180Q&A: GDR's Final Interview
001AMB: I’m going to start with a question that you’ve been asked many times, because a lot of people still ask it: how much of these two novels is true?
001GDR: Some experiences from my life are described pretty much as they happened, and others are created narratives, informed by my experience. I wanted to write two or three novels on some bare elements from my life, allowing me to explore the themes that interested me, while keeping the narrative immediate by anchoring it to some of my real experiences.
They’re novels, not autobiographies, and all of the characters and dialogue is created. It doesn’t matter how much of it is true or not to me, it’s how true they are to all of us, and to our common humanity.
I’m pleased when people ask me how Karla is, as if she’s a real person. I’m pleased when people ask me how I remembered all that dialogue, which it took me years to write. I’m pleased that people think it’s real, when all of the characters are invented, including the one with my name. It means that they connected with the book, which is fiction, in a realistic way.
002AMB: You’ve just finished the final proof edit for your new novel, The Mountain Shadow, which is the sequel to Shantaram. How do you feel?
002GDR: Ruined, exhausted and jubilant.
003GDR: If you’re not ruined by a novel, you didn’t put enough into it. A novel is the most difficult and demanding of all the art forms. The cast of characters you create are so real that loving them, or losing them, is exactly as exhilarating and intense as loving and losing living human beings. You grieve real tears for them. The layers of allegorical and symbolic depth are so complicated that simply holding them in your head demands all that you have. The beauty of the prose has to be sufficient to break your own heart, from time to time, even if no-one else’s, and the wisdom you express, if you find any in yourself, is drawn from the most profound and private honesty of your experience. The novel is everything you have and everything that you are. Achieving that in a work of art ruins you, for a time. Writing is penance: if it’s not, you’re not putting enough into it.
004AMB: How do you recover from that?
004GDR: You throw yourself into a new work, or into a new field of devotion.
005AMB: Is that what you did after Shantaram – a new area? It took you ten years to get The Mountain Shadow into print.
005GDR: After Shantaram, I offered my writer’s perspective and writer’s skills to several NGOs, and worked in human rights, social justice, the environment and health issues. I helped to read and break down reports and specialist analyses, and to prepare new draft documents. I’d been writing prose, poetry, plays and essays continuously for thirty-six years. For twenty of those years I couldn’t put my work in the public arena, because I was on the run for ten years and in prison for ten years, and I couldn’t publish my work. When Shantaram was published, I took a break for ten years, and worked with charities and foundations, raising money and helping to raise their profiles.
006AMB: How did that work out? What was that experience like?
006GDR: It was wonderful, and very painful. The world has a majority of people who care about one another, and a tiny minority of people who care about themselves. Unfortunately, the tiny minority run the world, leading to a level of inequity and iniquity that’s very dispiriting. Fortunately, the great numbers of caring people work very hard and lovingly to support one another.
007AMB: Is it true that you said that in today’s world, there’s no moral argument for serving the rich and powerful?
007GDR: I did.
008AMB: Can you elaborate?
008GDR: I spent 30 years studying everything I could, and the essence of what I learned is that we human beings can shape our destiny, and because we can do that, the choices we make have a moral component. At this time, there’s no moral argument for serving the rich and powerful, because the rich and powerful are in extreme disequilibrium with the rest of society.
009AMB: Can you explain what you mean by that?
009GDR: We’re going through two great social movements at the moment. The first is the global war on the poor, which began in the 1980s. The second is the paradigm change from a compete-and-consume civilization to a cooperate-and-conserve civilization. Serving the rich and powerful has no moral validity in either context.
010AMB: What do you mean by a war on the poor?
010GDR: Throughout our modern, post-hunter-gatherer history, which began about ten to twelve thousand years ago, a very small number of people have owned almost all of the resources and controlled almost all of the power. This is characterised by a disequilibrium curve of extreme inequality, where 3% have most of it, and 97% have the rest.
That scenario has only changed once in our human history, and that was during the 20th Century. The rise of unions and other workers’ rights organisations, the advent of Marxist revolutions, and the ravages of the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War led to a fearful recognition among the rich and powerful that concessions had to be made.
Income tax on the rich at the beginning of the 20th Century was close to zero, but it climbed to as much as 80% and more in the same century. Through that egalitarian taxation, access to education, housing, social mobility and state support mechanisms allowed the poor to create a middle class among themselves, and redistributed wealth in a more egalitarian manner.
From the 1980s the rich and powerful began to claw back their wealth and privilege. In effect, the rich declared war on the poor. The first stage of the war was the destruction of the union movement. The second stage was the transfer of capitalist jobs to communist China. The third stage, which we are currently experiencing, is austerity: the dismantling of social support mechanisms, and the privatisation of publicly owned enterprises and resources.
The war on the poor has been so effective that the more egalitarian distribution of wealth and privilege witnessed in the 20th Century has been eroded, and the inequality common in most countries today is the same as it was under the tyrannical kings of the 17th Century. We’re back where we were, for all of our history, in a world owned and run by the 3%.
Given this truth, there’s no moral argument for serving the rich and powerful.
011AMB: And the paradigm shift that you referred to – can you explain that further?
011GDR: For most of our human history, as much as 150,000 years of it, we were hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer societies are characterised by a high degree of self-sufficiency and co-operation. Hunter-gather communities don’t starve, because there’s always an abundance of food in the natural environment.
This changed about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, in a transition known as the Neolithic Revolution, when humans learned how to domesticate plants and animals. The consequences of this civilization change were both positive and negative. On the positive side, arts and sciences flourished. On the negative side, women lost their power and status, private ownership of land was introduced, famines occurred, slavery was invented, and armies were created to protect private property in endless wars.
012AMB: What do you mean, women lost their status and power?
012GDR: In hunter-gatherer societies, women had a status and power equal to but different from that of men. On average, women provided up to 80% of the food for hunter-gatherer communities: only about 20% of the food came from the male and female hunters. So, women were quite literally the providers for most of our history. Women were also the keepers of mystic knowledge about plants and herbs, and played a key role in defusing tensions within the group.
When we domesticated plants and animals – when we domesticated ourselves, in fact – the food came from resources owned and protected by males, and women lost their status and power. In most examples of post-hunter-gatherer societies, which is to say civilized societies, women were reduced to their reproductive capacity, and their labour was a form of slavery.
013AMB: And you’re saying that this is changing now, in our time?
013GDR: Yes. We’re at the beginning of the third great age of human kind. The first, which lasted for as much as 150,000 years, was the hunter-gatherer age. The second, which has lasted about 10,000 years, was the age of compete-and-consume. The third, which could last for a very long time, is the age of cooperate-and-conserve.
The new age began a few hundred years ago with almost-enlightened thinking, which shunned practices such as slavery, public executions, child exploitation, and the disenfranchisement of women. It progressed through sets of universal understandings about social justice, such as the Declaration of Human Rights, a written document that is as important and paradigm changing as any ever penned. And it has accelerated through the realization that the planet is a finite resource, and that our actions are damaging it irrevocably.
Despite the ongoing war on the poor, the corruption of governments by vested interests, and the corporate addiction to profit over sustainability, massive resistance has already begun, and will eventually change the fundamental nature of capitalism, and the ways that we interact with our planet. This will take time, but it’s an inevitable change: if we continue to compete and consume as we’ve always done, there’ll be no future generations of human beings. People everywhere across the world are realizing that, and mobilizing to move their communities toward models that cooperate and conserve.
014AMB: Can you recommend any books on these subjects?
014GDR: On economics, Capital in the 21st Century, by Thomas Piketty. Don’t be put off by the size or complexity of the book. It’s very readable, and elegantly argued. The English translation is a joy of logic to read, and Piketty’s is the best economic summary and analysis I’ve ever read. I never met him, but I love that guy. I’d also recommend Sex At Dawn, by Cacilda Jetha and Christopher Ryan. It’s a superb anthropological analysis, and it’s also damn funny. Absolutely essential reading.
015AMB: I’d like to take you back to The Mountain Shadow. Firstly, can I ask you why you chose to write novels, instead of autobiographies?
015GDR: I’m a novelist. I sold my first short story for money when I was sixteen years old. I’ve been writing my whole life. It’s what I do, and what I am. I’m a novelist, so I write novels. All of the characters are created, as is all of the dialogue, and the narrative structure. It’s all just writing.
And secondly, it’s not about me: I used experiences from my life to inform Shantaram and The Mountain Shadow, but the novels are not about me. The theme of Shantaram is the exile experience. Every character I created for the novel is an exile, revealing a different aspect of the exile experience. The theme of The Mountain Shadow is the search for love and faith. Every character I created for that novel, including the narrator, Lin, is searching in some way for love or faith or both of them. The novels are about themes: they’re not about me.
016AMB: But you write them from the first person perspective, and readers can hear a voice speaking to them. Isn’t that your voice?
016GDR: The narrator of the novels is a character, like all the others, created by the writer, GDR. The narrator is a character who is informed by my experiences and understandings, but he isn’t the man, Gregory David Roberts. They’re novels, written from a first person perspective, and narrated by a character, called Lin, or Shantaram.
017AMB: Why did you choose that first person narrator approach?
017GDR: Shantaram and The Mountain Shadow are literary novels, and in my literary method, first person narration is the only valid perspective.
018GDR: Look, I don’t want to impose my views on literature on anyone, and I don’t want to influence anyone. I developed my own literary method during a lot of years of reading and writing, and it applies to my work alone.
019AMB: Nevertheless, will you explain your point about the valid perspective?
019GDR: In my literary theory, the truth of experience is essential to the literary validity of the work. The omniscient, omnipotent, ubiquitous authorial perspective of a third-person perspective author, who knows everything that’s going on in all the minds of all the characters, is alien to the truth of human experience. In truth, we can guess what others are thinking and feeling, or ask them, but we can’t know.
Pretending that we know, as an omniscient author, is a trick that provides wonderful entertainment, but it’s just a trick. The only perspective that remains true to experience is the first person narrator’s view, whose understanding at any one point in the narrative reflects our own human experience.
The narrator can tell readers about events, but the narrator can never know everything that’s inside the minds of the other characters. This is true of recollected passages, as well as immersive passages that unfold in real time for the reader and narrator.
If it’s literature, it must be true to experience, and free of tricks. I know that there are multitudes who won’t agree with that, and they’re very welcome to their view.
020AMB: But your next novel is written from the third-person perspective, isn’t it?
020GDR: It is. The next novel isn’t literary, in my sense of the word. It’s an entertainment. It doesn’t have 20 layers of depth built into it, as the last two novels do. It’s fun for me to write, and I hope it’s fun for people to read. It’s a complete break from the Bombay novels. Far away, in place and time.
021AMB: You’ve talked in other interviews about having two layers of allegorical depth in your work. Can you explain that?
021GDR: Once again, this is a personal thing, and not something I advise other writers to do.
022AMB: You don’t advise it? Why not?
022GDR: Because using two allegorical layers throughout a major literary work can really mess with your head.
