Houdini, the original escpaologist!

When it comes to work, idleness and the pleasures of life, (friendly) anarchists and (new) escapologists have always thought along similar lines.

While some time has passed since their last appearance here on The Friendly Anarchist, the escapologists have been anything but idle in the meantime. Well, actually, they have likely been mostly idle, as this is part of the concept. But on top of that, New Escapologist editor Robert Wringham and his crew have also managed to create a substantial amount of publications and propagate the escapologist lifestyle far and wide.

Robert’s newest project, a book proposal with the tentative title Escape Everything, is currently being funded. I jumped on board as a supporter – and invite you to do the same. Today, I am delighted to have Robert as a guest contributor to raise awareness (and, hopefully, a few bucks) for a worthy cause.

Enter Robert…

[¶]

Work is a scam. It’s a forty-year sentence to wage slavery. Who would sign up for that? It turns out, almost everyone.

Belief in the twin lies that “the devil makes work for idle hands” and “work will set you free” is maintaining a terrible status quo, gradually destroying the natural habitats of the world’s diverse and abundant life forms, and trapping the well-meaning majority of us humans into lives of stale drudgery.

If you’re unlucky enough to have a job, you’ll know that work takes up all of your time: when you’re not actually at work, you’re probably travelling to or from work, preparing for work, or recovering from work. Quite often, you find yourself dreaming of work, only to be interrupted by the alarm clock waking you up to go back to work.

Your home–historically a safe haven for relaxation, husbandry and merriment–is reduced to a fuelling station for work. Work, work, work. Would it not be wonderful if we were no longer expected to go to work?

Almost every ideology and political party sees work as good. Conservatives think hard work and competition are the solutions to everything. Socialism is obsessed with work and finding jobs for everyone. Anarchist writer Bob Black states the problem thusly: “Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen.”

But in the gaps between these ideologies is a proud tradition of rebel thought, which mercifully sticks up for those who’d rather not work.

Bob Black wrote that “work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world”; philosopher Bertrand Russell said “there is far too much work done in the world [and] immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous”; and merry rebel Tom Hodgkinson of the Idler magazine and Idler Academy encourages us to reclaim our leisure time from the corporation and to say “life is absurd, be merry, be free”.

Before these modern thinkers were ancient philosophers like Epicurus and Seneca and Diogenes, all of whom felt that work for work’s sake was a fool’s errand, that status and wealth were unworthy of single-minded pursuit, and that it’s aginst human nature to suffer so persistently when the best things in life come without effort. The central place of work in modern life would have baffled the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Why would anyone sacrifice the good life–a life of voluntary simplicity, spiritual improvement, intellectual contemplation, and sensual pleasure–for soulless drudgery?

In 2007, I set up a magazine called New Escapologist, which sought to continue this discourse about alternatives to the work system. We look for ways to escape work and the various other things about the consumer economy which prove so depressing and all-pervasive.

New Escapologist seems to be onto something. Even though we’re just a small-press publication with no funding or professional staff, we’ve sold thousands of copies worldwide and we’re getting ready to publish our eleventh edition. I suppose the secret of our modest success is that we’re one of few publications (though the Idler is the best) to acknowledge the obvious truth that the devil does not make work for idle hands and that work does not set anyone free.

The reason that the vast majority of us go to work is to make money to pay the rent (on property built on once-common land, no less) and to pay for material goods we’re told are needed for a good life. We do not work because we enjoy it and we do not work because it is virtuous, though maybe some of us have convinced ourselves to vaguely believe in a combination of the two.

Any semblance of dignity or craftsmanship has been bashed out of today’s work by the division of labour, by technology that allows anyone to do anything regardless of their abilities, and by the new consumer economy which preys upon our weakness and fatigue after work, and fills us with insatiable desire. There is no dignity in working for a supermarket or in an office or in a call centre. There is no dignity in finding conniving new ways of selling junk to your fellow human beings.

The majority do not work to grow food or heal the sick or push the envelope of what humanity is capable of. (We will always need farmers, nurses, and scientists and we should reward them better than we do). The majority now are dissatisfied wage slaves, conned or forced into doing what we do so that we can pump wealth back into the system, further feed the obese rich, and have cell phones and cars and cable television and all the rest of the grubby things that help to perpetuate our malaise.

New Escapologist would be overjoyed to witness the end of work. This, we think, closely echoes what Anarchists want.

