Escape Everything, by Robert Wringham

escape everythingThis is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for some time, as I supported it in advance on Unbound. Robert Wringham is a writer, performer, and editor of the New Escapologist. His advocates a free and simpler lifestyle, and his book is all about escaping from work, consumerism, and despair.

Why would you want to escape? Because on average we will each spend 87,000 hours at work. That’s more of our lives than many of us are prepared to give, especially in a job that we don’t particularly believe in, or that doesn’t seem socially useful. Our timetables are decided in advance, and we have limited freedom to travel and see the world. Being tied to one place, we seek our consolation in earning and spending, acquiring a houseful of trinkets. Those, in turn, keep us in place: we have to keep earning to pay the mortgage, and now we have all this stuff to move around.

This, says Wringham, is a trap. And the thing to do with a trap is to escape it, preferably with flair and panache, like Harry Houdini.

The book begins by examining the things that deprive us of our freedom – work, consumerism, bureaucracy, and our own brains, which so often work against our better intentions. Then Wringham explores the things that actually lead to a good life, the true sources of satisfaction, and what life might look like if we were to spring the trap and pursue those instead.

Finally, we get to escape routes. The ideal is not, as the sceptics might suppose, to be a sponger or layabout, nor to win the lottery and live a life of affluent ease. The aim is to be master of our own lives, to do the work we choose rather than the work we feel forced into. That may involve a well chosen job or a part-time occupation, freelancing or being self sufficient. And it will also involve cutting back our expenditures.

That’s where the book is perhaps most subversive. Many people, when asking how they can get away without working, naturally ask how much they will need to live on. Wringham is more interested in how little we need to live on. “When you have half the desire of the average person you become twice as rich. If we want to make enough money to escape with a reasonable standard of comfort, we need to reconsider the values typically instilled into the worker-consumer.”

That means avoiding debt at all cost. Wringham lives alternately between Montreal and Glasgow, so he recommends minimalism to remain footloose and free to move. “Western culture has an acquisitive bent to it” he writes. “You’d do well to quash this desire.” Fundamentally, it’s a mindset. We’ll need to put aside competitive comparisons, social pressure to ‘get a proper job’, and silence our own status-seeking egos. That means there’s a degree of practice and discipline to escapology, as Houdini could attest.

Escape Everything is funny, tongue-in-cheek, but also wise and practical, with Wringham leading by example. There’s a social and environmental awareness to the book too. Though the focus is on freedom, there’s no doubt that ducking out of full time work is one of the most powerful responses to consumerism. As Wringham says, “quitting your job could be one of the most radical things you ever do.”

I really enjoyed Escape Everything. To me it feels like Wringham and I are preaching the same sermon, though Rob’s approach is more artful and entertaining. There are all sorts of things we can and should do to create a fairer and more sustainable world. But as the book says, “until society changes to facilitate a good life for all, we have escapology to get us there as individuals.”


 

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11 Comments on “Escape Everything, by Robert Wringham”

  1. DevonChap February 15, 2016 at 9:46 pm #

    While have personal sympathy with the idea of not working every hour to free time for family and the things I hold dear, I don’t think that is for everyone and don’t consider one better than the other. Surveys show that most people value time with their families over work or possession but they rationally decide to work full time for good reasons.

    To many people the new escapologist idea would sound self indulgent. Great if you are healthy, have marketable job skills and with few commitments, not so much otherwise. Many people live this life not out of choice. They live lives with little work because they can’t find a job. They don’t have much because they couldn’t afford it. They don’t seem particularly happy. It is the agency that makes us satisfied in this situation.

    Our welfare state is founded on a social contract that we work if we can in our adult years to fund the support for the young, the sick, the poor and the old. If you absent yourself even partly then society loses both the value your working additional would add and the taxes to fund government services. The cost of those services is borne by those who stay working full time. Hardly fair and liable to build resentment from those who work full time especially when you require those services later in life. If we had a more European contribution based social security system then that would be less of a problem. Those who choose to work less would be eligible for less.

    William Macaskill’s idea that you should earn as much as you can and give almost all of it away while living simply avoids the moral hazard. But it is less fun.

    • lunny06 February 16, 2016 at 6:02 am #

      Less fun to you my friend. The working life is a manifestation of humans not a necessity nor what any other animals do. I know I’m setting myself up for your nitpicking but I believe the world socially and environmentally needs a new path or at least be allowed to be on a different path. I know I have suffered from friends and family for having an alternative lifestyle that does not make money (even if I do give it to the poor) but to be of service to equality.

      I appreciate your farside views to some extent but I feel your presence on this blog is more to antagonise than to learn or somewhere somehow I’m sure you would have been more persuaded that a life of pure capitalism, commercialism and consumerism isn’t necessarily best for people or the planet…

      • Jeremy Williams February 16, 2016 at 9:48 am #

        DevonChap, the key here is freedom and the right to choose – agency as you rightly say.

