CI: Overturning the Legacy of Slavery

From a stirring new article by George Monbiot (thanks to @justinlucent for sending it in):

most of the world’s people live with the legacy of slavery. Even in a nominal democracy like the United Kingdom, most people were more or less in bondage until little more than a century ago: on near-starvation wages, fired at will, threatened with extreme punishment if they dissented, forbidden to vote. They lived in great and justified fear of authority, and the fear has persisted, passed down across the five or six generations that separate us and reinforced now by renewed insecurity, snowballing inequality, partisan policing.

He goes on to discuss my favourite subject of the moment. Citizen’s Income:

[basic income and land value tax] are championed by the Green party. On this and other measures, its policies are by a long way more progressive than Labour’s.

A basic income (also known as a citizen’s income) gives everyone, rich and poor, without means-testing or conditions, a guaranteed sum every week. It replaces some but not all benefits (there would, for instance, be extra payments for pensioners and people with disabilities). It banishes the fear and insecurity now stalking the poorer half of the population. Economic survival becomes a right, not a privilege.

A basic income removes the stigma of benefits while also breaking open what politicians call the welfare trap. Because taking work would not reduce your entitlement to social security, there would be no disincentive to find a job – all the money you earn is extra income. The poor are not forced by desperation into the arms of unscrupulous employers: people will work if conditions are good and pay fair, but will refuse to be treated like mules. It redresses the wild imbalance in bargaining power that the current system exacerbates. It could do more than any other measure to dislodge the emotional legacy of serfdom. It would be financed by progressive taxation – in fact it meshes well with land value tax.

These ideas require courage: the courage to confront the government, the opposition, the plutocrats, the media, the suspicions of a wary electorate. But without proposals on this scale, progressive politics is dead. They strike that precious spark, so seldom kindled in this age of triangulation and timidity – the spark of hope.

Remember to sign the petition for CI if you approve of this courageous idea.

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Escape For All

As regular readers of New Escapologist will know, we see Citizen’s Income (also known as Unconditional Basic Income) as a possible and permanent “Escape for All”.

We discussed it briefly in Issue 4 (in an article by Sam Nairn of the London School of Economics) and occasionally online, but we’ll discuss it more credibly in Issue 9, the overarching theme of which will be monetary and called “Take the Money and Run”.

By giving a state-funded minimum income to every man and woman — regardless of age, physical ability, education, or wealth — we’ll be able to abolish poverty and make work far less an essential thing in one fell swoop. People will still want to work in order to pay for luxuries, but that will be a choice. Frugal Escapologists will be able to discount work altogether under this system; people who’d like to work part-time will be better able to do so; risk-averse people who’d like to start their own business or become artists will finally have a safety-net; and nobody will have to go hungry any more.

CI would be funded by consumption taxes on luxury goods; green taxes on corporations who use or pollute natural resources; and (best of all) by the savings incurred by dismantling the expensive bureaucratic systems that maintain and police the current welfare and pensions system.

It’s not crazy. The idea has notable supporters from the political left and right alike. Pilots have been conducted in Germany and Canada.

Finally, someone has actually taken the lead on campaigning for CI to be taken seriously. Watch the video below and, if you like the idea (and are British or European) sign the petition.

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Fish Sausage

Wanting to raise the extra dough for a frivolous travel plan later in the year, I thought I’d investigate (brace yourself) the short-term employment prospects (I told you to brace yourself).

Why not? It would raise the money and could even be fun. I might meet some new people. I could get an article out of it for New Escapologist too.

Excluded by Montreal’s French language laws from entering the service industry, my old emergency plans of bookshop work or barista work fall to the wayside.

So I started looking out for downright menial work: the stuff I’ve always pompously done my best to avoid. If I was diligent about it, I’d only have to stick it for a month or two. And at least it would be real. It would get me out of the house and away from the computer.

