Prison Camp? What Prison Camp?


Reader’s voice:

I don’t understand….what’s all this stuff about a prison camp?  

It’s not 1943 and we are not in Nazi-occupied Poland surrounded by barbed wire, watchtowers and Wehrmacht guards…

Let me clarify. That stuff about the World War II prison camp is just a metaphor.

It’s actually 2014, and here we are living in the Western World and everyone has got plenty of food, comfy beds and their own Facetweeter accounts.

In fact, all things considered, everything is fucking marvellous.  By the standards of the last 50,000 years of human history, we are all like lottery winners with shit loads of material possessions and rather vulgar tastes.

And yet…something has gone wrong somewhere along the way.

Despite the forward march of human progress, it turns out that even here, in the birthplace of the industrial revolution over two hundred and fifty years ago, not everyone is rich! 

This is puzzling.  For millennia, we lived a subsistence lifestyle and then, in the blink of an evolutionary eye, we were earning average wages of £30,000 / $45,000….we survived with almost nothing for thousands of years, so how can it be that we aren’t all rich now?  By rich, I mean money in the bank, freedom and the choice of whether or not to work or just chill for a year.

A quick history recap. Western society got serious about materialism in the 1950s – we got hoovers, washing machines, telephones and all the other stuff that can be made cheaply in factories.

We got that stuff and, don’t get me wrong, it was good. (If you don’t believe me, just try walking 5 miles to a river then washing your clothes with rocks and no Unilever product.)

We were all going to have a house in the Connecticut / Surrey suburbs, 2 cars and a spouse that baked cupcakes and fixed you a Gin & Tonic when you got back from your job as an account executive with IBM.   Hi Honey…I’m home!

Unfortunately, things didn’t stop there and, in order to sell you more shit, the western economy invented TV and advertising and our wants, honed in an evolutionary environment of scarcity, ran amok.   The nice shiny people in the adverts told us that we needed dental floss for your dog and personalised waffle makers and, hey, they wouldn’t lie to us would they?

For reasons that we will drill into later, we not only suspended our disbelief but actually threw ourselves into the process of buying more and more of that shit. And when disposable income fell short, mortgage debt, credit cards, hire purchase and student loans were invented so the game could continue.

Which brings us to The Prison Camp.

It turns out that when you don’t meet those mortgage payments, the bank doesn’t love you and your family as much as those adverts suggest.  They are all like: “Dude, where’s my money?” and you’re like: “dude, I’m a bit skint right now, what with paying for that mini-break and all” and they’re all like: “well, hand the keys back, then” and you’re like: “but I thought we were friends?” and they’re all like “here come the repo men, bitch“.  But in a caring and responsible way, of course.

That’s enough history.  Let’s bring things up to date.

Just in case you are living as a prisoner without knowing it and haven’t picked up on the signs, here are 15 clues that you are living in the metaphorical Prison Camp:

1. You feel like a salmon…you must expend all your life effort swimming upstream in order to spawn your offspring…and then you can safely die

2. Given that you are locked in to working until 65, you might as well spend your money now to make you feel a bit better…because you hope that buying more shit will bring you happiness

3. You could not take a year off work without defaulting on your debt

4. You are paying for self-storage space for the crap that wont fit in your garage / attic / basement

5. You are always harried…the best part of your day is the hour spent on your commute as its the only time your boss / partner / children can’t hassle you

6. You worry about losing your job so you can’t say no to your boss….because, after all, its really tough and competitive out there

7. You think it is normal to buy a car for your nanny or au pair (p.s. I know someone who actually did this)

8. You read the newspaper / watch the news because you are scared of people at work / in your social circle thinking that you are not “up to date”…plus seeing who celebrities are sleeping with distracts you from life in the Prison Camp

9. You were overdrawn towards the end of last month, despite being in the top 1% of earners in the world (if you earn over $40,000 pa, then you are in the 1%!)

10. You worry about what people think about you.  You think things like “well, that’s what just what everyone does

11. You own an SUV because now we’ve got kids you can’t be too careful, and it did snow here in Surrey for a couple of hours 3 years ago

12.  You can’t sit and have a drink with a friend without compulsively checking your smartphone

13. You haven’t laughed – really laughed – in the last 3 years…because you are, after all, a serious person with a serious job

14. Watching Top Gear on BBC iplayer on the train to work is as close as you come to having fun, travel and genuine friendships

15. You are overweight / unfit / drinking / ill more than you used to be and suspect this might be stress related

Hey, I’m not judging. Several of these applied to me before I quit my job.  But if any of the above describe your current situation, then it’s time for a new plan, my friend.

I think I can help you with that.

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  1. I quite like your 15 reality check statements. Especially #2

    Money and stuff = the balm of modern life. Be miserable and use your time to buy things to pacify yourself just enough to ignore the fact that you can get off the hamster wheel by….wait for it…not buying all the craps adverts tell you you should be buying.

  2. […] you do not own capital, you will be locked in the prison camp for a foreseeable […]

  3. Ron Cameron · · Reply

    “In fact, all things considered, everything is fucking marvellous. ”

    Spot on. I tell people (and remind myself) that we live in a world of ridiculous decadence. We just have to recognize and appreciate it! After all, what’s the point if we don’t?

  4. Marcelina · · Reply

    I’m enjoying your blog after reading about you on Millennial Revolution. I understand the “Prison Camp” concept is just for illustrative purposes…but as a Pole, if you’re going to mention Poland in 1943 it’s helpful for readers to know there was no Poland in 1943. There was only Nazi-occupied Poland and this small detail is important. Thanks for considering making this change. 🙂

    1. Done!

      Note to other commenters…see what happens when you ask nicely (and are correct) 🙂

      1. Marcelina · · Reply

        Thank you! Looking forward to devouring your posts!

  5. I only just found this, I’ve said yes to most of the things in the list and may now have a little weep….at my desk obviously

  6. […] still in the prison camp of exchanging time for […]

  7. […] still in the prison camp of exchanging time for […]

  8. […] Finally, pensions. I had a final salary pension and because of that I stayed longer than I would have at the company if I had a defined contribution pension. Looking back, I could have raked it in going contract back in the day but that’s choice I made. At the very least, the more time you spend getting institutionalized in one company the worse it’ll be for you in the outside world – that’s why it’s called the prison camp. […]

  9. […] In the immortal words of The Escape Artist, this is the length of the tunnel you need to dig to get out of the prison camp. […]

  10. […] first stage is childhood, adolescence. The second stage is the Prison Camp. The third is what we are all hoping for right? When money becomes something that works for you and […]

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