Choice and Control

From a decent article about Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the Observer today:

The only basic income pilot currently running in the UK is a Welsh government scheme for 600 young care leavers. Each is receiving £1,600 a month (£1,280 after tax), for 18 months, so that researchers can evaluate the scheme’s benefits. An interim report suggests recipients feel “a greater sense of choice and control over the future”.

Well yeah.

Having to scrounge and toil for the essentials of life is neither necessary or right. If society were better organised, none of the suffering inherent to the jobs system would exist. Instead, we’d have, as the article suggests, “choice and control.”

Choice and control! Natural gifts snatched from us by an unjust and increasingly rampant capitalism.

Give us the basics, oh leaders of the world, so we can once again have our choice and control. You are powerful and you are capable of granting us this meagre request. Give us the basics we require to live with dignity — by which I mean the ability to spend our days how we like — and we’ll never speak ill of your ugly orange asses again.

Or to put it more eloquently, Dr. Neil Howard at University of Bath says:

I think we need to be calling for basic income on the basis of a sense of shared morality, because economic insecurity is grim. It’s empirically damaging and it’s based on historical injustices that are translated into present inequalities. So there’s a very strong case for redistributive basic income right now, irrespective of whether or not the machines are coming.

Currently, we do not work because we love it; we work because we have to. This would change under UBI. Unwanted, unfair, badly-paid jobs would practically vanish overnight.

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New Escapologist has been advocating for UBI for years. Get our new Issue 16 in print or digital formats today.

There’s No Law That Says You Must Work

Reader C sends us this quote from the commercial release of Richard Linklater’s Slacker script.

Slacker was an important antiwork film in the ’90s. As much as anything it created the “slacker culture” that gave us the Idler.

Anyway here’s the quote from director Richard Linklater:

Work isn’t mandatory in our society. There’s no law that says you must work. You can get by if you can do without. If you’re willing not to have […] a car, nice living conditions, nice clothes, and eat out every night; if you’re willing to go, “I just want to work part-time or not at all and spend most of my time making music, writing, reading, or watching movies,” you can consciously drop out. There’s still enough freedom left where you can manoeuvre.

Let’s pause for a second here to remember that the quote comes from 1992. It is more difficult now — not legally but economically and administratively — not to work. But it’s still very possible and what he says is still true.

By “nice living conditions” he presumably means expensive living conditions. I have nice living conditions — clean, easy, happy, centrally urban — on very little money. Friends in cheaply-built but expensive-to-rent housing do not, in my opinion, have “nice living conditions.” They’re a trap.

The freebies and hand-me-downs in this society are probably the best in the world. For example, I was never really a student at the University of Texas, but that’s a great facility. I’d get my library card for thirty bucks a year and have access to one of the bigger libraries in the South. Just being a citizen, you can take advantage of a lot of things in this culture.

This is still true. A public library card costs zero bucks. A university library, if they have a special reader pass or similar, still costs a similar amount to Linklater’s time. The best things in life are very low-cost or even free: walking, reading, being with people, playing music, writing, domestic futzing.

As the man says, “you can consciously drop out” because, truly, even 20 years later, there’s still no law demanding that you work and “still enough freedom left where you can manoeuvre.”

Elsewhere, in 1995, Linklater said:

I think the cheapest definition [of a slacker] would be someone who’s just lazy, hangin’ out, doing nothing. I’d like to change that to somebody who’s not doing what’s expected of them. Somebody who’s trying to live an interesting life, doing what they want to do, and if that takes time to find, so be it.

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The brand new Issue 16 is available now in print and digital editions.

Letter to the Editor: Sabbatical

To send a letter to the editor, simply write in. You’ll get a reply and we’ll anonymise any blogged version.

message-in-a-bottle

Reader A writes:

Hi Robert,

Thought I’d share that I’ve finally managed to commence a controlled escape from wage slavery in the form of a 12-month sabbatical starting in October, from which I may or may not return. An ideal option for a ‘feartie’ like myself. 

Both of your books have played no small part in different ways with the first opening my mind up to escaping as a realistic possibility that should be planned for, the second helping to devise tactics to endure my own Concrete Island whilst putting the plan into action. A massive thanks!

Love the new issues. [After reading the books,] there’s some added bonus in receiving the latest copies in the post to then take on the train for the dreary commute!

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Feartie nothing. A sabbatical is an excellent and time-honoured escape route. There must be something in the water, actually. Another reader wrote to tell me about a 6-month sabbatical they’re taking, and a hard-working friend of mine in Leicester is taking a year off too. Long may it continue.