Unfortunately, my idea of what would constitute menial work was a bit old-fashioned if not downright quaint. I was thinking of something along the lines of shoveling snow or washing dishes.

After hours of pouring over the jobs listings, I’ve been put in the picture somewhat. To be a dishwasher requires 1-2 years of experience. Same to be a bus boy or a house cleaner. Snow-shoveling meanwhile is a highly organised affair and pretty much catered for in Montreal.

The only short-order work I’ve been able to find are things along the lines of digital marketing, telesales, twittering, highly dubious copywriting, mercenary Wikipedia editing, market research. There was a job for “social bookmarking supervision”, one step removed even from social bookmarking. In short, the lowliest work now is actually quite high-tech. Thanks to computers, there’s a new sub-basement level of meaningless labour.

At least dishwashing keeps somebody’s dishes clean.

You know what would be genuinely more dignified than these new cyber follies? Lap dancing for foreign businessmen. And don’t think I didn’t see a million Craigslist ads for that.

This is the new world: the new sub-dishwasher society of Sim City.

Page after page of horrible soul-destroying work flowed before my eyes. I was looking fully into the abyss. More than my holiday fund, I was beginning to fear for society.

It didn’t take me long to realise I’d bitten into an Orwellian fish sausage:

The frankfurter had a rubber skin, of course, and my temporary teeth weren’t much of a fit. I had to do a kind of sawing movement before I could get my teeth through the skin. And then suddenly–pop! The thing burst in my mouth like a rotten pear. A sort of horrible soft stuff was oozing all over my tongue. But the taste!
For a moment I just couldn’t believe it. Then I rolled my tongue
round it again and had another try. It was FISH! A sausage, a
thing calling itself a frankfurter, filled with fish! I got up and
walked straight out without touching my coffee. God knows what
that might have tasted of.

Outside the newsboy shoved the Standard into my face and yelled,
‘Legs! ‘Orrible revelations! All the winners! Legs! Legs!’ I
was still rolling the stuff round my tongue, wondering where I
could spit it out. I remembered a bit I’d read in the paper
somewhere about these food-factories in Germany where everything’s
made out of something else. Ersatz, they call it. I remembered
reading that THEY were making sausages out of fish, and fish, no
doubt, out of something different. It gave me the feeling that I’d
bitten into the modern world and discovered what it was really made
of. That’s the way we’re going nowadays. Everything slick and
streamlined, everything made out of something else. Celluloid,
rubber, chromium-steel everywhere, arc-lamps blazing all night,
glass roofs over your head, radios all playing the same tune, no
vegetation left, everything cemented over, mock-turtles grazing
under the neutral fruit-trees. But when you come down to brass
tacks and get your teeth into something solid, a sausage for
instance, that’s what you get. Rotten fish in a rubber skin.
Bombs of filth bursting inside your mouth.

It sends Orwell’s narrator falling into a spiral of apocalyptic thinking:

I can hear the air-raid sirens blowing and the loud-speakers bellowing that our glorious troops have taken a hundred thousand prisoners. I see a top-floor-back in Birmingham and a child of five howling and howling for a bit of bread. And suddenly the mother can’t stand it any longer, and she yells at it, ‘Shut your
trap, you little bastard!’ and then she ups the child’s frock and
smacks its bottom hard, because there isn’t any bread and isn’t
going to be any bread. I see it all. I see the posters and the
food-queues, and the castor oil and the rubber truncheons and the
machine-guns squirting out of bedroom windows.

And that is properly how I felt last night. Utterly horrible, choking on a fish sausage and spiraling dangerously into rubber truncheon territory. I think I’ll carry on trying to write for a living. And if that fails there’s always the foreign businessmen.

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Issue Eight: your help

Issue Eight is almost ready to go! It looks to be another hundred-page monster.

The theme of the issue is Staying In and we’ve got articles about such homey matters as cottage industry, tea, pajamas, food, integrity, home music production, art collecting, cigars, thought, John Cowper Powys, an interview with artist Ellie Harrison, loads of great artwork, Dickon Edwards, alternative dwellings, BBC Radio’s Steven Rainey, Reggie C. King, and an ominously hanging ‘more…’.

