An Escapologist’s Manifesto

Here’s a copy of our under-exposed manifesto, originally printed as part of an introductory essay in Issue One.

It occurs to me that we’ve focussed a lot of discussion on replacing the Protestant Work Ethic with Idleness (thanks largely to the inertia from our collaborations with the Idler), and that “Convention/Rebellion” was the subject of Issue Two: The War Against Cliché, but we’ve only skimmed the surface of the other topics. There is still so much to think about if we want to build up a proper treatise on the Escapologist’s life.

It’s a nice little manifesto though, isn’t it? Three years after jotting it on the back of a Scotrail train ticket, I don’t think I would change much about it. Such direct simplicity.

It is perhaps strange that Minimalism doesn’t feature explicitly, but is most certainly a facet of the “Objects/Information” dichotomy.

Also, I suppose ‘walking’ could be added as an antithesis to ‘cars’, but doing so might dilute the implied community-minded parable of using public transport over cars: that to contribute a small amount to a public service is more productive than investing in the illusion of one’s own privacy.

What do you think, dear reader? Can you think of anything to add or amend?

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

27 Responses to “An Escapologist’s Manifesto”

  1. Briony says:

    Equality is a ghastly thing to be avoided at all costs. Celebrity in its proper form (someone “celebrated”) is surely far more preferable? Do we not admire certain people – for their writing, ideas, art, excellent stock of biscuits or good company? Should we not celebrate these people and aspire also to be celebrated for our particular skill? Equality is for the sheeple – an excuse to not be magnificent.

  2. Rob says:

    Equality is important for a society though. Cities with a high Genie Coefficient are really horrible. Without empowering a Handicapper General, I do think social equality is what we should strive for. I don’t think this means homogenisation either. Let us be magnificent, but remember that a magnificent person is still a peer.

    I think the problem with this entry into the Escapologist’s Manifesto is what we mean by ‘Celebrity’. You have correctly described celebrity as a person who is celebrated for a superior skill, but I think I probably had something different in mind; that a celebrity is a former peer elevated in the public eye to a strutting, preening, inaccessible icon by a marketing process. Maybe I’ll replace ‘Celebrity’ with something more descriptive. Or is ‘Equality’ the incorrect word? Would something like ‘Collegiality’ be better? Interested to hear what you think.

    I’m not in the habit of recommending books I’ve not read, but I hear The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better is a good, rigorous argument in favour of equality.

  3. Briony says:

    The Geni Coefficient is only a measure of financial distribution – in the same way that GDP is a poor indicator of quality of life. On the face of it I would be way down the bottom of the scale on the Geni measure as I have little money, but as I have small monetary outgoings and am highly resourceful I actually have a fantastic life. Money simply isn’t an indicator of very much at all. Access to requirements is far more important than whether you can buy or rent them in exchange for money. But I am aware that I have had the luxury of choosing to avoid financial prosperity.

    Social equality is a bizarre thing to strive for as everyone has differing views on what the standard should be. And we’re clearly not all equal. Age and experience changes us and our capabilities. And we naturally have periods of capability and incapability in our lives, whether physical, mental, chosen or inflicted.

    I have little interest in the car-crash nobodies of Heat Magazine, but at least they have managed to escape the call-centre cubicles (albeit not in a manner I would personally choose).

    Uitimately it’s your manifesto, but I was surprised to see a vote against the extraordinary in favour of mediocrity. Perhaps down with media-driven idolatory and up with personal choice? Not terribly snappy though.

    Will look the book out.

  4. Maus says:

    For the most part I think these are brilliant dichotomies for which I’d gladly favor the right column. But is “solitude” so inherenlty bad that “community” must always be preferred? I find that periods of solitude refresh me and propel my creativity. Perhaps what is really being escaped is not solitude but loneliness or the kind of alienation that our consumerist society breeds into a sort of self-loathing that believes companionship is impossible unless you use Brand X deodorant and wear Brand Y sexy jeans.

    I look forward to the further development of some of these categories.

  5. The Sussex Idler says:

    Escape from Alcatraz. Escape to Victory.

  6. Reggie says:

    I would second most of those. However, I wouldn’t be so sure about boredom/excitement. I was chased by a horse once; it was very exciting, but I didn’t like it. Like boredom, excitement is an extreme state of being (the blood’s up and the heart’s racing) and it’s the sort of extremity that we are constantly being sold: don’t be boring. Admittedly, the ‘exciting’ X Factor final isn’t really that exciting at all, but the word is used a lot to mean quick turnover, high-octane, low-attention span. I don’t find reading boring, but I would be hard-pushed to describe this favourite of my pastimes exciting: it occasionally gets many mind racing, but rarely my pulse. Boredom is close to stagnation. I think of it as a disatisfaction with the moment: thinking of doing something else, at some other time, in some other place. The opposite, then, may just be presence of mind.

    Rationalism is a philosophical stance, which may be too dogmatic a suggestion to sit opposite anxiety. A good counter-balancing state of being might be reasonableness or, simply, calm.

