The Practices of Compassion and Cruelty

Blacktailed Jackrabbit

“I don’t understand these people trying to help animals when there’s so much human suffering in the world. Shouldn’t they be helping humans instead?”

I was asked this question at dinner the other day. One of the characters in my novel, The Last Island, is an animal rights activist. The questioner thought that her passion, like that of many other animal activists, was misplaced. I answered the question as best I could at the time, but after some thought I realized that my response was inadequate. I’ve since come to a new conclusion.

Simply put, the advocacy of animal rights is a matter of compassion. Compassion is a practice, not a resource. It’s not limited and can’t be depleted. Like any other practice — meditation, prayer, kindness, love – it’s something within which one can grow and improve. Given that, compassion for animals does not displace or re-direct compassion for humans; one reinforces the other.

As is widely known, animal abuse in childhood is strongly linked to psychopathology and violence as an adult. So it would appear that cruelty, like compassion, is also a practice. But the nastiness doesn’t need to be personal, because it’s been shown that mere proximity to animal cruelty leads to an increase in violence toward humans.

A study by Amy Fitzgerald, Professor of Criminology at the University of Windsor, concludes that the link between slaughterhouses and increased violent crime in the surrounding communities is an empirical fact. The study states that “slaughterhouse employment increases total arrest rates, arrests for violent crimes, arrests for rape, and arrests for other sex offenses in comparison with other industries.”

While maybe we can’t conclude as an empirical fact that compassion toward animals increases compassion toward humans, we can be sure that cruelty toward animals, whether personal or systemic, increases cruelty toward humans. And isn’t that, more or less, the same thing?

So when you pass those good folks defending gorilla habitats in Rwanda, or protesting the fur trade in London, or seeking signatures to prevent animal vivisection in San Francisco, you might just give them a wave or a honk or a dollar — if not for their specific cause, at least for their compassion. And if you question why these energetic and idealistic people aren’t spending their time and energy helping humans, you needn’t do so.

The answer is simple: they are.

My debut novel is available here: The Last Island

The Last Island: Another Update +

Number 1 Bestseller

‘The Last Island’ was the Number 1 bestseller at Amazon Australia this week, holding the No. 1 position in both ‘Literary Fiction’ and ‘Contemporary Fiction’ simultaneously.

In addition, as many of you know, the novel recently hit bestseller status in the United Kingdom as well.

Many thanks to my publisher, Betimes Books, for their ongoing support and to everyone who has helped spread the word.

In addition, in September, for those of you in Southern California, my short play, ‘Offline Daters,’ will be presented with some other short plays in an evening called ‘Legends,’ produced by the New Play Cafe.

I’ll provide more details as the opening date approaches.

Thanks again to all.

And for those who haven’t read it yet, the novel is available worldwide here: The Last Island.

 

 

Living Forever on a Greek Island

Skopelos

Skopelos

After the first few weeks, I didn’t know what day it was.

By that, I don’t mean that I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Tuesday. I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Saturday. The only day I ever knew that summer was Sunday, which was marked by church bells and the voices of the psaltes (singers) in the nearby churches.

Once the churches quieted, that day unraveled like every other day, until again, on some seemingly distant and arbitrary morning, the psaltes would be heard and I would know it was Sunday again.

My wife and I were in the process of moving from Massachusetts to California. We’d rented our condo in Boston in May and planned to start looking for a place in San Diego at the beginning of September. In the meantime, we were living on Skopelos Island, swimming, eating olives, drinking hima (fresh barrel wine) and helping the last of some ancient nuns maintain a crumbling monastery.

Life on the island was relatively cheap, and the rent from our condo in Boston was kicking off enough money to more than support us. We realized towards the end of that unbroken summer that we could stay another year or decade as easily as another day.

“You could write that novel,” my wife suggested, “and I could keep volunteering at the monastery and we could just… stay.”

The predictable objections echoed in our minds. We were young, educated, and suitably ambitious. How could we consider throwing away another season, or year, or decade of our lives? The idea seemed indulgent and wasteful. There was, after all, so much to be done.

At least, that was the thinking in the part of our minds still rooted in the ever-measuring world we’d left, where the only conception of time was linear and limited.

As J.M. Coetzee put it in ‘Waiting for the Barbarians:’ “Empire has created the time of history. Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end.”

This ‘time of history’ is indispensable to empires, because it’s necessary for quantification, in order to measure acquisition and accumulation.

