The Freeconomy pilgrim has become the Cashless man

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.

taking a positive approach to protest

One of the attractive things about going on a bog rally, such as the one in London recently, is that you feel part of things, you feel like you’re in it with others, not just little and insignificant.

Actually its the same reason that drives some people to go to church, and some churches to strive to be big, but in essence the approach is unhelpful.

Ghandi is supposed to have said: “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

(I say ‘supposed to have said’ because I’ve never been able to find an attributable source for it.)

But it reminds me very much of something the Welsh saint David said: “Do the little things…”  It’s a reminder that we shouldnt shy away from doing the small insignificant things, and only involve ourselves in the grand statements, as these little things are the most important parts of our lives.

Think of them like the molecules which go to make up the atoms which make up a body, they all need to be doing their tiny insignificant bit in order for the body to function.

I take this approach to protest too, I am not sold on the big showy demos, as I posted earlier today, they are pretty ineffective anyway unless your intent is to cause death or destruction.

The best way to protest in my view is to take a positive approach, and here it is summed up quite well by Saoirse, aka the freeconomy pilgrim, who is currently attempting to live for a year without using any money:

Every time you don’t buy something, you protest. If we stop buying the ‘stuff’ the IMF’s £1,000,000,000,000 package wants us to buy, there is no police tactic on the planet that can stop us. So in solidarity with the Shell protesters in Ireland, stop or even just reduce your dependency on oil. I would say don’t buy from Shell but even they are seen as the most ethical oil company apparently, which says very little for the others given the fact that they had a peaceful protester, Ken Saro Wiwa, executed not so long ago for defending indigenous rights in the Niger Delta. If you want to protest against banks, stop using them, it really is possible, neither me or my neighbour Martin have a bank account and we get by just fine. If you want to protest against animal cruelty, go vegan and send a link to Earthlings to everyone you know. The list goes on…”

You might say that this too is negative, but in fact it’s a positive step, its making a positive choice to disengage with the harmful system, and engage instead with other ways of living.  I do of course accept there are times when a statement protest is helpful, but in general I think our lifestyles should be the biggest statement.

I am interested in positivity, which I think equates with a creative approach, not just finding a solution for a problem, but creating a whole new perspective.  Certainly beats having to stand in a huddle for hours on end while police use time honoured crowd dispersal tactics and hand out the occasional battering.

Some ideas for positive protest:

  • get rid of your car or at least confine car use to a minimum.
  • live on less, and give your money away.
  • choose to cut your consumption of luxury items.
  • reconsider what are luxury items.
  • build relationship in your local community.
  • find out who needs help in your area, and help them.
  • become active in your local school.
  • move to a deprived area and aim to be a positive person there.
  • grow your own food, and give your surplus to others
  • find ways of working less, and spend more time with your family
  • look for other positive people, and encourage them

Please feel free to add to this list…

squatters, tents, coffee – that sort of thing

As we’ve previously established, one of my major current obsessions is housing. Being kind of homeless at the moment (albeit not roofless thank goodness) makes me more keenly aware of the built environment.

With the weather we’ve had already, and the likelihood of more cold weather to come before we hit the spring, I’m now glad that we didnt go with any kind of tent or caravan option. I notice Mark Boyle, the freeconomy guy (used to call himself Saoirse, think he’s back to Mark now) is sticking with the caravan in his search for a cashless existance. I suspect its easier to do this when you dont have children!

Anyhow, I wont deny that the notion of squatting has crossed my mind from time to time. I have to admit its not likely that I would ever go for it, what with so many sensible people in my life, but I can certainly recognise the inherent ridiculousness of empty houses in a time when people need places to live.

The Nunsthorpe estate, where we want to live, has a large amount of empty houses, one day I’ll take a camera round and document a few of them. It vexeth me muchly that these properties lie empty and unloved – and it makes me think ‘why?!’

We tried as you know to get into one such property through legal means, in other words by finding the owner and trying to convince them to let us live there. But it came to nothing.

