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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life affirming, if a little naive in parts, 15 Mar 2009
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This review is from: How To Be Free (Paperback)
I think Tom approaches life very much from a Rousseauian perspective that "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". He, like Rousseau, believes that people left to their own devices are perfectly able to self govern within small communities. The chains now are provided not only by interfering governments, but by soulless "Mcjobs". This view of the human condition has been long debated however and Thomas Hobbes, who was a contemporary political philosopher of Rousseau, adopted the position that without government life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". He thought that without strong governance the natural state of men was one of competition and war; I guess the modern British equivalent would be feral packs of youths terrorising the neighbourhood. I think it depends which view you instinctively lean towards as to whether you find this book the naive ramblings of a middle class dreamer or an optimistic manifesto for a more humane society. I personally found it to be quite an uplifting read after a day chained to the computer in the office, although my cynical side does find the constant harping back to the middle ages as a golden age a little hard to take. It's too easy to see the past with rose tinted specs; life for most in the middle ages was a constant battle to make sure you and your family had enough to eat. Famines were common as were outbreaks of plague and typhoid, 20% of women died during childbirth and "witches" were put to death. Advances in healthcare, nutrition, housing, sanitation, religious and ethnic tolerance, mental healthcare, etc etc don't (unfortunately) happen in a vacuum outside of industrial and economic development. In any system there is an element of taking the rough with the smooth. I would also question whether refusing to vote, and spending most of your time playing the ukulele, doing a bit of writing, drinking, etc is going to do much to address such pressing global issues as world poverty and the global environment. Having said all that, the book is diverting and funny, and does contain numerous small ways to make life more enjoyable and fulfilling. Just don't expect too much.
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