About a year and a half ago, or perhaps a bit more I began to be intrigued by a guy called Saoirse who was planning to walk to India in a kind of pilgrimage to spread the word of the ‘freeconomy’ where people give things to one another without using the usual trading mechanism of money.
Poor old Saoirse you may remember got as far as France, where unfortunately his caper came to a sad end when he realised he couldnt speak French, and the French realised he had no money to travel with. I always thought this plan was a bit thin, I couldnt see how he was going to get Visas for one thing, but anyway, he came back to the UK.
Not one to be daunted by a knock back of this sort Saoirse reverted to his old name of Mark Boyle and began a year long experiment of living with no cash. Admittedly there was a bit of compromise involved, he lived off the cast offs of a cashfull society, food thrown away, land that belongs to someone, an old caravan and so on, most controversially of all he used a mobile phone and a laptop, to allow him to publicise his adventures. The truth is of course that living in a truly money free way, is, like living in a truly vegan way, basically impossible in this society.
To a degree I am now a bit suspicious of Mr Boyle, not that I’ve ever met him, but I recognise in him the trait I’ve seen in others, of a strong self publicist who will use stunts to get attention. I agree that his cause is an interesting one, and I am as you know very much pro the anti consumption/simple life message, busy living it as best I can in fact.
However, aside from being a good publicity stunt, do I think there’s much value in what Mark’s done? I dont know, but I think perhaps not. The good thing is that he’s stirred up a lot of people, his two posts (1& 2 )on the Guardian Blog have got lots of comments from people defensive of thier own lifestyles, well that’s to be expected.
But the evidence shows that those people arent likely to be converted to a lower impact way of living by Mark’s efforts. There are understood to be three groups of people, a minority of people who are ‘true believers’ who will do everything in their power to live according to their beliefs, in this case, they will live on as little as possible, consume as little as they can and so on.
Then there’s another minority of people who are really anti – who will argue against this or that, in this case they will slate the very idea of living on less or nothing. The sight of someone doing something extreme like this will not help or encourage them to change their opinions.
The majority of people sit in the middle, they are largely ready to live more ethically, but will only do so if it is easy and uncomplicated, the prospect of living on nothing is neither of these. Most people are in the system, they arent able to opt out completely, they may have families or debts which they have to consider, its too simplistic to expect them to change radically.
What would be more welcome are more straightforward role models of alternative lifestyles, living a lower impact lifestyle in a quiet way, chipping away at the man rather than batting him in the face with a hammer.
I now feel a bit flat by the Cashless man thing, I feel like its a bit of an empty stunt, an interesting if tame (no real danger) experiment perhaps. I’d like to see more people doing ordinary things in a radical way, lets have more people living on much less, giving more away, being more committed to simplicity as a virtue, and fewer publicity stunts.