Growth

Working hours rise, wages stagnate or fall, tasks become duller, more stressful and harder to fulfill, emails and texts and endless demands clatter inside our heads, shutting down the ability to think, corners are cut, conditions deteriorate, housing becomes almost impossible to afford, there’s ever less money for essential public services. What and whom is this growth for?

It’s for the people who run or own the banks, the hedge funds, the mining companies, the advertising firms, the lobbying companies, the weapons manufacturers, the buy-to-let portfolios, the office blocks, the country estates, the offshore accounts. The rest of us are induced to regard it as necessary and desirable through a system of marketing and framing so intensive and all-pervasive that it amounts to brainwashing.

From a positively glistening essay by George Monbiot.

Thus the Great Global Polishing proceeds, wearing down the knap of the Earth, rubbing out all that is distinctive and peculiar, in human culture as well as nature, reducing us to replaceable automata within a homogenous global workforce, inexorably transforming the riches of the natural world into a featureless monoculture.

Is this not the point at which we shout stop? At which we use the extraordinary learning and expertise we have developed to change the way we organise ourselves, to contest and reverse the trends that have governed our relationship with the living planet for the past two million years, and that are now destroying its remaining features at astonishing speed? Is this not the point at which we challenge the inevitability of endless growth on a finite planet? If not now, when?

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Plan Your Escape! Part 0: An Introduction

Escape_planWelcome to Plan Your Escape, a New Escapologist blog series by Drew Gagne.

I’ve been helping out at New Escapologist for a few months now, so I think it’s time I introduced myself more formally.

My name is Drew, I live on the west coast of Canada, and I’m leisure-centric. It’s been a year since I last worked. Unless, of course, you count the four days I spent picking grapes at a winery, for which I’ll be paid in Gewürztraminer next spring.

To celebrate my one year anniversary in the post-work era, I’m writing Plan Your Escape, a series that will describe a logical process for examining your life (or any other problem, for that matter).

But first, I’d like to explain how I got here.

I used to fly helicopters, first in Canada’s military and then briefly as a commercial pilot. When I resigned from my job a year ago, I didn’t think of it as the end of my flying career. I simply wanted out of a crappy situation and needed some time off.

Then, a few months ago, I applied for work at a few companies and received an offer very similar to my last job. I declined, and I consider that to be the moment when I officially crossed into the post-work realm.

Why did I decline? First off, the last twelve months have been the best year of my life, bar none. I reconnected with family, improved my health, and spent time on activities that I truly enjoy. I don’t want that to change.

Perhaps more importantly, going back to flying would constitute a betrayal, of sorts. The money was decent, but I’m not particularly money-driven. More to the point, I don’t want to be money-driven. Further, the nature of the work had become unappealing. The type of flying I did was mundane, and required that I be away from home well over half the year. I knew, deep down, that if I accepted the offer, it would be because I lacked the courage to try something else, and was taking the easy way out.

[See also whore (verb) - to debase oneself by doing something for unworthy motives, typically to make money.]

And so here I am. Post-work. My current job description goes something like this:

I get up at seven. Or eight. Certainly no later than nine. I make coffee and breakfast for my wife, shop for groceries, and do laundry. It’s the least I can do, really. Otherwise, I read books, I hike, I cycle, and I think about things. If I’m feeling ambitious, I shower and walk to the centre, where I engage in good old fashioned flânerie.

Clearly, I can’t go on like this forever. Or can I? My job description mentions that I think about things, and indeed, I’ve spent a good portion of the last year doing just that. Mainly, I’ve contemplated how I want to spend the rest of my life, what constitutes a good life, and most importantly, how I can best achieve it. In the process, I’ve asked myself some interesting questions: how much is enough? what do I truly value? what does it mean to be productive? and, does any of this even matter?

In a way, my wife and I have been implicitly contemplating a better life for years, resulting in The Sale Of All Things in 2013, her shift from employment to contract work, and our recent move to the coast. All well and good, but I always felt that our approach was piecemeal. Our overall, long-term intent lurked somewhere just below the surface, but we never explored it in detail, acknowledged it, and adopted it as the basis of decision-making. And our method wasn’t methodical, resulting in unsynchronized and inefficient actions.

What we lacked was a deliberate process, a framework for examining the problem holistically. My post-work status has finally given me the opportunity to do this. Now that I’ve gone through the process, I’d like to share it with you.

The technique I’m using is simple, logical, and effective. Think of it as another tool in your toolkit. If nothing else, it’ll be food for thought. I’ll post an instalment of Plan Your Escape each Wednesday for the next five weeks, as follows:

Part 1: Why Bother? A closer examination of the benefits of planning.

Part 2: Good Intentions. The first step is to identify your overarching intent.

Part 3: So What? How to assess the relevant factors.

Part 4: Which Way To The Good Life? How to compare several possible courses of action and select the one that’s best for you.

Part 5: Putting It All Together. Articulating your plan, and establishing performance metrics to keep you on track.

See you next week.

★ If you’re really interested in Escaping, you should consider supporting Robert Wringham’s new book. Pre-order Escape Everything today.

Answerable to Nobody

The_Talented_Mr._Ripley_Cover

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, a clever young man is charged with the task of dragging an errant playboy back to New York from a life of bohemian decadence in Italy. He finds himself in two minds about his task.

