Existentialists think that what makes humans different from all other beings is the fact that we can choose what to do. In fact, we must choose: the only thing we are not free to do is not to be free. Other entities have some predefined nature: a rock, a penknife or even a beetle just is what it is. But as a human, there is no blueprint for producing me. I may be influenced by biology, culture and personal background, but at each moment I am making myself up as I go along, depending on what I choose to do next. As Sartre put it: “There is no traced-out path to lead man to his salvation; he must constantly invent his own path. But, to invent it, he is free, responsible, without excuse, and every hope lies within him.” It is terrifying, but exhilarating.
However tough it is, existentialists generally strive to be “authentic”. They take this to mean being less self-deceiving, more decisive, more committed, and more willing to take on responsibility for the world.
Most of the time, we don’t do this very well. Why? For Heidegger, the fault lies with our bewitchment by a non-entity called das Man, often translated as “the they” – as in “they say it will all be over by Christmas” (or the “one” in the phrase “one doesn’t do that”). We can’t say who exactly this “they” is, but it is everywhere, and it steals the decisions I should be making by myself.
For Sartre, the problem is mauvaise foi, or bad faith. To avoid facing up to how free I am, I pretend not to be free at all.
I slightly regret not putting a bibliography in the back of Escape Everything! especially now that people have started asking why there isn’t one.
So by jove, I went back to the book and built a bibliography. Good job I have near-total recall when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s here. Happy to discuss the books and articles in the comments thread there.
What does working less actually solve, I was asked recently. I’d rather turn the question around: is there anything that working less does not solve?
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the ability to cut a big chunk off our working week. Not only would it make all of society a whole lot healthier, it would also put an end to untold piles of pointless and even downright harmful tasks.
The idea of a universal basic income is about to leap from the margins to the mainstream, bringing promises of a happier and healthier population.
Today’s Guardian publishes very positive article by John Harris, summing up the rising tide of interest in Citizen’s Income.
The positive consequences extend into the distance: women are newly financially independent and able to exit abusive relationships, public health is noticeably improved, and people are able to devote the time to caring that an ever-ageing society increasingly demands. All the political parties are signed up: just as the welfare state underpinned the 20th century, so this new idea defines the 21st.
And to anyone who can get to London on May 8th, there’s this interesting-looking CI event at Conway Hall.
[A] big theme […] is that of automation, and its effects on the place of work in our lives. A third of jobs in UK retail are forecast to go by 2025. The Financial Times recently reported on research predicting that 114,000 jobs in British legal sector would be automated over the next 20 years.
An octopus has made a brazen escape from the national aquarium in New Zealand by breaking out of its tank, slithering down a 50-metre drainpipe and disappearing into the sea.
We’re awfully fond of octopuses here at New Escapologist, admiring them for precisely this kind of stunt. They have the wit and flexibility that so many humans lack, which is why we put one on our homepage.
So it’s with much delight that we congratulate Inky on his Shawshank-style escape. Eight cheers for inky.
I made a promotional video for the book!
Hope you like it! Be sure to turn the speakers on.
In the wake of the Panama Papers I’d like to offer some advice to The Elite.
There are far easier ways to avoid paying tax than what you lot get up to. Why trouble yourself and sully your reputation over complicated offshore affairs when you could simply work less?
I join the nation in calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation, but unlike the nation I have the PM’s best interests at heart.
In the UK, as a politician of all people should know, you can earn as much as £11,000 before you’re asked to pay anything to the tax office. That’s plenty to live on, so stop earning, silly. Millions of people earn far less without the motivation of tax avoidance!
Bertrand Russell observed this long ago: “In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.”
Unfortunately, if you’re serious about this, there’s also consumption tax (that’s VAT here in the UK) to avoid. This means ceasing to buy so much stuff. This is called minimalism or voluntary simplicity. Historically, it’s been seen as a highly virtuous way to live.
You can still do your civic duty by paying at least some consumption tax–perhaps on groceries and other noshable goods–and by paying your council or municipal tax. I love to pay my council tax because it funds the things I like and things that benefit the community instead of the central government and those armed forces and bombs. £140 a month (between two!) for clean water, sewage removal, garbage and litter collection, schools, libraries and parks is a bargain. Moreover, when you work less you’ll really get the most out of those things.
My advice to the tax-dodging rich is to get real and do it properly with your reputation intact. Stop working. Nobody will miss you. Retire with dignity to a nice cottage with a view somewhere and write your memoirs. Quietly. Maybe your book could be called How I learned to stop swindling the nation and love to loaf.
In his brilliant and demented new book, Being a Beast, Charles Foster writes:
The fact that we have at least some autonomy is awesome and intimidating. We’re used to thinking that autonomy is most critically on trial in dramatic, occasional situations — such as choosing the right to assisted suicide. But surely it’s the day-to-day choices that are the most terrifying and repercussive. Listen: you can choose whether to get up early, run round a field, have a cold bath and then read Middlemarch. Or stay in bed and watch Shopping TV. That’s astonishing. I can never get over it.
This is Escapological. It’s amazing that we can choose left or right all on our own, that this is simply part of our inheritance of evolution. It’s even crazier that we don’t appreciate it in the quotidian way he describes. I think it’s part of what keeps us going to work and ironing shirts instead of doing interesting things like, as in Foster’s case, digging a hole and living as a badger.
I’ve just read your book Escape Everything! I don’t want to blow smoke up your arse or anything but I think it’s changed my life. I feel like I’ve been handed the golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory, and therefore, I thought I better write a thank you letter to Willy Wonka.
I’ll tell you why I enjoyed it so much. I’m approaching 30 years old, and at my last count (just now) I’ve had 30 different jobs, moved to different parts of the UK searching for something but not exactly knowing what. I’ve been on pills for anxiety and depression and all the time struggling to explain to my peers and family what is wrong. Embarrassed. I’ve had most jobs you can imagine and hated every single one of them. I’ve done undergraduate and graduate degrees and saddled myself with huge amounts of debt in search of a better job (utopia).
I’ve quit most of them or made some lame excuse about them and even lied about being sacked in a few of them, and at times even got myself sacked on purpose.
I joined [a government agency] last year and finally thought I’d do a proper job, until the pointless paperwork, double standards, and general negativity all day got the better of me. All to the amazement, amusement and astonishment of my peers and family.
For years I’ve been walking sheepishly around the self-help section in Waterstones and my local library, trying to find something to help me fill the void, make sense of the world, all with limited success. I’ve watched countless YouTube videos and TED Talks all imparting some trite, American, positive-thinking, right-wing drivel.
It wasn’t until I read your book that I started to think there might be other people in the world who share the same thoughts and aspirations as me and are actually serious about walking the talk. Of course, if you ask most people they hate their jobs but they just get on with it because that’s just what you do, should do, or what society, family and friends expect you to do.
It’s a funny, well-written and comforting book, which has given me clarity for the first time in my adult life.
I don’t believe I’ve had depression and anxiety all this time: I’ve had work depression and I’m sick of it. This new perspective is going to see me make some difficult decisions that will probably let everyone conclude that I’ve definitely lost my marbles. I simply don’t want to work for another 30-40 years for the man, for 40 hours a week with people I can’t stand, just to be bullied in to buying some shite that I don’t need. I’m looking to dedicate my life to the cause of blissful, minimalist idleness and I’d like to help others do the same.
Thanks for writing the book and I wish you all the best for the future,