Modern life is absurd. How can we be free?
Many years ago I read this book and found it charming but slightly mad. Subsequent readings have convinced me that, no, actually, this is some of the most sensible advice I have ever encountered. You can imagine how compelling I found the chapter titled Death to Shopping, or Fleeing the Prison of Consumer Desire, let alone the seditious temptation of No More Housework, or the Power of the Candle.
Tom Hodgkinson believes the modern world to be unnecessarily ugly, rude, wasteful and bureaucratic. His solution? Step away from the whole unpleasant system, and create you own small, pleasant world quite apart from the dreadful modern institutions that plague us. He has many practical suggestions (throw away your watch, smash usury, play the ukelele, embrace poverty, bake bread), and in the spirit of his earlier book How to be Idle, he encourages his readers to renounce ambition, career and getting ahead, and instead to pursue freedom, merriment and responsibility. To be truly free we must take back responsibility for our own lives instead of turning them over to the many-headed hydra of modern institutions. And having recovered our freedom, we can be merry and free of care at last.
Wanting more money removes us from enjoying the present; we should celebrate what we have. Wanting to be rich is actually the first desire that must be cast off in the pursuit of freedom.. Learning to live within limited means gives a great sense of security, because you become free of wanting more and therefore free of struggle.
Ch 27 Depose the Tyrant Wealth
The chairmen of the board think it absolutely hilarious that their staff will work their guts out and compete with one another for low wages and with minimum supervision. It leaves them so much time for playing golf and chuckling together in boardrooms.
Ch 8 Stop Competing
Above all, to be free of debt, we need to abandon our fear of poverty. I don't advocate pauperism, in other words, being homeless and starving. But genteel poverty, having enough for wants and needs and the bare necessities but limiting yourself when it comes to wants and desires, is a laudable state.
Ch 9 Escape Debt
Life can be different, according to the Gospel of Tom. We can throw off the 'mind-forg'd manacles' (William Blake). We can refuse to get entangled in the wily coils of banks, supermarkets, the media, the swings and roundabouts of careerism, the mindlessness of television, the dreariness of 'fun' that is bought with dollars. There is a better way. It involves living better with less. It offers the joy and hilarity that ensues when you free yourself from needing to be busy/important/wealthy. It is a little bit anarchist, a little bit punk, a little bit back-to-the-land, a little bit make-your-own-fun.
It is a little bit of a blueprint for the life I am trying to create for myself here in the cottage on the hill.
I am up to Chapter 29: Stop Working, Start Living..