Frustrated and worried about the state of our environment, we chomp at the bits and engage in frothy conversations about irresponsible citizens and politicians, but few of us have enough nerve to let it all go: to let go of the cash, let go of the car, and all of the associated conveniences that defines modern life. But Mark Boyle did. For over a year he has lived in a caravan on an organic farm between Bristol and Bath, where he works in exchange for parking there.
He either grows or forages for food, gets around on a bicycle, presses mushrooms into a pulp for paper, and overall demonstrates that it is possible to live without money. Though penniless, Mark is a very rich man who has become an international inspiration. After James reviewed his book ‘The Moneyless Man – A Year of Freeconomic Living,’ we approached Mark with a few questions. Though he scarcely has enough time to make his nettle tea these days, he was kind enough to share his insights about the Middle East.
For the benefit of readers in the Middle East who may not be familiar with your lifestyle and philosophy, can you briefly describe what you set out to do when you sold your home and adopted a money-free life?
I had realised the inherent and inevitable social and environmental consequences of using this tool we call money back in 2007, and I felt a huge hypocrisy in talking about the issues yet not living according to my beliefs. So, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, I decided to “be the change I wanted to see in the world.”
You once mentioned that a major challenge you experienced during your transition to the freeconomic lifestyle was adjusting to not being able to give people material gifts; you describe how the Irish in particular like to buy each other drinks as a sign of goodwill. In the Middle East, we don’t have many big drinkers, but we do have gifts! Can you say how your friends and family have adjusted to this new materialistic absence?
My friends and family have been fantastic, and even though at the start they most likely believed I had lost my mind, now they really believe in it also.
They, like more and more people, are becoming aware of the major issues we now face in the world, such as peak oil, resource depletion and a warming climate, and want to change. My parents now have gone vegetarian and my dad grows his own food in the summer, even though he had never even planted a seed until last year.
I think one of the most compelling aspects of your story, Mark, is that you studied economics and thus people tend to take you more seriously than the usual environmentalist. From an economic perspective, if the freeconomic movement were to take off and people worldwide adopted it, how would that disrupt the current economic machine? Is it possible to predict what would happen if huge chunks of society stopped using money for their daily transactions?
It would act in the same way the current market system current acts – supply and demand, and the market responding to a change in social values. It’s about evolution, not revolution, about transition and transformation. My educational and career background is in some ways very fortunate – if you want to find solutions to the flaws of the current system, you must first understand how it works.
While some people think that your new lifestyle is “radical,” I see that you have reclaimed your humanity, that what you are doing is completely natural. However, the reality is that most of us are completely removed from understanding what nature can offer and how to go about finding it. What sort of advice would you give to a person (in the Middle East) who senses the need to live more naturally but doesn’t have the skills?
There are two sets of skills. The secondary ones, such as wild food foraging, food growing, green woodworking, permaculture and so on. These can easily be learned – I am probably the least talented person you will ever meet, but even I can get by, and if I can then – trust me – anyone can!
What is harder to learn are the primary skills – a care for the planet, for humans, for animals and other species, and a desire to live as gently as possible.
It takes 2 mins to teach a person how to plant a seed, but it can take years to convince them of the importance of planting that seed.
Many countries here have serious water shortages and the desert is expanding, thus a freeconomic lifestyle seems particularly daunting. Can you hazard a guess about what you might do differently if you lived in a desert environment?
A warming climate is going to exacerbate this problem, so the first thing is to stop consuming. Without knowing the terrain there, it is impossible for me to say how I’d get my water.
We are beginning to catch up with the Western World in terms of developing recycling programs, organic agriculture, alternative energy sources and such, but we still have a long way to go. Mostly this has to do – I think – with the prevailing attitude that we are separate somehow from nature. What do you think?
The overriding root cause of almost every major issue in the world today is our disconnection from what we consume. Money has enabled us to have huge degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed. Until we reconnect with Nature, nothing will change.
Many philosophers in the past have really influenced people into thinking we are separate from Nature. We’re as much part of it as a mosquito, or a drop of water, or a tree. It is not our playground.
And to follow up on that question, do you think that the Middle East and other countries have to go through the same process of enlightenment as you did before becoming completely fed up, or is there a way to put cultures on the fast-track to a major paradigm shift?
I’m not sure – sorry.
On the other hand, might Mother Nature make those decisions for us?
From what you know of the Middle East and based on your experience, what kind of obstacles do you predict we would face in trying to adopt a freeconomic lifestyle, or something that closely approximates it?
I think it is more likely to get adopted over there than here, as your culture places a much greater emphasis on sharing, community, helping each other etc. already. The major challenge is to show people that living more simply isn’t just better for the environment, it makes them happier into the bargain.
You believe that people should have the right to live without money and plan to petition for the right to pay taxes in some other way, such as with labor. What does this process look like for you and what kind of help are you getting?
I can’t comment on this at the moment, but yes I do believe that people have the human right to live without money if they so wish.
Any final words of wisdom?
Be the change you want to see in the world, whether you’re a minority of one or a majority of millions. Reconnect with your local environment and community. Surrender to the world and enter into the organic flow of giving and receive freely, and unconditionally.
Mark, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. You are an inspiration to a great number of people who share your sentiments but lack your courage to embrace what has become the unknown for so many of us. We appreciate your leadership and vision, and wish you the best of luck with your endeavors.
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