How so? There’s a combination of oppressive forces that work against the majority. Anarchists tend to call it The System or The Machine. Ken Kesey called it The Combine or The Thing. Whatever we call it, this strong force lends itself well to a very particular way of life and works hard to make the alternatives look ridiculous. If you live under the control of the strong force–as almost everyone alive today does–your life will look something like this: eduction>work>retirement>death. If your life doesn’t look like that, you’re probably considered eccentric or subversive.

Our individual experiences on this treadmill will differ, but not by as much as we might imagine. Whether we attend a good school or a bad school, whether we’re employed to pick potatoes or command armies, the treadmill rattles along in the same direction.

Stepping off this treadmill is the only way to escape the system. Were enough of us to step off the treadmill, the strong force would lose its power. In such a scenario, the system may not be “smashed” but at least it will be cut back enough to feel human and manageable again. Small is Beautiful.

In case you’re not certain that the treadmill lifestyle is actually bad or if you’re under the impression that there’s no alternative, let’s consider a few of the problems with it. In the West it makes us work in offices. In the East it makes us work on assembly lines. In every direction it molds us into wage slaves, makes us miserable and fat, corrodes our willpower, leaves us spiritually dissatisfied, disconnects us from nature, obliterates our individual free agency, and ultimately exhausts us entirely. Thanks to the consumer economy that has grown up around the treadmill to further exploit our human energies, the gap is widening between rich and poor, the rainforest is being incinerated, our planet’s atmosphere is being heated and poisoned, and an estimated 200 to 2000 animal species are yearly condemned to extinction.

At New Escapologist, we believe that the weak link–the Death Star design flaw–in the treadmill is what many would imagine to be the strongest and most inevitable: we believe that we can (and should) put an end to work.

Without work as we currently understand it, the rest would fall apart. Without work, schools would no longer have to be drone factories. Without work, we wouldn’t have aimless, poverty-stricken retirements. Without work, we’d have willpower, unrationed daily freedom, creative integrity, and richer lives both in public and inside our own heads. No more anxiety. No more competition. No more struggle. People would start coming up with their own ideas instead of being told what to do.

All of this will seem idealistic or unrealistic to people living on the treadmill, but there are hundreds–thousands!–of example alternatives that work extremely well. New Escapologist celebrates these cases and shows that another world is possible.

Stop consuming. Stop working. Step off the treadmill. Await in comfort the system’s inevitable collapse.

[¶]

Robert Wringham, 21st century escapologistRobert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist magazine. He is currently running a crowd-funding campaign for a new book called Escape Everything! If you saw value in this essay and would like to see these ideas expanded upon, please visit the fundraising page and pledge today.

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Post image for What You Can Learn from a Wild Donkey

When the Spaniards reached the highlands of the Atacama, they brought some donkeys along to carry their arms and supplies. As it turned out, though, the donkeys wouldn’t really perform that well under the high altitudes and the extreme weather conditions of the desert.

When fighting the indigenous tribes, the Spanish conquerers soon stumbled on the lama: Well-adapted to the area, this animal always seemed to be ready to serve.

So the Spaniards decided to screw the donkeys. They got themselves a bunch of lamas, put all their stuff on their backs, and left their useless imported donkeys alone in the desert, facing a slow and horrible death.

[¶]

Guess what happened next? The Spaniards continued to fight their battles. For the most part, they managed to subdue the Indians. The role of the lama isn’t known to me. All I know is that, at some point, the locals got fed up with their conquerers and threw them out. They built their own countries. So the Spaniards are long gone.

But: What about the donkeys? The donkeys those Spaniards left there hundreds of years ago? Without water, without food, without any care whatsoever?

Turns out they’re still there. Grazing in the plains. Undomesticated for a few hundred years now, servant to none. The donkeys simply refused to die. Instead, they started to enjoy their newly found freedom, and have been chilling in the desert ever since.1

Derive your own life lesson from this.

“Become a wild donkey” probably doesn’t sound like much. But it’s a story that makes me smile every time I remember it.

  1. See the admittedly bad photo proof on the top of this post. It was taken earlier this year from a moving van with a toy lens. Still better than most Yeti and UFO shots out there, isn’t it? []

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Westend Surfing - Kitesurfing and Stand Up Paddle - Föhr, Germany

Resurfacing after a few months in my offline hideout, I met up with Milo to record a new episode of the Mountain Shores podcast. We discuss the beauty of creating in the real world, the importance of goals, and the improbabilities of me ever becoming a professional kite-surfer (despite my current involvement with Westend Surfing).

