I’ve just finished reading Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant for the first time and enjoyed it, as I’d always imagined, tremendously. Towards the end of the memoir, Crisp relates a time he held a job at a publishing firm before leaving to write a novel.
For those of us who’ve struggled to fulfill a contract among people seemingly better adapted to the daily grind (and then being ashamed by their utmost kindness at the end of the ordeal), these choice quotes will resonate:
The other members of the staff adopted the ruse of filling in the hours by doing the work well. This device never occurred to me. Even when I saw from their example the endless time-consuming possibilities of attention to detail, I could not bring myself to try it.
When the day was fixed for my departure, I received a present from the members of the firm who knew me best. I thanked them with unfeigned amazement. They were the people who had suffered most from the annoyance of having me sit on the corners of their desks screaming with laughter when I could find nothing better to do.
I had been teasingly asked if I’d intended to go round to every department and shake hands with the entire firm. I had said that I did not but that I would like to see the boss himself before I left … I wanted to thank him for being so long-suffering. As I stepped into his office, he said, “I just wanted to say how tolerant I think you’ve been.”
I left work partly in order not to be doing it and partly because I wanted to write a novel. Until now I had never had the time. I had never been able to collect enough money to live for a year without a job. Now this was possible.
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The quote concerns the reality that people now routinely make money in online video games through selling favours or in-world currency to other players:
It’s not surprising that gamespace has become a workplace for hundreds of thousands of “gold farmers” who undertake dreary, repetitive labor, to produce virtual wealth that’s sold to players with more money and less patience than them. The structural differences between in-game play and in-game work are mostly arbitrary, and “real” work is half a game anyway. Most of the people you see going to work today are LARPing (live-action roll playing) an incredibly boring RPG (roll-playing game) called “Professionalism” that requires them to alter their vocabulary, posture, eating habits, facial expressions — every detail all the way down to what they allow themselves to find funny.
I haven’t been visiting schools and drowsing during headteachers’ PowerPoint presentations for nothing this past quarter century. I know full-well that the purpose of both British education and British employment is the same: to keep us busy and purposive from cradle to grave.
This is rather good. It’s a chilling (and very funny) ten-minute radio programme about the work ethic in schools, written and read by our old chum Will Self.
We think that the more we have, the happier we will be. We never know what tomorrow might bring, so we collect and save as much as we can. This means we need a lot of money, so we gradually start judging people by how much money they have. You convince yourself that you need to make a lot of money so you don’t miss out on success. And for you to make money, you need everyone else to spend their money. And so it goes.
So I said goodbye to a lot of things, many of which I’d had for years. And yet now I live each day with a happier spirit. I feel more content now than I ever did in the past.
Is another book about minimalism strictly necessary. NO. But never mind. There’s wisdom here and the photos are nice.
“I haven’t been employed since 1988. I’m still trying to recover from the trauma. Sometimes I wake up and think: ‘Oh my God, I don’t have a job.” My life is a vocation; I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have the freedom to explore whatever idea I want, take really random gigs and projects which change my life in some way.”
Aha, this is great. Author Douglas Coupland — he of Generation X and Microserfs — on the future of work and his personal experience of not working.
“The nine to five is barbaric. I really believe that. I think one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we see child labour in the 19th century. The future will not have the nine till five. Instead, the whole day will be interspersed with other parts of your life. Scheduling will become freeform.”
It might sound fanciful but these issues are at the heart of a problem that’s afflicting our society: many of us work too much. How often do you get to the end of a week feeling exhausted? And how deeply do you dread the long week stretching ahead of you when you go to bed on a Sunday night?
Today we’re delighted to see the Green Party of England and Wales supporting shorter working hours through a three-day weekend. Marvellous.
It is worth remembering that history is littered with the political and economic establishment dismissing radical ideas like this out of hand. The two-day weekend, statutory sick pay, maternity and paternity pay are all hard-won rights – they weren’t inevitable. A glance back at the Tories’ reaction to the idea of a minimum wage in the 90s should remind us that regressive forces dismissing an idea is no obstacle to it quickly becoming mainstream.
Honourably, the party is currently led by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley — on a job share.
From a piece in The Economist:
Today’s horses are not entirely without work. Some still find gainful employment; a few are very valuable indeed. For people to fare better, and retain more than a rump of work reserved for those of exceptional ability, they must prove a better match for clever machines than horses were for mechanical equipment. And societies should perhaps respond with more determination and care than horse-owners did a century ago.
In a world without work, some new science suggests, being busy will be the ultimate status symbol.
The article reporting this news also suggests that the new findings are at odds with the old Thorstein Veblen theory that the ultimate status symbol is leisure, the winners being those who can afford to spend time doing nothing.
What do we, Escapologists hoping for a toil-free future, think of that?
Well. As we already know (see Escape Everything!), work and consumerism are two sides of the same coin. They’re the same economic transaction seen from opposite ends. So the new science isn’t at odds with Veblen at all: the person with the most leisure time and the person with the biggest workload will be seen as equally impressive. It is already the case and it will still be the case in a post-work future too.
The kind of leisure currently and increasingly seen as a status symbol doesn’t involve lazing around like a lotus eater or slowly walking a tortoise like a 19th century fopp. Social capital is only dished out for those who actively participate in leisure industries. The gym, tourism, shopping. Nobody admires the efficient soul who gets through the week without breaking a sweat.
Moreover, the kind of work and busyness currently rewarded with social capital isn’t the useful work of wiping elderly bottoms or raising helpless children, but non-essential busy work. The CEO, seen as a great leader and a productive member of the international society, is extremely busy despite their work being essentially useless and even harmful to their own health and the world in general.
So in the post-work future, who will be seen as the winner? Those with the most leisure or those with the most hair falling out from busyness? It’s the same guy.
The only way to break the cyclical curse of this is to be an Escapologist and learn how to idle properly.
The new essay series is go! Subscribers and the generally keen-of-eye will have noticed this already.
I’ve received some nice email about the series already, so thanks to everyone who has fed back and given moral support as well as monetary.
I hope to post a new essay each month. I’ll also post an improved and updated director’s cut of an older essay from the archives, gradually building up an online Escapologist’s library.
The first new essay is called ESCAPE THE DEATHLY HUMBLEBRAG.
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I’ve been reading some Hannah Arendt and already I’m smitten.
I recommend reading her work (especially now — she wrote about fascist totalitarianism) but all I wanted to mention today is the glorious way Arendt and some others escaped the Nazis during the war. Get this:
There was a family who had a house with a front door in Germany and a back door in Czechoslovakia. They’d invite people over for dinner and let them leave through the back door at night.
I wish I had a house like that, perhaps embedded in Hadrian’s Wall. Might apply for art council funding.