In Conversation with Moby
Can you tell us about the new video, "Are You Lost In The World Like Me?"?
"On one hand it's a little bit self-evident in that it's about dislocation and isolation as promoted and facilitated by technology. Not to sound too much like a grad student, but on a deeper level it's about how neurochemically humans tend to desperately grab for anything that gives them a momentary burst of dopamine and serotonin. Whether that's a phone or a Big Mac or a line of cocaine or a bag of crystal meth... it's to our detriment that we prioritise things that give us 30 seconds of well-being but ultimately destroy us."
Are those kinds of things always inherently bad for humanity?
"I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with anything for which we grab. I'll use alcohol as an example. I'm a sober alcoholic, so for me alcohol is a totally destructive, terrible thing that ruins my life – but for 99% of people on the planet it's perfectly fine.
"For many of the things we grab for, they're only problematic when they become compulsive or they begin harming us, or when they start blinding us to bigger realities. Oftentimes a person will grab for whatever might be triggering the dopamine or the serotonin and they'll ignore whatever else is going on in the world around them. That's more what the video's about, as opposed to the one-dimensional critique of technology."
It was interesting that on Twitter you shared the Buzzfeed link...
"It's paradoxical and ironic on every level. I was using my phone to share a link from Buzzfeed about a video that's essentially critical of people spending too much time on their phones. I'm not excluding myself from the criticism... I can disappear down the Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/etc. rabbit hole just as deeply as anyone else. I'm not pointing fingers... or if I am, I'm certainly pointing at myself as well."
So it's more a wider realisation than anything or anyone specific?
"Yes, yes – a realisation of that weird social phenomenon where people find life on a tiny screen more compelling and satisfying than actual three-dimensional life."
Can we ever return to what was before?
"Here's what scares me: we find these screens so compelling, and people will spend hours and hours and hours on their little screens, so what happens when it gets even more immersive? What happens when the experience is no longer a tiny screen but rather a VR suit? At that point... we've already given ourselves over to the small devices, but what happens when it becomes all encompassing and truly immersive? Why would we leave?
"There's an amazing book – it's a young adult book, but because I'm a stunted adolescent I read it – called Ready Player One. It's about this dystopian future where people do just exclusively live in their VR suits. I tried to option it to turn it into a movie but found out that Steven Spielberg had already optioned it... I guess it's part of the zeitgeist."
Have you seen Westworld?
"Because I'm old I actually remember seeing the original Westworld movie when it was released in theatres. I was very excited for the show... and I'm hoping it gets better. The production value is amazing. Clearly they've spent a tonne of money on it, and there are so many very talented people working on it... thus far it seems a little one dimensional. The recurring subtext is just that the AI robots are about to rebel. I'm hoping there's more nuanced and depth to it than that. It feels like a trope or story that's been told many, many times... I mean I'm still watching it so I want to see what happens."
“Are You Lost In The World Like Me?” is just one side to your new record – how can you sum up what the whole thing is about?
"Stylistically it's a loud, fast, post-punk record... because I found myself listening to a lot of loud, fast post-punk from the '70s and I thought to myself 'well, no one really buys records now anyway, and I'm not going on tour, so why not just make the record I wanna make without any commercial concerns or considerations'. It will be ironic if it ends up being successful... sort of like The Rise and Fall Of Reginald Perrin. Do you remember that show?"
My Dad made me watch it when I was a kid but I don't remember much.
"It could be something like that, you know? I could make this egregiously uncommercial record and ironically it will end up being successful... but most likely, non-ironically, it'll just fall into obscurity.
"So that's the stylistic side of it.
"The content... on one hand there is a political component to it, but what interests me almost more than the politics, or even the larger social issues, is the anthropology of it. Sort of like what we were talking about earlier – like why as a species do we keep making such terrible choices? It's almost like we have this hereditary, adversarial relationship with the world around us. For so much of our history the world has been threatening, but we've got to the place where the only thing that makes the world threatening is us... but for some reason we still keep fighting. We still keep thinking that we have to fight back when someone cuts us off in traffic. It's a weird relationship with what has become a very benign world... benign except us."
The album's title is These Systems Are Failing. Are all the systems failing? Do any work?
"Some seem to work. Pet adoption seems pretty good. Organic farming is doing well. I could point to many things that are good about the world in which we live – the really healthy systems – but there are two problems that I see. Not just that we have these terrible, destructive systems in the first place, but that our tax dollars go to subsidise them... like that is the most asinine thing imaginable. Whether it's petroleum, animal agriculture, tobacco, chemical production, or defence industries, and, at least in the United States, trillions of tax dollars goes to subsidising them. That is mind boggling. If we're gonna subsidise anything with tax money, why not subsidise things that are good for us?"
It's almost like paying for our own demise.
"Exactly. The other aspect is that there's a fatalism that I think most of us have, where we accept the world as it is. The oddness of that is that humans have created the world in which we live... if we want to, as humans, we should be able to remake it. If we look at these systems, whether it's energy or education or food production, really the criteria we apply to them in evaluating them should be rational and from an evidence-based perspective. Are they working? If they're not, they should be gotten rid of... like oil production – it's the most egregious example. It's terrible. Everything about it is terrible, but we keep it around because it's familiar."
