Quit Daydreaming!

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-12-30 07:00:00-05:00 No comments

Go on, say the word out loud: escapism. My educated guess is, most of the people who deign to read this blog (hello, all six of you) are not going to mangle that word into a sneer. Still, you got to admit, that's how it is said most of the time: as something derogatory and dismissive, as something to be grown past or gotten over. Except they never really mean it that way; it's always someone else's "escapism" that's childish/immature, while one's own escapism is not "escapism" but recreation. Being a moralizing scold has always been a prime way to club others on the lower rungs into submission.

J.R.R. Tolkien once had a line about this, to the effect that the people who would seem to be most uptight about the idea of escape are jailers. It tracked then and it tracks doubly so now. People who have a vested interest in ensuring there is, in fact, nothing new under the sun (and no new sun, either, while we're at it) will inevitably be first in line, and with the brownest noses, to ruin everyone else's fun. Or maybe not ruin it outright, just make it not very much fun anymore. Most of the nastiness about escapism is about the jealousy of people who hate that they can't control everything about the lives of others.

Escapism is how we get out of the box of the moment and think about life in a disinhibited way. What matters is what we do next with what we've gleaned from that thought experiment. We can just sit on those insights and keep them to ourselves, and that is the kind of thing where "escapism" becomes a derogatory. But maybe instead of just sitting on them, we use them to build some kind of retreat or redoubt from the world, perhaps in the form of a fiction.

One might be tempted to think the second of those scenarios is only a marginal improvement: after all, fictions are just that, fictions. Not programs of action. True up to a point, but think about how many fictions have become de facto programs of action, or points of inspiration, or pools of reflection for the cultures that created them.

It helps to dream, and dream big; and it helps even more to get our big dreams out into the hands of as many as possible. This isn't escapism, but the toss-and-test experimentation, the counterfactualization, the what-iffery every society needs. When we're not running scenarios about what could happen, or what might have happened, or what will/won't happen if [fill in the blank], we starve ourselves of possibilities. Escapism is just the snidest word for something that our collective survival may well depend on.

One more point I want to make on top of this is that we are fast learning it doesn't matter what form those experiments come in, as long as we have them in some form. Insisting that those things only come in a specific form is fruitless, and may likely cause us to miss out on the real thing when it does show up. This is why I tend not to get too uptight about whether that grand experiment is a book, or a movie, or a video game, or a card game, or what have you.

Tags: creativity entertainment escapism