Opting out: the freeing philosophy of avoidance and refusal

John Oakes' new book The Fast: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Promise of Doing Without, which analyzes everything from the absence of sound to the (obvious) absence of food, uses the angle of "going without" to bring a compelling perspective to our current technologized state. As he told me recently:

The act of withdrawal threatens the system—any system—which depends on participation. If, for example, you are a prisoner, you are expected to play the role of a prisoner; a businessperson or consumer, the role of a businessperson or consumer, etc. If you undertake a hunger strike (in the case of a prisoner) or a boycott (in the case of a businessperson or consumer) the act of withdrawal—fasting from food in one case and fasting from contact in another—becomes a powerful tool, even a weapon.

The book strikes me as an antidote to what Jonathan Crary chronicled in his book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Crary uses sleep deprivation to explore capitalism's ever-encroaching, technology-enabled colonization of our time and attention. Against that backdrop, The Fast shows how abstinence is advantageous, refusal is rebellious, and how avoidance is available to all. Sometimes the best option is opting out altogether. 

The Fast is erudite and well researched yet highly readable, historical and thorough without being unnecessarily verbose, and instructional and inspiring without the inherent condescension of a self-help manual.The Fast is available wherever you buy books.

Previously: What happens when you opt your kids out of standardized tests