17 June 2011 "When I first heard about virtual reality I thought: is there any other kind?" In this full Q&A, Alan Moore talks about the multiverse, <i>Tetris</i> and cruel comedy Sign UpGet the New Statesman's Morning Call email. Sign-up Yesterday, I posted my piece about Alan Moore's current work in progress, an epic prose novel called "Jerusalem". As we talked for an hour, there was a huge amount of material I couldn't include in the magazine article, so here's the full Q&A. There are spoilers for "Jerusalem" in the first half, in so far as such a concept makes sense in this context. Let's start off talking about Jerusalem, which has been in labour now for three years . . . I think I started it in something like 2008. I would point out that my previous book, which was much smaller, took me five years. So even if Jerusalem takes me another year, I'm probably ahead of my former best. I was talking to Professor Steve Jones at one of those evenings that I did, the Uncaged Monkeys at the Hammersmith Apollo. I was telling him that Jerusalem, when I'd passed the two-thirds mark, was already over half a million words. He said: "You know, that is bigger than the Bible." I was quite pleased with that. I'm just hoping everybody else will confuse quantity with quality. It's undoubtedly a very big book. So is it going to be a million when you're done? Three-quarters, I'm guessing. This final section of the book, the third section -- I decided that I wanted to push the narrative further, so that it didn't seem like it was getting tired. These last chapters, they're all quite difficult in their way. Their length can vary but the Lucia Joyce chapter, that was the one that forced me to take up publishing Dodgem Logic so that I could have a break from writing Jerusalem for 18 months. It's the longest chapter in the book. It ran to about 35 single spaced pages and it's all completely unfathomable. It's all written in a completely invented sub-Joycean text. I read it through again and I can understand most of it . . . No, I can understand all of it. It is the only way that I could have written that stuff. It was an experiment. The previous chapter, which I finished a little while ago, was all in the form of a Samuel Beckett play. With Beckett himself as a character and Thomas Becket, just make the narrative more confusing -- [and] John Clare and John Bunyan and various other characters all appearing as ghosts. It's a little play set under the portico of a gothic church in Northampton. There is relevance to that: Samuel Beckett was a visitor to Northampton. The first time he came here was when he played cricket against Northampton. There's a cricket ground at the bottom of the road where I'm living -- it's mentioned in Wisden's Almanac that Beckett played against Northampton and, on that particular night, all of his team mates decided to go out visiting the numerous pubs and prostitutes, which Northampton (after the boots and shoes) was primarily famous for. Beckett didn't fancy that so he just decided to go out on a church crawl. I'm restaging that as part of my little play in chapter 29. Each of the chapters in this final book, I've got no idea how long they're going to be. They're all experiments. In the age of Twitter, is there not a little bit of you that worries that nobody's going to finish it? Not at all, as long as I finish it. That seems to be the main thing. Of course, I have doubted that people will even be able to pick it up. This is going to be a very large book. I was talking to some people today who might be involved in the publishing of it. And they were suggesting: why don't we go it to a Bible publisher? Get it printed on Bible paper? Like a huge missal? That would be fantastic, wouldn't it? You know, I'm not averse to the idea of some sort of ebook after that. I'll probably never read it because I don't really get on with that kind of technology but I'm not adverse to it appearing in that form. As long as I get my huge, cripplingly heavy book to put on my shelf and gloat over, then I'll be happy. As to whether people read it or not, who knows? It might end up as this year's A Brief History of Time, which people like to have on their bookshelves, if indeed we have bookshelves in the future, but haven't necessarily read it. I like to think people will get through it because it is very readable -- apart from the Lucia Joyce chapter, which is completely incomprehensible. The rest of it is probably more reader-friendly than some of my previous work has been. I'm getting over some quite big and strange concepts in this book so I figured that for most of the book it would be better if those concepts were expressed in simple and accessible terms. And you talk about "disproving the existence of death". I thought that seemed a substantial project for my declining years. There's a lot of other stuff in the book but one of the central theses is based upon my ruminations about mortality and time. It seemed to me that if I understood people like Stephen Hawking correctly, this meant that we are living in a universe that has at least four dimensions. I was talking to a string theorist and he reckons possibly 11. Funnily enough, I interviewed Brian Greene recently. He says they're all curled up like a pile on a carpet. Little crumpled-up dimensions that are hidden inside the ones that we're familiar with. I think there must be at least four and if that is correct, the fourth dimension is not some mystical plane. It is a dimension, just like the other three. It is a physical material