        If you can find paid work that you’re good at and find rewarding, then pursue it. And by all means give as much as you can away if you’re so inclined.

        But if you can’t find paid work that is rewarding, then don’t give your whole life to something you hate, that’s the message here.

  2. Angus February 15, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    Thanks Jeremy,

    Sounds like a great book.

    I recently read Stuffocation, based on your recommendation, and liked it — though I thought some of its assertions were fairly questionable. I wrote some thoughts about it here:
    http://guesstimatedapproximations.blogspot.com/2016/02/status-and-consumerism.html

    Cheers, Angus

    • Jeremy Williams February 16, 2016 at 9:39 am #

      Just read your comments on Stuffocation and I agree, the unquestioning use of status as a driver for change was something I couldn’t get on board with either. I think there are benefits to experientialism over materialism, both environmentally and psychologically, but it would be more fulfilling again if we could all get over the need to show off our status all the time.

      Sounds like you’ve managed your own escape of sorts too – different spending priorities, as you say.

      • DevonChap February 16, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

        You will never get away from status display. Human are status seeking animals. Status is at its heart sexual display and EVERYTHING is about sex.

        Hoping humans will stop seeking and displaying status is hoping they stop being human.

        • Angus February 17, 2016 at 1:11 am #

          Yes that’s true, but is not really addressing the issue under discussion.

          Humans are good at finding different ways of achieving status, and an executive job with a suit and tie is but one. There are many people who have yoked themselves to a life of work in jobs they dislike because of out-of-control spending — desperately chasing the marketeers vision of materialistic status.

          Different societies have different measures of status, and that’s true even within the West which is by no means monolithic. For example, there is status to be had by being a good surfer, or gardener, or musician, etc…

          • DevonChap February 17, 2016 at 11:32 am #

            For sexual selection having high status as being a good provider is a trump. Be that lots of cattle, physical prowess that aids hunting or having lots of disposable money the possessors are more attractive to members of the opposite sex.

            This is relevant since in our modern world money is the main indicator of a being a good provider. Hence it is perfectly rational to display there. While you or I might not find it attractive we are the unusual ones. You assume people don’t really want these things but you have to be careful that your personal views aren’t clouding the wider perspective.

            Reading your blog I think you should be careful about using the British aristocrat who doesn’t care what others think as a good example. They came from a society where status came from your birth and they had high status whatever they did. They could afford not to care, in fact it reinforced their status as openly caring about social niceties was a trait of those lower down the social order.

            Our imperfect insecure meritocracy is better than a rigid aristocracy. The (now declining) British obsession with manners and the stress caused stems from that aristocracy where social climbers were found out by how they ate soup. It is better that money rather than class (or beauty or surfing prowess) is the widely accepted status since it is fungible and more democratic. I can earn money from surfing, modelling, working in an office or millions of other ways.

            Surveys show people know that money doesn’t buy your way to happiness but they aren’t stupidly following marketers.

          • Angus February 18, 2016 at 4:08 am #

            “For sexual selection having high status as being a good provider is a trump” if that were true, people would select mates with more money, which is not necessarily (I would say, not even generally) the case. I think we need to be particularly careful when trying to make biological inferences based-on a particular society.

            “money is the main indicator of being a good provider” — really? evidence?

            I think that material-derived status is most common (status quo) in our society, but is not universal (as per the examples I cited). Yes I know I’m a bit unusual, but I am not without company 😉

            Your point about the aristocrat’s birth being the source of their status is a good one, and I also agree that meritocracy is “better” than aristocracy.

            I’m not saying that people are “stupidly following marketers”, but I think that people _are_ following marketers.

            I’m saying that a change (from the current status quo) is possible. As evidence I suggested some examples and there is much more detail is in Stuffocation. I think that you are saying materialist status is universal in the West, which (IMO) it clearly is not, and that this (supposed) universality is biologically-derived (for which I think you lack evidence).

            Cheers, Angus

  3. lunny06 February 16, 2016 at 6:05 am #

    Great review Jeremy and I’ll see if I can get time to put my eyes and mind into the book itself…

    I know I have suffered from friends, family and society (even with their best intentions) for having an alternative lifestyle that does not primarily aim to make money (even if I do give it to the poor) but to be of service to equality.

    Also don’t feel inferior to the author as I feel you have a very powerful and resonating voice with your approach and audience just as I do through utilising the genre of presentations.

    • Jeremy Williams February 16, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      Ah, that wasn’t meant to be a self-deprecating comment at the end! I meant that Rob’s work is artful and entertaining where mine is more factual and political. We need both kinds.

      Your lifestyle is particularly radical, so I imagine you get stronger reactions to it than I do for mine. But run with it as long as you can my friend!

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