Last year, somewhere in Austria, I decided to drop out of university in my very first class. We can say actually in the first fifteen minutes. I was 18, took my backpack, got out of the building and said “Goodbye to all that!”
I worked a bit after leaving university and saved money. I am now in a small town somewhere in the world, educating myself, reading Plutarch, and drinking chocolate in the afternoon, hoping to write soon.
I live simply and I am very young and inexperienced, but Thoreau taught me to try the experiment of living to learn to live.
In today’s Guardian:
An influential conservative thinktank – fronted by the former work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith – has proposed the state pension age should rise to 75 over the next 16 years. If the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) had its way, the retirement age would go up to 70 just nine years from now, as the change is phased in.
This has been on the cards for a while, hasn’t it? Four million women have already been asked to wait an additional six years for their promised pensions. They want us to work until we die. No gold watch! No respite!
“Well, 75 isn’t quite the end of life,” one might say. Well, maybe that’s true for some but:
In Glasgow, boys born between 2015 and 2017 have a life expectancy of just 73.3 years – meaning under this plan, many would never reach pensionable age.
The wealthy and powerful Right don’t want us to ever rest.
And it’s the way they put it too. That the unwilling sweat of their citizens will “boost the economy” as if that were’t tyrannical lunacy while also adopting the tone of all this doing the work-knackered elderly a favour:
The CSJ’s idea of raising the pension age further received glowing coverage in sections of the rightwing press, with the Telegraph marvelling how it would “boost the economy” by £182bn and stave off the “escalating cost” of state pensions. As Duncan Smith tweeted this week: “Removing barriers for older people to working [sic] longer has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, increase retirement savings and ensure the full functioning of public services for all.”
It really does feel like like we’re at an extreme crossroads now, at which we need to choose between expanding the leisure franchise or enslaving everyone forever.
Escapologists may not be personally motivated by a state retirement as such, what with it requiring forty years of work to reach and all, but it would be nice to live in a world where Escapology (a rare and individualist act) were’t the only way to be free from drudgery.
It’s a dystopian vision of life, in which capitalism tells workers who have already grafted for 40 years that working a five-day week through their 70s is in fact the path to a healthy body and society.
Thanks to reader Antonia for drawing our attention to this BBC article. It’s a bit of a fence-sitter as articles go, suggesting that a shorter work week could be a “double-edged sword,” in terms of its social effects; but it’s fair to acknowledge, I suppose, that some people feel a bit lost without work and the article at least offers some real-world examples of how people who can’t sit still might use the extra time.
The scattered shorter-week trials that have been conducted suggest that workers with longer weekends – but whose pay stayed the same – used their extra time for a mix of activities. For a New Zealand financial services firm that last year gave employees the option of a four-day working week, this included more employee time spent golfing, watching Netflix, studying and spending time with family. For a UK PR firm that also instituted a four-day week, one young employee started spending her extra time volunteering with elderly people.
I must say that I find all this “what would I do with my time?” talk slightly bewildering. If we’re including relatively default activities such as “watching Netflix” and “spending time with family” as suggestions, I’m not sure we have much to worry about. One doesn’t need a particularly fertile imagination or very much social privilege to come up with the idea of filling an extra day with such activities. Washing? Should that be included as a recommendation? Eating lunch? Having a poo-poo? A wee-wee? Does all of this need to be explained to people as something to do when you’re not being cajoled into a workplace?
This article isn’t even talking about the total escape from the drudgery of work, remember, but about a reduced (i.e. four-day) working week. The idea that people will go off the rails (it is often suggested that people could fall into crime and drug abuse without good old Work to provide a structure for the day) has never sounded genuine.
As much as anything, we already have evenings and weekends. I’m aware that a minority of workers go a little crazy in terms of Saturday night revelry, but they don’t go insane as soon as the whistle blows and start hot-wiring cars and slinging burning bins through shop windows, do they?
You can just imagine Puritanical ministers and industrialists invested in a docile workforce having this kind of reservation when the idea of a weekend was first proposed. “Two days per week of not working? Whatever will they do to fill the time? Whatever it is, it’s sure to be immoral! Work, Work, Work! That’s the only way to keep society together. Work and the Holy Bible!”
See also: pensioners. The proven, everyday, humdrum fact of the matter is that few people willingly work or fall into criminal behaviour once they’re given a modest stipend to live on. They just tend to potter about and play with grandchildren, don’t they? Society doesn’t fall into chaos when people stop working: I might be wrong but there seem to be remarkably few gangster grannies to suggest otherwise.
My time was running out as quickly as sand through a glass. Back in the real world–the nontravel world–I was caught up in this odd arrangement whereby I agreed to spend all day doing things that were unbearably dull and monotonous for which I was compensated financially, much in the manner of a sea lion being rewarded with a halibut.
This is from Hokkaido Highway Blues by Canadian humorist Will Ferguson. It’s a superb book if you’re interested in Japan and great if you’re into long-term travel more generally. Ferguson hitch-hiked his way up Japan from southernmost Cape Sata to northerly Rishiri Island, following the cherry blossoms as they erupt across the country.
How much more Escapological–how much more motile–could you be? For a time, anyway.
Ferguson worked as an English language teacher in a Japanese high school before undertaking his journey. He saved up some money and took a period of leave with which to enjoy a micro-escape and to complete his adventure. There’s a sense throughout the book of playing hooky, of avoiding responsibility, of being on the lam, and–because of his limited funds and his intention to go back to work at the end of the adventure–of time running out.
