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Thom Hartmann Interview


Bob Seay from the ADD area on about.com, conducted a telephone interview with Thom Hartmann.

Here is a copy of the transcript.

Bob Seay: I've got to ask this. You're ADD, right? 

Thom Hartmann: (laughs) Oh, yeah. Big time. 

Bob Seay: The people who write about ADD, you, and Lynn Weiss, and Dr. Hallowell, are all ADDers. Do you think it hurts their credibility any? 

Thom Hartmann: No. 

Bob Seay: If you didn't have ADD, would you feel the same way? 

Thom Hartmann: I don't have any idea. 

Bob Seay: (laughs) How do you separate that, right? 

Thom Hartmann: Its hard to answer a hypothetical question, but in terms of my, you know, confessing to the world that I have ADD and does that hurt my credibility... I have never had somebody come up to me and say "Because you're ADD you have no right to write about it." In fact, the opposite has happened. 

Bob Seay: But we live in a culture where the people who are "experts" , quote unquote, on pregnancy are men. You know? What's up with that? 

Thom Hartmann: That's changing. There are a lot more women out there. And I think in this field particularly... John Ratey and Ned Hallowell created an atmosphere where therapists felt OK to come out of the closet, and.. there are a lot of good therapists out there who are ADD. 

Bob Seay: When you wrote Attention Deficit Disorder : A Different Perception you were one of the first to come out and say that ADD is not a "Disorder". Is the Hunter in a Farmer's World theory becoming more accepted? 

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, (laughs) you know, they say at first new ideas are ridiculed, then they are despised, and fought against, and then everybody says that they're self evident -- what's new? 

Bob Seay: Just for people who don't know what the Hunter/Farmer theory is, could you describe that quickly? Just so they're more familiar with it. 

Thom Hartmann: I'd say that basically its that the collection of characteristics that we call ADD are things that in a Hunting society would make a person more successful, whereas, in an agricultural society they would be a liability. 

Bob Seay: ...and since we live in an agricultural society.... I have hard time getting that across to people too, people who have never seen a farm.. 

Thom Hartmann: We live actually, ...well, the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago led to the agricultural age, which ended about 200 years ago, with the industrial revolution. 

Bob Seay: But even with the industry, its still all dependent on a steady food source... 

Thom Hartmann and I talked about another mutual interest, author Daniel Quinn. Isn't it wild when you meet someone you really respect and find out they read the same books as you? Hartmann's most recent book, The Prophet's Way, touches on many of the same topics as Dan Quinn's work, but with a far different tone. It's more of, in Thom Hartmann's words, "the spiritual autobiography of an ADDer,". Back to the interview... 

Thom Hartmann: But see, if you look at it in terms of behavior, those behaviors that make a good farmer - going out and picking bugs off plants all day long - also make a person a good factory worker, putting the same screw on the same bolt all day long. And so the set of behaviors that I am referring to are also industrial. In other words, the industrial age, in terms of behavior, is simply an extension of the agricultural revolutionary age. 

Bob Seay: Yeah, why do they call it a plant? 

Thom Hartmann: (laughs) Yeah. (laughs) Same kind of thinking. 

Bob Seay: So, with computers, and everything else, are we coming back around to where a Hunter mentality is more useful? Or is there always going to be this kind of friction between the two cultures? 

Thom Hartmann: I don't know. 

(Note: Whenever he says "I don't know", its always quick, and run together as one word - "Idon'tknow." Thom Hartmann's voice reminds me of a radio news anchor... a really good radio news anchor, like someone from NPR. I kept wanting to hum "All Things Considered". ) 

You know, historically, when hunting and farming societies collided, there was conflict. But that might not have been a bad thing. It might have served to strengthen and reinforce the individual identities of those two communities. 