dimension. When Einstein talks about space-time having a curvature, then since space-time includes the three dimensions that we're familiar with, that kind of implies that it must be curved through the fourth one, so that suggests that the fourth dimension as I understand it is not time. But it is our perception [of] the passage of time -- the universe is a four-dimensional solid in which nothing is moving and nothing is changing. The only thing that is moving through that solid along the time axis is our consciousness. The past is still there, the future has always been here and, in this gigantic solid, every moment that has ever existed or will ever exist is all existing conterminously at the same moment. In this giant hypermoment of space-time -- and that includes all of the instants that make up our individual lives -- it seems to me that nobody is going anywhere. Think about a standard journey through the third dimension: you're in a car driving down a street, say. Now those houses behind you are vanishing; you can't see them anymore. But you don't doubt that if you could reverse the car, those houses would still be there. The thing is, our consciousness is only moving one way through time. We can't back up. But I believe that what physics tells us is that those moments are still there and I believe that when we get to the end of our lives, the 70 or 80 years of our life is just physical dimension . . . It is how "long" we are in time and when our consciousness gets to the end of our life, there's nowhere for it to go other than back to the beginning. That we have our lives over and over and over again an infinite number of times and, each time, we are having exactly the same thoughts, saying exactly the same things, doing exactly the same things as we were doing and saying the first time. If it's even meaningful to talk of a first time. I thought I'd thought of this idea myself because I was a genius . . . It turns out that the Pythagoreans had some sort of version of a great recurrence. They were basing it upon the idea that when this universe ends, because time is infinite, then there are bound to be other universes and, since those universes are finite, there will eventually be another universe exactly like this one, which I don't really think holds up scientifically. Whereas this idea of the dimensionality of our existence, it does hold up. I can't see a way around it that doesn't involve completely contradicting one of the main conceptual lynchpins of modern physics and, halfway through Jerusalem, I came across this beautiful quote from Albert Einstein that completely summed up everything that I was trying to say but very eloquently and at a lot shorter length than three quarters of a million words. He was apparently consoling the widow of a fellow physicist -- this was only a couple of months before Einstein's own death -- and he said: "To a physicist such as myself, death isn't really a big thing," and I'm paraphrasing now. He said: "Death isn't really a big thing because I understand the persistent illusion of transience." I thought that the "persistent illusion of transience", that says it all. The persistent illusion that things are going away. People, times, places, I don't believe they are [going away]. I think that in a certain sense, every moment is eternal. I'm not trying to make a religion out of this and you'll notice that this doesn't require a God. So it's not really an afterlife; it's just your life. It's a nice, secular idea of continuity that I think is scientifically credible. And whether it's true or not, that wouldn't be a bad way to live. I have to say that the idea I'm quite taken with is the infinite multiverse, where everything happens somewhere. Every action you make. I find that a horrible idea, because doesn't that kind of [imply that], everything that you do, there's another you that's done it better. Yeah, but there's another me that's done it worse. That's true, so at the end of the day, it sort of reletavises all morality or action out of existence.. I remember reading a story by Larry Niven, who's an author that I don't really like, but he's talking about a private eye who's investigating a wave of suicides and he eventually connects all this up to an announcement in the press that parallel worlds are definitely real, that there is an infinite array of parallel worlds in which an infinite number of versions of you exist. And he's sort of thinking about that and thinking maybe that's what's caused the suicides. [There is] a kind of existential despair at the thought that however well you do, there's a million other yous that are suffering in horrifying circumstances and a billion other yous who did much better. He's thinking about this and he takes out his gun from the desk and he puts it against his temple and he holds it there for a second, and then he thinks: no, no, nobody kills themselves for an obscure philosophical point. And he puts the gun away in the drawer again. And he pulls the trigger but the gun doesn't fire. And he pulls the trigger but the bullet shoots up and ricochets against the ceiling. And he pulls the trigger and blows the top of his head off. And there's just this array of different outcomes at the end of the story, all of which are happening in one parallel world or another. A lot of people have found the idea of living your life over and over again absolutely terrifying; there's some people that find it very comforting. There are others that are appalled by it. I don't mind it as long as you don't