People often seem to assume that the modern world comes as a bundled package.
So we either have to buy everything that everyone else does…or nothing.
Not true. That’s binary thinking. Instead, I suggest you just take the good bits and leave the rest.
Much of what we learn, we absorb unconsciously from the people around us. Humans got to the top of the food chain by living in tribes and ganging up on the woolly mammoths, neanderthals etc. On the whole, co-operation has worked out pretty well for us.
But we are not perfect and there are a few glitches in our operating system. One is that we outsource much of our thinking…replacing independent thought (which is conscious but takes effort) with mental short cuts (which are easy but often unconscious).
One short cut that we follow is “do the same thing as the other monkeys around us”. This would have been an optimal response when one of the monkeys found a new banana tree with low-hanging fruit, a new watering hole or other resources. This explains most human behaviour (including most market bubbles from the South Sea bubble to the Klondike gold rush to the 2000 dotcom boom).
But one problem with this herding is that we often absorb ideas as truths without really knowing why. One such idea is that we have to accept everything that comes with the modern world. But this is not true.
This idea is fresh in my mind because I’m currently staying in a village in rural Croatia. It is a beautiful place. Back in history, this area used to be part of Italy and you can see the Italian influence. The sun is shining, the village is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards which cover the slopes down to the beaches. It’s quiet and unspoilt.
More recently, Croatia was part of communist Yugoslavia. It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago this place was the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
Almost 50 years of communism meant that, whilst it is built like a Tuscan village with beautiful stone farmhouses, it does remind me a bit of the village in the film Borat.
One of the big local attractions is the Tractor Museum. I’m not even joking.
On the downside, communism meant farming on the potato collective for the locals. On the upside though, there are no shopping malls, no bowling alleys, no fruit machines, no SUV dealerships, no Money Shops, no bookmakers and no strip clubs.
Things are on the up in Croatia these days. It may look a bit like Italy, Greece or Spain but the locals don’t have the manana vibe. As a result of its hard working people, Croatia is getting rich. It is also great value compared to the Eurozone (like Greece used to be before it committed economic hari-kiri and joined the Euro). Readers interested in geographic arbitrage should check Croatia out.
We are not slumming it. Our modern apartment has a fridge, dishwasher, showers, DVD player, electricity, internet access, indoor toilets, tennis court and swimming pool.
These are all products of the modern industrial world and it’s awesome. These are the things that our ancestors worked hard for so that we could worry about how many likes we get on our Facebook posts. Let’s be honest, almost everyone born in the West after WW2 has had it ridiculously easy.
Someone recently told my wife that we must live a life of “deprivation” for me not to have a “proper job”. Well, sat here by the pool in Croatia, it doesn’t feel like deprivation.
When I was in the Prison Camp, my idea of a great holiday was to stay in a villa somewhere sunny and remote from the modern world. Ideally somewhere that reminded me of the Sicilian scenes from The Godfather or a Stella Artois advertisement.
Preferably somewhere with no TV, no fast food and no shopping malls. Holidays used to be the only time when I lived a more natural life, spending time with family, spending most of the day outdoors, sleeping well, eating natural food and so on.
Holidays were also precious because they were one of the few times that I reclaimed some Head Space. I think of our minds as being like laptops: they only have a finite amount of processing capacity and can be easily fucked up by viruses caught from other computers or nonsense from the internet. Just as computers need to be de-fragged and re-booted every now and again, holidays provided the space to empty out the mental clutter that I picked up whilst working in the Prison Camp.
One of the pleasures of holidays was tuning out from TV in general (and the news in particular) for a couple of weeks. I would then ruin it back in the UK by catching up on what I had “missed out” on. I’ve come to realise this was looking at things the wrong way. Missing out on the news is, for the most part, like missing out on STDs.
Its odd that, whilst I used to enjoy being away from British TV, it took me years to realise that I could choose to make this an all-year round thing. I guess I always consciously knew that watching TV was not mandatory…but for some reason I acted as if it was. After all, that’s what “everyone” does right?
But to get results in life that are different to other people’s, you must do things that are different to what most other people do.
It’s amazing how much money you can save if you do things a bit differently. For example, on this holiday I reckon we saved about £2,500 just by driving rather than flying. The village in Croatia is about 1,050 miles from our house in the UK. This makes it too far to cycle. But the plucky Skoda gets 55+ miles to the gallon even with 5 people, the kitchen sink in the car and the aircon on. You then get a free hire car thrown in when you get to your destination.
We’ve driven to Europe each year for many years now and so have saved tens of thousands of pounds which are now compounding. Yet when I tell people we drive, people sometimes look like you’ve suggested walking there or scaling Mount Everest. It’s actually really easy….let’s be honest, the engine is doing most of the work. All I do is put the address in the satnav and hold the accelerator pedal down with my toes.
You also get the sense of being on a road trip with proper mountains, castles, coastlines and tunnels. This is one of the few times that driving lives up to the images on car adverts. On the way here we drove through 7 different countries (France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia) which is not bad going when you think that for 99% of human history the average person would never have been outside a 50 mile radius of their town. Think about that.
Best of all, if you don’t fly you are in charge of your own journey. You are not processed through Gatwick Airport like sheep through a sheep-dip, bossed around by Ryanair staff and other clipboard Nazis. Its almost like you’re now an adult.
Using the internet, we rented our apartment direct from the owner, downloading it from the cloud and negotiating a very reasonable price. The end result is a holiday which costs a fraction of what many middle class Brits think is the minimum cost of a family summer holiday. If you read The Sunday Times travel section (which I don’t recommend) you’ll come to think it normal to pay the price of a new car for a summer holiday.
You can choose how much to pay for most things. And if I’d been able to persuade Mrs Escape Artist to allow me to rent our house out via Airbnb or similar whilst we were away, we could have been paid to take our holiday.
There are plenty of grumpy people who will tell you how the modern world is dangerous / expensive / scary and things were better in the good old days when there was food rationing, no crime and you could give children a proper beating, never did them any harm etc etc. This is all bullshit.
The modern world is amazing but can be made even better by ignoring some of the crap that it produces. So I suggest that we consciously choose what we want from the modern world…and ignore the rest.
I’ll start with my personal suggestions. Please feel free to add your own in the comments below.
15 things from the modern western world that we do not have to use / buy / consume even if “everyone” around us is doing so:
- Most TV
- The news media
- Fizzy sugar drinks
- Processed carbohydrates
- Shopping malls
- Theme parks
- MacDonuts / Lardland etc
- Active fund managers, wealth managers and financial advisers
- Anti-ageing cream
- Velour leisurewear with stretchy waistbands
15 things from the modern western world that are fucking awesome and that, let’s be honest, we should probably all show a bit more gratitude for:
- Social justice (but not SJWs)
- Index funds
- The electric Interweb
- Low crime
- Natural food that’s cheaper than chips
- The triumph of capitalism
- Mobile phones (in moderation)
- Universal suffrage
- No conscription, infrequent major European land wars
- Drinking water from a tap
- Contact lenses and laser eye surgery
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