Mark Boyle, in case you’ve missed his previous organic brain farts, is a man who lives in the wilderness by choice. He calls himself “the moneyless man”, and that’s why he’s an author and public speaker. His whole schtick is that he has abandoned modern society, with all of its technological trappings, and now smugly writes Guardian columns about how he carves his own spoons from tree bark or whatever.
Well the bad news is that he’s back, and he’s written his column again. “Life without social media has taught me the virtues of being social”, it is titled. His schtick this time is that he doesn’t need to care about the news because technology is bad or something.
Yes, unsurprisingly, every line literally makes me scream “fuck off” involuntarily into the air. Hopefully he might hear these cries, carried by the wind to his hut.
Here’s a run-down of the most wrong-headed things that he says.
“I didn’t like how reading the news made me feel as I ate my porridge. Terrorism! Scandal! Murder! Economic growth too slow! Corruption! Celebrity says something stupid! Downing Street press release says government is doing great work!”
I don’t like how the news makes me feel sometimes either - but I don’t narcissistically bury my head in the sand. The news isn’t just meaningless words. It turns out that terrorism, scandal, murder, slow economic growth, corruption, and yes, even celebrities saying stupid things, often have consequences.
“The liberals, centre-lefties and greens, I’m told, are getting very upset about Brexit, putting it all down to racism and xenophobia – which I’m sure some of it is – forgetting the old adage that ‘small is beautiful’ and silly unfashionable ideas such as localism.”
Yeah, forget all of that empirical analysis suggesting that the Brexit disaster is going to make millions of people materially poorer - why should we listen to that when this guy has an “adage” to tell us what’s really going on. Yes people are getting very upset about Brexit - but you know why? Because it actually matters, because people’s lives will be affected by it regardless of which side turns out to be right. We can’t all choose to abdicate ourselves from society only to come running back next time we need, say, heart surgery or a vaccination. We can’t all be Mark Boyle.
“Friends have told me they think it’s irresponsible not to keep up with world affairs – what’s happening with the Syrian refugee crisis, the escalation of words between the US and North Korea (or somewhere else by the time this is published), or any of the countless ecological crises afflicting the world. Unless we do, they say, we cannot respond appropriately. I understand their perspective, and perhaps they are right, but the world is not going to shift for the lack of news these days.”
What… does… this… even… mean? This might come as a shock to him but the “news” isn’t some abstract thing that exists independently of actual humans. Syria isn’t just a TV show that you’re choosing not to watch - the people involved are living in shitty conditions and are actually dying. Between dodging ISIS and wondering where their next meal is going to come from, the refugees probably don’t have a chance to sit back and make friends with a squirrel while reading Henry David Thoreau.
And also, the North Korea stand-off could cause the deaths of millions of people. Why don’t you care, Mark? Paying attention is the first step towards understanding - and understanding is what needs to happen if the world is going to solve any of these problems.
“We need more calm, thoughtful ideas and less sensationalist journalism that harms, celebrity news that distracts, and bullshit with underlying assumptions that aren’t questioned. We need fewer people shouting at one another, and more people listening to one another. We need to start talking to our neighbours again, to find out all of the things – good and bad – that are happening to them.”
For someone who claims not to take an interest in journalism or the news, you seem fairly happy to speak authoritatively about it, Mark. “We need fewer people shouting at one another, and more people listening to one another”, you say - but how can we listen if we don’t like how the words make us feel when we eat our porridge?
Perhaps Boyle’s entire, narcissistic worldview though is best summed up by this revealing line in his piece - which I guess he included to show how carefree he is or something:
“Yesterday evening I watched two ant nations warring to death, while I sat above them drinking a glass of wine as the sun went down.”
Is there a better metaphor for Boyle’s massive stinking privilege? The world has many problems. In Syria, armed militant groups are warring to death but why should we care? Why should we pay attention to the suffering of our fellow humans? Why should we strive to do anything about it, or even understand what is going on? Why bother - when we can just sit, drinking a glass of wine as the sun goes down with Mark fucking Boyle?
James O'Malley is Interim Editor of Gizmodo UK and tweets as @Psythor.