mistaken, this idea of, “If I’m living forever, then how do I sustain that, you know? What does that look like?” But then at the same time, I could potentially die tomorrow but if I don’t know that, then I have to sustain this existence and my relationships with everything I‘m around, my environment, the people around me, all these things.
That’s a very powerful way to approach it because in the face of death, I guess we’re all naked, right? You said a lot of our ego are traumatizing sort of events because I feel like in that moment, for me, I realize that when my father passed that “Oh wow, like this is certainly going to happen to me” there’s no question.
So, how am I really going to live my life moving forward? And when you come to terms with, I feel like that side of yourself and humanity, like this shift in thinking really starts to take shape and place. It’s not, I don’t think it’s overnight. I guess, perhaps for some people, it might be but yeah, like you know, you talk about this in chapter seven, the concept of immortality and its potential impact on society, which is again, very powerful.
You go deep into that and I…a lot of our audience to go pick this book up because it made me sort of really think about my immortality and what does it mean to live on and I love the distinction between living forever and fixing everything. There are two different worlds. So in Chapter 5, you addressed the importance of relationships and how they can be improved.
Can you share some of the key takeaways you hope readers will gain from this specific chapter around relationships?
James Baker: If you look at the nature of society, we’ve done a fantastic job and capitalism for example, has done a fantastic job at allocating scarce resources through the price system. I refer to Maslow’s five hierarchy of needs with the physical being at the bottom and then safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization.
But our world economy really only deals with level one, the physical reality and so we don’t get rewarded in esteem for the good we do in the world. I mean, maybe a little bit indirectly but I think we could build in a world economy that addresses not only the physical reality of goods and services but the place where we actually live inside are in our experience.
And by this, I mean that there are things that we could do for each other that we don’t do because maybe we do them a little bit but it’s not organized in a structure the way that an economy is, so that we could have a very straightforward procedure that translates the good that we each do in the world into a kind of currency that is the stuff of esteem and safety.
And by this, I mean the real safety to be ourselves, both tender and bold at the same time, as well as just cordial in our relations with each other. So I first back up a little bit and talk about relationships as they are, I think frankly, devolving under what I call surveillance capitalism.
I mean, other people call it surveillance capitalism where there’s a sense that we’re kind of being tracked and monitored and it’s going into our permanent record and things like that as supposed to a world of safety and honest scheming to genuinely make each other’s and our own lives better. That’s not the focus of most people’s actions when they get up in the morning and it could be.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, it’s very powerful because I feel like you know, this idea that you know, how we see ourselves in all of this really matters and I think throughout your book, you discuss very practical, you know, it seemed like very practical solutions to the problems that face humanity. Would you be willing to share one or two examples of those solutions that you believe have the most potential for creating a better life or a better future.
Solutions to Humanity’s Problems
James Baker: Sure. One of the things that I imagine, I’ll get, you know, why they criticized, I take the notion of urban density, which I’m in favor of urban density. I take it to its natural conclusion and go, “What if we built basically one giant city for all of humanity now and in the future at the peak human population?” which I’m estimating to be about 11 billion people and instead of having the buildings and trees and cars and bike lanes and train tracks and all of the things that we build in a city, if we just thought that through from the beginning again, what could we do, and it’s surprisingly practical.
I come up with a cylindrical city of basically one enclosure, one building, although it’s bigger and more robust than a building with train tracks and things inside, it is only about 60 miles around, a cylinder about 60 miles around, 150 stories tall and then surrounded by two concentric rings. The first one is vertical farms and the second one is solar power energy collector, solar cells and some of the other statistics are I think very cool.
Like you could meet face-to-face with anyone in under 12 minutes, so imagine the world with that level of convenience. The other part of course is that 99 plus percent of the land that we occupy could revert to the wild. You could still go camping but we would take a much more modest hit on nature this way and I think live in a way that could be spectacular. Honestly, of the few people I’ve talked to, it totally repulses some of them.
They go, “Wow, that’s interesting. I’d never live there” and I go, “Would you go there on vacation?” and you know, not so much. So I look forward to having a dialogue on this one because in my mind, it’s this fantastic place with, honestly, with gardens, with trails, with nature, with I’m imagining the walls are glass in many cases and filled with plants that are for ornamentation but also for dinner.
I’m imagining something that I wish we would do now that is create patterned laminar flow airflow in the buildings, so that we don’t inhale each other’s exhale and we pretty much eliminate respiratory virus transmission that way and I think that we can do with engineering what we have done with space but we can do it a whole lot better. Anyway, that’s just one of the ways I talk about addressing a particular problem, in this case, the problem of humans relationship with the natural world.
