Want not, want not

Since the creation of New Escapologist, I’ve met a number of people with passions for dumpster diving, junk reclamation, and food foraging.

Personally, I don’t go in for the salvaging lark. I’m too squeamish and I’m skeptical about the economies. Nevertheless, I respect that many people find liberty in such activities.

I mention this because I just finished reading The Scavengers’ Manifesto.

The general idea of reusing or repurposing found objects is admirable. “Waste not, want not” is some fine inherited wisdom. Scavenging (if we must call it that: the authors are keen to reclaim the word) to save money and to minimise one’s impact upon the natural world are actions quite compatible with the Escapologist’s life.

Trouble is, scavenging is made redundant by minimalism: the system to which the more determined Escapologist would subscribe. As a minimalist, I’m aloof to the material world. Scavenging reduces want, but I’ve already surgically removed my want.

When the authors breezily list the treasures they’ve acquired through scavenging, I can only think “I desperately don’t want any of that crap. I don’t even want to think about any of that crap”.

It’s a shame that so much usable stuff is discarded in our wasteful society, and it’s admirable that the scavenger seeks to intercept some of that stuff and to extract extra value from it. But as a minimalist, I don’t contribute to such detritus, and I wish that other people didn’t either.

Minimalism trumps consumerism both financially and environmentally, but scavenging is just another form of consumerism and is wholly dependent upon big consumerism.

Scavenging focuses on the middle element of the three Rs of environmentalism: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I’ve long felt that reusing and recycling are inferior measures to reduction: once a natural material has been converted into a commercial commodity, it might as well already be in the landfill. Reducing (through minimalism) is where we should focus our environmental efforts.

Liquid cash in the bank, instead of tied up depreciating in material commodities (scavenged or otherwise) is also, generally speaking, a preferable financial situation offered exclusively by minimalism.

“Waste not, want not” is a fine philosophy compared to blind consumerism. But “Want not, want not” is a far more dignified and productive maxim.

Cheer up, scavengers. Here’s a picture of dead billionaire Steve Jobs in his apartment. Look, he’s got practically nothing!


This Buttersafe strip draws attention to the white-collar predicament. Thanks to Tom for sending it in.

A predecessor

I recently discovered the work of Evan Harris. She published two books: The Quit and The Art of Quitting: When Enough is Enough.

Her oeuvre basically preempts Escapology. She uses humour and philosophy and literary references to discuss the oft-shunned art of scarpering.

Here are Ms. Harris’ six categories of quitting:

Job quitting. Leaving any labor, paid or unpaid.

Person quitting. Giving up seeing, talking to, writing to, admiring, tolerating, wishing well, caring for, banking on, being amused by, being changed by, or loving any person or group of people.

Thing quitting. Forgoing inanimate objects, food products, and anything animal, vegetable, or mineral.

Locational quitting. Leaving a city, town, country, etc. Not the same as moving. (All locational quits are moves, but not all moves are locational quits. The locational quit does not necessarily have anything to do with the actual place the quitter goes, but it has everything to do with the place the quitter has left behind.)

Idea quitting. Eschewing ideas, psychological conditions, or emotional states.

Habit quitting. Eradicating the doing of something that you engage in as a matter of course on a regular basis. This generally involves quitting behavior that is bad for your health.

I greatly admire the clarity of this list: it probably took New Escapologist a little while to figure out these flavours of escape cumulatively and nebulously, through this blog and our six print issues.

New Escapologist focuses, perhaps disproportionately, on job quitting. I’d like to think and write more about the other areas of our manifesto.

Having said that, we also cover Thing Quitting (via minimalism), Locational Quitting (when we talk about things like location independence and internationalism), Habit Quitting (when we discuss overcoming soft addictions like television, driving, and coffee in order to maximise independence), and Idea Quitting (when we talk about critical thinking and escaping things like depression and psychological dependence).

The books don’t seem to be in print any more but you can buy second-hand copies at the usual online marketplaces. More immediately, here’s a 1996 essay extracted from the first book.

Buy the complete back catalogue of New Escapologist with a 10% discount today.

Wage Slavery

When I attended university in Wolverhampton a decade ago, I would daily see an accusatory piece of graffiti near The Mander Centre shopping mall. It said, “PⒶY CHEQUE SLⒶVES”.

I admired it greatly, but always had a nagging doubt as to its political correctness and, for that matter, its accuracy. It’s a common enough thing in anti-work discourse, but is it not insensitive to liken professional drudgery (and commercial gullibility) to actual slavery?

I recently received The Wage-Slave’s Glossary as a thoughtful gift (thanks, Kristin and Chris!). Alongside other witty and rousing definitions, it gets to the nub of the wage slave matter:

Though similarities between chattel slavery and wage labor had already been noted by everyone from Cicero to Thomas Jefferson, 19th-c textile workers in Lowell, Mass., were the first to use the phrase wage slavery. The Lowell Mill Girls, as they were known, condemned the “degradation and subordination” of the emerging industrial system. […] Their coinage called attention to the similarities between buying and renting a person; they denounced a social order in which you’re encouraged to believe you’re free to direct your own life, when, in fact, you are dependent on income derived from wage labor.

The similarities between buying and renting! Paid workers are free-range or self-employed slaves: rented rather than bought.

It’s important to remember though, that “wage slavery” is not a new incarnation of an old thing. Actual slavery still exists.

There are obvious parallels between white-collar mediocrity and actual enforced labour. As long as we have to work for someone else in order to pay for the modest spaces we occupy (on once-common land, forcefully confiscated by people who aren’t even alive any more), we are not free.

The Wage-Slave’s Glossary also points out that a lot of our current work terminology (and organisational techniques) actually has origins in the plantation.

Plantation work and office work are not the same thing. But it is worth remembering the connection.

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