How to Escape from Collaboration with Evil

I wrote an article for the latest issue of New Escapologist. I haven’t seen the magazine yet (sending out contributor copies seems often to be far down on the publishing to-do list, alas), but I think my article made the cut. Here it is, anyway:

Escape from Collaboration

The ethical escapologist wants to escape not just from the stultification of mainstream life, but from the moral burden of collaboration.

The tactics of the escapologist and of the conscientious objector dovetail — the same techniques that make us more self-reliant, independent, frugal, and skeptically ornery are ones that make us less likely to be bullied or bribed into being useful cogs in a brutal machine.

To other people, ethical escapologists sometimes seem deprived and reckless — renunciates, vagabonds, roustabouts — but the reason we’ve not sold out is because of the high price we put on our values: assets more valuable than whatever it is other folks are willing to trade their values for. Escapologists want not only to escape but to smuggle their values out with them — intact.

Christian anarchist Ammon Hennacy took up itinerant farm work as a mode of escape. One day someone asked him, “Why does a fellow like you, with an education, and who has been all over the country, end up in this out-of-the-way place working for very little on a farm?”

I explained that all people who had good jobs in factories, etc. had a withholding tax for war taken from their pay, and that people who worked on farms had no tax taken from their pay. I told him that I refused to pay taxes. He was a returned soldier and said that he did not like war either, but what could a fellow do about it? I replied that we each did what we really wanted to.

That’s what it amounts to: not sacrificing for our principles, but just looking at the big picture and making sure that we’re doing “what we really wanted to.”

As Swiss conscientious objector Pierre Ceresole put it: “You have no right to be moral if it is not your joy, your highest form of artistic expression. Wrestle for the good life exactly as the poet wrestles to create a beautiful verse, in the same spirit, for the love of the thing itself.”

Not everybody writes verse, but everybody lives a life. Ethical escapologists really want to live good ones.

Maybe what you really want is to be the hero, not the villain, of the story your life tells; the one who hid Anne Frank, not the one who dropped a dime on her. Or maybe you don’t have any interest in being a hero — maybe you’ve got something else you really want to do with your life — even so, as Thoreau put it when he explained his escape route:

If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too.

The ethical escapologist recognizes that many of the established ways of doing things involve the privileged sitting on the shoulders of the dispossessed — that first world citizenship and the opportunities it permits (including, in some cases, the opportunities to escape) are part of a package deal and that you can’t just absorb the personal benefits and pretend you aren’t responsible for the rest.

Escapology is not evasion — not a denial of responsibility, but acceptance of it: both gratitude for the wider horizons of life it gives to us and acceptance of the project of living our values in the bounds of these new horizons.