The other key element of that that I forgot to mention was that all of the rooms that we live in collapse accordion style when they’re not in use. So if you think about your house or whatever you sit, I mean, just think about where you’re sitting right this minute or standing or whatever you’re doing, how many rooms are in the building and how many of those rooms have people in them?
All of the rooms without people in them don’t really need to take up space while they’re unoccupied and with, I don’t know, I am reluctant to call it robots but with mechanization, those rooms could just crunch into almost nothing and then you could have as many rooms as you want just only one or two at a time.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, so probably this idea of like a room expanding. You know, I studied architecture in school, so this is right up my alley in this world of thinking in the future and what does living look like and feel like and I think the more time we can spend outdoors, right? And our space is sort of get rid of us in a way throughout the evenings or the day, whatever it is, so that we can explore nature in a beautiful new type of way, right?
Thinking about those kinds of things is so powerful. Have you seen the concept and I’m not sure if they started yet or not, it’s called The Line in Saudi Arabia.
James Baker: In Saudi Arabia, yeah, Neom.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, have you seen this? What are your takes on that?
James Baker: I have seen some of the plans, plans keep evolving and changing. It’s kind of all one line. Honestly, I think it’s a little grotesque. It doesn’t feel to me like it’s really focused on living in harmony either with nature or with each other. It feels a little bit like flaunting wealth. I don’t mean to be…
Hussein Al-Baiaty: No, no, no, I appreciate that perspective because it was interesting. I feel like some of your ideas sort of exists in this potential space, right? In this idea of a future, what does a future city look like, all those kinds of things because they’re so unnatural and how it’s positioned, all these things are so—they very much push the limit of how we think about ourselves and how we live.
So that kind of creates the friction, I think for me, and it sounds like it does for you too and you’re right in the sense that is this a flex of wealth or is this actual thinking about how do we create sustainable cities that can in capture so many people but make it in a way that is very healthy. Yeah, that’s a very interesting sway between those two things for sure.
James Baker: My thought is if I look where I am right now, I don’t really see anything natural. I see walls, I see a ceiling, I see a door. If we’re going to live in a place that is of our own construction anyway, let’s make it art, let’s make it creatively inviting and then the same with nature. I remember in Hawaii, I stayed in a resort or a hotel there one time where all of the transitions from inside to outside were graduated.
So there was kind of a continuum between the garden and the lobby for example and I imagine that. So I am imagining in the city that I imagine, I’m imagining at the top 15 floors have glass or transparent floors and so on the very top, you’re outside but the sunlight trickles down through the open spaces. You are not being spied upon by people down below. There’s a big circle that follows you around on a system like an LCD screen.
They kind of ebb and flow and move quietly and most of them are just decoys but some of them are to hide the movements of specific people. From below, it feels like the sun is wafting through the leaves. So 15 floors down, you’re under a deep canopy, it’s like being in the Black Forest but two floors down, it’s like a sunny day in the park with some trees overhead.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, it’s so powerful. You know, you have this very unique vision and you eloquently lay it out throughout the book and you know, there’s tons of practical solutions, you know, building a giant city is one of them. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, this advents in of course, crypto currency and how does that play into, I know you talk about that a little bit but how does the financial world look in a future where we could potentially live in maybe multiple types of cities like the one that you described in the future?
What does that look like? What does financial, I guess, what does capitalism look like at that point?
Future of the Financial World
James Baker: I devote more pages in the book to basically reinventing or restructuring the money system. I spend more pages on that than anything else. I do it twice. In the first case, I come up with a money system that it kind of mirrors the system we have but it’s different in that each person mints their own currency. In other words, you have a currency that is based on the full faith and trust of you, Hussein, and so how much is that worth?
Well, it’s basically worth your word. It’s worth your history, it’s like your points on eBay or Airbnb or something like that but with a whole lot more nuance and specifically, it’s based on not just do you pay your bills on time. That’s a pretty low bar. It’s actually based on are you a positive influence in the lives of the people that you touch with your economic transactions.
So instead of just delivering good customer service of doing what you say you’re going to do or being a good customer by not flaking out on your bills, everyone is motivated to be thinking ahead to you know, “How can I actually do better than what’s expected?” So your rating in this regard, it doesn’t stop when you get to what we now think of is perfect. It really just starts there and gets better.
So if you read a book for example and then over the decades it changes your life and then you come back to how profound and influential it was, you can retroactively adjust its value to you, which then is feedback that is put into a system that will help other people who are interested in the same sort of thing be able to find and value that book and you mentioned crypto. I talk about cryptography and cryptology and I call it all crypto but I am not talking about cryptocurrency specifically.
