Sunday 26 October 2008

Tom Hodgkinson - Love your neighbour

I am not normally prone to getting out of bed at 8am on a Sunday morning to catch the 55 bus to central London, but today was an exception. I have been to a Sermon at the Old horse hospital (behind Russell Sq tube station) put on by The School of Life and starring the author, journalist and champion Idler, Tom Hodgkinson. I've been holding back on writing about Tom for a while, I read his second book 'How to be free' a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it and have always enjoyed his monthly column in The Ecologist.

Today he was talking about the importance of loving your neighbours, which he suggests is something that we, thanks to our cultural and political upbringing, are not doing enough of. As a resident of a block of flats on Hackney Road, I know only too well how having estranged neighbours fuels our individualism, breeds discontent and does little to deter careless door banging. In his talk, Tom began by explaining the formerly sinful activity of usury. I remember reading about this at length in his book. Up to about 500 years ago lending money and expecting repayment with interest was frowned upon heavily, it was seen as a callous, lazy (perhaps idle) way of profiteering from the financial misfortune of others. Given recent events in the mystical world of finance, the modern position of lenders as heroes who let us fulfil our material dreams has been slightly lost. But in general, usury is no longer portrayed as a sin, just a tiresome and tolerated fact of life. It is also probably true that many people would howl with cries of unfair play if all of a sudden this practice was to end.

The idea of having these secular sermons on a Sunday morning does not need to be spelled out. What I found interesting is that Hodgkinson returned often to the morals of Christianity, pointing out how many of the values sorely lacking in modern society, were prevalent in more Christian times; loving your neighbours being just one of these. There are things in the Bible that are a bit hard to swallow in modern times, but a lot of the values taught by it are sound ones and ones we could probably very much do with reminding ourselves of now. There may be no scientific evidence for God and a Heaven and Hell, but should we really throw the baby out with the bath water?

In my thesis I wrote this about Tom Hodgkinson:

Hodgkinson regularly points out the anxieties and stresses created by modern consumer culture and goes as far as saying that the environmental movement, with its emphasis on technological development creates even more stress and should therefore be handled with caution. His articles also point out the importance of finding meaning in one’s life and living in the present and not worrying too much about money. His philosophy can be summed up by the following quote: ‘When you stop working and stop spending you start living’ (Hodgkinson, 2008).

Simms and Smith (2007), in the 'Do Good Lives Have to cost the Earth' book that they edited, introduce Hodgkinson’s chapter and sum up his recommendations as follows:

His main advice for us is that to tackle climate change, possibly the best thing we could do is nothing at all. But he means it literally, not in the sense of just keep on doing what you are doing. He wants us all to stop and take it easy. No more shopping, no more upgrading consumer durables. The answer he says is to ‘decommodify our fun.’

Maybe environmentalists are trying too hard and just complicating things. Tom Hodgkinson is an excellent environmental educator, whether he likes it or not (I’ve not asked him if he considers himself one). He understands that rather than trying to lessen the environmental impact of our current consumer obsessed culture we actually need to shift that culture out of way and let a new one in. As an environmental educator, he is in a minority.

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