Bob Seay: I came across this article by Tom Hunt, "Gray Peppered Moths and Brilliant Minds" in which he writes that ADD is an evolutionary adaptation TO the culture we are creating. He uses the London Gray Moth as an example of adaptation to a changing environment. You say, in the "Hunter" theory, that ADD is an evolutionary remnant of sorts. Are we "coming from" or "going to" ADD? 

Thom Hartmann: I don't think that ADD is "one thing." Therefore, I believe it's overly simplistic for me or anybody else to say that it's an old-time or a new-time adaptation. The London moth is a great example of how rapidly evolution can happen, but it's also important to keep in mind that the moth has one to five new generations *every year*, whereas it takes us, on average, 20 years to produce a generation. 

(Note from Bob Seay: This generational aspect was discussed at ADDA. While non-ADDers tend to have, on average, about four generations per century, ADDers tend to have five. We just "get to it" at a younger age!) 

So our evolutionary processes will necessarily move much slower. I do, however, think that what was once an "old" adaptation is now becoming again useful (and has always been useful in many contexts, which is why the US was conquered and the light bulb invented, etc.) in a broad sense. 

Bob Seay: One of your articles I read, "Why are so many smart children are failing in public schools, or something like that, talked about that. What can we do to make our schools more "hunter friendly"? 

Thom Hartmann: The way that we learn almost everything in life, we learn through number 1: observation, number 2: experience and number 3: through teaching others. Three different ways that we learn. That's how we learn to ride a bicycle, that's how we learn about relationships, that's how we learn to walk.. that's how we learn all the functional things, through one or more of those three ways, or all three. 

There are very few things in life that we learn simply by hearing a lecture, and/or reading a book, that are learned in a way that is lasting or accessible to us at a time in our lives when we need them. Why don't we bring our schools in line with that? 

I read an interesting thing last night. Where did I read it? I'm not sure. Anyhow, it said that our modern schools are set up to teach the medieval skills of a scribe, reproducing a Bible by writing another one on a piece of paper by hand word per word. That was the job of those scribes and scribeners. That's how publishing began. And our schools are set up along medieval lines to teach these medieval skills. 

Oh I remember where I read it. It was in an article on how ADD and Dyslexia may actually be useful skills in the technology age, whereas they weren't in the agricultural and industrial age... oh here it is right here. You might want to catch this. This is really a cool article. Its called "A Future of Reversals: Dyslexic Talents in a World of Computer Initialization" by Thom G. West, in the "Annals of Dyslexia, volume 42, 1992". 

Bob Seay: There's another book on the shelves now called "The Gift of Dyslexia". 

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Ron Davis wrote that. I was on CNN with him, and went to lunch with him. He's a great guy and its a fabulous book. 

Anyhow, in this article, he makes the point that we're teaching these medieval skills, which are no longer needed,. and we're doing it in a medieval fashion, and neither one really apply anymore. And so we need to change our schools. 

We see this in private schools, even public schools have experimented with this. Their teaching systems become more experience based; that is, the kids get to actually do things. They become more visual, the kids can see things; and become teaching based. Like in the schools in Taiwan, most of the teaching is dome by the students, not by the teachers. The teacher will identify the person in class who knows the lesson, and those children will teach the lesson to the other children everyday. The teacher's primary job is to facilitate children teaching each other. In the Taiwanese public schools, students regularly out perform those of America, any European country or Japan. 

Bob Seay: But there's cultural differences there too. 

Thom Hartmann: Somewhat, but actually Taiwan culture is not all that different from American culture in many ways. The Taiwanese are to China what the Americans were to Britain. Chiang Kai-sheck tried to overthrow China, lost, fled to Taiwan (what used to be called Formosa) and set up his country, and its a country of rebels and misfits.. 

Bob Seay: like America, or Australia 

Thom Hartmann: ... yeah, and its got a lot of what we would call ADD that you see there, that you don't so much see in China. I've been to both places....so anyway 

Thom Hartmann: ... The more we can make our schools experienced based, visual based and teaching base, the more friendly they will be for ADD kids, because ADD kids thrive in that kind of an environment. The more effective they will be at teaching ALL children. 

