Wednesday, 12 September 2007

How to be Free - Tom Hodgkinson

On the one hand I felt that this was a good book covering a wide range of topics that impact how we live today, with many references to other sources and authors to back up the claims he makes about how we should change. On the other hand the book doesn't actually tell you how to be free, but instead tells you how not to be imprisoned or constrained in how you live.

Rather than telling us of new things we can do, Tom actually tells us about a great many things we can try not doing any more, that we are probably doing at the moment. While this is all well and good, it doesn't actually provide any positive actions you can do to be free. Only negative things that you can stop doing, which are holding you back in some way. Which doesn't really seem to be what the spirit of a book about how to be free should be, to me anyway.

All the chapter titles are all about things we can stop doing, such as:
  • Being Anxious and Worrying
  • Paying Bills
  • Careers
  • Living in the City
  • Time Management
  • Competing
  • Debt
  • Shopping
  • Government
  • Automation and Machines
  • A Mortgage to Buy a House
  • Pension Planning
  • Buying at Supermarkets
Very few of the chapters are about positive actions we can take. Even the final chapter is titled "Stop Working, Start Living". This is not really about how you can make yourself free, but rather a long list of all the failings of modern civilisation, and simply telling you to avoid them as much as possible.

That said, I did enjoy reading the book, mainly because the points are so well made about how civilisation fails us all and traps us in an unsatisfying lifestyle. I agreed with everything he wrote about the modern way of life of being a vicious circle of being entrapped to work for an employer to earn money to pay for the things you cannot do for yourself. And becoming trapped by the expectations set by advertising and society, so that you are always trying to achieve more and more. He is spot on in his descriptions of how a job is really slavery, and how your income is taxed to support a large government that spends it mainly on itself, and so on.

All of this is backed up by references from many other sources and authors, that show that Tom is not the first to have realised that there are alternative ways to live, and that much of this has been known for many, many years. I was amazed to find the medieval Catholic church described in such glowing terms, as promoting freedom for the individual and that life should be enjoyed to the full. Not what I expected at all.

Tom really does believe that things all changed when the Puritan point of view came into existence. Which seems to say that Heaven can be achieved through hard work only. And such concepts as accruing money and wealth, lending money as a debt with interest paid, and owning property became accepted as valid as part of this hard work ethic. Before all this change, everyone enjoyed what they could when they could, and simply shared many things with everyone else. Somehow society changed its point of view, and all this became frowned upon. The rise of the individual, and the demise of the community.

A good read, with lots of information about how we used to live much more freely, but with little actual recommendations for positive things you can do. Only the constant recommendations to avoid the trappings of modern life.