Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Now What: A Philosophy of Freedom and Equality
by Michael Lydon
2011, iSBN 978-0-9837770-0-7
I’ve been reading philosophy books over the years and it never fails to amaze me how varied the genre is. Some of it is haughty and obscure, some complex and difficult, drawing out its meaning through syntactical complexity. Subject matter can be a specific philosophical problem or as broad reaching as the nature of ethics, personal identity, liberty, epistemology, and many other subjects – much of which cannot be easily dealt with through experimental or scientific enquiry. The best work is crystal clear, with language so beautiful it could be rendered into poetry.
Michael Lydon’s Now What presents a simple philosophy, delivered in clear, almost colloquial, conversational language. It’s no less powerful in its implications for its simplicity though. The overall premise is that our lives are always lived in the present tense, that the present tense is always new – that is, unique, and that this means that we are inherently free and equal. These facts may appear as truisms, and indeed are, in parts, a key part of many laws, constitutions (including the US Declaration of Independence: “we hold these truths as self-evident…”), but rarely have they been focused on with such singularity and with such a humanistic and accessible approach: “If, however, we see freedom in the moment, seize it and act on it, then freedom does exist for us, and its enormous potential becomes ours.” (26)
The book is entirely empirical, encouraging readers to conduct regular and direct (that is, immediately experiential) experiments in order to prove the tenets, and then to live by its dictates. Because the book is almost childlike in its optimism, inclusiveness and warmth, it functions as a kind of self-help guide to living an authentic and happy life. And why not? With “Doomsday” just around the corner, and many people suffering economic and emotional stress as the year draws in, an infectious optimism that encourages people to accept both the beauty and openness of each moment, and the exciting responsibility that such freedom brings, is exactly what the world needs.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.