I’m talking about the technology that, well, hopefully keeps your bank information safe and your web searches harder to snoop on but I take that technology and use it kind of as a building block. I think there are just so many places where that technology can alter the rules of the playing field of how we interact with each other in a positive way but only if enough people understand what’s possible and I liken it to electricity.
We pretty much all have electricity literacy. We know that electricity can make recordings of accurate visual and auditory recordings of what happened, you know, last week but we also know that it can’t show us recordings and audio-visual things of what’s going to happen next week. We innately have that sort of literacy about electricity and I used the thought, it doesn’t really matter if we know exactly how it works as long as we know who to call when it doesn’t work.
But we need that basic literacy of what it can do and what it can’t do. So I think when we each get that or you know, when enough people get that notion, the very powerful things that cryptography can do, alter relationships and human behavior in a positive way. I think that that will really reflect public policy, you know, law and trade and so on.
For example, there are ways of having a kind of a continuous surveillance state in which no one can actually see what’s being recorded unless something horrific happens and enough people who were there voluntarily offer to give up their privacy and this is not because we trust some system, it’s because we understand and trust the math and the logic of cryptography. So if you have a system like at the Boston Marathon bombing.
So if you were standing there, picking your nose or whatever and there’s a public outcry of like, “Anybody here please let us look on the video on this” you’re going to go, “Ah, you know, so they see me picking my nose. Okay, I will do that for the public good.” If it’s, I don’t know, somebody selling weed in a state where you’re not supposed to do that, you’re probably not going to get that public response.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, it’s very powerful and wherever you are in that sort of spectrum, the idea is that there are potential solutions and how we look at those solutions can really impact how we see our self and see our communities, I think it’s all very powerful. James, writing a book is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of figuring out how much of the cup that you fill from the waterfall of wisdom, right? And really bring forth to the reader, what was your favorite part of putting this whole book together?
James Baker: Boy, that’s a good question.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I stumped you, didn’t I? No.
James Baker: You did. You did. I had a few moments where I just felt inspired as I was writing and those made it into the book almost verbatim and then I had days and days where I would just beat my head against the wall but I discipline myself to just keep writing and never look back and just spit stuff out and honestly, I would say that that totally didn’t work the first time and I ended up with a giant heap of unusable material in no particular order.
But what I was able to do is to sort and categorize all of that and kind of put it into piles of like topics and then sit back and I spend about three weeks organizing it all into an outline and then after I had that outline that covered what I wanted to say, I was able to go through that process again of just writing and not looking back and end up with something that was pretty good or that you know, could be edited into the book.
I think this is kind of what you were saying, Hussein, it’s I try to make it fast-paced so that you’re not left studying something. You are left thinking, “What happens next?” and I think that in most cases, I was able to do that with possibly two exceptions where I have to apologize all around because what I wrote was a compromise between what some very interested and technical people might want in terms of detail and what would be too boring for other readers.
So I expect that almost everybody will find that a little bit wanting in one direction or the other and I’ve tried to kind of split the difference and then I put all the numbers and calculations into an appendix at the back. If it was me, I would read every word of that but then I’m not my average reader, so I don’t expect the average reader—
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s there for whoever needs it, yes, definitely. Well, James my friend, I mean, it’s been an honor sitting with you and just learning a little bit about the way you see the world, you see yourself, you see the rest of us and how we can all come together through building relations and improving and really looking to the future optimistically and realizing there are plenty of solutions available to us.
It is how we choose to see ourselves and our future generations but you really put a spotlight on these practical solutions, which I really love and I’m glad we kind of got the opportunity to dive into them and again, an honor sitting with you and getting to know you a little bit further. I learned so much, so thank you for sharing your stories and your experiences of course with me and the audience.
The book is called, Live Forever and Fix Everything: A Practical Plan for a Future That Works for Everyone. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you James?
James Baker: My title, liveforeverandfixeverything.com, is the website. You can also do Live Forever Fix Everything, it works with or without the “and” dot com and I have my email on there as well if people want to reach out and comment on anything. I try to respond to each one or if they are very similar, I group them together and respond to two or three in the same response.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Beautiful. Well again James, thank you so much for compounding your entire, I feel like, field of wisdom and really helping us see a better, brighter, more beautiful future where we can really be sustainable and work in ways that serve all of our communities and for certainly for sure, back to serving ourselves in those positive ways. So thanks again, much appreciated, have a fantastic rest of your day, my friend.
James Baker: Thanks Hussein.
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