  7. Bev says:

    I’d be interested in a discussion of the anxiety/rationalism dichotomy. Sometimes it seems to me like worry for the future is the only rational response to the current state of the world.

  8. Rob says:

    Cheers, Reggie. I know what you mean. Most of my pastimes would be considered boring by many. When Sam’s friends came home from the Rocky Horror Show the other night and asked how I’d spent my evening, I awkwardly had to explain that I’d been reading Philip Larkin in the library.

    By the dichotomy in the manifesto, I think I meant the sort of boredom experienced in presenteeism and in doing the conventional; and the excitement of tinkering with a personal project or maintaining a personal direction. Running home from my office to work on NE in the early days springs to mind when I try to think of an example of being excited. Perhaps I rather mean ‘enthusiasm’. A state perpetual state of excitement would be horrible!

    I think this highlights that the manifesto doesn’t quite work in this simplified state. Some of it simply needs changing (excitement > enthusiasm), but also some words of explanation would help. It probably doesn’t work in this credit-card-sized format. Will think on it.

  9. Rob says:

    Agreed, Mous. Nothing wrong even with the extreme of the monastic life. I think ‘loneliness’ is really what it should be and gives me an opportunity to talk about Kurt Vonnegut. He believed that loneliness was the hardest force to be reckoned with as a human. Thanks, Mous. I think we will revisit the manifesto after this little comments-thread workshop.

  10. Rob says:

    Worry is almost the natural state for a lot of people, I think. I’m one of them. I think we can talk about this more. Did you read our post about worry a while ago?

  11. […] about here.  In fact I’m enjoying the clean white space.  Yesterday I did write up the Escapists Manifesto and prop it up on my desk but apart from a stack of satsumas it is the only thing on there at the […]

  12. Bev says:

    How about equanimity as the counterpoint to anxiety? I think it captures rationality as well as something deeper. It also works as a counterpoint to mania, which isn’t specifically on the list, but which I think is widespread and ultimately soul-deadening. I avoid tv and commercial radio for that reason.

    I did read the worry post and I remember feeling a lot more Nimoy-like than Shatneresque. As much as I’d like, I’ll never be a “cheeky chappy” kind of gal.

  13. Rob says:

    I like ‘equanimity’. Good one. I don’t think the word was in my immediately accessible lexicon, the closest I could find being ‘collectedness’. By the way, I just took a peek at your website and it is lovely. Do you live at the ‘shack in the middle’ full time?

  14. Bev says:

    Thank you *smiles*. Well… the rest of my family doesn’t share my enthusiasm for living sans mod cons, but this may have saved me the embarrassment of admitting that it was foolish for even dreaming of it. I do live in the country but walking distance to town and with running water and high speed.

  15. Rob says:

    I think it is highly admirable. As long as it doesn’t cause you stress and displeasure, I think you should keep it up. I linked to your site via our new Twitter feed @NewEscapologist.

  16. Cap says:

    Still like it. I also like the fact that it doesn’t add the usual individualism/collectivism or freedom this or freedom that into the list. Those words have, sadly enough, lost too much meaning these days.

  17. Rob says:

    Thanks, Stellan. The freedom thing is very co-opted innit? Reggie made the same point to me in a private email, especially with reference to American Bohemianism, which is a very odd thing all together.

  18. Brian says:

    My first reaction to your list is very positive. It seems to resonate with my own personal ideals. However, after reading through the comments, I am more aware of a central problem–dichotomies rarely work. By setting two ideas as polarities, values are instantly assigned; and those ideas, now polarized, represent the extreme ends of an assumed continuum. Dichotomies offer a limited and narrow view of the world. A manifesto such as this may shift us towards a new and badly needed direction, but such shifts also come with new sets of rules and boundaries, which we may be striving to escape from in the future. Such is the case with many movements.

    That said, language is never value free and it shouldn’t be. This is particularly true when writing a manifesto, I assume. Though there may be minor disagreement over the connotation of certain words, I feel most would agree with the spirit of what this list represents.

    The up shot of all I’ve written is that, in my experience, I have sought to find balance, harmony, and contentment. Beyond wondering if balance could be found in any dichotomy, I suppose I would prefer seeing a few of those words included in your list.

    PS. I really hate the idea of rationalism.

  19. Rob says:

    Hello, Brian.

    Point taken about dichotomies. When the manifesto originally appeared as part of an essay, the dichotomies were backed up by a more long-hand discussion. Removing the manifesto from its natural habitat has probably had a reductive effect. This is no significant counter to your criticism though, because the manifesto should be able to stand on its own two feet. I guess I was hoping people would receive the general principle of each dichotomy rather than strive for the absolutes, but this of course cannot be guaranteed.

    I may replace ‘rationalism’ with something like ‘collectedness’ or ‘equanimity’. What I really meant here was that we should overcome the irrational, gut instincts that lead to things like fear of flying on a personal level and xenophobia on a societal level. It’s about overcoming irrational anxiety with the application of factual, intellectual truth. I think ‘rationalism’ overshoots the mark and gives the wrong impression here. Would this help to salve your objection to rationalism’s presence in the manifesto or do you dislike the idea more intrinsically?