To see houses and flats lie empty and boarded up, going slowly damp and broken down seems abhorrent when many people in much worse situations than me are without shelter – it just seems wrong! Mind you, on reflection it doesnt seem a lot better that two people can live in a house with four bedrooms…

Anyway, a couple of pretty high profile squats have come to my notice of late, one in London, and the latest one reported today in the Independent.

While I am not quite an ‘all property is theft’ type, I am nearly there, and soin this case at least, I would struggle to feel particularly sorry for the owners.

The ongoing economic downturn doesnt seem yet to have caused a drop in rental prices, nor even noticeably a drop in house prices up here, and I do wonder if we will see an increase in squatting again as the peasants revolt against the system.

As they say, the revolution will not be televised, it will be blogged (or probably twittered – blooming middle class squatters 😉 )

P.S.  Looks like we can make bio diesel from coffee grounds – so maybe the middle classes can save the world after all! LOL.

more freeconomics

I had some slightly unkind things to say when the self proffessed freeconomy pilgrim Saoirse abandoned his walk from Brighton to India after arriving in France and realising nobody there understood his language.  While I found his commitment to the cause noble and idealistic, I found his assumptions at best naive and at worst arrogant and patronising.

But I have kept up with his progress as he has settled back into life here in the UK, and more recently he has taken another interesting path – one which seems more likely to succeed.

I have blogged before about how much I like the idea of going off grid, and in this experiment Saoirse is going to go off grid completely – trying to have no dealings with cash at all for a year.  Dealing first witrh his most basic needs for shelter and food, he managed to get a caravan through freecycle, then a place to site it by volunteering on a farm, he gets veg from the farm too, and for bread he works for a day for an organic food business, taking in payment a bag of grains.  That bag is worth monetarily a mere £15 – but as he puts it, it’s worth much more than that to him, as it represents a month’s worth of bread.

Of course things would be more complicated for him if had a family to consider, but as it is, the situation he is in is quite impressive.  He is genuinely managing for the most part outside of the economic grid – which is great.

I hope that this time he can sustain the experiment.

The freeconomy suffers a set back

Our freeconomist friend Saoirse, he of the pilgrimage to India fame, managed to cross the English channel… twice.

After making it over to France, Saoirse and companions realised that actually they dont speak french, nobody knows who they are or what they are doing, and the French dont get it.

I really feel sorry for Saoirse, I have mixed feelings about his pilgrimage, I admire the freeconomy principle, and thus I have a lot of time for the notion of raising awareness for it, but there are elements of his plan, which I feel are either too naive at best, or at worst ignorant and patronising.

In this instance, I am not sure which is the case, perhaps lets err on the side of naivete.  But to cross to France, and once there to realise actually not many people speak English, and they all think you’re a freeloading backpacker…?  Yeah, that’s a problem.

So Saoirse and his friends, after some soul searching, gave up. And bought tickets to come home.  Oh dear.  Once back in Blighty though, our man has a change of heart, buoyed by the encouragement of his friends, he confesses his sins, and renews his vows, he will continue his pilgrimage, but first he will walk around the UK…. oh and learn French.

Assuming Saoirse stays true to his plans, and in a year or so heads back over to the continent, I am hoping that he will have taken the trouble to consider wide cross cultural communication issues, not everyone speaks English or French.  Some borders are not crossable legally without a purchased visa too, something else to overcome.

As much as I support his principles, and agree with the basis on which he wants to do this pilgrimage, I fear this is not going to work.  The reality is that in some ways the French are right, he is just another freeloading backpacker.  He is depending upon gifts from well wishers rather than trading skills and so on for his dinner.  Moreover the food he eats is produced as part of the global economy –  it is not so easy to opt out of the system.  That’s why it is ‘the system’.

There are many who make prophetic statements, and I hope there always will.  But this one has a number of problems which I fear will not do the philosphy of freeconomics much good.

If you want to read what the man himself has to say, go here.

One thing I’m unclear about though, and it would be good to get someone elses take on this, is he saying he did get a free ride over the channel to France?  Or did his friend’s mum pay for it?  I found that part a little confusing.