Reduce! Reduce! And Again I Say Reduce!

This article is a timely reminder that minimalism is the only answer to the climate crisis.

Telling people what they can throw out and recycle is important, but corporations and governments who are in the business of growth do not want to address the real problem: the vast and escalating quantity of plastic and other stuff that people buy, use a bit and then throw away. Along with celebrities, “influencers” and PR companies they seek to create needs for things we never knew we wanted, and then manipulate us to buy more of everything. Bombarded by advertisements, we are then persuaded that the more we binge-shop, the more fulfilling and satisfying our lives will be.

As I say in Escape Everything!, the materials required to create almost any physical item, ultimately, come out of the ground. Recycling and reuse are respectful of this fact, but they are no alternative to leaving the coal in the ground and the rainforest intact.

The way to avoid ecological disaster is to starve the beast of consumerism, by buying less and reusing more of everything. … we must change consumer habits and attitudes to consumption.

Minimalism is the change in consumer habits/attitude to consumption we’ve been looking for. For reasons that still elude me, minimalism is often considered a sign of affluence despite costing nothing (and in fact saving money). So why not pursue that sign of affluence instead of the costly plastic ones? This way, you can still enjoy a sort of social status-in-relation-to-consumerism while helping to save the planet in the only meaningful way. And if social/consumer status is not important to you, then follow minimalism anyway for all the other benefits.

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Harry’s Houdini

I’m rarely interested in the antics of monarchy, but my attention has been snagged by Harry and Meg’s bid for freedom.

Once, when debating the redundancy of the monarchy at a family get-together (I’d been laying down an admittedly weak Republican argument), my wife offered a hot take: “I think Amnesty International should get involved.”

It was the first time I’d heard anyone suggest that maintaining a Royal Family was a bad deal for them. And of course it is! The Royals live in luxury, but they’re denied simple free will. And that is no life at all.

Doted upon, cordoned off, paraded before visitors, they’re essentially pets.

Pet status would be pretty embarrassing to the rare Royal who somehow stumbled upon self-knowledge, perhaps when catching a glimpse of their absurdly bejeweled reflection in a Commoner’s eye. This Royal, it turns out is Little Prince Harry. That’s the ginger one, fellow monarch ignorers. I looked into it.

Harry and Meg have publicly announced that they want financial independence, to live where they want to live, and to act on their own free will. They’re Escapologists!

It’s tempting to say “well, they’re millionaires, I’m sure they’ll manage, boo-hoo-diddums, etc.,” but it’s not that simple. Their unasked-for position as pet people means they need private security to ensure their safety (which shows how crazy this whole monarchy nonsense really is) and, to maintain this level of safety, they need money. Their money comes from the Crown, which is the very organisation they’re trying to escape and one, incidentally, that feasts upon the blood of the plebs. It’s not so different to, say, an American citizen wanting to escape their job but being tied to it for the health insurance. It’s no time for an empathy vacation.

Who can blame Harry and Meg for wanting to escape the clutches of their bullshit job and overbearing family? Maybe Amnesty International really should get involved.

I for one am routing for the Rogue Royals. Free Harry and Meg! 

(The cartoon at the top of this post is the work of Ben Jennings and presumably belongs to the Guardian. It was the only picture I could find about the Harry and Meg situation that wasn’t mawkish as fuck.)

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The Traps of Social Narratives

no matter how [wealthy we are], we are expected to be reaching for more. The assumption is that ever more happiness is achieved with ever more money and more markers of success. The trap comes from the fact that the happiness hit from adherence to these narratives gets ever smaller the further up the ladder you go and, eventually, can become reversed. To be happier we need to move from a culture of “more please” to one of “just enough”.

Paul Dolan, behavioural scientist questions the social narratives of success in this beefy article, describing many of them as traps, just like we do. It’s good.

about 1% of us are miserable. This would scale up to about half a million Britons. Earning less than £400 per week (or about £20,000 a year) is one of the factors that increases the chances of being in the most miserable 1%. Above £400 per week, the law of diminishing marginal returns kicks in. Once your basic needs are satisfied, your desire for ever-increasing amounts of money generates ever-decreasing returns of happiness.

We said precisely this in Issues Two and Three of New Escapologist. Our figure of £385 came from research collected by John Naish for his 2009 book, Enough. It’s good to know that the magic number hasn’t aged badly over the decade.

Incidentally, £385 now strikes me as an extremely healthy income. I do not make that much money. My current rent is £375, which would be ~25% of such a monthly pay cheque and, as such, healthy. Savings gurus tend to suggest spending “only” 50% of income on accommodation.

This “happiness sum,” by the way, is slightly above the UK’s living wage of £9.30 per hour. Assuming a working week of 37 hours, a weekly living income would be £344. So it seems most bean counters are on the same page here.

Anyway…

Data suggest that being rich can lead to time and attention being directed towards activities that fuel the attainment of more wealth, such as longer working hours and longer commutes, and away from activities that generate more happiness, such as time outside and time with family and friends. This discrepancy between the big effect on happiness that we imagine increased wealth should bring and the small effect we experience goes a long way towards explaining the narrative trap of reaching for wealth.

That’s the money trap in a nutshell.

Dolan goes on to tackle other traps that stem from success narratives. These include certain behaviour and etiquette expectations, marriage, working hours, levels of consumption, and the “quality” of one’s work. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re in a taking-stock sort of mood at the start of a new year.

My suggestion, as ever, is to develop your own code of values based on good thoughts, good reading, and an understanding of one’s impact upon the common good.

You can then (gradually or hungrily, depending on your disposition) work towards a life in which your time and actions — when you rise, the places you go, the stuff you buy, the food you eat, the waste you produce, the people with whom you share your life — are geared towards the realisation of those values.

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Crabs and Kelp

We lost the artist and writer, our neighbour, Alasdair Gray this week.

I’ve posted this before, but he wrote something inspiring and Escapological in one of his novels. Here it is again.

Will I start my own small business, if so what will it be? Will I buy a partnership, if so with who? Will I found a co-operative, start a theatrical company, join a commune? Will I invent something? Will I retrain myself to be a farmer of cattle and crops, a farmer of crabs and kelp? Will I join a political movement? Will I get religion? Will I hunt for women through contact magazines and singles clubs? Will I marry again and have a family this time? Will I emigrate? Will I roam the world with or without a companion? Will I discover that I am a homosexual, a cool-eyed gambler, a carver of clock cases, a psychopathic killer? Will I die in a war, a brothel, a famine, a bar-room brawl or beachcombing in Sri Lanka or in the Falkland Isles or in some other remote souvenir of the Great Britisher’s Empire? For I will not do nothing. No, I will not do nothing.

Later, the narrator is addressed by God (a character in the novel) who says this:

Stand up son. You’ve fallen and hurt yourself, but we all make mistakes. Regard these thirty or so mistaken years as the end of your schooling and start anew. There’s plenty of time. You’re not dead yet. You’re not even fifty.

You’ll be missed here in Unthank, Alasdair, and far beyond.

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