An Experiment In Self Liberation

This is an experiment. I am going to write this essay straight-off, with no edits except for obvious spelling and grammatical errors. In a sense, writing like this is itself a form of self-liberation. Prior to written communication human beings communicated at a far more immediate level with little opportunity for correction at a later point in time. By writing in this form we have to be more self aware because there is no going back.

There is a phrase in the technological age which goes something like: “Once it’s online, it’s there forever.” Clearly this is nonsense. In a relatively short period of time the archives of Twitter, Facebook and even Google will be consigned to a heap of electromagnetic garbage with no means of resurrecting even one single Tweet. But while technology and, more specifically, the Internet, exists then we are held in a bizarre form of limbo by which we are encouraged to commit our thoughts and ideas as though we were free to do so while simultaneously we regret, and are made to regret, anything we put into such media. In short, we have forgotten how to conscientiously express ourselves.

A significant reason for this is due to speed. In a society where the ego is massaged through a simple measure of bandwidth vs version number, it is the fastest and shiniest that defines our worth. Pause in a conversation – as I dared to do in an interview a couple of years ago – and this is criticised as “dead air” or even stupidity. Surely I must respond IMMEDIATELY with whatever is floating at the top of my thought bubble in a non-clinical version of Tourettes, the flip-side of which consists of being criticised for saying whatever you did say because you didn’t think carefully enough about what you said! No wonder people feel misunderstood. One bad Tweet and you are toast. One pause too many and you are yesterday’s jam.

So, we have a tactic for self-liberation already: think. And don’t be afraid of being seen to be thinking. “Can I just think about this?” is not mental incapacity, it is natural. It is liberating because by doing so we run firmly against the technological grain of speed plus bandwidth plus change plus growth. Think about something and you might have time enough to realise things are not quite right. Think about something and you might also make the other party see that you value what they have said or written.

There is another phrase, which fewer people are aware of, but which actually defines the entire language of civilized discourse. “Framing the argument” is not about taking time to set out what you really want to say; the frames are not built by the individual but by the system that has the resources to build monolithic ideas from which its subjects must not deviate. A question on the radio might be: “What do you think this drop in profits means for the company?” The frame of this question is actually: “I am not going to acknowledge any disagreement with the capital economic model nor that the economic success of a company is anything but a good thing, so with that said, to what level do you think that a drop in profits is a bad thing or are you going to shut up?”

The Luddites of the newly industrialised Britain knew what they were doing when they broke the weaving frames of their hated satanic mills. Breaking the metaphorical framework of our linguistic structure, for language is the core of a culture, is truly a form of liberation. As we question the framing of any statement made on behalf of the system we peel the carapace from it leaving its soft innards exposed – so THAT’S what they really mean, and why they say it!

Going back to speed (he says as he removes the accursed timepiece from his arm, not realising it was there) it is worth considering the nature of domesticity and the part technology has played in its history. There is no doubt that the removal of open fires from homes has massively reduced the presence of particulates coating every surface, but that doesn’t mean that vacuum cleaners have by the same principle removed the drudgery from domestic life. Hard floors can be swept with brooms; carpets cannot. The introduction of the vacuum cleaner made carpets a desirable item for every civilized person – you couldn’t hang them out to beat them so you had to have a vacuum cleaner (or at least a carpet sweeper), and because vacuum cleaners were available then people filled their homes with carpets. And animal hair. And dust mites. It’s hardly worth me mentioning the dishwasher, but it is such a classic example of the myth of domestic “liberation” that you really have to marvel over the power of the culture that makes us believe rinsing, then loading, then waiting (with thumping noises) an hour, then unloading and usually hand-drying, and then putting away far more items of crockery and cutlery than we would have ever used had we hand-washed, is actually saving us any time at all.

Simplify your life. With each fewer item of so-called domestic automation you return to a far more self-determined level of work. No washing machine may equal less white whites and a lot of heavy scrubbing, but think of the number of times you wash clothes compared to how much you need to wash them, and as for the size of the wardrobe…It’s not any easy thing, but it is SO liberating in a way Hoover and GM never imagined we could be thinking.

And what of the timepiece lying on the desk beside me? There was a part of my life that took such things so very seriously until not so long ago. I genuinely hate being late for people and until the whole of a community is able to embrace their natural biorhythms and use natural light as a timekeeper I will have to glance at the clock to know when I am due to be somewhere, but not having a watch on my arm is a wonderful thing (I don’t mean having a phone in my pocket as a replacement either). The symbolic shedding of a cultural binding is one thing. Not being bound to a timetable that is almost totally set by the world of industrial work is another, albeit tougher, thing to overcome. Start with weekends, then evenings, then the whole damn time. You will learn to time yourself remarkably quickly, but the next time someone wants to make an appointment don’t synchronise watches or phones or iPads; synchronise your internal clocks.

These are all just small steps towards personal liberation, but for good reason they are also all achievable. You do something, you tell someone about it, they do it. They may not be on the same page as you but they experience the liberation all the same. Then they share those experiences with others. That’s how communities start.

And while you’re here, you might want to read a few other tales of liberation: try “Finding My Limit” and “What If…We Stopped Using Money?” also on The Earth Blog. If you like those then it’s time you were undermining.

Originally published at

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