If you’ve ever taken a micro-escape/mini-retirement (perhaps you’re on one now?) you’ll be familiar with this sensation: of ticking-clock countdown dread, of agoraphobic near-total liberty, of damn-it-all-to-hell Selma and Louise cliff-edge exhilaration. Beats sitting at a desk.
Give it a read. Ferguson has good insights into Japan and travel more generally, and he’s good company at the same time: a funny fellow and a devil-may-care fellow traveller.
A few years ago, I attended a conference just outside Glasgow. It was a waste of time and energy even within the framework of my already-a-waste-of-time job, but attendance was mandatory and that was that. It was precisely the sort of thing that would push me from a state of generalised frustration and into a bleak, chastised, depression-adjacent funk.
As I walked deliberately slowly to the conference centre from the train station, weighed down with a laptop bag of stupid paperwork, I crossed the Forth and Clyde Canal. I looked down from the bridge at the still water, and thought “one day, I’ll walk through this junction again, on my own terms and trouble-free.” I knew that my state of consciousness would be completely different to the one that was currently currently me to grind my teeth. It was such a certainty that I could practically see my future self walking contentedly along the towpath.
I looked up at the bridge and imagined my past self and sent the telepathic message back through time that things would be okay.
And then I climbed up onto the bridge and took a photograph for a reminder. This spot can now be called Future Echo junction. (Thankfully I did not also see my bloated corpse floating face-down in the canal.)
Further to our recent post about living on a boat, here’s a nice video about an off-grid house boat called the Gypsy Rose. The person who lives here, a peaceful fellow who used to be a clown and mime artist, has essentially found himself a spot in paradise.
In the video he speaks of “the sounds of the tides flowing in and out, and the winds in the mangroves.” And just look a that chalk-coloured water. I could handle that.
There’s some additional info at the Living Big in a Tiny House website.
Awooga! There’s a new NE Patreon essay online called Ye Olde Internette: Or How to Escape Web 2.0.
It differs a little from the usual “why and how you might leave social media” arguments in that the escape from social media is only one part of the Big Idea and also in that it offers a distinct plan: go back to Web 1.0.
I crave proper engagement again: the lengthy blogs, chats, threads and emails we’d exchange circa 2000 were so much more interesting and creative than anything mediated by Twitter or Facebook.
The world of Web 1.0. is still there, like your childhood toys, a little dusty perhaps, but waiting in hope for your return.
The essay has proved popular with readers so far. There have been several nice comments and emails.
In slightly-related news (related inasmuch as I’m rethinking how to use the Internet), I’m sending out a newsletter to New Escapologist mailing list subscribers tomorrow. If you’re not already on the list, why not join now? It’s free.
I hope to rejuvenate the old newsletter and to send out something fun and interesting every month or two from now on. It’s a half-step back to the magazine days. Fun!
EDIT: The newsletter is now rejuvenated. First issue is here.
Some of you singled out the brief mention of a boat-dweller in Escape Everything! so perhaps this is of interest to you. Their lives are certainly Escapological.
I’m on an army pension and it does not suffice me to live in a flat or a house. I’ve lived on a boat for seven years. Now my rent is cheap, council tax is cheap, it’s cheap living and I can afford it even if I lose all my benefits.
What do our wardrobes consist of? About 10 pairs of dungarees. Matt wears a waistcoat with a tiny vest underneath in the summer. Large party dresses with netting underneath are a big no-no on a boat because you’d knock everything over, and if you fell in you’d sink.
I use this place to sleep, write, design and then I go to work in my studio. The best bit is being able to have a real fire. It means I can look at the flames and use my imagination to think about what I want to do with the rest of my life, so I don’t need a television.
Living on a boat forces you to be green. I have two solar panels. Our water is in a thousand-litre stainless steel water tank that we fill up from water points. All the wood we use is reconstituted wood and the electricity is run by batteries – we don’t plug in to the short. I think it’s one of the greenest ways to live.
You become aware how much is needed to live and you live a much simpler life. It’s quite liberating.
I went on eBay and bought a boat, just like that.
You, you, you, have the affirmative responsibility to invent and demonstrate new ways to live without the crap that is destroying society. Quitting is the only way, for now, to learn what can replace our grand mistake.
I recently read Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier.
It’s a brilliant book and not your typical “abandon social media” tirade. It is filled with unique insight from someone who really understands Silicon Valley and is in fact still a part of it.
I like how he has not abandoned the Internet wholesale and instead urges the social media giants to reform their dark and creepy business plans, encouraging us to delete our accounts at least until it is fixed.
Check it out if you want to. In the meantime, the quotations in this post are the ones I marked in my copy of the book. They make wider Escapological points beyond discussion of the Internet.
What if listening to an inner voice or heeding a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing.
Your character is the most important thing about you. Don’t let it degrade.
You must solve problems on the basis of evidence you gather on your own, instead of by paying attention to group perception. You take on the qualities of a scientist or an artist. When you’re in a pack, social status and intrigues become more immediate than the larger reality. You become more like an operator, a politician, or a slave.
If work were no longer what it used to be, how we would cope? Who would we even be?
Mark Kingwell is a long-serving thinker in the fields of work and leisure. You’ve probably read some of his work already. Among other things, he wrote the introductory essays to Josh Glenn’s Idler’s and Wage Slave’s Glossaries. He’s also a UoT colleague of Joseph Heath whom we interviewed in New Escapologist Issue 9 (we also interviewed Josh in Issue 7).
This quick column of his is over six months old now because I sat on it for too long. Sorry about that. It contains many nice nuggets:
More than two millennia ago, Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, argued a fundamental point: The essence of human life is not work. Work lies in the realm of necessity, not philosophy. Leisure time, understood as the contemplation of the divine, is the true aim of life.