And because lots of people make lots of money.
"Future generations, assuming there are any, are gonna look back and say 'what were you doing? You had more free energy hitting the Earth in a 24-hour period than has ever been produced by humans... and it's free... but instead of using that, you went miles beneath the surface of the Earth in some of the worst places on the planet and dredged up a product that caused nothing but environmental destruction'.
"It's like saying to someone, 'hey, here's a free, beautiful meal' and that person rejects it and drives 600 miles to eat a rotten lobster."
How will this year be remembered? How will people write about 2016 in the history books?
"Hopefully Donald Trump will be just a baffling, sociopathic footnote. I hope in the future no one even remembers who he is, like maybe they'll think he was just a strange genetic anomaly. Beyond that? Sadly I think it might be the year that when historians look back and realise it was too little too late. There's all these world leaders talking about climate change and signing accords but when you look at the system of climate change, it's so past the point of no return that even these well-intentioned politicians... it's not going to arrest global climate change. 2016 might be the year when historians look back and say 'wow, their best intentions didn't amount to much.'"
So like a watershed moment? It definitely feels like a year of change, especially from a British standpoint with Brexit involved.
"I think that Brexit, aside from the tragedy of it, is fascinating in the semiotic aspect of it. People made a choice with real-world consequences based on the flawed interpretation of limited data. That is horrifying. It's been going on for a long time, but we've seen it this year so clearly – people voted based on a tiny sliver of data and the misinterpretation of it. Now there's serious consequences. Hopefully 2016 will be the year that humanity wakes up and realises that voting from a place of ignorance is just... not a great idea."
How does democracy fit into that? Does voting work?
"I was in D.C. Recently and I was talking to some friends of mine, who are in the Senate and in Congress, and I asked a question that made them very uncomfortable. The question was: 'in a post-agrarian society, where everyone is connected and everyone has free time, and everyone is quite well informed, why do we still need professional representatives in democracy?'
"It made a lot of sense 200 years ago in an ill-informed society. It makes a lot less sense now. Maybe we could have a shift away from representative democracy and more towards direct democracy where maybe we have representatives, but they have a lot less power and the average voting public can be more involved. When I told my friends in the Senate that... it didn't go down very well."
Small government is quite a Libertarian idea isn't it?
"Oh I'm not talking about the quality of government – i.e. not what people should and shouldn't do. I think that the choices that are made by the body politic could be made more directly by the body politic as opposed to their representatives.
Could that not leave room for worse alternatives than what we have now?
"It certainly could. We talk about democracy these days, but I think there's been a conflation in peoples' minds about democracy and representative democracy. We've had a representative democracy in the West for such a long time that people just assume that's what democracy looks like – but now we have the infrastructure to have a more direct democracy. I like that a direct democracy could remove the influences of special interests. Especially in the United States you get Senators and Representatives that are elected by the people, and – now I don't wanna sound like an old leftie – they then go to work for the corporations as lobbyists. There has to be some mechanism by which that can be undone, because Senators and Representatives working for the oil companies clearly has not done the United States any favours."
Speaking about not doing the United States any favours: Donald Trump.
"On one hand I have a lot of gratitude towards Donald Trump. He has motivated Democrats in ways that no one else could. He is a cancer scare for cigarette smokers – he has got Democrats and progressives and the left in the United States motivated and united in ways they have never been before. He is a one man Vietnam War. I'm grateful for that – for being so terrible. If he was less terrible he would be scaring us less and we might be less motivated.
"It's tricky. As a progressive person I was raised to try and be respectful towards people and respect their differences, even if they disagree with me, I'm supposed to respect their perspective. But Donald Trump is the worst of the worst of the worst – he's an entitled, ignorant sociopath who maligns women, minorities, veterans, disabled people, and just look at the recent debate. The only world leaders he praised were Putin and Assad.
"This feel like bizarre, mescaline-inspired, weird, Hunter S. Thompson-esque fiction. I just can't believe that this it's real, but then he just keeps getting worse... he keeps digging himself further into this trench of manure. It's mind boggling."
Is it definitely real? There's a conspiracy theory that he's a stooge.
"When it started he just wanted the attention. He realised that he'd get billions of dollars of free media if he ran for president; I don't think to expected to get nominated. Then his ego took over and he realised that there was a chance he could be the next president – but now he realises that's gone and he can't, so what he's doing is playing to his base so that when he loses he can start Trump News. He's going to start a media company on 10 November called Trump News or Trump Media and he will bring his 20-30 million supporters with him. That's why he's letting himself sound so crazy. It's what his core supporters want. He knows he can't win the election."
Trump's just keeping an act up then? Is he sincere in any way at all?
"He's like a lizard with camouflage. He just wants attention and money, and right now he thinks that being a crazy right-wing Republic will get him that – he'll say anything. I don't think he believes anything."
It seems like a strange reason to run for President.
"I think he's mentally ill. There were times in the last debate when he genuinely didn't seem sane... like I was watching him and thinking 'what is wrong with you?'
"Did you see the first Men In Black movie? The main antagonist is this giant outer-space bug who stuffs himself into a human body. Vincent D'Onofrio was the actor. Trump in the final debate looked like that – like there was some weird, evil demon stuffed inside a human body."