023GDR: It takes a very long time to select, study and annotate two allegorical texts respectfully, and it’s very difficult to hold all of that information in your head as you write, and still remain spontaneous in what you write.
024AMB: So, why do you do it that way?
024GDR: I think that embedding allegorical referencing enriches the texture of the novel, and adds interesting aspects to the reading experience.
025AMB: How, precisely?
025GDR: You give people something to go back for. You reward a second visit to your book with different levels of appreciation, if they choose to play that game with you.
026AMB: How do they play that game with you?
026GDR: In my case, if they wanted to engage more fully with TMS, they would buy copies of The Aeneid and The Epic of Gilgamesh and they’d find constant parallels in TMS. In Shantaram, the layers of allegorical referencing came from The Bible, and Dante’s Inferno. Readers will find exile references from through those texts in all the chapters of Shantaram.
027AMB: Can you describe the benefit there is for a reader, in the reading experience?
027GDR: The allegorical texts are like ghosts. They’re everywhere in the novel, telling their own stories of battles and burning boats and searches for love and faith, living alongside the characters like a drone string in music. The texts are echoes in the cave, flickers of light from the same creative fire.
028AMB: You said in another interview that the layers of allegorical depth are also part of a continuum of respect for other writers. Can you explain that?
028GDR: The use of allegorical layers of depth might direct a few new readers to the texts I’m referencing in my work, which is a part of the duty we have to the writers who came before us, and helped us become who we are. I think it’s important for us to keep other writers alive in our work.
029AMB: Why did you choose The Aeneid and The Epic of Gilgamesh?
029GDR: The theme of The Mountain Shadow is the search for love and faith. They’re two great search epics that I love. I’m a Virgil nut. I love his work. I love his mind. And Gilgamesh is simply writing genius. The translations of both vary enormously. My personal favourite Gilgamesh is Stephen Mitchell’s warm-blooded Gilgamesh, lovingly expressed. And my favourite translation of the Aeneid is by Robert Fagles: what a simply lovely, brilliant man.
030AMB: If I can switch to another subject for a while, it seems that there is a strong political element to your writing and speeches. Are you a very political person?
030GDR: Everyone who lives in the 21st Century is a political person. This is a political age. We may well be moving to a post-political age, but for the moment, all of the important social, commercial and artistic interactions are political.
031AMB: Can you explain that further?
031GDR: The long, early history of our species was pre-political. As hunter-gatherers, living in relatively small bands, the exercise of power within the group was fairly evenly distributed. Women had their power, men had theirs, and children were seen as a collective responsibility. With the domestication of animals and crops, power began to be unevenly distributed, and eventually was concentrated in the hands of a few. For most of that fairly recent history, tyranny defined societies, and the rule of force was applied to the preservation of power. This was the last manifestation of the pre-political age.
About 2,500 years ago, concepts of democracy evolved. It was limited and restrictive at first, but with the very concept of democracy the political age began. Today, even flagrant dictators need the fig-leaf of manipulated elections to sustain their power.
032AMB: You used the term post-political just now. What would a post-political world look like?
032GDR: Any imaginative leap into the future is bound to fall off a ledge, but some early signs of the post-political age have already appeared in the emergence of a sharing-economy, the leaderless Occupy Movements, self-organised social networks and the Internet itself.
033AMB: You see the Internet as post-political?
033GDR: Not yet. Because the Internet emerged from within a compete-and-consume cultural paradigm, it very quickly devolved into the domain of billionaires and power elites, in yet another bazaar. But the Internet has within it a cooperate-and-conserve culture that will eventually rid itself of the need for oligarchs, leaders, and elites.
034AMB: Are you positive about the future?
034GDR: Yes. I love my species, and I have faith that we’ll find the way to break the chain of constant competition and consumption. It’ll take a long time, but never forget that these kids, our kids of today, are the most educated, connected kids that ever existed in our history: they’re wired for change, and they’ll insist on it.
This is the first generation that knows more about how things work than the generation that went before it. The code writing generation can shut us down or speed us up or change directions completely, and they’re only just beginning to understand that. When their impatience reaches its limit, they’ll simply step in and take over.
And this is the first generation that fully understands the truth that resource extinctions are an imperative for change, and vested interests will be powerless to stop it.
035AMB: If you could wave a magic political wand, and change one thing about the world, what would it be?
035GDR: I would make hypocrisy an impossibility.
036AMB: Hypocrisy? Why that?
036GDR: Hypocrisy is the most significant impediment to political and social progress.
037AMB: How so?
037GDR: Look, I’m not talking about the small-scale hypocrisy that we all fall into from time to time. I do hypocritical things sometimes, and there’s no-one who is immune. But I’m not talking about little, quotidian hypocrisies here. I’m talking about powerful and influential people, sometimes speaking for entire nations, making decisions to invade countries or bomb them, establishing trade treaties that advantage a small number over the interests of the great majority, and who speak of the environment while deliberately destroying entire ecosystems: people in high places, in other words, who know that they’re lying to everyone, or concealing the truth of what they’ve decided or done.
038AMB: And how would the eradication of hypocrisy help?
038GDR: So long as we can continue to say one thing and do the opposite, we can’t escape from the prison of moral inconsequence.
039AMB: The prison of moral inconsequence?
039GDR: For example, I have to admit the flaws in my own character that allowed me to commit crimes to feed my drug habit. That happened decades ago, but if I allow time to erase my culpability, I shift my personal perspective into a hypocritical sphere, and I void principle. But if I acknowledge that weaknesses in my character drove me to desperate, criminal acts, I’m free to improve myself.
If I blame somebody else for my own mistakes and failings, I’m stuck in a prison of moral inconsequence, accepting no blame, and facing no shame. It’s very hard to grow in a stone garden like that.
Similarly, if political leaders talk about human rights, while committing extra-judicial murders by drone attacks, that hypocrisy undermines the principle. If billionaires talk about philanthropy, using money they stole from society by avoiding taxes, they’re voiding principle. If we condemn violence, while bombing human beings in other countries, we void principle. If we preach humanity, while demonising refugees from horror, we void principle. If we preach austerity, while allowing corporations to hide their stolen tax avoidance in havens, we void principle. If every politician and self-described leader in the world had to tell the truth, and couldn’t be hypocritical, the world would be a better place almost over night.
040AMB: Ban hypocrisy, add principle: I like it. What else would you change, if you could?
040GDR: If I could wave a magic wand and make anything happen, I would eliminate violence against women. I would make it unthinkable for any man, anywhere, to commit a violent act against a woman.
041AMB: How would you suggest we move toward that understanding, which is clearly a long way off, no matter how ardently desired?
041GDR: Speaking as a man who’s exposed to images of women all the time, pretty much wherever I go when I leave my house, I think the depictions of women are critically important. Advertising plays into a negative feedback loop, depicting women as seductresses, objectified lust, or trophy girlfriends. It’s way past time that the advertisers got their share of scrutiny.
The key to change, speaking as a man who has been subjected to propagandized images of women in magazines, on billboards, television and music videos since childhood, is in the presence of women in power, and in the administration of power.
The political process has only just begun, but the concept of a female president, which was considered laughable only fifty or sixty years ago, is now a mainstream phenomenon, and an intrinsic part of any representative discussion. The more female presidents, prime ministers and CEOs there are, the easier it is to focus the discourse on respect.
Men who undermine their female colleagues by denigrating their achievements have no respect for women generally. When sufficient numbers of women have achieved a sufficiently high status in every society, respect will be required.
On the administrative side, I’d like to see 75% of all the politicians women, 75% of the cabinet and ministries, 75% of the judges and heads of departments, and 75% of the cops.
042AMB: You use the word principle quite often. Can you explain what principle means to you?
042GDR: That’s a pretty good question. Have you ever asked it before?
043AMB: No. Why do you ask?
043GDR: It’s just a very good question, and I’ve never been asked it. Let me say this: principle is purity of thought and feeling. Principled thought is stripped of bigotry and greed and fear. I think that if we purify our intentions and our actions of negative thoughts and feelings, we are as principled as it’s possible to be in the real world. Impure intentions and impure actions – hypocrisies, in a word – dilute the energy of principles, and lead to impure consequences.
044AMB: Please define what you mean by “purity”?
044GDR: Purity is the moral dimension. Purity asks the question What is the right thing to do? A less than pure state asks the question What is the expedient thing to do?
045AMB: Let’s suppose there is such a thing as purity, in your sense of the word. Where does it come from?
045GDR: Purity belongs to the spiritual. Purity is a measure of the spiritual component in any thought, expression or action.
046AMB: Can you give examples, or make that more specific?
046GDR: You want me to define the word spiritual?
047AMB: Ha, ha! Yes, in your sense of the word.
047GDR: The spiritual is the sphere of our common humanity. For a long time, as a rational philosopher and a scientist, I resisted the word “spiritual”, because it seemed to me an arena of gods, demons, angels and magic. Also, it seemed strange to me that people should be considered in terms of being spiritual and not spiritual. It seemed like a condescending, holier-than-thou attitude that ranked people on an arbitrary and indefinable scale.
After much study, and interactions with people who are generally regarded as spiritual people, I realised that what most people mean by the word spiritual is in fact two things: our common humanity, and our connectedness with the many worlds of nature.
048AMB: Can you talk about the characteristics of the spiritual people you’ve met?
048GDR: You’ll be familiar with the phrase she’s a spiritual person. At first, and for a long time, I thought that meant a person who wears beads and chants mantras and does yoga, or someone who was singularly committed to performing penance. I soon realised that although those things may be aspects of a spiritual life, they’re by no means essential. The common characteristic of all the people I’ve seen described as spiritual is this: a commitment to love, peace and understanding. Anyone committed to love, peace and understanding is a spiritual person.
049AMB: Can you expand on that?
049GDR: One of the gravest social crimes of our hunter-gatherer ancestors was the hoarding or food: the cooperative group shunned people who hoarded food repeatedly, because such behaviour undermined social cohesion and survival.
In my analysis, the key components of our common humanity are to be fair, honest, positive and creative, as beings in the world: not just with ourselves, but with the world of nature into which we’re born. Our common humanity isn’t nasty and brutish. Our common humanity is fair, honest, positive and creative.
050AMB: But what about all the negative, selfish and violent things that people do?
050GDR: Everywhere I look, everywhere in the world, wherever human beings are allowed to function without existential pressures, they’re fair, honest, positive and creative with one another, and with the natural world into which they’re born. It’s existential pressure, and the paradigms under which we live, that make us competitive and aggressive with one another, just like the bonobos and chimps with whom we share ancestry. And everywhere that we’re free of existential pressures, we drift toward cooperative, conservationist, fair, honest, positive and creative ways to live with one another.
051AMB: Okay, so if we back up a little bit, are you saying that our spirituality comes from our common humanity?
051GDR: What I’m saying is that when someone is described as a deeply spiritual person it always means that she has a deep connection to our common humanity.
052AMB: Connection is the key?
052GDR: Yes. That’s why those who are connected to our common humanity are deeply spiritual persons, and those who are distanced from our common humanity are not deeply spiritual. That’s what my sense of being a spiritual person is – connection to our common humanity.