know. This is the beauty of it. Another aspect of this belief is that there is no free will. Which is something that I've noticed cropping up a lot in the New Scientist recently. The idea that we live in a deterministic universe. I've got a scene in my book where one of these symbolic, pool-playing, working-class, angel-type figures is talking to one of the more human figures and the human is asking the -- we can't call them "angels", they're not like angels on Christmas cards, they're a bit more substantial -- but a human is talking to one of these celestial builders and says: "Look, did we ever, any of us, really have free will?" And the angel shakes his head and says: "No . . . Did you miss it?" Then they both laugh. As far as I can see, it's not important that we have free will, just as long as we have the illusion of free will to stop us going mad. We do have the illusion of free will. It feels like we are having each moment for the first time, that we could've done anything, that we could've said anything, but that isn't the way that science seems to be heading. My favourite scientist, largely based on the fact that he's got an incredibly cool name, is a guy called Gerard 't Hooft. He's working upon a theory that he says we cannot test yet because we do not have tunnelling microscopes to test it, but what he proposes is that there is a layer more fundamental than the quantum layer, that all of the features of the quantum uncertainty that are so strange and peculiar are all resolved as if they'd never been there, which would completely match up the classical model [of physics] and the quantum model. The only problem with this is that if there is no quantum uncertainty then there is no free will. So, there seem to be a few vectors that are heading that way and they've been debating [over whether] if we found out that there was no free will, wouldn't that mean that we'd all just go on a rampage? The simple fact is, most people would be predetermined not to believe [that]. Yeah, and also, everyone else buys into the belief system. You can run around saying it's all an illusion but it will still affect how people treat you. I find this a lot when I play computer games: I'm pathologically tuned to be nice to everyone because I want people in computer games to treat me like I'm a nice person, even though there are no moral consequences and it is all completely a virtual reality. It is so ingrained. This is it, I never play computer games but my wife, Melinda, has been idling away some precious hours of her life with them and she was talking about one in which she had done something mean -- because she thought that she had to at some early point in the game -- and then for the rest of her game life as that character, there was always villagers hanging around who were bringing up the fact that she'd eaten these baby kittens or whatever it was. Yeah, I think I know, it must be either Fable or Dragon Age. Yeah, Fable, it was. They point fingers at you and say, "You murdered him, you did," and you go: "Sorry! I didn't mean to." She was starting to feel really bad about these baby kittens or whatever that she'd eaten and it was starting to almost get to her like she'd done it in real life because the disapproval of these virtual villagers was starting to weigh upon her. Of course that's going to happen. When I first heard about virtual reality in the context of computer games, my first thought was: is there another kind? It's all pretty virtual, isn't it? We don't experience reality directly; we experience our perceptions. To some degree, this is already a virtual reality. So, it's not a surprise that the disapproval of the people in computer games affects us as much as the disapproval of people in apparent real life. I used to notice that when I did play, when I dabbled with Space Invaders or Tetris or something like this. So, a long time ago, I'd find that I was having adrenaline reactions, I was getting stressed out over things that weren't really happening, I was having visceral reactions to the stuff that I was seeing on the screen, even if it was only low-level, probably something to do with mirror neurons. We do tend to have a ghostly experience of what we've seen. If we see somebody performing an action, parts of our brain light up as if we were performing the same action. So, it must be something like that with these games. I'd find myself getting irritated, mostly with myself for playing the game for so long but . . . But that happens with books as well, doesn't it? If you strongly identify with the main character, then you feel on their behalf, particularly when it's a situation of embarrassment or they've been taken advantage of. Exactly, or watching some of the post-Ricky Gervais comedy of cruelty, I have found that I've had to switch the channel, or, at least, back when I had a television signal I used to find this. At a particularly excruciating bit, even if it was a particular character that was about to be humiliated, I didn't want to see it. I'd be empathising too much. And when I heard about mirror neurons I was thinking, yeah I bet that applies to not just if we're a real person doing something, I bet that applies to a film of a person doing something, I bet that applies to a photograph of someone doing something, I bet that applies to a well written piece of text. I find that if I'm watching somebody upon television or in a movie that is on a window ledge or in some high precarious position my hand starts sweating and I get that crawling feeling in the