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New Escapologist : August 2023
Catfood Omelettes. And Issue 14!
Welcome to New Escapologist, the cheerful newsletter from the identically-named magazine.
And it’s good news, everyone. Issue 14, our first print edition in five years, is now finally, properly, disgracefully available. Please order a copy.
It’s an amazing issue, a truly triumphant return. I’ve not heard much from readers yet (it’s too early) but that’s my take on it. New Escapologist is better than ever.
For starters, we have columns from McKinley Valentine, David Cain, Tom Hodgkinson, Leo Babauta and Jacob Lund Fisker. I mean, that’s the dream team isn’t it?
There are essays by Yours Truly including one called “Towards an Escapological Politics,” which I don’t mind saying is hella powerful. There’s some funny stuff about The Beatles and UFOs (a botched escape attempt from the 1960s), an account of career escape in Holland, one man’s guide to making great punk rock records, thoughts on investing and tool libraries, interviews with Caitlin Doughty and the Iceman. And, oh, there’s so much more. Book reviews! Old Web reviews! A review of a walk. It’s all so much. 88 pages of pure Escapological magic. I think you’ll like it.
If you already bought a copy through Kickstarter or at our online shop, your copy has been shipped. It will be in your hands soon if not already.
If you’re yet to order a copy, here’s where to do so.* Available while stocks last.**
Editor, New Escapologist
*Please note that we no longer accept PayPal. Credit/debit cards and direct bank transfer are the order of the day.
**We’ve changed our business model to function more like a real magazine. For Issues 1-13 we used a print-on-demand service, meaning nothing went out of print. From now on, we order one big batch and ship it ‘til it’s gone! For this, there are reasons.
This is from the introduction to a 1998 comic called Queen of the Black Black by Megan Kelso:
I plan to be drawing comics when I am an old, old, woman, barring early death or a freak accident. Maybe I’ll own a skating rink or maybe I’ll be living on catfood omelettes in a damp basement apartment, but I WILL be making comics.
Such gorgeous integrity. I really admire the the certainty, the commitment, the ability to look sacrifice and even privation in the whites of the eyes. An aspiring or struggling creative person could learn and take strength from this today.
Kelso, needless to say, is still making comics.
When I searched online for the quote I found it in full, quoted back to her, in a 2011 interview. The interviewer asks if she still feels that way “now”. Kelso:
My young self made a vow that my older self feels obliged to keep. I sometimes wonder if that very public vow I made is part of what has kept me at it. However, I love making comics as much if not more than I did back then, so I think I would’ve kept at it even if I hadn’t proclaimed it from the hilltops the way I did. I fear I’m going to be more on the catfood side of things than the skating rink side, but yes, I still believe it.
You can take it from me as well. There may be twists and turns in the road, times you feel foolish or low, but commit (and accept the catfood omelette contingency) and you’ll succeed. You might not become mega-famous or super-rich (dubious prizes anyway) but you’ll still be doing your thing instead of something you despise. And that’s Escapology.
A Humanistic Sickness
“About 70 percent of people,” says Dan Cable, “are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about eighteen percent of people are repulsed.”
Cable is the Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the London Business School. As such, he unsurprisingly frames this problem as bad for worker motivation and productivity, but he also describes it as “a humanistic sickness.”
He traces the root of the disengagement/repulsion problem to the beginning of the twentieth century:
Each of the people in [a shoe shop] would watch the customer walk in, and then they’d make a shoe for that customer [but a few years after the Industrial Revolution] we got this different idea, as a species, where we should not sell two pairs of shoes each day, but two million.
As we know, this led to Taylorism: the separation of “head and hand” and the division of work into smaller and increasingly meaningless sub-tasks. One person stitches the sole of those shoes, another stitches the heel, another threads the laces, and so on.
We became a Big Machine, workers were alienated or lost sight of bigger pictures, and our daily activities lost meaning until 70% were no longer engaged and 18% (the most likely Escapologists among us) were “repulsed” by it. Well done, Capitalism.
As Cable explains in the video, this way of working isn’t good for the way our brains evolved. Humans need novelty, change, and problems to solve. We also, I’d add, need a sense of pride in our craft and to enjoy the moment of finishing a meaningful task.
The relevant part of the brain, Cable says, is called the ventral striatum and it’s forever “urging us to explore the boundaries of what we know, urging us to be curious.”
This ventral striatum, especially here in the 21st century, will remain unsatisfied if we don’t escape into what, a few months ago, we called “the right kind of work.”
It may or may not involve making shoes.
The spooky season came early to our house and we’ve been watching spooky films.
If you’ve seen The Witch (2015), a particular line might have stood out to you. It’s memorable.
Black Phillip, a cute little goat who turns out to be the devil, tries to tempt our hero into witchcraft. He says:
Wouldst thou like taste of butter? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
I love the escalation and I admire the decisions made on the choice of words. Butter and a dress, luxuries in the 17th Century and heart-breaking to the modern viewer, give way quickly to “living deliciously,” which could mean any level of erotic decadence.