You may have noticed that this release is hot on the heels of Issue Seven, which was released only a month ago. Four to six months is the usual gap between our issues, so this is a startlingly productive event for us.

But this presents a problem. The usual time gap allows the current issue to fund production of the next one. That’s our business model: we’ve never applied for a grant (which would likely compromise our content) or attempted to make money with advertising (which would definitely compromise our content, not to mention our principles) and we’re not in debt (which is rare for an indie magazine project).

Rather than resorting to those strategies or to launching an undignified and labour-intensive Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign, I’d ask you all to do one of the following things as soon as possible:

– preorder a copy of Issue Eight in print (£6) or PDF (£5)
buy the complete back catalogue on PDF, with £1 off the price each issue.
Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount
buy a copy of Issue Seven if you’ve not already done so
– buy a back issue
– take out a subscription (your existing subscription may need updating after Issue Eight anyway)

None of this is without reward. You’ll be receiving top-notch New Escapologist content for your hard-earned scratch. We’re not asking for donations or offering alternative rewards of dubious quality. I’m just asking you to do your shopping now so that we can get the wheels of production back into action as soon as possible.

Let’s get another New Escapologist into the world before the end of 2012!

And with Christmas and Hanukkah and Yule coming up, you could even buy an escape plan for a pal.

Thank you in advance,

Robert Wringham
Editor, New Escapologist

Can’t get enough minimalism

A few people emailed us recently to declare a new-found enthusiasm for minimalism. Believe me when I say that if these particular individuals are excited about minimalism now, there’s hope for the whole world yet.

There often comes a point when a fringe activity becomes adopted by the mainstream; a point when a living practice is no longer seen as eccentric. Recycling is a good example. In the 80s, my family seemed fairly alone in separating our garbage into plastic, paper, glass, and organic waste. We weren’t exactly hippies, which suggests the tipping point was already on the horizon, but our activity was certainly seen as odd by our friends and neighbours. In the 90s, recycling became seen as a responsibility, but it was still fashionable to shirk it. Today, the infrastructure to support recycling is convenient and ubiquitous, and recycling has become a matter of civic pride. What do you mean you don’t recycle?

I think minimalism (or ‘Reduction’ if you remember the most rejected of ‘The Three Rs’) is in a similar place to where recycling was in the 90s: people are becoming aware of the advantages, to stop reacting so violently to the suggestion that they voluntarily curb their consumer privileges, and to appreciate the minimalist aesthetic. Tablet computing is already encouraging a post-materialist attitude in some areas of consumption, and cloud computing promotes a certain distance between you and your stuff.

I think we’re on the brink of a third wave in terms of our attitudes to stuff. The new cycle will concern itself with empty space and quietness as the new luxury goods. Why a third wave? Peak Oil: the idea that we’ve already reached the point in time when the global production of oil reached its maximum rate, after which total global production gradually declines. We have to get used to not being able to buy cheap, disposable, largely-plastic products. We have to get used to inaccessibility due to products not being so readily and cheaply shipped.

Technology will partway solve the problem. Oil can be replaced by renewable energy resources. But to really solve the problem, we have to adjust to a new relationship between humans and stuff. It’s not a greenie fantasy anymore, but a cold necessity. Out goes the cheap and disposable, in comes the expensive and durable. Out goes lots of pointless stuff, in comes maximum utility and beauty. Out goes the idea that high-tech will save everything, in comes the balance of Brave New and Brave Old Worlds.

Space and quiet will be the new luxury goods. You’ll see. Buy shares in the quiet industries.

Eventful

A resounding “thanks!” to everyone who came along to last night’s Issue 5 launch event, and special thanks to Liz and Maria at The Arches for kindly hosting us.

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An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 23.

