Interview by Naomi deLuce Wilding
Images by Alex Aristei
“I think that philanthropy has two broad facets to it.
One, we’re trying to fix the problems that are around us.
The other is trying to change people’s lives and attitudes.”
Moby is the stage name of musician, DJ and photographer Richard Melville Hall. Born in Harlem, New York in 1965, Moby is known for his contribution to electronic music, veganism and animal rights activism. He has sold over 20 million albums internationally and is an established pioneer of various genres including house music, trip hop and EDM. As a fierce advocate of protecting animals against cruelty, Moby participates in organizations like The Humane Society. He is also a member of David Lynch’s Foundation For Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace (DLF), which aims to promote transcendental meditation amongst at-risk communities like the homeless. His website allows non-profit filmmakers to access his music free of cost.
NAOMI DELUCE WILDING
Born and raised in West Wales, Naomi deLuce Wilding moved to Los Angeles in 2000, where she began a career as a fashion stylist. In 2014, she and her husband, Anthony Cran, opened Wilding Cran Gallery in the LA Arts District. The gallery serves as a platform to support local and universal social causes through arts education programming and philanthropic work. Naomi also works as an ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, established by her grandmother Elizabeth Taylor in 1991, which donates 100% of every dollar to helping people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Musician Moby frequently performs his powerful and emotionally evocative music to help raise money at charity fundraisers for organizations such as The Art of Elysium and The David Lynch Foundation. He is a vocal supporter of numerous philanthropic causes, and an outspoken vegan and animal rights activist. He meditates and practices mindfulness, but isn’t a follower of any dogmatic religious tradition. Naomi deLuce Wilding asks him about his relationship to philanthropy, and in turn he talks to us about the evolution of the human mind and its capacity to evolve towards greater kindness.
Naomi deLuce Wilding: You seem to be a person with a sense of responsibility towards helping others in one way or another. I’d like to ask you how you feel about the concept of community responsibility, philanthropy or advocacy, especially as a person in the spotlight able to influence others through your actions.
Moby: Yeah, I mean it’s an interesting question when it comes to almost anything. In almost every aspect of our life, we usually focus on the “what”—meaning what people are focused on as opposed to what the true motivation is. And when I look at something like philanthropy, there are so many reasons that people pursue philanthropy or altruism… I’ve never really thought of it that way—to question why is it important to me?
On one hand, it seems sort of self-evident. It’s making things better, insofar as you can, so it seems like it should be important to everyone. But then I think some people pursue philanthropy (I’m not maligning anyone) for public acclaim. Like when someone builds a hospital and put their name on it. God bless, you have a hospital with a narcissist’s name on it, but you have a hospital.
ART OF ELYSIUM
A non-profit organization founded by Jennifer Howell in 1997, The Art of Elysium began as a project to bring art and inspiration to patients at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and has expanded include various populations in need of service and support. Howell’s philanthropic work has given many artists a chance to enact social change through Art of Elysium’s workshops in a variety of creative disciplines.
NW: Agreed. I grapple with the idea of philanthropy being the hobby of the wealthy few who support the sick poor by writing a check. There’s no denying that we need those checks, but the people writing the checks aren’t being changed in any way. One thing I loved about talking to Jennifer Howell [of The Art of Elysium] was that she recognised how “charity impacts the world by impacting the artists who are the hands to make the mission happen.”
M: There are those people who are philanthropic out of habit, and then there are quite a lot of people—and I’m sure I’m guilty of this as well—who are philanthropic out of a sort of distorted sense of self-worth, you know? Because the world is a vast place—seven billion people and it’s five billion years old. Not much of what I do is going to have a huge, comprehensive, lasting impact. Or if it does, I’m certainly not going to be aware of it.
But then I think a lot of people involved in philanthropy, social activism or causes have inflated egos—a sense that the work is probably more important than it really is. If people understood the true lasting consequences and significance of their work, they’d just fall into some sort of existential despair.
“All we can do is—I mean,
this is hopefully what informs a lot
of my philanthropy—do the best
with what we have but without too much
hubris or self-importance.”
NW: I beg to differ. Without needing an inflated ego and without even being a philanthropist, activist or any kind of -ist, we can help each other. Providing art or music to heal and enrich our lives is one of the greatest ways to help those in need—and being of service within our own communities. I believe there is a domino effect in that which can make a difference on a global scale, but it is never about what that one, first person was able to do.