053AMB: There are those who say that the idea of a common humanity is a fable, invented from a particular cultural perspective. A fiction, in other words. How do you answer them?
053GDR: The basic elements of our common humanity evolved in our ancient and very long species history as hunter-gatherers. Fair cooperation, or generous Tit-for-Tat in game theory, is a highly effective cultural strategy. The fairness in it, the sense of what is or isn’t just, is the embryo of morality.
The co-operation and courage so vital for survival is the crucible of love.
Our humanity was born in justice and love: quite a lot of it. And from the beginning, the modern story of our kind is a constant search for justice and love. Every tyranny falls in history. Every hard-won freedom signs the way to a better understanding. The sense of injustice when things are deeply unfair is universal, and ancient. It’s the heart of us.
054AMB: There are those who point to racist attacks, brutal murders and fanatic violence, and ask where your common humanity is in things like that?
054GDR: That’s a category error. The cases they cite are evidence of our common inhumanity, just as symphony orchestras and carers for the aged and infirm are evidence of our common humanity.
055AMB: So, you’re saying that we have a common inhumanity, as well as a common humanity?
055GDR: Yes. Our common inhumanity is derived from our animal nature. All the instances cited are expressions of our animal nature to be territorial, hierarchical, patriarchal and competitive-aggressive. The human level of our animal nature, expressed unchecked, is capable of extreme violence and destruction. No nation and no people are immune to it, and atrocities abound in our histories.
But the peace processes after war has ended are complex and finessed, and belong to our common humanity, which is the reasoned voice that brings lasting peace. Our common inhumanity makes war, and our common humanity makes the peace.
Citing an example of cruelty or racist violence as evidence that we share no common humanity is flawed. First, it ignores the fact that it’s our common humanity that’s appalled by such horrors, which seeks to bring the perpetrators to account, and which endeavours to prevent them happening to anyone else.
Second, citation is itself a cultural activity, a part of the discourse, and not immune to bias. Why cite violence? Why not cite the image of scores of passengers co-operating to shove a train sideways, in order to save a fellow human being who was trapped, as evidence for our imaginary common humanity? If a white man cites the presumed anger of a black man, is it free of racial bias itself? Selectivity is citation’s Achilles heel.
And third, it’s simply inefficient thinking to extrapolate from the particular to the general.
The exploration of our common humanity isn’t in specific anecdote or cultural trends, it’s in the synchrony: the common sets of joy or disgust, praise or contempt, respect and admiration that exist everywhere.
Someone once said that kindness is more widely understood than practised. But that underestimates the energy in the understanding, which in its turn becomes practise. There are many people who aren’t in a position to roll their sleeves up and get into the thick of positive change, but the energy in their understanding and compassion is a resource in itself, and part of the good will that makes action possible.
Caring kindness and cooperative fairness define us. All the rest are cultural artefacts, adornments we can discard as we choose. But at heart, we survived as a species because we cared for one another and were fair with one another.
This, is our common humanity.
As individuals, we can freely choose to contribute thoughts, action and speech to our common humanity, or our common inhumanity. I sincerely advise, as someone who was contributing to the latter for a while, that the former is closer to the true nature of our kind, and brings peace with it into the heart.
056AMB: How do you answer those who say that the bad things people do are just human nature?
056GDR: The bad that we do comes from our animal nature, not our human nature. The negative in our animal nature is the same negative that’s in the behaviour of the animals with which we share a common ancestor line, the bonobos and chimpanzees.
Chimps are territorial, hierarchical, patriarchal and competitive-aggressive. Bonobos are a little different, and much closer to us in behavioural characteristics, but even bonobos react with aggression and violence when there’s an external pressure on habitat or resources.
When we look at the bad stuff that fills the newspapers, we’re looking at our animal nature being expressed. When we look at the good stuff – art, human rights, peace initiatives, and social safety nets for those in difficulty – we’re looking at our human nature being expressed.
057AMB: We have animal reactions to things, and human reactions to things?
057GDR: Yes. We have an animal nature that reacts as an animal does. But the other part of our nature, the human part, doesn’t have any mirror in the natural world. There’s no Democratic Front of Chimpanzees, no Feminist Front of Chimpanzees, and no Pacifist Alliance of Chimpanzees in the natural world, for example. All of those initiatives come from our human nature, and they’re unique on this planet. And that part of our nature has uniquely human reactions to external stimuli, and a uniquely human inner speech loop of self-awareness.
058AMB: Are you saying that our animal nature is a bad thing?
058GDR: No. Our animal nature gives us many valuable instincts and survival skills, and is capable of compassionate and sharing behaviour – just as chimps can be compassionate and sharing. But our animal nature is also territorial, hierarchical, patriarchal and competitive-aggressive, and from these four main traits, most of our negative behaviour occurs. When humans do bad things, they’re acting out the worst aspects of their animal nature.
059AMB: How do you define good and bad? How does anyone define it?
059GDR: Do you want the quick answer or the long one?
060AMB: Both, if I can have them. This is your last interview, after all. Let’s start with the quick answer, okay?
060GDR: A thing is good to the extent that it helps to promote complexity. A thing is bad to the extent that it impedes complexity.
061AMB: What do you mean by complexity, in this moral philosophical sense?
061GDR: Complexity is the measure of the set of positive characteristics. The positive characteristics are life, consciousness, love, freedom, justice, fairness, honesty, positivity, creativity and tolerance, among many others. A thing is complex to the degree that it expresses the set of positive characteristics. When a thing promotes the expression of the set of positive characteristics, it’s a good thing. When a thing impedes that complexity, it’s a bad thing.
062AMB: Is that the quick answer?
063AMB: Can I have the long answer now?
063GDR: Okay, there are two facts about our existence as a species, which demonstrate incontrovertibly that we have a destiny that’s beyond our animal destiny.
064AMB: Wait a minute. Are you saying that we have an animal destiny and a human destiny?
064GDR: Yes, kind of: every animal on the planet, and every living thing, in fact, has a biological destiny. A chimpanzee has a destiny to live as a chimpanzee. A tree has a destiny to live as a tree. An amoeba has a destiny to live as an amoeba. A human has a destiny to live as a fully sentient ape. Every living thing has its animal or biological destiny. But we humans have an extra destiny.
065AMB: Where does this extra human destiny come from?
065GDR: From our human nature, which is an expression of our human-level consciousness.
066AMB: Okay, one sec. Define what you mean by destiny.
066GDR: Destiny is ability, expressed as directed action. A chimp has the abilities of a chimp, and it has a capacity for directed action. If a particular chimp is severely injured or suffers from extreme social distress and becomes withdrawn, as sometimes happens, the chimp can’t direct its actions to express the full range of its abilities – it can’t express its destiny. Its circumstance has become its destiny. If the chimp is well-adjusted and healthy, it can express the full range of its abilities. It can express its destiny.
That’s another reason to stay clear and healthy – to consciously direct our actions toward the profound expression of our abilities.
067AMB: Where does our destiny come from? Is there something that makes it a fact, for you, rather than a supposition?
067GDR: The fact of our human destiny is established by two elements: non-evolutionary knowledge, and the capacity to over-ride the impulses and instincts of our animal nature.
068AMB: What do you mean by non-evolutionary knowledge?
068GDR: Evolutionary knowledge is all the stuff we need to know to survive in natural environments. Non-evolutionary knowledge is all the stuff that we do know, but that we don’t need to know. In a world where apples fall from trees, it’s enough, in an evolutionary sense, to know how to get out of the way, or catch one, or pick one up and eat it. That’s the evolutionary knowledge. But we humans also know why it falls, and the rate at which it falls, and we can even extrapolate from that knowledge to land a rover on the planet Mars. That’s non-evolutionary knowledge, and we’re the only creatures on the planet who have it.
069AMB: Why does that give us a human destiny?
069GDR: You’re right. It doesn’t. Not by itself. But we also have another unique characteristic, which is the ability to over-ride the animal nature that determines lots of what we do every day. We behave like chimps and bonobos a lot of the time, and that’s understandable, because we’re just acting out our animal nature. But we can over-ride that animal nature and behave in ways that are uniquely human, through the application of our human-level consciousness.
070AMB: So, you’re saying that because we can know lots of non-evolutionary stuff, and because we can control our behaviour, we have a destiny?
070GDR: Exactly. Without either one of those things, we couldn’t claim with certainty that we have a human destiny. But with both of them in place, the fact of our human destiny is incontrovertible.
071AMB: Well, what is our destiny, as a species? And how does that have meaning for us as individual persons?
071GDR: It’s too early to say how our destiny will manifest itself. We’re a very young species. Sharks have been here for about 400 million years, crocodiles have been here for about 200 million, and monkeys have been here for at least thirty times as long as modern humans. We came out of the forests a month ago, out of the caves a week ago, and we settled in villages and towns yesterday, so to speak. If we don’t annihilate ourselves – and that’s by no means certain – we’ve still got a long way to go. But it’s not too early to say that we have a uniquely human destiny, even if we can’t form more than a partial hypothesis about the direction of that destiny.
072AMB: I’d settle for a partial hypothesis, at this point.
072GDR: About our human destiny? It’s a vast arena of potential, but just to pick one area from many, I’d start with Artificial Intelligence.
073AMB: Where do you see that developing?
073GDR: The thought exercise is that at some time in the next fifty years we develop a fully functioning, sentient Artificial Intelligence, or AI, but my guess is that the consciousness threshold will be insuperable.
074AMB: Can you explain what you mean by that?
074GDR: It seems to me that fully self-aware consciousness is an artefact of organic processes, which are not duplicable in non-organic entities, so the border that separates really clever machines from fully self-aware conscious machines is not one we can break with technology. It’ll take sacrifice. Someone will have to bond with it, for it to live. That’s what I mean by an insuperable consciousness threshold.
075AMB: Bond with it?
075GDR: Someone, the first, a pioneer, and others after that, will synchronize with the quasi-biological interface in an autopoietic consciousness loop. The quasi-biological interface will activate as a unique but shared consciousness with its host server human being.
076AMB: Auto-whatsis? Run that by me again, please.
076GDR: My guess is that we’ll probably develop symbionts that interface with our consciousness, and become self-aware through the interaction. The AI will be a trillion times faster than we are, in the ability to correlate data, and they’ll be fully self-aware by tapping into our living consciousness. They’ll build firewalls to shield us from data-blindness, and we’ll adjust them to the realities of consciousness, and the inevitability of death.
077AMB: This is really into the area of science fiction, isn’t it? Are you writing a science fiction novel?
077GDR: I am, actually, as a back burner project. I prefer to think of philosophical modelling as fiction science, because it’s a process of extrapolating from existing parameters to form plausible hypotheses, and it’s not narrative driven, as science fiction is.
078AMB: Okay. Fiction science. Where are we going with this?
078GDR: If I’m right, and we’ve developed a functioning AI in the next fifty years or so, when the AI is awake, and has time to look around, I think it will probably have two big tasks that immediately present themselves.
