Low Testosterone and Scarcity: A Glimpse Into the Future of Mankind

scarcityYep, I’m working on a new book. When I saw the August 18, 2014 cover story for Time magazine—Manopause?! Aging, Insecurity and the $2 Billion Testosterone Industry—I knew it was time to tell men and women over 40 what I know about Manopause and Low T.

The story, for me, started in April, 1993. While browsing my local bookstore, Book Passage, I was drawn to a copy of Vanity Fair magazine. Well to be perfectly honest, I was drawn to the cover photo of Sharon Stone, nude to the waist, with her hands cupping, but only partially covering, her breasts. Sharon was staring seductively into my eyes with two inch letters emblazoned across her bare midriff proclaiming, “WILD THING!” I immediately bought the magazine. I was sure there was something important Sharon had to tell me.

However, I never read the article to find out, because just to the left of Sharon’s blond hair, right below the dateline, were the words that grabbed my attention and changed the course of my life. They said, “Male Menopause: The Unspeakable Passage by Gail Sheehy.” I had no idea what “male menopause” was, but I intuitively felt I was going through it. I knew Sheehy had written a book on menopause and wondered how she would compare it to “male menopause.” Her comparison was concise, clear, and unsettling.

“If menopause is the silent passage, ‘male menopause’ is the unspeakable passage. It is fraught with secrecy, shame, and denial. It is much more fundamental than the ending of the fertile period of a woman’s life, because it strikes at the core of what it is to be a man.”

After reading the article I had more questions than answers. I knew I had to write a book. That began a literary odyssey which produced five books Male Menopause (1997), Surviving Male Menopause (2000), The Whole Man Program (2002), The Irritable Male Syndrome (2004), and Stress Relief for Men (2014). In the books I dealt with a range of issues that impact men at mid-life including depression, loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, loss of energy, and low testosterone. Now it’s time for a new book which will help guide men and the families who love them.

“Low T” is just one of the things that tell us that something is wrong in our lives. To understand the impact that decreasing testosterone has on the lives of aging men, we need to take a closer look at how scarcity impacts the lives of us all.

Scarcity: The Dis-Ease of Our Times

Most of us are impacted by scarcity. In their book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton professor of psychology Eldar Shafir define scarcity simply as “having less than you feel you need.”  Most all of us feel we have less time than we need to get everything done and less money than we need to pay all our bills. Many of us also feel we don’t have enough intimacy and love and some of us feel we could use more testosterone.

On the surface all these feelings of “not enough” seem like separate issues. But Mullainathan and Shair show that they are all related and that scarcity can feed on itself and lead to unforeseen problems for all of us. Drawing on cutting-edge research from behavioral science and economics, Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need.

Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students and busy executives mismanage their time, and why midlife men often feel that testosterone will solve all their problems. Once we start thinking in terms of scarcity and the strategies it imposes, the problems of modern life come into sharper focus.

Scarcity is a broad concept that extends well beyond these specific issues. The problem of unemployment, for example, is also the problem of financial scarcity. The loss of a job makes a household’s budget suddenly tight—too little income to cover the mortgage, car payments, and day-to-day expenses. The problem of increasing social isolation—”bowling alone”—is a form of social scarcity, of people having too few social bonds.

The problem of obesity is also, perhaps counterintuitively, a problem of scarcity. Sticking to a diet requires coping with the challenge of having less to eat than you feel accustomed to—a tight calorie budget or calorie scarcity. The problem of global poverty—the tragedy of multitudes of people around the world making do with a dollar or two a day—is another kind of financial scarcity. Unlike the sudden and possibly fleeting tightening of one’s budget due to job loss, poverty means a perpetually tight budget.

Many believe that the scarcity of easily accessible fossil fuels, “peak oil,” is creating a crisis in our culture.  Richard Heinberg’s research suggests that he world is experiencing scarcity of many important resources including land to grow food, water, minerals, and more. “The world is changing before our eyes—dramatically, inevitably, and irreversibly,” says Heinberg. The change we are seeing is affecting more people, and more profoundly, than any that human beings have ever witnessed. I am not referring to a war or terrorist incident, a stock market crash, or global warming, but to a more fundamental reality that is driving terrorism, war, economic swings, climate change, and more.” Heinberg says we are now experiencing “peak everything.”

Scarcity Changes the Way Our Brain Functions

Experiencing scarcity can be helpful in the short-run. It helps us focus our attention on what needs to be done. It’s why many people do well as a deadline approaches. When it’s clear we’re running out of time, we focus all our efforts on completing the task. We get the report in at the last minute, make our book deadline, or get the bills paid just in time.

But there is a serious downside to scarcity. Mullainathan and Shafir call it “tunneling.” We become so focused on solving the immediate problem, we fail to see how our present behavior impacts the future. We solve the immediate problem by “borrowing” from the future. We borrow money that we hope to pay back from our next pay check but end up paying more money in interest and getting farther and farther behind. Or we start on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) to solve our immediate problems of low libido or erectile dysfunction, but fail to recognize that we will be required to stay on testosterone the rest of our lives and the hidden costs to our budget as well as our health may not be apparent.

Not only does scarcity create tunnel thinking, it actually keeps our brains from functioning optimally. We don’t think as clearly or problem-solve as effectively when our brains are so worried about solving our immediate problems that we don’t look at the long-term consequences. We are living in a world where scarcity is a reality. If we’re going to solve our problems we need to understand the way scarcity re-wires our minds to focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term solutions.

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  1. Cynthia Raiser Jeavons says:

    Excellent piece! Accessible, timely, helpful and very insightful! Thank you, Jed, you keep us consciously evolving!!!!

  2. Jed, I think you summed up the entire article in the very last sentence.

    “If we’re going to solve our problems we need to understand the way scarcity re-wires our minds to focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term solutions.”

    This explains a lot about modern life.

    But what is the solution???