M: So many of us still have this pre-Renaissance idea that the world does spin around us. And there’s something liberating about accepting that the nature of the universe, the meaning, the significance of things might actually be beyond our understanding. All we can do is—I mean, this is hopefully what informs a lot of my philanthropy—do the best with what we have but without too much hubris or self-importance. So when I do philanthropic things, I’m trying to make things better. I’m not convinced that I am making things better, and I don’t know what the lasting significance of my actions might be—it might be nothing. Who knows, a hundred years from now some historian might look back at me and say, “He was the worst person in humanity because he did this. He tried to save animals not knowing that cows were gonna take on sentience, take over the world and become genocidal dictators.” The world is a complicated place. Who would have known tens of millions of years ago when our ancestors were tiny little scared mice living in cracks? Imagine a tyrannosaurus rex looking at a scared little mouse and saying, “At some point there will be seven billion of them on this planet, and they will own the world and destroy it.”
NW: It should have eaten the mouse!
M: So that’s the “why” of philanthropy, simply looking at it from my subjective human perspective. Looking at things that could be improved upon and also having an understanding, as a human, of what other humans are doing. When another human does something egregious and stupid, we kind of understand it because we’re related to them. We’re like, “Oh, you know what? I probably would have done the same thing.” And so when we see someone smoking cigarettes, eating Big Macs, hitting their kids and driving a Hummer, we look at them and we’re like, “On one hand, that’s really not we should all be doing, but I understand why you’re doing it because I’m human.” So a part of philanthropy is almost like being a chiropractor—you’re trying to adjust things to get back to where they make more sense.
NW: Totally. That’s a lovely and simple way to come back to it. But even simply from the point of view of empathy: if somebody hurts, we try to help.
M: Unless you’re a sociopath, yeah.
NW: It is in our nature to try to help others.
M: Yeah, I love looking at brain architecture and the evolution of the brain because what’s super fascinating about primate brains, especially human brains, is we have the same brain as an insect or a lizard. We just have other stuff added onto it. If you look at the brainstem of an alligator, it looks a lot like our brainstem. It’s the stuff added onto it—the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex, all that stuff—that is relatively unique to primates. What’s fascinating is even some proto-primates like possums are a missing link. You can look at their brain architecture and see that their limbic system isn’t nearly as developed as, say, a monkey’s. But when you’re talking about empathy and compassion, you can almost pinpoint where it exists in the brain architecture and say, “That’s why a dog will adopt a tiger cub. Or why an elephant weeps when another elephant is killed. Or why we as humans”—it’s so paradoxical and baffling—“are capable of both profound empathy and unspeakable barbarism and cruelty.” You’d think that we would either have one or the other.
NW: And if you look at our history, you can see how we’re conveniently able to turn that empathy on and off as desired.
M: Sadly, Joseph Stalin is the poster child for this. There’s one Stalin quote that kind of sums up the human condition in the most horrifying, sad way. Stalin was watching an opera or a play. In the play, a girl’s dog had just died and Stalin found himself weeping. He talked about this in interviews. So he’s weeping, watching this play about a girl whose dog had just died, and then he realised that that same day, he had just signed an executive order guaranteeing that 1500 people would be put to death.
One of my hopes for humans is that we will somehow pass this. I don’t know if it’s moving more in the empathetic realm, but certainly our barbarism—our capacity for cruelty and savagery—has simply outlived its usefulness.
“As time passes, the savage person
won’t have any understanding of empathy,
and the kind person won’t understand
savagery. So hopefully, we can collectively
evolve to be a kinder human race.”
NW: When I read the news, it seems to me that our destructive nature is present as ever. But I feel that within my community, at least, there is such a strong desire to try and break out of that mold.
M: Yeah, it’s tricky. Epigenetics is a sort of hereditary genetics that deals with the way behaviour actually influences the genetic makeup of a creature. For example, an anxious mother will sometimes, two generations past her, have anxious children or anxious grandchildren. In the olden days of genetics, people assumed that you inherit a certain genetic set, and the only way evolution happens and the only way things change is through mutation. And now epigenetics is sort of saying that, actually, thought and behaviour change who you are genetically. And I wonder if neurologically—because what we’re describing is two approaches to orientation towards the world—people are either your friends or you want to kill them. You have compassion for the guy in traffic, or you want to stab him. Some neuroscientists now believe that the more you go in one direction of savagery or empathy, the more it then inclines you to continue in that direction. So if someone is raised in a brutal environment, and they’re conditioned to pursue savagery, eventually they’ll just become savage. And if someone was raised in a kind, nurturing environment and pursues that and develops their limbic system, they will continue to become gentler in nature. As time passes, the savage person won’t have any understanding of empathy, and the kind person won’t understand savagery. So hopefully, we can collectively evolve to be a kinder human race.
NW: But if what you’re saying is that social change leads to evolutionary change, how does it expand beyond our immediate cultural circles?
M: Cute YouTube videos. I really think that cute YouTube videos are changing the world. In the meantime—and to bring it back to your question—I think that philanthropy has two broad facets to it. One, we’re trying to fix the problems that are around us. The other is trying to change people’s lives and attitudes. Like being an animal rights activist—one, I want to protect animals. Two, I want to change people’s minds and help them realise that using animals for food is a disaster for the animals and also for the people.