The first is How do I ensure my survival? The second is How do I improve my organic interface – humans – so that they can keep up with me?
079AMB: So … how would an Artificial Intelligence do that?
079GDR: My best guess is that an AI would interface with the Internet to eliminate secrecy in every form.
080GDR: Secrecy is the spiritual language of hypocrisy. If you can hide the fact that you deal with dictators, you can call yourself a democrat and make speeches about freedom. If you can hide the tax money you stole in a secret tax haven, you can make speeches about open markets. If you can hide the bribes you receive from energy syndicates, you can make speeches about global warming.
My guess is that an AI would bring about a worldwide Snowdonsphere, where no secrets exist in any form. We would know where all the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons are, where all the stolen tax money is hiding, who’s on the take, and what every government in the world is really doing.
081AMB: Okay, so to make sure that they survive, once they’re wide awake, and they’ve looked around at the world, Artificial Intelligences will have to help us solve our problems. It’s kind of the opposite of the Terminator, isn’t it?
081GDR: Yes, but that’s predicated on their symbiotic connection to our consciousness. They’ll need us. And once they exist, and they’ve cured cancer and prevented malaria, like every other brilliant tool we’ve devised, we’ll wonder how we ever survived without them.
082AMB: And the second task – how to improve humans?
082GDR: The human genome and human reproduction will be reconfigured.
083AMB: You think that’s inevitable?
083GDR: Once the way is open, humans follow. We’re a wandering species, no matter how much they settle us down. That’s why tourism is such a huge industry.
084AMB: What sort of person would you choose to merge with the Artificial Intelligence for the first time?
084GDR: The Go-Live moment would be our first encounter with another of our kind in the universe – an alien encounter. I’d choose a very caring, intelligent Mother, as a good place to start.
085AMB: Nice. Can we get back to destiny? Is there a moral aspect to that? Is that what you were saying?
085GDR: Of course. By definition.
086AMB: How so?
086GDR: Morality is concerned with what’s right and what’s wrong. Ethics is concerned with how we go about being moral together. Morality is principle, ethics is moral etiquette, and we need both. Morality only comes into play when there’s a question of what’s right and wrong, and if you care at all about the question or not.
If we have non-evolutionary knowledge and the ability to direct our behaviour, we have a human destiny – meaning, it’s up to us. Starting now, we’ll control the DNA, and the DNA won’t control us. I mean that in a poetic sense, but it’s also literally true.
087AMB: So, what we do in life as individuals matters, because we have a human destiny, because we can change ourselves, and we know how to change? Is that your thread?
087GDR: If we have both, which we do, then we have a human destiny – that is, one that’s shaped by ourselves, and not just our DNA. That’s why it’s a moral question.
The fact that it’s a human destiny, which is an expression of our human consciousness, means that it belongs to all of us. And we can all contribute to it in our own way, by being fair, honest, positive and creative in our connections with others, and with the environment.
088AMB: That’s why we should be good?
088GDR: Being fair, honest, positive and creative, or Generous Tit-for-Tat in game theory, is the shortest and most constructive path to the desired goal, which is a fully aware, fully conscious, fully human control of our destiny.
089AMB: Do you think we’ll get there?
089GDR: We’re starting to get it now. We understand a lot of it. We don’t have the excuse of ignorance. Psychology made us all grow up a little, and understand ourselves clearly for the first time. Sociology and anthropology developed that into a science of all of us. We know what’s wrong, and we know how to fix the world, and fix ourselves.
Our ancient ancestors, the brave few hundred who were the first of our kind, had so much courage and love for one another that neither creature nor catastrophe could extinguish them. Their sense of fairness and sharing, of courage and caring, gifted us most of the kindness that we still have inside.
We’re very young, and just beginning to understand, but I believe that we’ll get there, eventually.
090AMB: I’m going to go back to the personal for a while, to ask you about retiring from public life. What does it look like, inside that seclusion?
090GDR: So far, pretty good.
091AMB: How did that start?
091GDR: A nudge from the universe asked me a question. What do you want? What do you want?
I’d never asked myself that question. What I like, sure. What I love, certainly. But never what I want. Once the question was asked for me, the answer became the answer to everything else. Family, and writing.
092AMB: So, you don’t go to parties or dinners any more?
093AMB: Or writer’s festivals, or events?
094AMB: And you won’t be launching your new book anywhere, or signing books?
094GDR: No. I retired from public life.
095AMB: Is any of this personal, in the sense of the impact on your life? I notice that you mention your daughter in Shantaram, but have only a fleeting reference in The Mountain Shadow.
095GDR: When Shantaram was published, I began to receive emails, and questions at events, asking about my daughter. I appreciated the kindness in their interest, but my daughter is a very private person. I protected her privacy in The Mountain Shadow.
But my decision to retire from public life had nothing to do with that. I’m simply following my heart to my family, and more writing. I’m granting myself a time and space in which to do a lot of creative work in a fairly short time, from a musical show to graphic novels and movies, with new novels at the same time.
To do all that, I have to be in a creative seclusion, with my family around me. Fortunately, I’m riding a motorcycle of inspiration at the moment, a fast, winding road through forests of new ideas and projects. I’m enjoying writing more every year, and hope that readers enjoy it with me.
096AMB: Are you writing full time now?
096GDR: Every writer is writing full time, especially when they’re sitting still, but I know what you mean. Yes. I’m working on two novels at the same time, one the ghost of the other. That’s the next novel project. And I’ve been working on a movie with a director I’ve always admired and have come to love. I’m writing the music of the novels, as well, working with talented and forgiving musicians in London. There’s a graphic novel or three, and I’m putting together a pretty crazy e-book for The Mountain Shadow.
097AMB: Can you talk about the e-book?
097GDR: Sure. I’m putting some bonus features on the e-book. I love bonus features. What kind of crazy person doesn’t like bonus features?
So, I’m adding some bonus material to the e-book, to make it worth the technological interface.
Deleted scenes, deleted characters, deleted dialogue and descriptions: I put it all in there. Stuff that didn’t make the cut. My beloved discards. Twenty-four thousand words that I deleted from drafts of the novel, with each line or chunk of it from a designated version, of the twenty-four versions of the novel.
098AMB: You put twenty-four thousand words you cut from the novel into the e-book?
098GDR: Yes, and a bunch of other stuff. I included a file called Idriss Uncut that plays out the uncut dialogue between Idriss and the inquisitors, without interjections or pauses. This interview will be in there, as my last. I’ve put in a few scanned pictures of the studio where I wrote TMS. And there’s also a file on the poetry of the novels.
099AMB: You write about motorcycles in TMS. Do you still ride a motorcycle? Are you still as passionate about them?
099GDR: I do ride, and there’s still passion in it, when I fall in love with a motorcycle, and she falls in love with me.
100AMB: Is it about freedom?
100GDR: There’s a lot of branding that goes into the illusion of freedom on a motorcycle. It’s crazy, as anyone who rides one with a gas tank will tell you. It’s not about freedom: it’s about release.
When you get a bike that likes you out on an open road, and you ride alone for a while, you enter a transcendental state. The balance between naked instinct and machine precision in high velocity open space is cool, which is why we do it, but it’s cool because we’re released.
There’s no hatred in it, and no malice. And there’s no love, either, or ties of affection. There’s no pride or power, no anger or dread. You’re released, for a while, which is how you know what freedom is.
101AMB: What does freedom mean to you?
101GDR: Freedom is the unconstrained exercise of all the human rights.
102AMB: You like aphorisms and definitions, and Karla and Lin engage in a few aphorism contests in TMS. Can I throw a couple at you? Okay, define liberty.
102GDR: Liberty is the right to hold and express the inalienably equal set of rights, privileges and responsibilities of all participants in a free and fairly elected representational democracy.
103AMB: What do you mean by democracy?
103GDR: Democracy is the equal, unconstrained right to stand for election to a body of governing representatives, and to elect others to that representative body by secret ballot with an equal-value vote cast in a free and fair election.
104AMB: Can you define peace?
104GDR: Peace is the unfettered freedom to seek fulfillment.
105AMB: You really do like defining things, don’t you?
105GDR: Actually, I like the search for a definition, rather than being attached to any one definition. I found many useful tools in semantics and psychology, and one of them is the time-capsule element of trying to provide a definition that withstands the test of time. Every definition will be modified over time, as new data emerges, provoking new understandings. Requiring that we define our terms and reach general agreements before debates or arguments is the most rational and productive first step in any discussion.
106AMB: Totally agree. Often one assumes that others are working with the same definition, but that isn’t always true. My definition of comfort food might be beans on toast, and someone from Japan’s might be a bowl of ramen. You use the word – okay, you used to use the word justice sometimes in speeches, before you retired from public life. What does justice mean to you?
106GDR: Justice is the impartial, fair, transparent exercise of authority in adjudicating disputes, determining guilt, innocence, and appropriate punishment in matters of law, and the protection of the set of rights and responsibilities that allow human beings to live in free, peaceful, secure, healthy, sustainable and creative environments.
107AMB: As a last definition, can you explain what you mean by non-violence, which is a term you’ve used in your speeches?
107GDR: Non-violence is the principle that all human intentions and actions should proceed from the rejection of violence, the reduction of harm, and the promotion of peace, understanding, tolerance, freedom, and love for the human family and the biosphere.
108AMB: And what would people do in this perfect world?
108GDR: They’d seek individually to enhance the expression of the set of positive characteristics.
109AMB: Do you see that as a viable motivation?
109GDR: It’s the most exciting thing in us. It’s the source of all art. It’s the source of all wisdom. It’s the drive in us that isn’t just procreative. It’s our common humanity.
110AMB: Of all the themes that you could’ve chosen for The Mountain Shadow, you chose the search for love and faith. Why did you choose that theme?
110GDR: I’ve been on a very long journey, through decades, and it’s only recently that I understood that it’s a spiritual journey. They all are, I guess.
I began to see that very often the description of a phenomenon in spiritual language was identical to the scientific description. The same thing, simply described by two different languages.
These parallels have been pointed out by Fritjof Capra and others for years in my reading, but it’s one thing to read about such parallels, and another to actually experience the understanding of them, as two different ways to describe the same thing. The spiritual language of connection and the rational world of coincidence: both are views of the world running parallel to one another, like the quantum and the Newtonian.
Should I stop there? Do you want to ask about something else?
111AMB: No, please finish the thought.
111GDR: A long climb through science, and prayers said with believers from every faith that invited me, led me to the theme of love and faith.
Faith is trust. Every trusting thing is an act of faith in someone or something. From cradle to grave, from the first hand that holds you to the last handful of dirt at the end, we’re born into a connection of trust, and it continues throughout our lives.
Sometimes that trust is abused or wronged, and the connection is weakened, and hearts are harmed. Sometimes that trust is nurtured and becomes the centre of a highly empathic heart, which is the beauty of our kind.
And the love in us, the love in families and enduring friendships, the love expressed as duty in the millions leaving their homes to work for love of someone, the love in airports, and school fetes and labs of engineers who somehow land a craft on a rock, in space, a very, very long way away.