Maybe your sabbatical will contain the seed of a longer-term escape. Maybe, on a quiet night at the movies or under the stars, you’ll have the epiphany required to extend the break — either for a while or indefinitely. But it doesn’t have to be a gateway to greater things if you don’t want it to be or if that’s impractical. Let your sabbatical be its own adventure. Twelve months is a phenomenal result. Nice one.

Ode to a Dressing Gown

As many of my friends will know, I spend a lot of time in a dressing gown.

I fancy it’s Sherlock Holmes-ish but I’m probably just being a bum. Then again, so was he.

When people say things about wearing shirts and ties or Rosie the Riveter-style workwear at home to help them feel fresh or to be productive, I can’t relate to the sentiment at all.

Each to their own, but being able to wear a dressing gown all day is long one of the main advantages of not going to work.

A dressing gown is practically a friend for life. So far as I can remember, I’ve only ever had three:

1. an Aquafresh-striped one when I was a small boy.

2. an appropriately moody black one as a teenager, which was made of lovely pure cotton. It was probably my fave of the three, but as I grew the dressing gown did not. It soon has a Zapp Brannigan effect and had to be replaced for decency’s sake.

3. the one I have now.

The one I have now has big pockets, which means I can carry stuff around. At present, those pockets contain a handkerchief (as it always does), some anti-itch cream (I’m having an eczema time), a pencil, and an iPhone 6s.

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The brand new Issue 16 is available now in print and digital editions.

The Workers Stopped Coming In

The solution should be to turn these offices — now largely empty after the pandemic — into homes. Two problems solved, right?

A quibble about the podcast discussed in the previous post (and of other media) is a moment when the host said that:

during the pandemic, the workers stopped coming in

That’s true, but the phrasing makes it sound as if the workers just decided not to come to work anymore. As if they stubbornly said, en-masse somehow, “we’re not going there anymore.”

It’s a framing I’ve seen elsewhere in the media too, usually in business-oriented press. “How do we get people to come back to work?” they ask.

Workers didn’t “stop coming in.” They were instructed by the government not to come in. To prevent loss of life.

If workers had the ability to decide — individually or collectively — to “stop coming in” and to work from home where it’s safer and easier and cheaper and better, they would have started doing so in about 1997.

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101 Uses for a Dead Office

There’s a design podcast I sometimes listen to called 99% Invisible.

A recent episode called Office Space looks at the challenge of repurposing useless, ugly, obsolete, recently-deceased office buildings.

There’s a housing crisis in every major city and a surplus of offices. It’s almost as if our priorities have been completely backwards for decades.

The solution should be to turn these offices — now largely empty after the pandemic — into homes. Two problems solved, right?

Well, I knew it wouldn’t be that simple because, according to all the design and urban planning videos I watch, zoning laws and corrupt car-prioritsing by-laws cause all manner of problems when you try to turn one urban development into another. And, because I live in Glasgow, I was also aware of the more inherent problem of building homes without proper neighbourhoods to support them.

Neighbourhoods evolve organically. Shops and homes and post offices and third spaces pop up like wildflowers once the initial seeds are sewn. It’s wild, human nature. When you dump a huge housing development in the middle of nowhere (as they did with Glasgow in the 1960s), the neighbourhood doesn’t evolve naturally and they aren’t pleasant places to live. Through boredom and isolation, they become crime hotspots and public health crises.

Office blocks aren’t generally in neighbourhoods. My old office on Concrete Island was a particularly bad example, stranded in a wasteland behind a snakes’ nest of motorways and A-Roads. But even better offices are in pretty shit areas. Go for a walk in one on the weekend (or on Christmas Day, like I did) and you could hear a pin drop. It isn’t fit for humans [now].

Still, it’s better to reuse a building if possible than to demolish and start over. So that’s what some developers are trying to do, according to this podcast. I enjoyed hearing about the various problems and solutions. I want them to work.

Anyway, an interesting nugget is that older office buildings, pre-War, convert relatively well into homes because they have windows.

Did you hear that? Offices used to have windows! And not sarcastic full-wall one-way-mirror windows. Or indeed Microsoft Windows. Just the usual sort of human-scale windows that might make people feel comfortable and at-home.

It’s apparently the post-War builds of the 1950s onwards that present the biggest challenge. The reason? Wait for it.

Air conditioning and fluorescent lights.

Air conditioning and fluorescent lights replaced windows. Oh brave new world.

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