Why should Dickie want to come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to-five job? Or even a chauffeured car and vacations in Florida and Maine? It wasn’t as much fun as sailing a boat in old clothes and being answerable to nobody for the way he spent his time, and having his own house with a good-natured maid who probably took care of everything for him. And money besides, to take trips if he wanted to. Tom envied him with a heartbreaking surge of envy and self-pity.

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Wildean Escapology

oscar

It is to be regretted that a portion of our community should be practically in slavery, but to propose to solve the problem by enslaving the entire community is childish. Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others. And by work I simply mean activity of any kind.

It’s Oscar Wilde’s birthday. Three cheers for the birthday boy!

The Soul of Man Under Socialism is a sacred text of Escapology.

We should be able, Wilde says, to spend our time precisely as we’d like to, slave to no duty or demand from others; and that the best way for society to cater for this is through a kind of non-authoritarian Socialism. In the meantime, of course, there are individual acts of Escapology–freeing ourselves from the grip of the system through clever individualist means–but that we’re brought to this is something of an indictment.

Wilde also uses the word “escape” a bewildering number of times in the essay. It’s quite uncanny. “Scarcely anyone escapes,” he says in his opening paragraph; artists of means are able to escape; Byron and Shelley escaped oppressive England for bohemian Rome.

Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.

We should be free to work as cottage industrialists, to put ourselves into our art or science or craft:

One’s regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living. He is also, under existing conditions, very insecure.

Minimalism comes up in the form of Wilde’s argument against private property. Not that it’s immoral per se but that it’s a pain in the arse.

The possession of private property is very often extremely demoralising, and that is, of course, one of the reasons why Socialism wants to get rid of the institution. In fact, property is really a nuisance.

I especially approve of this part about rebellion. Rebellion is not a thing to be enjoyed for it’s own sake, no matter what the punks might think. What great things might have been accomplished by, say, Tony Benn or Che Guevara or Richard Dawkins if they had not been required to spend so much energy going against the grain?

Most personalities have been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been wasted in friction. Byron’s personality, for instance, was terribly wasted in its battle with the stupidity, and hypocrisy, and Philistinism of the English. Such battles do not always intensify strength: they often exaggerate weakness. Byron was never able to give us what he might have given us.

Wilde also, like Andrew McAfee, suggests appropriate technology might be our salvation:

At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. [...] The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends. And when scientific men are no longer called upon to go down to a depressing East End and distribute bad cocoa and worse blankets to starving people, they will have delightful leisure in which to devise wonderful and marvellous things for their own joy and the joy of everyone else.

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Get The Gear!

GTGWe moved this summer to a place where we can cycle year round. This was previously the stuff of fantasy due to -30C winters, so when we arrived here we were sorely lacking winter cycling accoutrements: high-visibility rain gear, headlamp and tail light, splash guards.

Cue another round of gear-buying…

Having had my come-to-Jesus (pronounced Hay-zeus) moment with consumerism, I now become irritated at the mere prospect of buying gear, and feel an acute nausea with each new item I purchase.

It wasn’t always that way. Gearing up used to be exciting. It was a sport unto itself, and we were just like the couple pictured above in the hilarious Portlandia episode. For any new activity, we’d go to the outdoor store and spend our hard-earned money on so-called must-have items, which we’d use for a while before moving on to the next great activity. The end result: lightly used climbing harnesses, six bicycles, four backpacks, three tents, light hiking boots, heavy hiking boots, winter hiking boots, downhill skis, cross-country skis, a snowboard. It’s a minor miracle we didn’t own three or four kayaks, some expensive fly-fishing equipment, and a small twin-engine airplane equipped with floats…you know, just in case.

Perhaps, like me, you see a little too much of yourself in the characters of the skit. We need to guard against that.

Let’s replace “Get the gear!” with “Do the math!”

★ Discover why you don’t need the gear. Pre-order the New Escapologist book today.

Sleep and Braininess

Start work at 10am and sleep after lunch. If you want to get ahead, take a nap.

Friend Tom Hodgkinson has a nice piece about the benefits of sleep at the Guardian website this week.

More sleep equals economic growth: that is the extraordinary equation that we’re nearing. Which is great. If we can somehow convince the authorities, with the help of science, that sleep is good for productivity, then we’re on to a win-win situation.

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The Handcrafted Life

We returned to Canada after a decade in London, UK with a small child in tow and decided to set-up a sustainable (more on this later) 21st century homestead on 5.65 acres of fir, alder and meadow on Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.

Here’s the blog of friend and New Escapologist contributor Rob West (genuinely not one of my pseudonyms).

Rob and family are setting up home in British Columbia, pretty much doing everything from scratch: building their own house, growing their own crops.

It’s a staggering undertaking. The blog charts the construction of their new home.

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Ernold Same

Remember this? My favourite bit for some reason is the stain he always sits on.

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The End Is (Not) Near

From today’s paper:

Citing a “poisonous combination” of slow economic growth and low inflation, the study released today [by the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies and the Centre for Economic Policy Research] also warns that “deleveraging and slower nominal growth are in many cases interacting in a vicious loop” that puts the world at risk.

No, actually, I don’t think the world is at risk. If history is our guide, the world will continue to merrily spin about its axis and revolve around the smiley face sun.

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A Succession of Glorious Adventures

howtoavoidwork1

We’ve mentioned How to Avoid Work by William J. Reilly before but friend Reggie sends in this great post full of lovely quotations and contemporary workplace photography:

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