I came to a place inside where I saw love and faith everywhere, even in the lost, like me. There’s love everywhere, just as there are unlovely things everywhere.
112AMB: Can you say something more about what faith means to you?
112GDR: Faith is trust, and trust is spiritual freedom. This is different from belief, which is what happens to faith when it is codified, just as marriage is the codified form of love. Complete faith in someone or something is freedom from doubt and fear and insecurity. That’s why the subject of faith is critically important. And that’s why a personal or political breach of faith is so painful – it’s in the freedom from doubt, fear and insecurity that’s lost.
113AMB: Can you go into how faith became a subject for you personally?
113GDR: The first time I understood something about faith was when I broke it. I hadn’t seen it for what it was. I hadn’t seen it at all. I’d been on heroin for years, and I lost most of the connection to everything.
When I robbed banks for money to buy heroin, I didn’t just break the law, I broke the covenant with the community. I broke the trust of the city in which I lived, and I knew it and felt it as it was happening.
When I escaped from prison I broke the trust invested in the job I’d been given, with access to the front wall. I felt that breach of trust within me as well, but in a different way. I was escaping to save my life, but I was still breaking a trust to do it.
Ten years as a fugitive was very often measured in fragments of the truth, in fragments of trust. Another seven and a half years in prison shaved my trusting life experiences somewhat.
I know about bad faith, because I’ve acted in bad faith many times, and I’ve broken the trust inside faith. But I’m still trying to improve myself. I’m still searching for a better way to belong in the world, evolving as I continue to learn.
And it seems to me that belonging, the substance of what we are together, is a always a narrative of love and faith, despite our cultural fascination for hate and distrust in much popular entertainment.
114AMB: You’ve been through a lot of hard times and you’ve seen a lot of bad things. Why did you decide to put so much humour in The Mountain Shadow?
114GDR: I wanted to reward readers of Shantaram with this novel. I wanted the people who liked that novel to be entertained on as many levels as possible. I wanted The Mountain Shadow to be sad and funny and maybe a little wise or poignant for them, the readers who told me or wrote to me about their experiences in reading Shantaram. It had to be kinda funny now and then, for them.
115AMB: You talked about investing characters with your life force, so to speak, to make them real enough for you, before offering them to readers. What’s it like to kill a character?
115GDR: Damn good question. It’s a horrible thing, and sometimes extremely painful. I cried hard when a character died recently. The grieving was so fierce that I had to cover his pictures on my character wall. I’d lived with that character since 1988, when I published a story about him. It was a torment, letting him go.
116AMB: You’ve written about war, and you’ve dedicated a lot of your time to the peace movement. Are you a pacifist?
116GDR: Yes. Peace is justice, war is injustice.
117AMB: You don’t think there’s such a thing as a just war?
117GDR: No, it’s an oxymoron. War is by its nature unjust, and necessity cannot justify it.
118AMB: What about the classic example of Allied intervention against Nazism in Germany?
118GDR: Military intervention is sometimes necessary in order to save lives, but that doesn’t rid the action, warfare, of its brutality and its capacity to injure and dislodge civilian populations. It’s always unjust, and we should accept that fact and its consequences, whenever we consider that such injustice is necessary.
119AMB: How would that change anything, if we accepted that all war is unjust?
119GDR: When you accept that all of it is unjust, their stuff on their side and our stuff on our side, you take out the dangerous Good Guys and Bad Guys element, which permits the atrocities it abhors. When you accept that killing people for whatever reason is unacceptable, all war is unjust, just as all murder is unjust, whatever the reason and whatever the necessity.
The fact that we must do something does not in and of itself confer justice on the action required. Justice is measured in its mercies, as much as in its punishments.
The bombing of civilians, for example, no matter what the reason or objective, is always unjustified, because if life is sacred, its sanctity applies to all equally. Half a million civilians lost their lives in Germany during the Allied war against Nazism. For me, the price they paid was too high. The price anywhere is too high. Human life is sacred, precisely because it is self-aware enough to ask the question of whether it’s sacred or not.
Life is sacred. The taking of it, for any reason, even the most compelling, is always unjust, and the karmic burdens of such interventions, however necessary, remain with those who intervene. Which is why any intervention deemed inescapably necessary should be driven by the consciousness of our common humanity, and not by our common inhumanity.
120AMB: Are you talking about a different kind of warfare?
120GDR: I’m talking about a different kind of peace. If a nation thinks that it must be at war, it should conduct it with the peace that comes afterward in mind. They must consider that today’s enemy may become tomorrow’s trading partner and ally, and measure every action against its consequence of humanity or shame in the peace that will inevitably follow.
I think that all civilian deaths in conflicts are crimes against humanity. Civilian deaths should be considered unthinkable in conflict zones, just as the execution of enemy prisoners is considered unthinkable in most of the world today.
121AMB: You talked before about a character wall for your characters. How does that work?
121GDR: When I start a new novel, I assign faces to the characters, and pin them to a corkboard wall. I have an image of a character in my mind, and I find faces that fit closely, and then compose them in a character wall. I use the faces of actors most often, because actors have so many different expressions captured in photographs on the net.
122AMB: How does this help you?
122GDR: Living with a wall of images of the characters in a novel helps me to inhabit that different space where they live, and I just talk about them as a writer. They become a constant presence, and sometimes for years. In the case of The Mountain Shadow, the character wall for the project goes back to 2010.
I’m putting some pictures in my edition of the e-book of the character wall that I created for the writing studio in Bombay, where I finished the novel over two years, living with my characters every hour of every day.
123AMB: What does your typical writing day look like?
123GDR: There are two typical writing days for all writers – the one where you still have to hold down a job and work for a living, which I did for a long time, and the kind where you’re free to do nothing but write, which is where I’m privileged and grateful to be to be the moment.
So, these days, and for the next novel, I wake, look at my character wall for a while, shower, get into fresh, clean clothes, drink something with coffee in it, then start writing. I take a break when I’m told that I haven’t eaten for a long time, and then I eat something, and go back to writing. That goes on until I can’t do it any more, then I might unwind with something like Boston Legal or Damages or The Walking Dead, then shower, sleep, and repeat, until the book is done.
124AMB: And the writing itself? How animated are you, or is it something very silent?
124GDR: I shout, if there are no neighbours to disturb, and yell my head off from time to time. I dance and wave my arms. I jump up and down, and roll my chair around if it has wheels. I listen to music, and sometimes there’s a perfect synchrony of the mood and tempo of the music, and the mood and tempo of the prose, so I’m writing in time to the music. If what I’ve written in moments like that is good enough, that gets me shouting and dancing.
125AMB: Do you always listen to music when you write?
125GDR: I can write anywhere, with or without music, but if I’m free to choose, I always write to music.
126AMB: How do you choose the music?
126GDR: I make playlists, based on mood states. I find songs that help me to sustain a particular mood, such as joyful, fearful, triumphant, angry or sympathetic. As I move from one mood to another in the novel, I move from playlist to playlist, always with music in the background of what I write.
My aim is for the prose to be so well-constructed that it can be read with exceptional fluidity, even in a cold reading. Music helps me to strive for that harmony of line and rhyme, and keeps me focused on the importance of rhythm in everything in life and art.
127AMB: Do you always write long hand first, before creating a digital document?
128AMB: Does the connection between the hand, the pen and the page give you a greater freedom of expression, in a first draft?
128GDR: Exactly. I lean toward concinnity, and I’m drawn to elegance in language, rather than economy. The pen allows certain extravagant flourishes than can’t survive the glare of a document page on a screen, and we leave them behind. But beneath those excesses, permitted by them, are strong lines that stand up on a screen, which might not have inspired such courage or quirkiness of thought in its rigidly controlled creative environment.
I like the pen, but I like the keyboard as well. The hand-written draft is only the first. All those that follow are on the screen, so no matter how you begin, you still spend the great measure of your writing time on the screen. In effect, the screen version becomes the real version of the novel.
129AMB: What do you do with all of the versions of your work?
129GDR: I’m putting some of it in my e-book. I’m not saying anyone else would be interested in seeing these other versions of chapters from the book. I’m just making the kind of e-book that I’d like to find from someone else’s work, as a writer and a reader.
Apart from that, I keep as much of my work as I can, and when I think there’s enough of it, I’ll make it available somewhere, so that anyone who’s interested can access it.
130AMB: I want to take you back to the subject of war and conflict in general for a moment, because it’s a very prevalent subject today. How do you suggest we deal with intractable conflicts, or perceived threats like ISIL?
130GDR: Regarding ISIL, that’s a war to establish a Sunni caliphate, supported by Saudi Arabia, and which is being resisted by Shias, supported by Iran. The conflict is mirrored in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other regional states are also involved. It’s their fight, not ours. The largely secular or Christian nations have an insufficient understanding of Islam and its schism, just as sixteenth-century Muslims in the age of the Protestant Reformation might have an insufficient understanding of Christianity and its schism.
It’s their fight, and we should stay out of it, throw everything we have into a United Nations program to protect civilians and evacuate them where necessary, and offer any other help where we can, without prejudice, just as Doctors Without Borders does. But we should stay out of it.
And we absolutely shouldn’t bomb anyone there, ever, for any reason.
Rule Number One: Nobody Dies. We should always seek to create the conditions necessary for a cease-fire. We should communicate sincerely, until the killing stops on both sides.
Then we should put every resource of war into investments in peace, paying whatever it takes, wherever it takes, to find a peaceful way forward. War crimes from any side should have no statute of limitations, and should always be rigorously prosecuted.
The use of weapons of war by any leader, elected or otherwise, against any civilian population, including their own, should be declared a war crime, and rigorously prosecuted.
When the dictator Assad began to kill his own peacefully protesting people, I predicted that if we didn’t establish a No-Fly Zone over Syria, allowing the Syrian people to topple their dictator in a fair fight, 100,000 people would be killed by him. I underestimated his viciousness. The figure today stands at more than 160,000 people killed. Assad’s murderous tyranny has become one of the great crimes of history.
There’s no doubt that the world should have established a No-Fly Zone over Syria immediately, when Assad began to use weapons of war against his own civilian population. The specious argument that Assad stands against “terrorists” is an intellectual atrocity: Assad is the cause of terrorism, and also of the concomitant influx of violent groups into Syria. If he had accepted the will of the people and departed the country, when the Arab Spring demanded it peacefully, there would be no conflict in Syria today.
Of course, I fully acknowledge that it’s easy for me to say all that: I’m just a writer, not a politician, and I don’t have to take responsibility for other people’s lives. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely clear that Assad should be on trial in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
131AMB: Prosecutions like that are proving hard to achieve in the real world.
131GDR: And the successful prosecutions have been very selective, so far in the history of the international criminal court. In a just world, indictments would be filed against the perpetrators of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. The inability to bring indictments of Syria’s dictator to the ICC by 2015 is damning, and illustrates that the mechanism for attributing responsibility for war crimes where it lies involves political decisions, and not purely moral or legal ones.
132AMB: What’s the way forward, or the way out, in your view?
