David Thompson


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November 05, 2009



Some classic Guardian comments too:
"Mark Boyle is a prophet."
"The rationale behind what he is doing... is flawless."

Karen M

Did anyone think to ask him how he pays his council tax?



“Did anyone think to ask him how he pays his council tax?”

I’m sure it cropped up somewhere in the readers’ comments. Sadly, it was one of the questions Mr Boyle didn’t see fit to answer. And I suppose the same issue arises if Mr Boyle needs medical care or treatment in a hospital. Is he contributing to the upkeep of these services in the usual way, via his, er, taxes? Or is he using services paid for by people who aren’t quite virtuous enough to do without money?

Karen M

"For loo roll I'd relieve the local newsagents of its papers"

More stealing, then.

Alvin Lucier

"Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation and sharing" -

Yeah, because without other people's generosity and sharing they would starve to death.

Will they still be generous when I need something from them? eg a functioning post industrial society where I can buy a laptop and connect to the internet?



I guess he hasn't nicked a fruit bowl yet, so he has to carry his apples in his hat.

carbon based lifeform

"Social homeopathy" = social placebo, yes?


It’s not the most persuasive metaphor. Though I suspect it tells us more than was intended.


The thread over there is hilarious. Check out the Guardian economics: "Currency is a form of bondage."


He has a laptop and mobile, yet doesn't use money? Gets free calls, does he?


“The thread over there is hilarious.”

Yes, it’s a rich seam and up to the usual standard. At one point, George Monbiot intervenes to defend Mr Boyle against the more cynical commenters: “To judge by the comments here, some people seem to feel profoundly threatened by what Mark’s doing. Why? Is he taking something away from you? Or is he showing you something you might have taken away from yourselves?”


I see no evidence that the unflattering comments come from people who “feel profoundly threatened.” Most are just pointing out the practical implications of everyone doing the same. Maybe Monbiot thinks the word “threatened” makes Mr Boyle and his lifestyle sound even more heroic. But I can see why some might view his behaviour as absurd and parasitic. Some might say that Mr Boyle’s freeloading is indeed “taking something away” from someone. Taxpayers, perhaps. (Boyle’s only response to accusations of freeloading is of course evasive: “Is a pigeon a freeloader for nesting in an abandoned church in a city, because there are no trees left to nest in?”)

Then there are the slightly creepy comments, like this by “Insomniac506”: “Can the Guardian please publish more photos of Mark with no shirt on?” And this from “FrugalBear”: “Guardian moderators - can we get a video of him chopping wood or something! Oh that is soooo sweet. What about skinny-dipping in the lake while those clothes are drying Mark?”

Don’t they know they’re oppressing Mr Boyle with their lustfulness?


On the issue of medical care, Mr Boyle says: 'The only ailment I've had in seven years of paying into the NHS is hayfever, which I've successfully treated with a common weed called greater plantain.'

Hmmm ... I hope he doesn't try and treat a burst appendix with nettle soup.

But I must say I've more admiration for this guy than the celebs who build themselves eco-mansions and fly around the world preaching about climate change. His experiment seems a worthwhile one. It contains plenty of theoretical flaws but he does acknowledge some of them. And while he is irritating and muddle-headed, at least he's prepared to suffer. I'd like to see Al Gore forage for scraps in dustbins.


It's wonderful to see people completely enjoying their ignorance of comparative advantage and currency.


Is a “social homeopath” different from a "homeless sociopath"?

John D

"Maybe Monbiot thinks the word “threatened” makes Mr Boyle and his lifestyle sound even more heroic."

The "threatened" meme is catching on in the comments:

"Of course some people are threatened by what he is doing. If you have lived your whole life acquiring the symbols of success- money, car, house, stereo, HD tv etc, only to be told that they are in fact the product of a system that takes advantage of those most in need of help, then you may get a little defensive."

"I had a feeling you would criticise Mark for not contributing to society in the form of taxes... the problem with this argument though is your acceptance that the status quo (i.e. western capitalism) is how things should be. As a pacifist I wish that my income tax didn't get put towards the military..."

"Their typical negative reaction is probably due to your philosophy exposing their own greed and selfishness. The fact that you are generating these negative comments in itself means you have jostled their consciences."

Best one yet:

"The problem with all your detractors is that they are incapable of making moral decisions, so rely on society itself to dictate to them"


“as workers, we are cogs in a machine of violence, death, exploitation and destruction.”

