Idler meets Extinction Rebellion

30 Aug|Tom Hodgkinson

Rebel rebel: XR activists gathered on Whitehall earlier this year

Tom Hodgkinson finds much common ground with the XR activists

Last weekend we went to the Byline and Curious Festivals in Sussex where we met some of the people behind the Extinction Rebellion movement. Turns out that they are pretty Idler friendly and want to help people lead less work-focussed and more philosophical lives. There is a strong “back to the land” vibe and they are in favour of the four or three day week, as mooted by Bertrand Russell and Maynard Keynes in the 1930s.

This made me think that it would be a good idea to resurrect the Idler‘s old “Do Less” campaign. If we all did a bit less – worked less, bought less stuff, tweeted less, uploaded less, travelled less – then it would logically follow that less CO2 would be produced and all the rest of it. My suggestion was the 20% solution – can we all do 20% less of whatever it is that we do which uses fossil fuels? That would seem to bring together the noble aims of leading a less frantic life and reducing emissions. A win win situation, surely?

The obvious objection to this approach, a sort of voluntary poverty, is that it’s all very well for those of us who have experienced relative riches. But what about those people all over the world who are just coming out of poverty? The first thing they want to do is buy a car and nice clothes and start travelling and living a more sophisticated life. We can’t very well go to China and tell the new city-dwellers to go back to their families in the countryside and return to a peasant existence. Or can we? So far I have not heard a good riposte to this argument.

Anyway I am considering bringing an Idler chapter to one of the XR protests. We will sit on deckchairs, wave snail flags and do some chanting:

What do we want?
Much less work.
When do we want it?
Fairly soon would be nice.

Our protest song will be “Lie down and be Counted” by Neil Innes, which we will play on ukuleles.

Bring on the idle revolution!


These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your views.

I read your email with relief.  I’m glad you’ve met with Extinction Rebellion.  As an Idler subscriber, reader of your books AND an active member of Extinction Rebellion, I was upset by your misreading of what we were doing in London at Easter. I was on Waterloo Bridge and was enjoying the gentle Idling that was going on there.  There was no traffic, people were walking in the fume free, noise free atmosphere in the garden we had created.  We were sitting and chatting to passers by.  Cyclists were cheered and we made space for them as they cycled through. It was chilled and engaged with people. We need your idling philosophy!  I hope to see you at the next XR action in London. I’ll come and do nothing with you and save the planet!
– Jane Gordon

While I follow your argument, I think that it’s insufficient to do less of what is bad for the planet. I believe that if we can find ways to bring about transformative change in our own lives and the lives of others, change that heals rather than damages, then we must spare no efforts as we are facing an emergency. It’s going to be hard work but it must be done.
– Justin Bere