Beach on Skopelos

Beach on Skopelos

But on the island, the time was circular and charitable and expansive. The days and seasons did not deplete; they renewed. The past and future existed but were as far apart as memory and dreams. In between, there was the sea, the sun, the olives, and the wine, and they were endless.

Another Greek island, Ikaria, was the subject of a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, because of the extraordinarily long and healthy lives enjoyed by its residents. The article, entitled ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die,’ cites lifestyle, community, and diet as the reasons why. While all those things certainly contribute to health and longevity, I think the real reason is something else entirely, something much simpler, if less evident.

It’s because time on Ikaria, like it was that summer on Skopelos, is circular and charitable and expansive. And where the days renew, so accordingly, does life itself.

As for us, we departed at the end of that season and returned to the tick-tocking world. It seemed to have only gotten faster in the time we’d been away — and has gotten faster since. We intend to circle back before it runs itself out.

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That novel, which was inspired by that timeless summer on the island, was eventually written and is available here: The Last Island.

The Last Island: An Update

San Diego Books Awards
The Last Island’ is one of three Finalists in the Contemporary Fiction category of the 2014 San Diego Book Awards.

In addition, the novel was recently an Amazon Literary Bestseller in the U.K.

Thanks so much to everyone for their support.

All the recommendations, shares, retweets, purchases and reviews are sincerely appreciated.

And if you haven’t read it yet, the novel is available worldwide here: The Last Island.

Oedipus Wrecks the Shoreline: The Coastal Development Proposal in Greece

Greek Island

“If your age could understand, children,
Full many counsels I could give.”

Greek tragedies play out like no others, as if to remind us of the work of their ancient masters. As there once was a plague in Sophocles’ Thebes, there is now a plague upon the Greek economy.

One proposal to address the current economic problems – easing restrictions on coastal development – is eerily reminiscent of one of those early tragedies, Oedipus Rex, about the king who kills his father, sleeps with his mother and then prefers to blind himself than see what he has wrought.

“Aye, and a flood of ills thou guessest not
Shall be set upon thyself and thy children…”

This coastal development proposal, now in the Greek legislature, would do four things:

  1. Lift all restrictions on beach concessions and sunbeds.

    It will be a free for all. If one concessionaire doesn’t occupy an entire beach, another one will move in. This virtually ensures a ‘carpeting effect’ where every beach will soon be covered with lounges, bars and trinket shops. Walking space, sunning space, indeed, any space will be in short supply.

  2. Facilitate commercial construction on beaches.

    Once the current restrictions are lifted, applications for permanent constructions are certain to increase dramatically (pun intended), in part to simply occupy beach space before another does. This streamlines the process for getting those applications approved, hastening the ‘carpeting effect.’

  3. Allow businesses to pay fines to legalize illegal development.

    Illegal constructions are rampant on some islands. This portion of the proposal not only rewards those previously illegal developments by legalizing them, but encourages future illegal/legal developments.

  4. Ban the right of public access to the beaches.

    Without a way to get to the beach, the path to it may become the most valuable asset. The astute will find a way to ‘block’ the beaches and either charge the public admission or the businesses on the beach a fee to let potential customers in.

“O Man, beware, and look toward the end of things that be,
The last of sights, the last of days… “

Many of us who treasure this immemorial country — its history, its culture, its majesty, its people – feel compelled to speak out. Even if Greece is not our homeland, we have been touched by that country in such a way that there is a part of it within us, and we feel an obligation to voice our concerns, if only that.

“What were mine eyes to me,
When naught to be seen was good?”

For decades the sire of the wonder and ways of Greece, the Aegean Sea, has been dying, the lush and lively bottom slowly browning into an underwater desert. This is a tragedy, but many of us fear that the death of the father sea may be only the start.

For the consequences of this proposal would be that anything that touches the sea – the islands and coasts and beaches – will be desecrated, and that any and all of the virginal shoreline will be defiled.

This is a palpable fear for those who love Greece, who love the sea and the islands. And should this proposal become law, the day may come when, like Sophocles’ tragic hero-king, many of us will prefer to remove our sight than behold what has become.

Here’s one xenos among many hoping that the shoreline can be saved.

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All quotes above are from Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

You can sign a petition to stop this proposed legislation here: Change.org.

My novel, which is set on an unspoiled Greek fishing island facing the challenges of modernity and economic hardship, is available here: The Last Island.