Bob Seay: Even the "Farmer" children? 

Thom Hartmann: Sure. Absolutely. It turns out that those things that help ADD kids help ALL kids to learn. 

Bob Seay: In "A Different Perception", you were saying that what usually happens in "Gifted and Talented" classes is that a Farmer type kid does well in the regular class, so we pull them out, we put them in this type of curriculum, and then they flounder. 

Thom Hartmann: Sometimes, yeah. 

Bob Seay: Yet we have the "Hunter" kids, who would do well in the non-linear classes, yet they often don't make it with the criteria to get into the program. 

Thom Hartmann: Right 

Bob Seay : How do we correct that? 

Thom Hartmann: That's a big problem. I was talking about that at ADDA, and one of the teachers in the audience stood up and said that the TARGET programs, which is what I was referring to in my book, were originally set up for bright kids that were failing. And they never used the phrase ADD.. it was set up long before ADD came along, before we popularized it at least. 

These TARGET classes were set up for those kids who were failing in conventional school settings for an unconventional learning opportunity and that as they became established, and desirable, that is, the kids in these classes did better than the kids in the regular classroom, it became a "Gifted Student" class. And the way that the schools have historically defined "gifted students" is those kids who do well on tests, because that's the only criteria they have. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail. The only tool schools have is a test, so everything is based on how well you do on a test. Which is unfortunate. 

Note from Bob Seay: for more info on this, take a look at Why do So Many Smart Children with ADD Fail in Our Public Schools

Bob Seay: And with these students, how do you tell what's normal adolescent behavior and what's ADD behavior? A lot of those seem to cross. 

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. I don't know. I'm not sure that really is any "one thing" that is ADD. We've taken a step in the direction of identifying a collection of behaviors that are grounded in something. And there are those people who have done research, started in Israel a couple of years ago on "The Novelty Seeking" gene. 

Bob Seay: "Novelty Seeking"? 

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. They've identified the specific gene that is associated with this novelty seeking behavior. And they've done research on that. There are those people who are suggesting now that perhaps what we're calling ADD is just people who are genetically predisposed to seek novelty, that is, to always want variety in their life. 

Bob Seay: Sort of goes along with the "impulsivity" component of the diagnosis. 

Thom Hartmann: Could be, yeah. They want novelty so bad that they just have to get it. 

Bob Seay: I've been reading a lot of stuff about Reward Deficiency. Is it like that? 

Thom Hartmann: Could be. You're talking about Barkley's concept of ADD as being a problem of inhibition and disinhibition? I don't know.... I think that's still real arguable, because the ability to postpone gratification ...we don't know yet if that's learned or if that's hard wired. And in fact, the twin studies, that Barkley cites, with fraternal twins, if one is ADD, the other is, I don't remember, but I think it was 34% more likely to be ADD... that is 34% of the time, the other one is ADD. 

Bob Seay: What about identical twins? 

Thom Hartmann: Its 51%. Now, what that says is one the one hand , is that clearly there is a genetic component, but on the other hand, that at least half of it's not. 

Bob Seay: So with these "Reward Deficiency" and "Impulse Seeking" behaviors, is that part of the reason why we see so many ADD people in addiction recovery, or in addiction period? 

Thom Hartmann: Again, I don't know. (Idon'tknow) I just don't know. I mean there a lot of different ways to look at that. You get so many ADD people in addiction because ADD in some way makes people predisposed to be addicted, by using theories of reward deficiency or disinhibition. Or, you could say you see so many people in addiction because ADD causes people to feel like outsiders to begin with, to they're more likely to ignore the "no" rules of society and experiment with things. Or you could say that you see more of them because ADD causes people to not be as successful in our traditional school systems, thus less likely to have their lives occupied with full time things, like being a surgeon and going off to work everyday, although the rate of drug abuse among doctors is higher than the general population . So who knows? 