Bleedin’ ‘ek, I’m only back in ole’ Blighty!

Yes, I have returned to Britain, and Samara will join me in a month’s time, after her stint at the Scope Art Show in NYC. We’re going to live here for six months, ostensibly doing the same things we were doing in Montreal, but with the company of our Glasgow chums instead of the Pepsi-drinking weirdos of Montreal.

I flew from Pierre Elliott Trudeau to Birmingham International on Friday. I found myself unable to sleep on the plane. To occupy myself, I watched Inside Job on the inflight entertainment system and, while trying to sleep, deranged myself with questions like ‘How many airplanes have I been on?’ (I think it’s 47).

I’ve been at my parents’ house in Dudley for a few days, but I spent the whole of Monday in Glasgow, viewing eight different apartments. In the past, I’ve usually viewed two or three flats before committing to one, but since I’d made a special trip this time, I’d lined up a day of bumper-to-bumper viewings. After a run of pretty crapular ground-floor studio apartments, I finally found a decent tenement flat north of the Botanics. I move in on Monday 7th.

Being back in Glasgow was a breath of fresh air. (Not literally, of course. It smells of chips and arses). I think it is my favourite of all cities. If money weren’t an issue, I’d live in Glasgow over anywhere else in the world. I feel very at home among those sandstone tenements.

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What on Earth is Coca-Cola?

A weird thing happened today. Reading a book, “Coca-Cola” and “Coke” struck me as truly odd words. There’s something disgusting about the somersault into which your vocal chords are forced when saying “Coca-Cola Coke”, as if you are choking.

I then started to doubt whether Coca-Cola even exists. I know it’s probably the most recognised brand in the whole world, but it has been so long since I’ve seen anything about Coca-Cola or thought about Coca-Cola (much less drank any of it) that another part of my brain questioned whether it was a real thing.

Why did this happen? I see three possible explanations:

1. Coke has become such a ubiquitous brand that we now no longer notice it. It has become like the sky or the concrete of the pavements we walk upon. The marketing ‘event horizon’ between maximum visibility and complete invisibility has been crossed.

2. I spent the last year in Monreal, Quebec: one of the few places in the world where Pepsi consistently outsells Coke. So true is this fact, that “Pepsi” or “Pepper” has become a mild ethnic slur for French Canadians.

3. My Escapological drive to avoid television and advertising in general has been a success. Being absent from offices where people drink Coca-Cola bought from vending machines (or “Coke machines”) and talk about Coca-Cola as if it were the only thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, is an unanticipated effect of my change in working practices.

I don’t specifically have anything against Coca-Cola. Though I usually drink water or beer in its place, I don’t find it bad to drink. As advertising goes, a high-budget Coca-Cola advert isn’t even that bad. I just haven’t thought about it in such a long time and this, I think, is a little indicator of (and testament to) the Escapological effect of waterproofing yourself against marketing and moving in a slightly different circle to the typical worker-punter. It works to the extent that I questioned the very existence of the most ubiquitous product ever promoted.

Contributors

House Staff

Robert Wringham is a writer and performer and is the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist. He writes books and has his own humorous blog here.

Tim Eyre is New Escapologist‘s chief typographer, largely responsible for the unique look of our publications. Tim lives in London, is the developer of a unique Japanese Kanji font and occasionally discusses his typographic techniques in academic publications and conferences. Tim is an epic traveler, often writing about travel in New Escapologist and in his self-published travelogues.

Reggie Chamberlain-King is a Belfast-based writer, broadcaster and Musiphilosoph. He is creative director of the Wireless Mystery Theatre and works frequently with Martin White’s Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra.

Samara Leibner is an artist from Montreal and is New Escapologist‘s arts editor. She runs a web comic called Atronaut and is responsible for the unconventional colouring book, Shanti’s Book of Panties. She helps to create gigantic black and white artworks with the Montreal art cooperative, EN MASSE.

