If we take green living seriously, we all must examine every aspect of life, from consumerism through to energy use and our personal economic and social attitude. This is what Mark Boyle has done, to an extreme level – he has forsaken our regular monetary exchange system, and has lived and looked outside its constraints (and luxuries) for a year (and more) and written it up in ‘The Moneyless Man – A Year of Freeconomic Living’.
“Money no longer works for us. We work for it. Money has taken over the world. As a society, we worship and venerate a commodity that has no intrinsic value, to the expense of all else. What’s more, our entire notion of money is built on a system which promotes inequality, environmental destruction and disrespect for humanity.”
It is an illuminating tale of the practicalities and difficulties of managing life without the lubrication we all moan about, struggle to earn (or revel in its abundance), and the network of transactions we associate with money.
Here on GP we’ve written about making your own soaps and cleaning solutions; Mark goes much further and describes how he makes toothpaste from cuttlefish and fennel seeds, and ink and paper from foraged mushrooms. He forages for food, grows his own, barters his time and energy in exchange for sacks of wheat (and is living on a farmers land in exchange for time given to the farm growing food).
He shuns buses and public transport, relying instead on his legs, his trusty bike, and occasionally sticking his thumb out. There is a wealth of practical ‘how to’ information interspersed throughout the book. He includes tips on low impact transport, hitchhiking, keeping clean without toiletries, a hay fever remedy, making booze for free, and even offers up advice on menstruation!
He writes memorably about getting from Bristol to his hometown of Ballyshannon in County Donegal in Ireland (a distance of some 500 miles) by hitching.
Celtic Tiger Economy
Ironically, I lived just outside Ballyshannon myself a few years back, and resonate with how Mark painfully describes how the traditional way of life in Ireland has changed, all due to a growing economy and society’s shift to being part of a market-led and pressure-driven system, where we have less time for anyone else’s well-being. Rural Ireland is not anymore the peaceful haven of stone cottages with turf smoke lingering in the air; it is now the land of a virulent Celtic Tiger economy and its depressed aftermath.
“Another major motivation is much simpler and more emotional – I’m tired. I’m tired of witnessing the environmental destruction that takes place every day, and playing a part, however small, in it. …. I’m tired of seeing families and lands destroyed in the Middle East so that we in the West can fuel our lives on cheap energy. And I want to do something about it. I want community not conflict…”
Here in Bristol, Mark is a local hero: as well as being a warm and genuinely compassionate guy, he has set up the freeconomy network, ran freeskilling evenings in a local café, where anyone could learn or teach a new skill ranging from yoga through to beer-making and identifying trees, and organised the Freeconomy Feast in November 2008, which fed 1000 people a meal from foraged and found food (for free), and provided entertainment and inspiration for at least 4,000 in a single – entirely moneyless – day!
This is all detailed in chapter 14, but take my word for it, it was a hell of an achievement. I know he has even bigger plans in the pipeline: all proceeds from this (already best-selling) book will go to the creation of a Freeconomic Community, living communally together, based on values of mutual co-operation and trust, out of the regular economic system.
“ Living the slow life is definitely more time-consuming but I’d rather have it consumed this way than in watching a reality television show in the room we call ‘living’…if I didn’t really believe this, I wouldn’t put myself to so much trouble.”
Despite all this frenetic activity promoting the freeconomic life, Mark lives simply and frugally in a small caravan. He is the living proof that we don’t need to dispense with all the trappings of modern life, such as a phone (incoming calls only!) and a laptop – just power them from renewable sources. He has carved out a media career writing and philosophising about his efforts, and has been much sought out by the media.
I was bemused recently when I saw him on a daytime TV show where the presenter wove her piece around the question of whether a ‘moneyless man’ could be a good catch! Mark played along, using even this rather inane opportunity to cheerfully get the message across with a grin and his wonderfully distinctive Irish brogue. Many of the media images of him show him shirtless, chopping wood or just loving being in the natural surroundings of his home.
Far and wide
He lives deep in the English countryside, between Bristol and Bath, but his message is spreading far and wide. ‘The Moneyless Man’ has just been published in Korean (surely it must be coming out in both Hebrew and Arabic soon?), which shows how this simpler, more thoughtful and more turned on lifestyle really touches a nerve.
Watch video on Mark’s life:
Read this book if you care about the human impact upon the earth, if you are similarly angry and frustrated about this corrupt, oil-based economic system we live under, and read Mark’s book if you too want to make a difference.
‘The Moneyless Man – A Year of Freeconomic Living’ by Mark Boyle Published by www.one-world-publications.com 2010
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