Friday, July 25, 2008

The Romance of Thrift

If we are to live idly, if we are to labour (as opposed to work, which can and should be satisfying) less, than we need to get in a position where we both want less, and make use of what we have. We need to learn the arts (for they are legion) of thrift. A word with a bad reputation these days, admittedly, with its sense of pinchpenny meanness; this is, after all, an age of profligacy and consumption, when we are urged by our political masters that it is our moral duty as citizens to consume. Faced with economic woes at home and political threats from abroad, it is our duty to ... well ... buy. Rather than celebrate the thrifty, we congratulate the spendthrift -- an etymologically two-backed beast if ever there was one. As G. K. Chesterton wrote : "we men have so much encouraged each other in throwing money right and left, that there has come at last to be a sort of chivalrous and poetical air about losing sixpence."

But it is time to recycle the concept of thrift. To claim it back as a necessary and unpatriotic duty, essential if we are truly to learn how to be free. The idler by his or her very nature is both thrifty and generous, recognizing that the terms are closely related. We must embrace the romance and responsibility of thrift as one of the paths out of the morass of our modern, quietly (and not so quietly) desperate lives.

Chesterton, again, on the romance of thrift, from his excellent book What's Wrong with The World:

Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic
than extravagance. Heaven knows I for one speak disinterestedly
in the matter; for I cannot clearly remember saving a half-penny ever
since I was born. But the thing is true; economy, properly understood,
is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative;
waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw
money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away;
it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is,
it is a confession of failure. The most prosaic thing about
the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new
fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such
a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house.
If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin
he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare. When science
began to use by-products; when science found that colors could
be made out of coaltar, she made her greatest and perhaps
her only claim on the real respect of the human soul.

So, the lesson for today: embrace thrift! Invite your blokes (& bloke-ettes) to your pad tonight! You can afford to be more generous with your friends if you avoid the bar. And the music will almost certainly be better.

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