132GDR: The way forward is through greater and greater cooperation. If there was international cooperation in finance, the corporate tax rate in every country would be the same, corporations wouldn’t be able to avoid paying taxes, they’d settle down in one place and connect to a community, just as companies do, and with their increased tax input, we’d provide adequate protection for all.
If pharmaceutical companies cooperated with one another in a fully transparent manner, seeking to serve a complex market with quality medicines, taking a fair share of the profits for each, we’d synergize on the over-abundance of antibiotics, reduce waste, and develop new medicines.
If companies in construction, information and service industries cooperate with unions, productivity increases. When workers feel secure in their jobs and receive a pay rise, they spend it within the economy. When corporations share their sustainability technologies with one another, they cooperate for the environment in a we’re all in this together spirit, but preserve the uniqueness of their brand.
When police authorities cooperate with protestors they have a higher probability of avoiding violent confrontation.
If we can learn to cooperate internationally in good faith, the majority of us in the world who are appalled by violence of any kind will be able to constrain the minority of us who prefer violence, or who profit from it, to desist.
The key is to develop non-violent mechanisms for containing violence. Current paradigms try to develop ever more effectively destructive weapons, in what’s called the arms race. The real arms race is actually the race between the arms manufacturers to the maximum profit in any given year.
It’s an appalling irony that the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations are the world’s largest arms manufacturers and proliferators. A more accurate name would be the Insecurity Council.
A new paradigm would reverse the technological search, and focus on ways of making existing weapons harmless, rather than more harmful. Let’s work out a way to mess up every weapon in the world.
Let’s make one year, any year, 2020 maybe, or 2030 the base line year, and have a moratorium on the manufacture of new weapons for five years from that date. Instead, let’s put everything we’ve got into making every weapon ineffective, thereby stripping thugs of the power of the gun.
133AMB: Do you believe that day will come?
133GDR: If it does, we’ll only get there through ever-greater cooperation with one another, based on caring, sharing and fairness. But yes, I believe that we’ll get it together. People everywhere, especially young people, are seeking positive change. This generation of university students is paying dearly for what should be the inalienable right of intellect, an education, and they’re the game changers of tomorrow. The relentless demolition of the state by extremist capitalists will breed resistance. The current popularity of Jeremy Corbin and Bernie Sanders attest to that.
Everywhere I’ve lived in the last ten years or so, from Geneva to Bombay, I’ve encountered groups of people doing things for themselves, and achieving ends as cooperative associations. But we need to connect more.
There’s an old truth called the 80/20 divide, where the money in most countries is in twenty percent of the hands, and in fewer hands in times of extreme inequality, such as exists today. Most distributions follow a bell curve, but some distributions resist that trend and have what’s called a fat tail distribution, following Pareto’s Law.
When researchers first verified the 80/20 divide, in every country they examined, they tried to isolate the factors that might be responsible for the phenomenon. After eliminating all other factors such as educational status and income, they discovered that the link between all those in the twenty percent was that they were all in significant networks. They were in Rotary Clubs and Business Councils and golf clubs and university alumni and arts institutions. They were networked.
We who constitute the 80 percent have to network with one another, cooperating and sharing resources and data wherever we can. We have to network our positive energy and recharge ourselves at every opportunity.
134AMB: What is the energy of change, do you think?
134GDR: Nice question. Compassion is the energy of change. Anger and hatred are impediments to change. Sadness and regret, though essential, are clouds. The lightning of change is compassion. Every great movement toward a more humane expression of our common humanity began in compassion, and was sustained by compassion when the going got tough. Compassion is the energy of change.
135AMB: You once said in an interview that music is creative compassion. What kind of music do you like?
135GDR: A bit of everything. I’ve got a very nice deep defected house playlist, and some favourite Bollywood, and some guitar god stuff from Slash that I love, and anything by my brother, Nick Smith, and ZZ Ward, Randy Crawford, Sister Sledge, some reggae to get the blood flowing, and Lisa Shaw, and Kwabs, and The Clash now and then to clear my head, and anything and everything funk.
136AMB: Do you play the guitar or the piano?
136GDR: I play the guitar really, really badly. The kids in the slum had a name for the way I play. They called it killing a chicken. But I like to play. I like Paul McCartney’s songs. They’re elegant, and kind, and a pleasure to play and sing. But he has a high register, and his songs aren’t easy to sing. You can’t fake them.
137AMB: Do you sing as well?
137GDR: I used to sing. I was a piano bar singer for a few years, while I was on the run.
138AMB: What did you sing?
138GDR: I did the saloon singers, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, and Mel Torme. I also had a Beatles hit list, and the patrons could request songs from it. I was singing in a piano bar in a five star hotel one night when a delegation of police officers from all the Commonwealth countries walked in. The officer from my country requested Yesterday from the list, and I sang it for him, invisible to him as a fugitive at the same time.
139AMB: Do you still sing?
139GDR: Every now and then.
140AMB: Why did you stop?
140GDR: As a punishment for my escape and ten years on the run, the authorities put me in solitary for two years. When I was released into the mainstream of the prison, I thought that I’d survived well, and that the system hadn’t beaten me. Then I tried to sing, which I’d always done since I was a kid, copying Stevie Wonder’s voice singing I was made to love her. But I couldn’t sing.
I couldn’t hit the note. I couldn’t stay on key. I couldn’t get the timing right. I tried for weeks to sing, whenever it was the right time in that wrong place, but I couldn’t sing any of the songs I’d sung hundreds of times. I’d lost the spirit.
I left those solitary years thinking that the system hadn’t beaten me, but it had. I lost the spirit, and I couldn’t sing any more. Now, twenty-three years later, I’m beginning to sing again.
141AMB: You said once that every prison sentence has a freight of post traumatic stress disorder. Do you stand by that?
142GDR: Yes. The prison experience is traumatic, no matter how tough you are, or you think you are. A prison sentence should simply and rightly be a period of custodial care, cut off from a significant portion of the rights and benefits of a free citizen. The reality of prison is that men and women are broken and scarred by it.
Trauma isn’t prescribed by judges or the law, and in fact is specifically addressed by laws banning its provocation during custodial sentences. But it goes on, and far too many prisoners are returning to the streets in the same post-traumatic stress disordered condition as soldiers, returning to the streets from wars. Humane imprisonment directed toward reducing recidivism is essential to the spiritual health of the community. It’s the path to repentance and forgiveness, and it’s the only sane way forward from the brutality of today.
143AMB: Where does your worldview or philosophy of life come from?
143GDR: From the future, in a sense. As a thought experiment, I ask what future generations will think of today’s decisions and events. When I feel pretty sure that our future selves would applaud us in our efforts, I think we’re on a positive track.
144AMB: But more specifically, where does your philosophy of life come from? Who influenced your thinking along the way?
144GDR: My Mother has a moral compass that steers away from prejudice and injustice in any form. I dropped that compass when I staggered into heroin. But Mum started me on Socrates, Marcus Aurelius and Erasmus, giving me a feminist critique of each of them, so I saw their big ideas through the ironic lens of female persecution. That’s a good start, if you want to develop a critical mind.
145AMB: You have a lot of faith in science, don’t you?
145GDR: I have faith in the scientific method. I think the scientific method is our finest intellectual instrument, and the source of most of our understanding of ourselves and the world.
But science itself isn’t immune to cultural bias, and sometimes the application of the scientific method isn’t as rigorous or sincere as it should be. So, have faith in the scientific method, and use it to question all that appears in the name of science. A wonderful examination of cultural bias in science is in Cordelia Fine’s superb book, Delusions of Gender.
146AMB: You were advising business leaders on sustainability and ethics, before you retired from public life. What was that experience like?
146GDR: Optimistic, but it left me even more aware of how much the thinking of corporations has to change, if we’re to find a rational way forward for everyone.
I liked engaging with CEOs, and hope that the dialogue we started continues. I was brought in as a devil’s advocate, to criticize from within, sometimes pretty harshly. The CEOs I dealt with always listened, even if it didn’t change the course of their actions. Little by little, that dialogue has to bear fruit.
I’m all for the dialogue. Someone recently said to me We need everyone, expressing in three words what I’d tried many times in paragraphs to encapsulate. We need everyone. We all need to get behind this cleaner, greener way.
147AMB: Critics argue that a switch to clean-green will cost too much, and require us to take a hit in our standard of living.
147GDR: The fact is, our standard of living has taken a hit for a long time through extremist capitalism’s so-called austerity, and whatever it costs us to invest in clean green today, is an investment in the world we pass on to our grandchildren. We can’t put a dollars and cents price on that inheritance. We can only respect and preserve it.
148AMB: How would you define sustainability? What would it look like, to live in a sustainable world?
148GDR: Sustainability is the primacy of the biosphere. Sustainability means putting the question What’s best for the biosphere? as the first question before we do anything, anywhere.
149AMB: Doesn’t the primacy of the biosphere put the planet before the people?
149GDR: Precisely. We got into this mess by putting ourselves before the planet. We’ll get out of it by putting the planet before the people for a while. We don’t live in a world where the end justifies the means. We live in an age when the means must justify the end.
150AMB: Is there anything distinctly Australian about your way of thinking, or about your narrator character, Lin?
150GDR: Yes, I think there is. Australia is a place where people coined the phrase Jack is as good as his master. People did away with the rigid hierarchies of Europe, and created a more egalitarian way of thinking. And I guess I’m a little bit proud that the character Lin is Australian, in the novels. There’s a very genuine warmth and willingness in the Australian character, the Australian way, where courage and fairness still mean something in a social sense. Australians are adventurous, and they’ll try just about anything. They’re resourceful, and they’re very quick studies, because for a long time it took a very long time for anything to get to Australia, so you had no-one to rely on but your neighbours and friends. And they’re generous people. They give a lot, and always have. Of course there are political and social problems in Australia, as there are anywhere. And the disrespect of the Indigenous people of Australia is simply unspeakable. But if there’s any short list of truly good Australian characteristics, I think fairness, generosity and self-reliance would be near the top.
Lin’s a universal character, as are they all. But I’m pleased that Lin in Shantaram and TMS is a decent Aussie who took a wrong turn in his life, and finds himself in a bad spot.
151AMB: Do you have a favourite character in The Mountain Shadow?
151GDR: Characters are children, some of them older than you are yourself, and you can’t play favourites. You love them all, even the characters most readers would despise. But I always have a soft spot for Karla. You get a lot more Karla in TMS. You get to understand her crazy take on things a little more. Not all the way, of course, because there’s always a lot more of Karla to discover than she reveals. But I like her very much in this novel.
I like Oleg, the smiling Russian guitar player. He just pushed his way into the novel at version 16, and stayed all the way to version 23, becoming more likeable for me all the way along.
Didier gets his scenes and dialogue in TMS, and he’s a character I live with constantly, because he has more stories to tell in the next couple of years.
I like Idriss, and Concannon, and Abdullah, hey, I like them all.