After a short interruption from a potential psychokiller, we touch on the issues of overworking for clients (perhaps leaving us with a boatload of money, but less time for our own work), public expectations, and the right balance between reflecting, reporting and actual, well, doing.

Click here to listen in right away or go and get all the audio links, show notes and my fresh David Hasselhoff look over on the MoSho blog.

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I’m probably a bit old-fashioned, but how can a reporter quitting email for a week be a news story? The piece I refer to is called What I Learned After Quitting Email For A Week and includes gems like these:

As a generally well-functioning workplace human, I found the first few hours to be problematic and uncomfortable. A phantom limb syndrome set in immediately — I felt vibrations on my phone from emails that would never come. Every 20 minutes I absent-mindedly clicked the Gmail bookmark on my browser only to be locked out. I felt uneasy, and disappointed at how uneasy I felt.

[…]

When I mentioned the experiment to friends and colleagues, they responded for the most part incredulously, the way a person might if you told them you didn’t believe in modern medicine.

Hmm. Not the world I live in. Those of you who have suffered from my slow email response times might suspect (quite correctly) that I quit email for a week every other month or so. Often this is because I simply don’t have web access – just as last week, when I went on an Amazon jungle adventure with four friends, six liters of rum, and a machete. Where there’s no electricity, no showers and no toilets, don’t expect great wi-fi coverage.

It’s probably all a matter of habit. I love email and use it as my main form of computer-based communication – but I’m simply not addicted to it. It surprised me to see I might be an exceptional case here, though.1

Temporary Quitting: The Inverted Cheat Day?

Thinking beyond email, I started to wonder: What are the things that I have quit temporarily at some point in my life? And what could be things that would be hard to quit, even for just a week?

A few successes come to mind: I once fasted for a week. I have quit alcohol, wheat, sugar, milk and other selected edibles for longer periods of time. While I couldn’t quit sleeping for a whole week, I did adopt a biphasic sleep schedule once when I lived in Berlin. I have spent weeks without telephones, computers, and the internet. Months without family and friends.

Temporary quitting is like a cheat day, turned on its head: Instead of allowing yourself a break when adapting a new habit, you challenge yourself to give an old one up, even if it’s just for a few days.

My thesis: Our ability to give up familiar things and ingrained habits is an indicator of a higher degree of personal freedom and sovereignty. It could hence be worth to get better at it.

The 1-Week Quitting Challenge

Here are a few challenges for me: A week without talking, reading or writing. A week without seeing another person. A week without music and noise. A week without light. Some of these might be tough, but I’m quite sure I could pull them off if I had to. But I probably won’t, because I just can’t see a benefit in many of them (the notable exception being talking).

What challenge comes to your mind, and why? Any recommendations? And what would be the hardest thing for you to quit for even just a week?

  1. Together with my weird friends, of course. []

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“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” —Jorge Luis Borges

My main asset is time. I’m putting a considerable effort into organizing my life in a way that allows me to decide about my time freely, and it has worked out quite nicely so far: I’m not necessarily wealthy in terms of dollars, but I’m quite wealthy in terms of freely available hours.

As of 2014, my general schedule includes 8 hours of technical writing each week, at whatever time I see fit, plus a 1-hour conference call every 14 days.

Everything else is negotiable.

I would pat myself on the back for this, if it wasn’t for one thing: Just like owning a lot of money makes you spend it on ridiculous stuff, owning a lot of free time has similar consequences: If you don’t make a conscious effort, you don’t spend it wisely anymore.

Full disclosure: My own understanding of “spending time wisely” may strike you as being just as frivolous as buying annoying Italian roadsters or – God forbid – gold watches. That said, we can probably agree on some not-all-so-wise uses of time, as in:

Hence, this proposal: Improve my asset management. Time being my main asset, this could be seen as mainstream time management. But it’s not: One of my main goals is to have enough unstructured time that flows freely (and allows me to do whatever I feel like at the moment). A strictly planned workday couldn’t be farther from my idea of the perfect lifestyle.

As so often, a goal that’s far from being clear-cut black and white. The good thing: I feel that merely being conscious about it is already making a difference.

More on that later, I’m off to the Amazon.

[This is my fifth Moderate Proposal for Daunting, Delightful and Dilettantish Deeds I’m pursuing this year. See the introduction, part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.]

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