From the Cage to the Plains (A Camel Conversation with my LA Agent)

A Camel in Hollywood

Humper in Hollywood

My agent had an idea. He was calling a number of his clients. I’m not sure where I fell between the first and last call. Not that it mattered.

The Phone Call

AGENT: I’m thinking you need to find a different name for your screenplays. Just a single name and something that pops like ‘Bopper’ or ‘The Drill.’

DAVID: They both sound mildly pornographic.

AGENT: Even better.

DAVID: I think my own name is fine.

AGENT: Little story for you, David. I was at the Wild Animal Safari Park in Escondido the other day.

DAVID: As a visitor or an exhibit?

AGENT: You’re f—ing hilarious. I went to see the camels. I love camels.

DAVID: Camels?

AGENT: The humps, the toes, little need for water… what’s not to love?

DAVID: Got a point there.

AGENT: So there was this camel, Dune…

DAVID: Like the film?

AGENT: Like a camel. And the zoo keepers, they were giving this big f—ing show about how Dune was afraid to go on concrete. They tried to lead him onto a sidewalk with hay, and sometimes he would take a scared step or two, but no more. A crowd had gathered to watch. You could use that in one of your f—ing stage plays.

DAVID: Sure, I’ve been thinking of doing a camel play.

AGENT: Thing is, I knew that camel. His name wasn’t Dune at all. It was Nick. I’d seen him just a few months before at the zoo. He’s changed his name to Dune, and now he acts like he’s afraid of concrete. That’s how he got out of the zoo and started running around the f—ing fake African plains of Escondido. Show business!

DAVID: I don’t think it was the same camel.

AGENT: It was. It was f—ing Nick! He changed his name, and you need to do the same. How about ‘Humper’?

My novel, written under my given name, is available here: The Last Island.

Socrates Gone Mad in Southern California

Slomo at the Acropolis

‘Slomo’ at the Acropolis

Slomo is a 69 year old man who roller blades in slow motion along the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, California. He does this daily, unceasingly, and is known by nearly everyone who frequents the beach, bars or coffee shops. Many discount him as drug-addled, schizophrenic, or crazy. But he is not so easily dismissed.

For Slomo is Dr. John Kitchin, a former neurologist and psychiatrist, who abandoned his lucrative career in order to live in a studio apartment by the beach and pursue “a kind of divinity” through skating. Slomo is not crazy. He is a clear eyed, articulate, and bright man who has forsaken the lifestyle of the “typical institutionalized, educated, Western man.”

There’s a New York Times video about Slomo that’s prompted a large number of comments and where you’ll discover that he is:

“inspirational” and “an immature embarrassment,”

“amazing” and “narcissistic,”

a “great example of freedom” and “self-centered and lazy,”

and that he “represents ideals that we hold dear” and is “kind of an —hole.”

Diogenes in Ancient Athens

Diogenes at home in Athens

Slomo evokes polarized passions and so is reminiscent of Diogenes of Sinope, the philosopher who lived in purposeful poverty in a giant vase on the streets in Ancient Greece. Diogenes advocated self-sufficiency and rejected luxury; he had contempt for the opinion of others and utter disregard for societal conventions.

“I am Diogenes the Dog,” he once said. “I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels.” (He’d be useful today.)

Plato called him “Socrates gone mad.” But he wasn’t only mad, he was funny.

Once after seeing a bad bowman in an archery contest, Diogenes sat down in front of the target saying it was the only place he felt safe. And in a famous meeting, Alexander the Great told Diogenes that he would grant him any wish.

“Just move and get out of my sunlight,” Diogenes replied.

Slomo espouses no overriding philosophy and doesn’t reveal any desire to instruct. He merely sees himself as the “tip of a great iceberg of consciousness,” and as a person “who escaped and got to real freedom.” His choices seem to threaten the conventional, who feel that he should do something else with his life. In short, they think he should be more like them and cite, among other things, his lack of motivation.

Yet Alexander was once asked: If he was not himself, who would he choose to be?

And the answer, from arguably the most motivated man in history, was that if he were not Alexander the Great, he would choose to be Diogenes the Dog – and as such would’ve stopped casting his shadow across empires in order to bask in the unconquerable sun that shines to this day on the ruins of Ancient Greece and the boardwalk in Pacific Beach.

You can see the video at the New York Times website: ‘Slomo.’

And my debut novel, which features a character who simplifies her life by shedding her possessions, is available here: The Last Island.