Neil Scott is a Glasgow-based designer and New Escapologist’s Eudaemonology editor. He has designed websites for the Idler, New Escapologist, Sarah Nixey, Luke Haines and others. As a writer, he has worked for Time Out travel guides and initiated the acclaimed magazine, the Mind’s Construction Quarterly

Drew Gagne is an escaped man and our chief leisure officer, sometimes blogging at the site as Lentus Ambulando.

Contributors

Artist Hugo Arias; blogger Leo Babauta; actor Adam Bargroff; travelling family guy Stephen Barry; brewer Gary Bearchell; musician LD Beghtol; artist Landis Blair; entertainer Mark Biddiss; scholar Tim Blanchard; artist Paula Billups; cartoonist Benjamin Birdie; artist Jason Botkin; philosopher Alain de Botton; illustrator Geraldine Boyle; skateboarder Michael Brooke; thinker David Cain; NLP coach Matt Caulfield; connoisseur Joe Champniss; film-maker Aislinn Clarke; sociologist Stan Cohen; prose writer Andrew Croskery; pseudonymn Gertrude Cubicle; anxiety combatant Brian Dean; vagabonder Shikha Dhawan; business advisor Meg Dougherty; mortician Caitlin Doughty; illustrator Philip Dearest; dandy diarist Dickon Edwards; author Joshua Glenn; academic and artist Laura Gonzalez; scholar of nonsense Marco Graziosi; tax resister David Gross; artist Lawrence Gullo; artist Ellie Harrison; tentaclist Rebecca Mary Hartz; philosophy professor Joseph Heath; comedian Richard Herring; Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson; bohemian rhapsodist Oli Hudson; eventual deliverer Sipaway Jackson; parentoid Bryn Jenkins; photographer and film-maker Alexander Jorgensen; friendly anarchist Fabian Kruse; earlier retiree Jacob Lund Fisker; poet Graham Fulton; journalist Judith Levine; comedian Ian MacPherson; editor Shanti Maharaj; artist Billy Mavreas; Alaskan Jack McClure; pigeon presser Holly Meier; journalist Tom Mellors; historian Chris Miller; political scientist David Miller; tight lark Paul Jon Milne; artist Nick Moore; blogger Mr. Money Mustache; author Ewan Morrison; academic Bernice Murphy; student of economics Sam Nair; witty boy Jonathan O’Brien; journalist Tania O’Donnell; artist Kareen Pierre; DJ Steven Rainey; postie Jon Ransom; designer Justin Reynolds; author Luke Rhinehart; cartoonist Joel Ryan; writer Will Self; writer Nicolette Stewart; cartoonist Kelly Tindall; comedian Dave Thompson; pseudonymn Mark Wentworth; artist Tristan Tolhurst; pseudonym The Walking Dude; builder Rob West; librarian Rob Westwood; dandy Lord Whimsy; author Allan Wilson; blogger Jeremy Williams; writer Kaiti Vartholomaios; and poet Murray Lachlan Young.

On Living Well

Spending 40 years of my life working just to buy stuff seems a bit extreme to me. Yet working that much is the norm in the US. It is so ubiquitous that spending all day away from home does not factor into people’s “comfort calculations”—only leather seats and oversized furniture do. However, living is about what you do, not what you have.

Jacob Lund Fisker runs a truly amazing website called Early Retirement Extreme. The site disseminates ideas around the maxim that life is too short to squander on mindless drudgery. Instead he recommends sage financial prudence: frugality, asceticism and sensible investment.

Any one of Jacob’s posts is worth a read and I’d encourage anyone to buy his upcoming book as soon as it’s available. To get you started, I’d point you at this recent post or this concise manifesto. You’ll soon be hooked. In fact, I’m reading the whole website from the first post.

It’s entirely possible to eliminate the need for pointless graft.

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A hardback guide to scarpering. Essential reading for wage slaves and slugabeds alike. Published by Unbound. 230 pages. £12.