Surely, their cup runneth over with the milk of human loving kindness.



Yes, some of the comments are quite revealing. And it was only a matter of time before someone resorted to claims of “false consciousness.” Those who point out errors in Mr Boyle’s worldview are dismissed as consumerist drones with no minds of their own. Oh, and they’re “selfish” to boot. Unlike Mr Boyle, whose freeloading is virtuous and practically heroic.


Whenever these types of stories catch main stream attention, I like to think how cool it would be if we would just call their bluff. We could set aside a reserve just for these sorts of people. Much like an animal reserve, we turn them loose with nothing and leave them alone for a dozen years or so. Then come back and see what those who are left have done with the place. I think what they and us would learn from the experience would be well worth the cost. Anybody got a few thousand acres to spare?


Ugh! "they and we".


Sounds ideal for reality TV. Vegans Turn Cannibal.


And for contrast, maybe direct the author to the "Rainbow People" of Ocala, FL. Interesting blog here:


The comments are precious.


“Sounds ideal for reality TV.”

Contestants could root through bins and hedgerows, foraging for things like bandages and insulin. I’ve been meaning to pitch a series called “I’m a Diabetic, Get Me Out of Here.”

Horace Dunn

Twenty people are set loose in the wilderness to live the ideal anti-Capitalist life. One of them is a climate-camp trustafarian from Virginia Water. Will the real anti-Capitalists be able to identify the infiltrator?

A year's supply of Body Shop products for the winner.


There are real anti-capitalists?


"The problem with all your detractors is that they are incapable of making moral decisions, so rely on society itself to dictate to them"

In that case, what Mr Boyle is doing is incompatible with Progressivism, seeing as how its primary aim is to use the force of government to dictate choices to society. I doubt this cognitive dissonance will faze any Progressive.

Jason Bontrager

KRW, I hear that there are quite a few people living in the landfills of Mexico City. Maybe Mr. Boyle and his idolaters could be induced to join them...


Maybe, but by my measure that's cheating. They would still be living off of the products of modern civilization. To maintain their 'purity' by my idea, we really should provide a nature reserve. A pristine environment where they are not corrupted by the modern conveniences. No knives, etc. to take with them, just the "bare" necessities, you know..."Forget about your worries and your strife", as the song goes. They can hunt..excuse me, hunting would be 'wrong'...maybe, gather berries and commune with nature the natural way as Gaia intended it to be. And no cameras, that would be wrong. We just have an anthropologist check in on them every year or so and issue a report. Wouldn't even need to have direct contact, just observe them like Gorillas In The Mist. Keep it real low key. What I'm talking about is more of a science project that also benefits those who want to truly live off the grid. Imagine what we could learn from them. They say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...ok, maybe I am...

wayne fontes

"Mr Boyle’s book, The Moneyless Man, will be published in 2010."

I'd have went with "Freeganonics" It would be a bit punchier and have the virtue of freeloading off someone else's publicity.


Someone in New York did something like this a few years ago, but in an urban apartment, trying to raise a few children and keep jobs (a married couple) in NY. I think they even wrote a book about it.

These people are just showing how rich western society is, that they can survive and live fashionable lives on the waste products of others. In less developed societies, they would starve. In the west they have an enormous "safety net" to fall back on if necessary, and even in this case, to nurture them and their quest for whatever.

They are basically parasites/simbiotes, and that sort of relationship only works while the host is healthy. When the host goes, so do they....

North Briton

I know a bunch of people that are doing pretty much the same thing in secret in a wood near Durham. Their leader (unofficial of course, they are collective anarchists) is a 40-odd year old man called Wilf and they live in Yurts. Well, when I say is, it's actually was. He died last year of an unidentified disease that he picked up from living in a wood. One of the children is supposedly deaf in one ear now due to a simple ear infection that was left untreated. You want the 16th century, you got it.

Cut me another slice of that tasty materialism. A big one.


Is it just me, or is it incredibly ironic that a philosophy that espouses “community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation and sharing - in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity and greed” has a website?? I mean, that's about as materialist and conformist as it gets...


Regarding your idea of giving them some land to 'play' with.

Jared Diamond (a bit of a poster boy for Hunter-gatherers) estimates that Hunter-gatherer communities very rarely exceed population densities of one person per 10 mi.² Even the simplest agricultural communities beat this by a factor of 100. So, in order not to 'over-exploit' the area, your merry band would need about several hundred square miles.