soles of my feet. If I'm reading a passage like that I get the same reaction, and I find that interesting because as a writer I'm interested in getting actually physiological reactions from my reader. If I write a thing well enough, is it possible to actually put your reader, at least precariously, into that extreme state that you're writing about? Does that not worry you - it implies that there's a moral dimension to your writing? Particularly if you're writing about superheroes; we let them do things that would be awful if we let a real person do them. I don't really write about superheroes any more. I've drastically changed my ideas about what superheroes are realistically about in the past five or six years, but when I did used to write them it seemed to me that morally it was more important to actually question the concept of heroism and particularly super-heroism. I find it's a dangerous idea if unexamined. Adolf Hitler was a hero to the people of Germany. A lot of the people that we have described as heroes,maybe they were sort of psychopathic, didn't have the same quite rational sense of fear or personal mortality as other people. . . Oliver North was a hero to a huge part of the American people. It's dangerous as a concept, and that's one of the things that I was trying to say in Watchmen. I was trying to say that as viscerally as possible, to put my reader in some startling and uncomfortable spaces, hopefully because I wanted to get over my ideas as powerfully as possible to impress them on the readers. And I don't think you're doing your readers a disservice by doing that. I think that we're living in a world where so much of the culture that surrounds us is soporific and deadening; it's not really inviting us to engage with our lives in a more meaningful way, in fact quite the opposite. Most entertainment media is a way of disengaging with our lives for half an hour or an hour. It's to entertain, which is not necessarily to tell you anything or to raise any moral questions, and I think that art - or at least I'd like to think my art - can't really avoid those kind of issues. It has to be challenging something, otherwise there's very little point in doing it. If it's not challenging something, it's probably reassuring you about something and I think that that is probably a bad thing. I don't like the idea of art that reassures, it should be raising questions, not telling you, yes everything's lovely, everything's alright. Yes there is a place for art like that, but it's not art that I particularly enjoy, and it's not art that I particularly enjoy making. I like the idea of a certain amount of confrontation and pushing the reader into new areas of experience. I think that is the job of a writer or artist, or at least that's how I see it. I really enjoyed your magazine, Dodgem Logic. It felt very, and I mean this in a good way, old-fashioned. It was curated by one person's interests. What did that experience teach you, apart from that it's very difficult to pay people properly and do things properly? I had such a lot of fun doing Dodgem Logic, and yes, it was meant to be a return to the kind of energy and spirit of the underground magazines that I enjoyed so much during my formative years. But at the same time we didn't want it to be an exercise in retro, psychedelic nostalgia. We wanted this to be a magazine that wasn't actually like Oz and all of those. Wonderful as I found them when I was 15, we wanted to do something that was actually relevant to the times that we're in at the moment, that was perhaps using the kind of spirit and the kind of agendas of the underground in a new context and I think that we pulled that off. Looking at it, there was actually a lot more content than there used to be in those old underground magazines. As much as I loved them, they'd fill pages with vague muddy newspaper collages torn from the tabloid press of the day, with sensational headlines juxtaposed with pictures from pornographic magazines. There was very little content. When there was content it was sometimes wonderful. But there wasn't much of it. With Dodgem Logic I really liked the way that we had got a policy - probably a suicidal policy - of no paid aids. I liked the way we were taking people who are in many cases at the top of their individual field, and mixing them up with people from the block who we just happened to know, who had a passion or a talent. There were perhaps some moments of unevenness in Dodgem Logic. Yeah it wasn't really meant to be an entirely slick professional magazine in the sense that we have come to expect slick professional magazines to be. We wanted something that did have rough edges and would probably almost certainly make take numerous Pratt falls, because you have to be prepared to risk that if you're going to do anything that is adventurous. I loved it, I thought there were some incredible moments in there. The Michael Moorcock Blitz reminiscences; The wonderful first chapter of Tom Pickard's autobiography; Iain Sinclair's piece; the photo shoots; the comic strips; working with people like Savage Pencil again, fantastic; the incredible comedians that we've got. It was a really good mix and although it's lost a shitload of money I really wouldn't change anything, I'm really glad I did it. We're not done yet, we're getting the web version up and running and then if there is a way that we can return it to the publication in print media then we're checking out various options. I think that Robin Ince is organising a couple of big