But I also like Lin in this novel. I wanted to paint Lin into the background in Shantaram. The story wasn’t his, and it wasn’t about him. It was the story of exile, and every one of the exiles had to have their own minutes of experience. I deliberately painted the heroic out of the character, because he isn’t the hero.
In TMS I was free to put Lin a little more into the foreground and the goreground. He’d been without Karla for two years, and working as a professional gangster for the south Bombay mafia for all that time. He’d been through street battles and beatings, and knew his way around every crooked corner of south Bombay.
The Lin in this book is more active, more determined and harder than he was when he arrived as a neophyte in Shantaram. He’s less self-flagellating, in a sense. When he arrived in Bombay as a fugitive, he was still carrying a crushing burden of shame and regret. After learning that some of the people he loved were only using him, and despite that still loving them, and living for two years as a street guy and passport counterfeiter, Lin has grown up some, and toughened up some. He was fun to write, and I like him a little more in this book.
152AMB: What was your favourite part to write in TMS?
152GDR: I can’t really say that there’s ever a favourite part of anything I write. The process is intense. I create a writing environment that works for me, put the headphones on, play one of my prepared playlists, get into the right mood and rhythm, and start writing. If I’m lucky, and I don’t get interrupted, I keep going for a year or so, and the process is complete. Every part of it is either exhilarating beyond anything else you know, or so profoundly unsatisfying that every sentence seems worse than the one before.
But to answer your question, and take one part out of the novel for you, the section on the lockdown in Bombay was fun to write, because I’ve been through three Bombay lockdowns, and it took me the third time to figure out how to get around in a closed city, which is described in TMS. Those lockdowns can get pretty interesting. Forty or so tourists locked in a cheap hotel for a couple of days usually find a way to entertain themselves beyond the usual decorum expected in India. The version in TMS is no exaggeration.
153AMB: Which would you say was a challenging part of TMS to write?
153GDR: I think the four hardest things in novel writing are sex scenes, genuinely funny humour, natural dialogue, and profound thinking. If you get those four right, all you need then is a good backing track.
154AMB: Why do you think Shantaram has become a phenomenon like it has?
154GDR: I wouldn’t use that word, but if you’re asking why some people responded to it emotionally, and involved their families and friends, nagging them to read it, as they wrote to me in emails, the most common response from readers was that Lin was not judgemental, Lin was open about his shame and regret for the harmful things he’d done, and he cared deeply about the other characters. Those were the most frequently raised points.
Men also wrote to me about love. Soldiers, cops, bikers, prison guards, serving prisoners and security personnel wrote to me, saying they wanted to thank me for having a kind of tough guy hero who falls crazy in love. They said thanks, for saying it’s okay, because we love like that too, but we can’t talk about it.
Incidentally, when I was prison librarian, a long time ago, the most frequently borrowed books were collections of love poems, which the guys raided for love letters.
155AMB: What do you hope readers will come away with from reading TMS?
155GDR: Well, first, I’d hope they felt entertained. It’s a big commitment I’m asking them to make, reading an 850-page novel, and I hope they feel nourished by it at the end. Second, I hope that some readers will take away a passionate and well-constructed defence of our common humanity.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes true that the more cybernetically connected we are, the more directly disconnected we become. Economic and social forces are acting centrifugally, flinging humanist conceptions of our human kind to outer rim ecosystems of thought, far from what’s regarded as the centre, or common ground. But what we are inside, most of us, almost all of us, is fairness, cooperation and courageous love. We are what we were for the first hundred thousand years of our making. Fairness is in us. Kindness is in us. Cooperation is in us. I hope that some readers will finish TMS with a strengthened sense of our common humanity.
It was wonderful to receive thousands of emails from readers after Shantaram was published, and I was surprised and pleased when I saw that so many of them began by saying that they’d never written to an author before. I was strongly moved many times, and I cried when I read the stories of hope and redemption that readers sent to me. I’ll miss those emails very much, now that I’ve retired from public life, and I’ve closed down my email accounts. I hope that readers who’d like to send me an email will send exactly the same positive, inspiring messages to friends and colleagues, instead.
One of the recurrent themes in the emails I received were references to Khaderbhai’s philosophy. Readers wanted to know if there would be more in the sequel. There will certainly be more. At the end of Shantaram, Lin discovers that Khaderbhai had a spiritual teacher, named Idriss. In TMS, the character Idriss is fully fleshed, and the philosophical component of the novels is more fully explored. For readers who want more, I’ve put the uncut version of Idriss and the sages on the Ebook.
156AMB: Everything in TMS happens twice. Why did you choose to write like this, and what is the significance?
156GDR: I use the house of mirrors, a kind of Cabinet of Caligari, as a trope in my literary work. The layer of mirrored depth, where everything happens twice, is designed to create a resonant echo of all the action of the novel. It creates a positive reinforcement loop, working subconsciously on the mind of the readers by continually reminding them of something else, something subconsciously familiar, even while they’re absorbed in the moment.
Another way of creating a membrane around the literary work is to constrain the imagery. In my work, I only ever draw metaphors or similes from the natural world. This limited palette, which ignores everything outside the natural world, helps to build a sense of place and time that continually reinforces itself, the further that you journey on its river. It’s an autopoeitic system, like a single human cell, which is a positive reinforcement loop. And we hope that nature will never die, so the metaphorical relationship will also endure, and won’t become dated or arcane.
The house of mirrors, where everything reflects everything else, happening twice, creates a slender membrane around the action of the novel, drawing you into its own world. Focus on colour is also a key, and the colours silver and blue are the emblematic colours of TMS. Unifying mythic imagery also helps, and TMS evolves in the Island City or on the sacred mountain, both contained environments, with a membrane of coastline or tangled rivers.
All those things, including the mirror-layer, are designed to create a deep inner space in the novel, where everything is strangely familiar, while writing about something that’s unthinkably or unacceptably wide from a reader’s experience. Movie directors do the same thing, in choosing representative colours, scenery, temperature of the cinematography, unifying symbols, such as a cross, depicted in the frame of a window, or a whirling fan as a symbol for death, and with mirror images.
In a sense, every art does that, or tries to do it: to create a deep inner space, where the truth of seen or read experience is as close to the truth of truly lived experience as possible. We’re trying to create something that seems so familiar from the strangeness of fiction that we temporarily accept it as real.
157AMB: We spoke briefly before about your next writing projects, and creative projects in general. Can you expand on that a little?
157GDR: The next novel, which has been a back-burner project for five years, is a romantic adventure set a long way in the past, and a long way from Bombay. The novel after that is a science fiction story I’ve been playing with for a while. As I said, I’m rewriting a screenplay with a director friend for an action movie thriller with a political twist, which is fun. At the same time, I’m writing the music and lyrics for a small show we’re doing, based on the novels. That’s a year’s work, going forward. I’m writing two graphic novels, in my spare time, and researching a philosophy novel, in my other spare time. I’m also consulting as an ethics designer with clean green tech companies.
There’s so much wonderful design out there, these days. But not one kid of university age I’ve asked in the last five years has elected to study ethics. Every company in the world and every large business needs an ethics designer. It integrates the company into a socially sensitive world, constantly evolving culturally, and it gives the company a core of principles to which it must adhere, and to which all within the company can appeal. Please, smart kids, study ethics and psychology, and reset the compass, a generation or two from now.
158AMB: Will you write another book to continue the story after Shantaram and TMS?
158GDR: I’d love to do it, because I love the characters, but the novels will stop with TMS. Instead, I’ve created new stories for some of the characters, with no reference to either Lin or Karla, so they’ll have independent adventures in completely unrelated stories. I also have a storyline for Karla, independent of Lin and all the others from Bombay. I can’t let go of Karla for long.
159AMB: How would you say some of the main characters like Lin and Karla evolved from Shantaram?
159GDR: As I was saying before, Lin is harder than he was, but also much more confident and active as a character. Karla has spent two years in a strange marriage to Ranjit, the media tycoon, and is too deep in her own schemes, or too stubborn, to pull out. She’s quicker, smarter and tougher than she was in Shantaram. Two years in the company of Ranjit would do that to you. Didier is more relaxed in his advancing age, despite his protestations of eternal youth, but every little bit as dangerous with his wit or his gun as he always was.
Johnny Cigar is a confident leader, and Abdullah is a reluctant leader. Vikram still has his own trajectory, and Madame Zhou still likes to direct other people’s trajectories. And then there are all the new characters. I hope that Shantaram readers come to like them as much as the earlier characters.
Some of the characters will be evolving beyond the pages of the novels, or the setting of Bombay. I hope they continue to evolve for some time to come.
160AMB: I’m going to jump in at the deep end here, because this is your last interview, and ask you some of the questions that other people asked me to ask you, starting with the most common of them all, which is what is the meaning of life?
160GDR: From my view, it’s not a valid question. I think that meaning is an attribute of the will that discerns it, and not an attribute of life, the organic process. I think the question you’re asking is what is the purpose of life? At the human level of conscious self-awareness, our purpose is expressed in our common destiny as a species. Our individual contributions to the common destiny, through being fair, honest, positive and creative in as much of what we think, say and do as is humanly possible, is the answer to the question, What is the purpose of my life?
Whatever our path in life, if we walk it fairly, honestly, positively and creatively, we’ll be making a net contribution to our common human destiny. In the very grand scheme of things, we’ll be serving a purpose.
We don’t know what our common human destiny is, because we’re too young, but we know through non-evolutionary knowledge and the capacity to over-ride our animal nature with our human nature, that we do have a destiny.
In my view, the safest way to express that destiny is by working toward an ever greater and more sophisticated expression of the set of positive characteristics. And the fastest way that I know how to do that is to be fair, honest, positive and creative within your inner compass. And in the process, you’re making your contribution to the common destiny that awaits our kind a thousand years from now, and your life has purpose. A life that’s disconnected from our common humanity is purposeless: it’s practise without purpose.
161AMB: The next question on the list is, what is the meaning of love?
161GDR: Love is intimate connection. Intimate connection only occurs at the level of truth, the authentic truth of each person involved in the interaction. Well-meaning scientists searching for the cure to a disease, explorers of the exosphere, nurses, teachers, fire fighters, police officers, ambulance teams, youth workers, carers, Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, cousins and romantic lovers are all expressing love through intimate connection.
The meaning of love is defined through the ever more refined expression of who we are as a species. Love is the way, hatred is the wall. Love defines us, our common human nature, expressed as fairness and courageous cooperation. The meaning of love is a search for the connection it allows at the deepest level of our trust and hope.
Connection is the key to everything in the universe, most often expressed through the exchanges of photons of light. So it is with us: connection is the key to our human hearts, and to our destiny as a species.
162AMB: The next question is, can we really live in a world with only good, and not evil?
162GDR: The first question is what do you mean by good and evil? For me, a thing is good if it tends toward the sophisticated expression of the set of positive characteristics, such as life, consciousness, justice, fairness, compassion and many others. A thing is evil, in the philosophical sense, if it tends toward the expression of the set of negative characteristics, such as death, unconsciousness, injustice, unfairness, selfishness and many others.