  20. Brian says:

    Hi Rob,

    I do prefer equanimity over rationalism. Reggie’s comment that the philosophical stance of rationalism may be too dogmatic, I think, best sums up the problem for me. It could also be argued that much of the worrisome conditions we want to escape from have their roots in one layer or another of the rationalist’s world view. Regardless, I fully understand what you meant by escaping from irrational fear. And it is a point fully worth including in your list.

    Yes, I think we would all agree with the principal of each dichotomy and I don’t mean to focus on minutia. I suppose the “black-and-white” nature of these things muddy the waters a little more for me personally, but the image you present is not blurred to the point of missing the essence of your message.

    Thanks for challenge me to think and inspiring me to escape!

    Best,

    Brian

  21. Rob says:

    Thanks, Brian. The feedback was solicited and very welcome. I’ll incorporate your notes (especially the one concerning rationalism) into a revised version. Will post it at the blog soon.

  22. […] with the Escapologist’s Manifesto last week, your comments and disagreements regarind this portrait of the Bohemian are very welcome […]

  23. Anna says:

    I agree with most of these things, except public transport. I’m sure it depends on where you live though. In Melbourne, Australia, the public transport system is in a pretty bad way, and it actually causes a lot of stress and anxiety. Standing at a bus stop at 8:04 in the morning having no clue whether your bus is going to turn up does not make for peace of mind. Neither does being crammed into a train carriage (overcrowding due to the orevious train being cancelled, again) and being breathed on by someone who had curried egg for lunch whilst having your face nestled into someone’s armpit who has decided to opt-out of the chore of daily showering. You’re also usually staring into a sea of dead faces lookly blankly into space whilst heading into their grey cubicles. It doesn’t make for an inspiring start to the day.

    Public transport also means you are relying on someone else to get you somewhere, and I don’t like to put the control of my morning into someone else’s hands (as they invariably stuff it up!). In Melbourne, it’s also expensive (more expensive than petrol!). I don’t find cars any less stressful though, especially during peak hour. Transport is such a conundrum.

    The only non-soul-destroying viable option I’ve found is cycling or walking – both forms of private transport. The only thing I worry about is whether it is going to rain.

  24. Rob says:

    That does sound pretty bad. Bad public transport is very unpleasant and I’ve had my fair share of experiences with overflowing toilets and packed carriages. I still maintain though, that in a perfect world, the transit system is public, green and reliable. If the public transport system is bad, it’s the fault of the bureaucrats behind the curtain. The faults of cars are innate.

    Public transport is not perfect in the UK or Quebec either (the places in which I live), but certainly sound better than the horrors you have to put up with there in Melbourne. Many of your criticisms still are still valid here (the grey faces, packed carriages etc), but I’d take it over a car any day. Cars (at least in the UK) are financially crippling, petrol not being the main cost, as I’m sure you know.

    There’s also the parable that public services are generally better for the community and the environment than private ones (not just in transport but in other areas too: libraries, medicine, telephones and even the simple public clock instead of private watches).

    I’m very passionate about this one and I’m not sure I’ve done my argument justice in this comment. Did you happen to buy New Escapologist Issue 3? I think the anti-car essay in that one sums it up. If you don’t have it, I’ll send you a free PDF of that one article.

  25. Anna says:

    The problem with my own argument is that I actually love the concept of public transport (and public services more genearlly)- I just find its realities too hard to bear! I do in fact agree with everything you point out, Rob, I guess my dissatisfaction with the cars / public transport dichotomy is personal rather than theoretical.

    I love the whimsical idea of striking up conversation with a lovely old lady you happen to sit next to, or spontaneously engaging in a singing circle on the tram on the way home from the pub. Unfortunately the bad (cost, crowd, unreliability, and at times, violence) outweighs the good for me so I stick with my bike.

    It actually quite upsets me that I do not like to use a service that I believe in philosophically. However, Melbourne’s public transport system was privatised some years back so I cannot even really say that we have a ‘public’ system to believe in.

    I did in fact buy issue 3, and I did read the anti-car essay! I don’t really like cars either… so I go through a lot of shoes.

  26. Anna says:

    After re-reading what I wrote, it struck me that my arguments echo quite a lot of those of people that I detest! You know, the ones that rave about the public education system but send their kids to private schools because it’s not good enough for their own, etc.

    I guess my only defense is that my issue with transport is something that I am constantly reevaluating – I have not come to a conclusion on the matter.

    I also wanted to note that I do in fact take public transport many times a week – just not when I have to get somewhere by a specific time and generally not in peak hour. When I do use it, I often enjoy the ride – I just don’t ever want to be in a position where I have to rely on it completely.

  27. Rob says:

    I completely understand, Anna. The thing about manifestos is that they’re idealistic: they propose a portrait of a perfect world. The problems you face with public transport simply highlight the distance between the proposal and the reality.

    A bike is a great way to get around though, I agree. Keeps you fit and is good for the environment. It’s kind of the spanner in the works to my ‘car vs. public transit’ polarity because the car is not the only form of private transit. In Montreal, we actually have a very good public bike service to complicate the argument further!

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