benefit gigs. He's bloody good at that. Yeah he's fantastic at it, Robin. I don't know how he actually finds the time to organise so many things and find the time and have a career as a writer and a stand-up comedian. I think he does it as a sort of displacement activity when he feels like he should be writing his stand up shows, he goes and does it and he feels like he's sneaking off. Yeah, he's tireless, he's talking about getting all the Dodgem Logic comedians to turn up. We were thinking about doing two nights, maybe one with a load of comedians and one with a load of bands who have volunteered their services. We'll keep everybody posted on that. So, Dodgem Logic is not necessarily over yet. And I do tend to think that where it was received it was very well received. It was an economic problem. We were selling something like 15,000 copies. But that's out of a print run of 30,000 and it was a decent print run for a magazine, if it had adverts or slightly lower production values, or a slightly higher cover price, we probably could have made it work, but we didn't want to do those things, so we're rethinking it to see if there is a way to bring it out as a print media publication, which I do have a fondness for. Well, as someone who's writing a bloody great big book I imagine you do have a great love for books as an object . It's not pathological. I accept that things change and that the future of reading might be in the form of a Kindle or an iPad, but somehow I tend to think that the book is perfectly adapted. It's like a shark; sharks haven't evolved in millions of years because they don't need to. They're really really good at being sharks I think the same is true of a book. I might be wrong and the situation changes and there are no more books. At least I'll still have all mine and I'm sure I'll adapt but I somehow doubt that some of these basic forms are going to vanish just because we have a new alternative. We've had movies for years but there are still operas. Emotionally, yes, of course, I love the smell of paper. I love the smell of paper in the morning, it smells like victory. One of the big pleasures to me of Lost Girls was how fantastic the paper smelt. I barely bothered reading the book. I was just enraptured by the smell of the paper. But you know, that was probably just a personal fetish. But that was in a slip case as well wasn't it? There is something kind of satisfying about getting something out of a slip case. It feels like more of an event when you select your volume. On Lost Girls that was all of Melinda's idea but I completely agreed with her on her thinking. She felt that it was important to make this as beautiful an artefact as possible to dispel the connotations that generally, and quite rightly, surround the word pornography. It was perhaps a sugar coating on a bitter pill but it was particularly beautiful. What it said was: "We are taking this very seriously." It's a way to tell the reader this is not just a cheap exploitation of work, that's not how its authors see it. I think that actually worked quite well for us with Lost Girls. There are going to be some maps in Jerusalem and you were talking about designing the cover, but is it very odd to go back to writing without an illustrator and not having someone to bounce off? It's a very strange thing the first time I did it with my first novel, Voice of the Fire, it took me five years and I found that a very lonely experience because for the first time I was writing a lengthy substantial work without being able to bounce ideas back and forth with a collaborator and without having anybody to be interested in the work with me. I suppose, with Jerusalem I'm taking on a much bigger piece of work but I have developed as a writer since I wrote Voice of the Fire. Knowing more what to expect now I think that I'm handling Jerusalem very well. It's very comfortable. It's a huge journey without really anybody for company. But I don't know it seems just adjusting my thinking to a bigger scale. It's not as difficult as Voice of the Fire was. With Voice of the Fire I didn't know whether I could write a novel, I didn't know whether I'd get to the end of it. I didn't now whether it was going to work. It was a form I'd never worked with before. So I got all of the insecurities that come when anybody gets when they're working in a form that they're uncertain about. But I've only got one novel under my belt of the grown-up, non graphic variety, but I have got quite a lot of experience as a writer. I hope I never do anything as long as this again. And how do you celebrate writing a 750,000-word novel? I shall go and have a bit of a lie down. You're not going to pick it up again and start reading it from the beginning are you? Oh, well, I shall have to. When I write that last word, I shall have to go back and revise it all. But that won't take very long. I can just do a chapter a day, so that will take about a month. There are 35 chapters. I shall also be getting my friend Steve Moore to work with me on it because he is the only thing slightly resembling an editor that I would let near this. Any editor worth their salt would immediately tell me to lose two thirds of this book. That's not going to happen. I doubt that Herman Melville had an editor and if he did have one, that editor would have told him to get rid of the boring stuff about whaling. You know, "Cut to the chase, Herman." So, Steve will go through it and check for facts. I wanted to make sure that all of the historical stuff is as accurate as I can