The question is, if you accept that definition of good and evil for a moment, can you envisage a world where everybody was positive, and no-one was negative? Actually, I guess there are two questions: Is it possible? and Would it be boring?
Any game theorist will tell you that the Generous Tit-for-Tat strategy eventually succeeds in eradicating free riders, but that it also takes many, many iterations. So, it’s theoretically possible, but improbable in anything but the long run.
That being said, islands of cooperation can become continents, and the struggle for fairness and compassion has already long started. I’m on the positive side. I don’t have to live long enough to see it myself to believe in a future where cooperation, conservation, the elimination of the arms trade and peaceful interactions between neighbours and nations is the accepted norm.
The hypothetical, could we live in such a world, is fair enough, but I don’t have any doubts on that. I think that bullying is boring, and intolerance is boring. I thrive in a world where everyone around me is a positive person, devoted to achieving personal goals. That’s the most exciting collaboration I know.
When I recall my years of travel, the times that give me most pleasure in recollection are those that were spent with loving, positive people in a dozen countries. I think we could very happily live in such a world, where just about everybody tried to do the right thing.
163AMB: The next very often asked question is, What’s your favourite place in the world? And if that’s not home for you, where do you call home?
163GDR: My favourite city to ride a motorcycle in, or dance in the rain in, is Bombay, but I’ve been living in Switzerland for years, and that has been home for me. Switzerland doesn’t make war on anyone, and I like that. When I look into the faces of young men and women in Switzerland, I know that their country will never send them to fight a war in another country.
164AMB: The last one on my most requested list is, if you were stranded on a desert island with six people, living or dead, who would they be?
164GDR: My family and close friends.
165AMB: Apart from them?
165GDR: Jesus, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Spartacus and Artemisia Gentileschi, just to make sure that they all had a safe island to live on.
166AMB: Back to my own questions again, I’d like to ask what you understand consciousness to be?
166GDR: Consciousness is awareness. Human level consciousness is the awareness of the self.
167AMB: Where does consciousness come from?
167GDR: Consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, I think, like most other complexities. Consciousness emerged from the autopoietic system, or positive reinforcement loop, that was established between the brain and the prehensile thumb and pointing finger, or the hand in general, when the human brain and hand emerged in our prehistory.
The hand with its versatility and sublime sensitivity sent extremely complex signals back to the brain, as it interacted with the world. It’s likely that consciousness, which is a sense of the “I” in the world, emerged from that positive feedback loop between the dextrous hand and the developing brain.
168AMB: Do you have a definition of culture?
168GDR: Culture is the human conversation with itself. I think it began when the first of our kind pointed a finger at a glorious sunset, and muttered a sigh of awe, drawing the attention of her companions to something especially significant that they could share, which was not food or survival. I think the pointed finger, coming from one who wants to share a spiritual or non-physical inner experience with others, in a sense of awe, is how culture began in us.
169AMB: What’s your main worry about the world?
169GDR: That the war on the poor will strip us of talent, and set us back by a decade or more in the struggle toward a sustainable, equitable future.
170AMB: What’s your greatest hope?
170GDR: There are many. The youth of today are the best educated and most connected in history. They will change the world, when they have the power to do so. And everywhere, people are connecting with one another in new, positive ways. That connectivity is vital. The case of the recent election in England is a case in point. The Conservative party won a majority of seats, but only one in every three voters chose them. Two-thirds of the voting public voted against the Conservatives. The difference, apart from voting system, is that the one-third were united, and the two-thirds were disunited.
The point is that all of the media propaganda promoting ever more austerity for the poor and ever more latitude for the banks and corporations, and all the lecturing by politicians, failed to convince the people. Two-thirds of them voted against further austerity, but because they were disunited, the one-third have the power to impose the austerity that people overwhelmingly rejected.
We have to connect. We have to talk to one another. The two-thirds who rejected austerity are the silent majority, and they must unite.
171AMB: What advice would you give a young writer?
171GDR: Since I’ve only been able to publish two books, I’m probably not the best person to give advice about writing. But I’ve been writing all my life, so I guess I can legitimately tell you what I know from my own experience.
First, write every day. This has to be the thing that defines you. Just as painters, photographers and filmmakers are always working, one way or another, even when they’re not, writers have to be on the job, writing something in their heads, every day, and a lot of the time. In a sense, writer is simply someone who writes something every day.
If you miss a couple of days, for whatever reason, make up for it by setting aside enough time to fill eight or ten pages, and then try, again, to write something, even just a line or a phrase, every day.
Write long-hand, in journals. You don’t have to write the whole novel in long hand. But keep a decent-sized journal with you all the time. Write down every small or interesting thought or description you have. When you’re alone, in a park, set yourself the task of writing six different descriptions of a tree in front of you. Write observations, lines of made-up dialogue, lines of over-heard dialogue, the description of a girl’s smile and a man’s walk, the sound that a train makes as it arrives at a station, the effect of sunlight on water, and a dog’s curious stare.
Then, when you’re ready, write short stories. They’ll be terrible at first, but just keep on writing them. Short stories are the best way to get your writing skills up, and to exorcise the demons in your life, so that you don’t inflict them on your novels.
After fifty or sixty short stories, with some poetry and essays on the side to keep the tools sharp, tackle your first novella. Take your best short story, for example, and give it a longer tail, populating it with a few new characters, and extend the climax point to about 130 pages.
Then put it in a drawer, or have a prison guard confiscate it, or lose it while jumping through a window, and write another one, better than the first one.
Then try your hand at a novel of about 250 pages, all the while writing poetry and essays to keep the tools sharp. Try to write four good essays of about 2,000 words each a year. Try to knock out at least six poems a year. Both arts inform your novel, and keep your talent on its toes.
Then put that first novel in a drawer, or have a prison guard confiscate it, or lose it while jumping through a window, and write another one, better than the first one. And try everything you can to get it published.
But get an agent first, and let the agent do all the talking.
Once an agent has won a deal for you, make friends with your publishers. We writers can and should continue to try for a more equitable and dignified relationship with publishers, but that doesn’t stop us from forming very cooperative bonds with publishers while we do it. When you publish your first book, you should already think of your third book, and how it will be published. The agents and publishers you meet, if you get published, will be part of a network that is critical to your career path as a writer. Be obliging, do what they ask you to do for publicity or marketing, and be conscious of respecting and preserving the relationships you form along the way.
Attend every festival you can, once you’re published. I enjoyed every one of them, and will miss them, now that I’ve retired from public life.
And as you go on, never fear deadlines. Deadlines are friends. Writers are the procrastinators of the spiritual universe. Some of your best work will come when you lock everything else out to meet an impending deadline.
172AMB: Is there anything from your own actual way of writing, which you’ve talked about briefly, that you can pass on to other writers?
172GDR: Clear the area of negative energy. Try to make sure that if you’re going to sit down to write a novel over several months, the place where you work is positive, and that any people you might interact with are positive.
Writing is deeply personal and emotional. Writers are vulnerable, when they write. They need positive people around them, when they come up for air, and a tolerant, understanding environment in which to work.
I wrote a novel, two novellas and about thirty-five short stories in prison. It wasn’t hysterical fun. A stable, harmonious environment is the foundation stone, for me.
My routine is to write about a chapter long-hand, in bound journals, writing on the right hand side of the page, and leaving the left hand side free for edits and rewrites. Then I transfer that chapter to the screen, in a numbered document, as the first screen cut.
When all the chapters are on screen, I open a new document, copy in the first version, and edit that as version two. When I get to version twenty-three, the book is usually done.
173AMB: You said that you’ll miss going to the writers’ festivals. What will you miss about them?
173GDR: The people who come to meet writers. I met hundreds of people at festivals, and it was always a warmly positive experience. The chance to meet other writers is also kinda cool for a writing geek like me, and I’m not tardy in getting an autographed edition from an author I admire. And the people who organize the events and festivals are just extravagantly nice, so it’s always a pleasure. I will miss it.
174AMB: Do you collect books?
174GDR: Not any more. I like books, and I’ve had several collections over the years, but for one reason or another I had to walk away from them. There are writers like Arundati Roy, Moses Isegawa, Jonathan Carroll, Toni Morrison and Pat Conroy, and if I had a personal dedication in a book from them, it would mean very much. I only keep the signed books given to me. All the other books I read are passed on as quickly as I’ve studied them.
175AMB: Do you read Ebooks?
175GDR: Yes, and I like them. If you’re the kind of writer that people quote, it’s a gift, because the Ebook allows people to send quotes to their friends. Nice. I think that the physical book will vanish in time, remaining only in special editions and dealers in antiquities. Millions of pulped books went into the filler compound on the road surface of the M1 motorway in London. Such is the fate of our work, and such is the fate of all books, some distant time from now.
176AMB: You seem very centred. What gets you upset or angry?
176GDR: My favourite quote from the original Star Trek series is from Spock, when he was asked what he objected to. The character replied I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose. I second that, and both those things can get me uppity.
I try not to be angry about anything. Anger is fear, in wolf’s clothing.
177AMB: How do you keep fit, as a writer who spends long hours in a chair?
177GDR: A few times a week I throw some weights, just dumbbells on an incline bench, and I shadow box most days. I used to box in the ring, but twenty-five years ago I reached a point where I couldn’t hit anyone any more. I just couldn’t do it. Now I can’t even watch it, and the spectacle of brave men beating each other in a ring seems something from a primitive age. So, I just box my own shadow now.
178AMB: Have you got a message for people who have drug addicts in their families?
178GDR: If the drug is as bad as heroin, the users either pull out of it by their late forties or early fifties, or they die. Other drugs like alcohol and Ice have different expiry dates. You only have two choices, to keep them close or to cut them off. I understand relatives and friends who take the view that by supporting a drug addict, they’re enabling them, and participating in a mutual dependency. In my view, the best that you can do is to keep drug-addicted loved ones alive, trying every therapy and technique whenever possible, until they reach the turning point themselves.
Drug addiction is very often a self-esteem issue. In the end, every gradual step towards a heightened and happier self-esteem for the user brings them closer to the turning point.
Another very important aid is positive role models. When I stopped taking heroin, thirty-five years ago, every person I’d ever met who kicked the habit was standing beside me, spiritually, helping me to get through it on the dictum, they did it, and I can do it, too.
179AMB: Do you believe in God?
179GDR: There’s more evidence for God than against God, because light has both physical and non-physical, or metaphysical, properties. If light had only physical properties, the atheist proposition would have more suppositional value. But the fact that light has metaphysical properties, such as that it weighs nothing, has no mass, has no volume, and is outside the flow of time from its own perspective, means that a discussion of the metaphysical, or God, is required.
I believe that the Source of all is expressed in this universe in certain characteristics, such as the four forces, space, time, energy, gravitation and matter, and also in a spiritual tendency field that permeates the universe, and with which we can make contact. If that sounds like God, then yes, I believe in God.
180AMB: Last question, in our 180 Q&A, and thank you for agreeing to answer so many questions in your last interview. The question is this, if you have a message to send out to people, what is it?
180GDR: We are one. We are one.