In the unlikely event of their experiment proving successful, perhaps someone like George Monbiot could explain what we do with the 99% of the population who can't be accommodated by this lifestyle choice. Something humane and painless possibly. A sort of caring death camp.


As an American, I have alwasys thought that we should give Oregon and Washington (west of the Cascades) over to the greens, to do with as they please. We would have to embargo any trade with them to ensure that they lived the "pure" life, but it would be interesting to see what would happen.

Mean, brutish, and short.

sackcloth and ashes

'Mr Boyle’s book, The Moneyless Man, will be published in 2010.'

Presumably it will be printed on leaves, not paper.


"As an American, I have alwasys thought that we should give Oregon and Washington (west of the Cascades) over to the greens"

Interestingly, America was home to many utopian community experiments. Robert Owen (the early Socialist) help fund New Harmony in 1825 in Indiana. The Oneida Colony, was another famous one in New York in 1848. There were several others


Of course many on that list would be seen today, as primarily religiously inspired. However that would deny the close links between Christianity and Socialism. Many Socialists before the twentieth century saw Socialism as a practical way to build God's ideal society - practical Christianity. It's only in the latter twentieth century that Marxian secularism beat out the Christian Socialist tradition (eg Methodism in the UK). In any case is our hero's ideal materially different to the Amish?

Of course these Collectivist/Communialist/Socialist experiments were all rip roaring successes. Don't bother reading up about them. People who tell you that the more productive tended to leave and that such communities failed when the freeloaders hit a critical mass are lying.


I forgot about the secular utopias created in response to Edward Bellamy's "Looking Back" 1888. Although a work of fiction it inspired several real life experiments. Here's a review of the book


And on the same site a discussion of early American Socialism, which briefly mentions these Utopias.


Unfortunately he repeats the standard lie I warned you about

"For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc, with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commended to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc, they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it." (about Plymouth Colony)

David Gillies

The junior ranks of the fluffier disciplines at universities are stuffed with people like this. It's one of the reasons I left. Five minutes of conversation - or what passes for it - with them and you will be sobbing with boredom. They are so desperately conformist in their non-conformism that it's all you can do not to run around shrieking and rending your garments (alternatively: haul off and punch them). Ghastly, ghastly, ghastly.

Mary Jackson

"I once wiped my arse with a story about myself"

I wonder if it was particularly probing.


At first I figured, if that's what makes him happy, why the hell not? By the end I sort of wanted to shoot him.

Simen Thoresen

If these people want to live in the woods, can we hunt them?

I mean, they come into our streets and eat our garbage, so they must be vermin, right?


Mr Eugenides

Mark Boyle once walked from Bristol to India without any money.

Well, alright. He got as far as Calais:


If you're not laughing by the time you get to the deathless phrase "Eric decided that given his lack of training and the critical food situation that to go to Belgium would have been a suicide mission", you're dead inside.


Mr E,

“‘I am a Freeconomist,’ I shall say. ‘I do not believe in money, and thus have none. Can the universe please buy me dinner?’”

Arf. A Guardian reader brought the following to the debate. It’s not entirely unrelated:

“No one is better than anyone else, we are all equal beings.”

Given the context, I take this to mean no distinction should be made between people who pay their way and freeloading opportunists. You see, being equal, they’re every bit as entitled to whatever you’ve worked for.

John D

"You see, being equal, they're every bit as entitled to whatever you've worked for."

These freeloaders think they're *more* than equal.


It's a common canard from the far Left to claim someone is 'threatened' because they are ripping the piss out of someone. No, we are ripping the piss out of him because he is a risible twat, and a sanctimonious risible twat at that.

sackcloth and ashes

'Paul McCartney once said: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.” Well, if people could see the state of war-torn Iraq, we’d all be cyclists.'

I've finally worked out what Boyle's talking about here. It seems that wars are all caused by oil, so if we all adopt a pre-industrial economy and society, we can all enjoy the state of perpetual peace, love and brotherhood that humanity enjoyed before the 19th century.

Subject of the Realm

David Thompson should really endeavour to explain to his American fans that the weirdos he's highlighting here are weird, not because of political sensibilities, but just because they're...English weirdos.

English people are weird. We all know that.

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