possibly make it. I'm making some ludicrous claims in the course of this book so I think that it's important that the stuff that is real is completely grounded and completely accurate. In answer to your question, I'll probably take Melinda out to a Chinese restaurant and we'll get hammered on sake. I stopped drinking in 2000 because I was bored with it. I realised that I'd pretended to like the taste of beer when I was 14, because I thought that would make me seem more manly -- instead of cherryade, which was my first love but I couldn't say that when I was 14. So, I stopped drinking beer out of boredom in around about 2000. But I am very fond of sake. It's surprising how it creeps up on you. Yes, especially when it's warm. It tastes so comforting. That's it, I don't know why but I was talking to some of the scientists at the Uncaged Monkeys and I was saying what is it about sake? Why does it do that? What possible difference can heating it have? There are four questions we always ask. First, was there a plan for your career? No, except for the plan that I was constructing upon the hoof. I had no idea that I was going to be able to sell any work to anybody back when I was starting out. When I did land a job as a cartoonist on the music paper Sound, I thought I might be able to last for a couple of months before people realised that I had no talent and came and took it all back. But I thought at least I'll be able to say that I lasted a few months, supporting myself from my art and that is something to be proud of. So, when I realised that there wasn't going to be anybody coming and taking it all back, I started to think, well, I have some kind of precarious finger-hold upon this life and this situation, how could I improve that? So yeah, there was an awful lot of strategic stuff going on but no, my only plan was to see if I could support myself by doing something I liked. When I found out I could, I adapted my plan. Could I support myself doing something I liked that was also progressive and was taking it into the areas that I was really interested in? It's just been a matter of upgrading my ambitions and this is why you end up doing a three-quarters-of-a-million-word book. I do worry that after your next one, you're going to think: "Well that was all right, actually, I enjoyed that." The thing is, Voice of the Fire, was about 300 pages and it was all about the county of Northamptonshire. This one is three-quarters of a million words, probably, and is all about five or six blocks of Northamptonshire. About half a square mile. So the next one will be several million words and it will just be about this end of the living room. I'm hoping that I can put the brakes on. Do you vote? No, I don't, I've been an anarchist for a long time . . . I did vote once. I voted for Jim Callaghan because I'd been told by a more politically active friend that Edward Heath was a fascist and to not vote would to be as good as voting for Edward Heath, which would have been as good as voting for Hitler. You know, at the time, I didn't know any better. Edward Heath was just an old-style Tory but back then we didn't know there would be any new Tories. So he looked quite bad, so I voted for Jim Callaghan. Jim Callaghan got in and immediately started to bring in the American cruise missiles to British bases, bought in some of the worst anti-immigration legislation that I'd ever seen. And I thought, well, that's on me. I take this seriously, I don't like to vote because I don't believe in the democratic process, and I don't believe that it is democracy. Democracy as I understand it is demos - the people shall rule. It doesn't say anything about the elective representatives shall rule. I think in Dodgem Logic there was an option that got put forward that I would find preferable, which was the Athenian way. Yes, you get summoned. It's by lottery. If there is a decision of national importance to be made, a jury or a parliament will be decided by lottery. They will hear both sides of the argument, they will vote, the jury will be dissolved. So there's no way you can vote for extra privileges for MPs because you won't be one. It's more in your interests to vote for what is in the general interest of the broad population that you will be returning to. So, I'm not saying that it's a flawless idea but its maybe one of the ideas that we should start thinking about, because I really think that this is a pretence of democracy at best. Yeah, and a handful of marginal constituencies get to hold the balance of power. That's it. Back when I was working with the Green Party in local politics in the 1980s, there was the idea of proportional representation, which would have meant that if the Green Party had got 1 per cent of the vote, it would have had 1 per cent of the MPs. If the British National Party, or the National Front, got 1 per cent of the vote, you might have ended up with a National Front MP but I could've gone along with that. That sounded like it would at least been fairer. But this AV thing is nothing to do with proportional representation [we spoke before the referendum]. It's another way of organising the deck chairs on the Titanic. We do need something a lot more drastic than that. We need some alternative to our current system; that wasn't it. So, no, I don't vote, I believe in direct political action. I mean, some friends of mine from Wales, where I bought a ruined farm about 15 years ago -- one of them had gone over to Romania and seen the volunteer orphanage that was trying to help out people