Stacking Functions Garden

Book Review: Freedom Manifesto

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The Freedom Manifesto
How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work and waste
By Tom Hodgkinson

That’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?  Hopefully it’s obvious to anyone who picks this book up that most of the advice within should be taken with a grain of salt, and preferably, a large glass of wine.

There are so many one-liners in this book, it was hard to choose the best ones.  For example:

“I am anti-crime, but not because I morally disapprove of law-breaking — in fact, I am attracted to criminals… I am against crime because it feeds straight into the government system: for every crime committed, there is a tenfold attack on personal liberties… Therefore, the real anarchist should avoid criminal acts at all costs.”

Each chapter of this book easily stands on its own as an essay, and maybe it’s better to take them that way: some of them directly contradict each other.   For example, one chapter encourages you to embrace melancholy, while the next chapter tells you to quit whining and get on with your life.

But he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  In particular, I liked what he had to say about gardening (naturally), which he brings up many times.  He sees gardening as one of the keys to finding contentment, saving money, and —  best of all — giving the finger to supermarkets, which he piles a whole chapter’s worth of hatred on.  He also highly recommends the combination of drinking and gardening, and I can testify to that.

Hodgkinson is VERY well read.  There are no shortage of long-winded passages from many different philosophers from Nietzsche to Tomas Aquinas to the Sex Pistols.  He talks endlessly about the wonders of “being idle” but it is very clear that he actually keeps quite busy.  It’s just that he’s busy doing the things he wants to do (such as gardening, baking bread, drinking, and reading).

So how does one go about achieving this elusive freedom?  Basically, it’s about embracing thrift so that you don’t have to work so damn hard.   Quit your job and work part-time.  Sell your car.  Ride a bike.  Plant a garden.  Throw out your television. Give up the bourgeois ideals of career and large home, embrace simple pleasures.  (The sustainability aspect of this is also not lost on him.)

One of Hodgkinson’s central arguments is that people actually knew a lot more about personal freedom in the middle ages than they do today.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  But many aspects of medieval society did encourage more personal freedom:  for example, charging interest for loans was a sin — usury — punishable by the church.  Think about that for a minute.

I’m not so sure that life was a giant party in the middle ages, as Hodgkinson seems to think, but we have in many ways lost sight of things that medieval people valued, and we constantly sell ourselves short by accepting crappy food, crappy jobs, and crappy entertainment without question.

Hodgkinson has a real problem with the Reformation (in a hilarious way), and tears down all those pillars of common [puritan] sense, from John Calvin to Benjamin Franklin, of whom he says this (in a chapter about throwing away your watch):

“Time and money, which the medievals tried to hard to keep separated, have come together into one thing.  How did the change happen?  Well, as in other areas, I am going to blame that dastardly toiler and moralist Benjamin Franklin, who invented or expressed an entirely new way of thinking about time in the eighteenth century.  Time was no longer a gift from God.  Now, time was money.”

Some other advice that I absolutely loved:
– Instead of worrying about how clean your house is, turn off the lights and dine by candlelight
– Throw out your TV and spend the money you save on alcohol
– Don’t waste your time being jealous of rich bankers, because they’re going to hell anyway.  They deserve your pity (see the sin of usury, above).

I loved the irreverance of this book.  The only thing that made me a little bit sad and bitter was this fact: England, the home country of the author, has a much more hospitable environment for being a part-time freelance worker for the simple fact that they have national healthcare.

But just because I must continue to work does not mean I can’t live for every moment outside of work that is available to me.  As Hodgkinson says (quoting William Blake), “Indeed, the manacles are mind-forg’ed.”

Why NOT embrace thrift?  Why NOT embrace community?  I love it.

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