Anyway, I would like to tempt you, madam, with a life of deliciousness. Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
If the Puritan mode of hard work for little reward isn’t working out for you, come on over to my place. You know you want to.
The Enshittification of the Internet
It’s about the “enshittification” of the Internet (a term borrowed from Cory Doctorow), specifically the decline of Twitter.
Enshittification goes further than Musk’s Twitter though (or “X” has he absurdly wants us to call it but never will).
So many websites are now plagued by pop-ups, surveys, cookie warnings, paywalls and adverts. It can be so full-on as to make the site barely usable.
For example, the “Fandom” Wiki, a platform for pop culture enthusiasts to add to the collective knowledge of their favourite fictional worlds, has adverts so pervasive that the long-established Memory Alpha (the definitive Wiki for Star Trek) has been completely ruined. I wish they’d move the content to another platform. I complain about this so much that my wife bought me a 1999 Star Trek Encyclopaedia for my birthday. Being a real book, it is ad-free, beautiful, well-written by experts, mercifully untouched by terrible “NuTrek” additions to the canon, and it doesn’t take ages to load. Of course, it means I have an embarrassing Star Trek book on my otherwise impeccable bookshelves, but desperate times mean desperate measures.
And then there’s the Guardian itself, the UK’s most prominent so-called Liberal news source. It’s theoretically free and unlimited, but it’s plastered with belch designed to make the site unpleasant so that you might shell out on a subscription. To me, this deliberate act of enshittification has the opposite effect and I spend far less time reading the site than I used to.
Anyway, that article (after explaining the problems of network effects) ends with:
we are left with the hope that, eventually, enshittification might become so repulsive to users and consumers that they will rebel. For that to happen, though, they will have to remember that other realities are possible – that there was a time when things were better. The world doesn’t always have to go to the dogs.
That’s sort-of what happened with my Star Trek Encyclopaedia. My wife remembered there was an alternative reality. If only to shut me up.
And I hope it’s what happens with Twitter too.
Wikipedia remains mercifully unmolested by claptrap (and if you have an account there, which you should, you can change your settings to stop seeing the fundraisers and the “Wiki loves monuments” banners).
Elsewhere, you can limit your exposure to website (and YouTube!) ads using AdBlock Plus, which I’ve been using to great effect for decades but many people don’t seem to know about.
I hereby promise the New Escapologist website will never fall to enshittification. This is partly on principle but also because I don’t know how to make a pop-up even if I wanted to.
In feminist theory, kyriarchy (/ˈkaɪriɑːrki/) is a social system (or set of connecting social systems) built around domination, oppression, and submission.
It was coined by a theorist called Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her 2001 book Wisdom Ways. Her glossary defines kyriarchy as:
derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) […] a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
So the kyriarchy is the social system that keeps all intersecting oppressions (e.g. patriarchy, racism, the work ethic) in place.
We sometimes like to remind our readers that, with all these forces raging around us, being stuck at an office desk or flipping patties in a fast food restaurant IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
You’re at the razor’s edge of history, the crest of a century of what we might now call kyriarchy. It doesn’t matter how normal everything looks, because you’ve never seen anything different. Listen instead to your bones: you’re not out of your mind for seeking escape.
Let it Rot
“Let it rot” is the fructating new name of that Chinese phenomenon where young people stop working and lie down like a corpse.
They refuse to work, refuse to start a family, refuse to engage with the economy beyond spending what is required for staying alive.
They changed the name from tang ping to bai lan (Let it Rot) because the Chinese government censored any social media that refers to the movement’s former name.
Here’s a ten-minute video about “Let it Rot” why young Chinese people are giving up and dropping out.
Letter to the Editor: Roko’s Basilisk
We are really pleased New Escapologist is returning to print – Can’t wait 🙂
Just a quick question about AI and your closing comment in response to the algorithmic poetry examples. You said: “We’re doomed. I for one welcome our new sonnet-writing computer overlords.”
Was this a reference to Roko’s Basilisk?
I read that some Silicon Valley libertarians and “crypto bros” are well into this theory.
Thank you for all your articles and books. We are bigtime Robert Wringham fans in our house!
Thanks for the nice things you said. And what an excellent question! Alas, my attempt at a cultural reference was even lower brow than that:
I think that’s all for now. New Escapologist is BACK, BACK, BACK! Can you believe it? I am yet to quite come to terms with it. Even when I’m schlepping up the hill to the Post Office with a heavy bag of magazines digging into my shoulder, it all seems like a dream. Better than merely “back” though, it’s also better than ever. Please buy it to see if you agree. Help the recent efforts pay off.
Your friend and neighbour,
PS: This (below) is my friend Sven’s actual passport. He has glued a golden ceramic ear to it. Not sure why. They apparently “loved it” at Glasgow International Airport.