that they'd rescued from the state orphanages, which were horrifying. Stuff that you wouldn't want in your head. And this guy who was an ex-Welsh rugby player with a face like someone had tried to put a fire out on it with a shovel, everything that you'd expect of a great, big, former rugby hero. He was over there on business, he saw this going on and he couldn't live with not doing anything. So he came home and got a bunch of liver-damaged, unemployable drunks from Wales to go out there with a couple of lorries and materials that he'd guilt-tripped business colleagues into donating and they built an orphanage and a hospice within two weeks, with electricity and water. What I'm saying here is, if you look at the world and there's something that you can't live with or there's something that you don't agree with, don't vote for someone who tells you that they're going to put that right, because they're not. They are trying to get you to vote for them. They will tell you anything in order to get you to vote for them. There's no incentive once they're in. If you want something done, as my mother used to say, then do it yourself. That was partly the message with Dodgem Logic. I believe the politics of the 21st century is direct involvement with the world that we are living in. Rather than abdicating our responsibility through the ballot box to a bunch of clowns who evidently don't care. Which leads us nicely into the next question: a nice optimistic one for us to end on. Are we all doomed? Yeah, but don't worry about it. [It's] part of the thing with this Jerusalem hypothesis. Back when I first had children, in the late 1970s, early 1980s, I'd reached a point where I wasn't frightened for myself any more. I wasn't frightened about death for myself; I wasn't frightened about bad things happening to me. Then I had children and that opens a whole new vortex of fears. That was one of the reasons I threw myself so enthusiastically into the Green Party, because I was thinking if there was a nuclear war or an environmental collapse, that could mean the end of all life on this planet, or the end of all human life. If that was the case, that would mean every human struggle, every human achievement, every childbirth, right back from the dawn of the species, was all for nothing. No one would ever know that we were here. And I thought: that is horrific. The past is wiped out as well, all the stuff that my mother and grandmother and so on did is all obliterated in nuclear nonsense. And then I thought, because I'm quite a well-informed depressive, I thought that even if that doesn't happen [and] if we somehow manage to survive the nuclear problems, survive the environmental problems, then ultimately give it another few billion years and we're going to have the Andromeda galaxy colliding with ours. Even if that doesn't happen our Sun will turn into a red giant eating the other planets, so unless we've got somewhere else by then, then that's it. Then that would mean we may as well have not been here. Then, even if we manage to get on, I don't know, on the Starship Enterprise and find a more hospitable solar system, the universe ends. Give it another six billion years, I'm not sure. But eventually the universe will collapse into entropy as Professor Brian Cox demonstrated with his sandcastle, so eloquently. I was talking to Brian, as I call him, and I was saying, "Brian, your demonstration of the principles of entropy, I thought it was eloquent but I'd like to ask you how the second law of thermodynamics squares with your controversial hypothesis that 'Things Can Only Get Better'." He said: "Well, it's a pop song, it's not scientifically accurate." So I thought, well, ultimately we're all going to be gone and nobody will know that this universe was ever here. That negating doom really hung over my head. However, the Jerusalem hypothesis, which I believe is scientifically accurate, folds all that. It means that nothing was ever wasted, not a moment was ever wasted. It's all still there and when we reach the end of the universe, that's just like the end of a street, the street is still there, the universe is still there. The space-time is still there. So, no we're not doomed, unless we're leading particularly bad and uninteresting lives -- in which case yes, we're doomed, because I believe that we have them for ever. So, lighten up is my message. Try to enjoy yourselves because I think this is for ever. That is both quite pessimistic and quite optimistic. One of the advantages of the theory is that it's got all the heaven and hell that even the most rabid American fundamentalist could ask for in a religion. All of the best moments of your life for ever -- I mean, that's paradise. And all the worst moments of your life for ever. Yeah, that's eternal hell or purgatory. But both at once, both here and now in this world. All the heaven and all the hell that we could ever possibly ask for. That's my hypothesis. It might not be the most comforting hypothesis but, you know, it's kind of fair. It's certainly fairer than being judged by some remote spiritual authority whom you may or may not agree with. It kind of makes it all our fault and I can live with that. I think that sounds perfectly reasonable. › Ed Balls balls up Helen Lewis is a former deputy editor of the New Statesman, who is now a staff writer on the Atlantic. Her history of feminism, Difficult Women, will be published in February 2020. Subscribe For more great writing from our award-winning journalists subscribe for just £1 per month!