There's so many different ways that you can spin these different perspectives that anyone, including me, that says "this is the answer" is just blowing steam. 

Bob Seay: Well, at this point especially. I mean, we're talking, especially about Adult ADD, we're talking about a syndrome that wasn't even identified until what? Ten years ago? 

Thom Hartmann: Right 

Bob Seay: Something like that. 

Thom Hartmann: Well... it was. It was called "Residual Type", and it was considered rare. 

Bob Seay: Now it seems like ADDers are crawling out of the woodwork, which kind of leads to another issue. Are we doing overkill? Is ADD over diagnosed? 

Thom Hartmann: Right. Over diagnosing and under diagnosing. I wrote about this a lot in "Beyond ADD"

Bob Seay: Great book. 

Thom Hartmann: You've got some parents who are pushing for diagnosis for their kid because they want Ritalin because it improves academic performance, which it very often does, even in non-ADD kids. Its the reason why the US Air Force gave amphetamine drugs to all of its pilots from the '30's right up to the Gulf War. 

There's the kind of "disease of the month" fad, that we went through with herpes, and chronic fatigue syndrome, and now with ADD. 

On the other hand, I think its being under diagnosed. There's a lot of people, particularly those who don't have access to psychologists, psychiatrists, in lower socio-economic groups, who are not being diagnosed and as a result of that, failing in the system, and being told that their failure is a consequence of their being "bad people". They fail, and end up in mental institutions, or living on the street, or in prison. 

And so, I think we have on some levels, a certain level of over diagnosis, I don't think its significant, and, again, I think we have some that are undiagnosed. Frankly, I think that's the much bigger problem. 

The book Beyond ADD : Hunting for Reasons in the Past & Present is a must read for those who are looking for possible causes for ADD. When I asked Thom Hartmann about it, he said it was his favorite ADD book he had written. 

Thom Hartmann: It's the most far-out and controversial, and yet in many ways I think it's the most solid and important of my books on ADD. 

Bob Seay: Let's talk about careers. Are there some careers that are more suited towards ADD than others? 

Thom Hartmann has written at length about jobs and ADD and all that sort of thing in his books Focus Your Energy, and ADD Success Stories

Thom Hartmann: I think any kind of job where there's a lot of variety in the work, where the person has some structure, enough to keep them on task, has some freedom, enough where they don't feel confined, and has a lot of variety is going to be a job a person with ADD will do well in, and stay with for a long time. Its a question of finding those jobs. In almost every profession or field there is a subset of that profession or field where that description works. 

Bob Seay: Should I tell my employer I'm ADD? 

Thom Hartmann: I would be very careful about doing that. 

Bob Seay: Even with the ADA stuff in place? 

Thom Hartmann: Well see, what you're doing there, if its a big company, you're saying "I'm disabled, you have to deal with me different than everybody else." You're setting up a potential for confrontation. 

On the other hand, if you want compensation, or accommodation, that's the way to do it. I've just heard so many horror stories from people over the years who told their employers and found themselves unemployed quickly. 

Bob Seay: What are "reasonable accommodations"? 

Thom Hartmann: I don't know. That depends entirely on the job situation. And on the person. Again, you know, some people who are ADD don't have a big problem with an environment where there is a lot going on around them. In fact, they crave it. A lot of people who are ADD are so distractible that if they don't have an office where they can close the door, they can't get anything done. 


Bob Seay: I was so excited after my own diagnosis that I rushed right in and told my boss. Now I'm wondering if that was a wise thing to do. 

Thom Hartmann: (laughs, really laughs) Well... time will tell. 

Bob Seay: Yeah, (laughs) time will tell. (gulp) 

Well, thanks for the interview! I have really enjoyed this. 

Thom Hartmann: Sure, if you have any other questions, I'm always here. 


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