Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even to die free than to live slaves.

– Frederick Douglass, American freed slave, abolitionist and reformer

So much of the “self-help” advice out there is about finding out what you “really” want. Related, much of the “happiness” advice is about not looking for it; it will find you, they say. And so much of the wider public discourse (often, ironically, wrapping itself around the happiness/self-help stuff) is about…

  • Just In Case
  • Don’t Be Too Different
  • Bad Things Happen to People Who Have Fun
  • Let’s Be Suspicious of Each Other (aka “Police My Back; I’ll Police Yours”).

Yes, I might well be thinking of The Daily Mail, but alas, that high-circulation bog-sheet does not have a monopoly on cultivating fear, narrow-mindedness, self-censorship, worry and discord. And it’s those things that are new equestrians of the apocalypse.

Problem is, this apocalypse is secular. I’ll go further: this time, it’s personal. Hell is no longer a fiery pit, separate, external and done unto you. Nor is it true, any longer, what Sartre acutely observed, that l’enfer, c’est les autres (hell is other people). No, hell is you and hell is now; none of that delayed agony mallarky. Really, that’s official. If there’s no god, no society (copyright Mrs M Thatcher), and mental illness is thriving, then it’s gotta be all my fault, hasn’t it? All my responsibility….?

Don’t believe me? But that’s what the dominant culture would have you believe. The subtext again and again is that YOU can make the change; YOU can do it; YOU can be master of all you survey. In fact the only reason that anything is wrong in your life is …..you. Isn’t that what you hear? “Well, yes, when you put it like that, Imp, I see what you mean, kinda – but no, not really….” 😉

OK, OK: Let’s conduct an experiment. Let’s check out an internationally renowned and respected newspaper, The Times, and….yes, how about tonight’s TV schedule for the UK (the main 5 terrestrial channels)? Blimey, EastEnders isn’t on – I might lose….

The Times: UK news headlines

  • You can clone the new passports in minuteswith the best will in the world, Bin Laden’s gonna take your identity and you’re going to get banged up in a Libyan cell for terrorism next time you pop to Ayia Napa, you fun-loving, 20-days-holiday-a-year libertine/dilettante, you.
  • Home repossessions are up 40% – which sounds like 40% of homes are repossessed, but we know it ain’t so, but you had better WORK HARDER and keep that wolf from the door, because, let’s face it, we heard you boasting about the size of your mortgage, and you were a little bit greedy, weren’t you…? And we all know it’s not big enough anyway….
  • London won’t get an Olympic torch relaybecause it’s rubbish and frankly, that’s all we deserve
  • Rats are infesting British hospitalsbecause, again, it’s more than we deserve. We’re British. The NHS has gone downhill since Florence Nightingale.
  • Nine people on every BA flight lose their bags (I kid ye not). – Do I need to go on? It’s obviously green karma, or the ghosts of dead seals. Flying bastards. You, not the seals, obviously. Murderer.
  • Fewer 11 year-olds get top marks in the SATsThey’re your children. What do you expect? You made it so.

Wednesday night on the box – the Imp’s (subliminal) self-flagellatory / low self-esteem highlights

  • BBC1, 7-30: My Family. A middle-of-the-road sit-com which laughs at the family-based misery of people just like…. you and me. Accept your lot, know your place, Everyman.
  • Channel 4, 8pm: Location, Location, Location. Watch 20-somethings with a budget of £400,000 quibble over whether they should choose the house with the space for the pigs or the flat with the helipad.
  • ITV1 9pm: Trinny & Susannah Undress the Nation: See how fat and ugly the average Brit is, underneath their ill-chosen clothes (dealt with in series 1).
  • Channel 4, interminably: Big Brother. Need I say anything?
  • BBC2 (‘cos they’ve not sinned yet), 10pm, Room 101. Another Orwellian concept of pure genius not-at-all ironically turned into light-entz sap, where mere mortals like us watch famous people tell us why they don’t like blue jelly-babies, so we can gasp at their wit and be grateful for the licence fee.

Find your pleasures.

Worship and feed them.

Glory in what you enjoy

Apply only one principle – do no harm.

If something makes you unhappy, change it. No-one else is responsible for your life: not your kids, your spouse, your mortgage-lender or your boss. You openly, knowingly made deals with all of them, and the joy of that is that they can be renegotiated at any time. Don’t do blame: not them, not yourself. I bore myself with re-citing this piece of wisdom here, but as Bill Hicks said, it’s only a ride.

PS – need some persuasion? Read How To Be Free, by Tom Hodgkinson, ed of The Idler.

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