The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited “escapism” among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effects, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life.
There seem, broadly, to be two ways to endure life. One is to buy into some kind of snake oil: God loves you, your country is the awesomest ever, the arc of history is long but bends toward justice, etc. etc. For those of us unable or unwilling to buy the snake oil, the best way of dealing with reality (if you don’t want to commit suicide) is some for of escape, some sort of way out, some sort of ecbasis*, to derive a word from the Greek.
Here are some forms of ecbasis.
- Imaginative culture — escapism in prose, illustration, comics, animations, movies, games, and so forth. And yes, porn has an important role here, which is part of the reason why I’m a pro bono pornographer.
- Fun, meaningless sex.
- Friendship, outreach, and solidarity among fans of (1-3). This is a subject I’ve written about before as an aspect of, and reason for making your own imaginative culture, as well as its importance as an aspect of freedom of association.
- Various self-hacks to change away from being a miserable human, possibly including alterations to one’s life span.
- “The thought of suicide is a powerful comfort: it helps one through many a dreadful night.”**
To the extent that you can do the sorts of things on my list without being sent to jail or a mental institution, losing your job, etc., you enjoy ecbasic liberty. It is a depressing commentary on our culture that we don’t actually enjoy much. Most drugs are illegal or controlled. It’s also illegal in most places to have fun, meaningless sex if you pay for it, and even if no money changes hands you still face a world full of finger-wagging moralists busily denouncing “moral decay” and “hookup culture,” etc. Most of the means that could make suicide a reasonable possibility (fast-acting barbiturates) are controlled substances, and suicide itself is effectively prohibited. And of course, lots of people want to censor the internet, which will encroach both on (1) and (4).
The reasons why people are so awful with respect to ecbases or doubtless varied. Vendors of snake oil, like all merchants everywhere, are quite happy to bring in the power of the state to squash competition. We also oughtn’t underestimate the common human desire not to see other people have a good time. Ecbasic liberty is much encroached upon.
I’ll ask this: if you want to encroach on my and my friends’ ecbasic liberty, why should I regard you with anything other than hatred? Life is enough of a burden as it is, and you want to make it worse. Why should we think of you the encroacher as anything other than an enemy?
*ἔκβασις, which doesn’t seem too frequent in Greek, but did have a long history, appearing in the Odyssey (V.410) to describe the “way out” of the sea that Odysseus is seeking to get onto the island of the Phaiakians.
ὤ μοι, ἐπεὶ δὴ γαῖαν ἀελπέα δῶκεν ἰδέσθαι
Ζεύς, καὶ δὴ τόδε λαῖτμα διατμήξας ἐπέρησα,
ἔκβασις οὔ πῃ φαίνεθ᾽ ἁλὸς πολιοῖο θύραζε:
ἔκτοσθεν μὲν γὰρ πάγοι ὀξέες, ἀμφὶ δὲ κῦμα
βέβρυχεν ῥόθιον, λισσὴ δ᾽ ἀναδέδρομε πέτρη,
ἀγχιβαθὴς δὲ θάλασσα, καὶ οὔ πως ἔστι πόδεσσι
στήμεναι ἀμφοτέροισι καὶ ἐκφυγέειν κακότητα:
The text is from Perseus. In Richard Lattimore’s translation:
Ah me, now that Zeus has granted a sight of unhoped-for
land, and now I have made a crossing of this great distance,
I see no way for me to get out of the gray sea water,
for on the out side are sharp rocks, and the surf above them
breaks and roars, the sheer of the cliff runs up above them,
and the sea is deep close in shore so there is no place
to stand bracing on both my feet and so avoid trouble.
The word also appears in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
πειρασμὸς ὑμᾶς οὐκ εἴληφεν εἰ μὴ ἀνθρώπινος: πιστὸς δὲ ὁ θεός, ὃς οὐκ ἐάσει ὑμᾶς πειρασθῆναι ὑπὲρ ὃ δύνασθε, ἀλλὰ ποιήσει σὺν τῷ πειρασμῷ καὶ τὴν ἔκβασιν τοῦ δύνασθαι ὑπενεγκεῖν.
In the Authorized Version:
There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to bee tempted above that you are able: but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
(Comment on this choice bit of snake-oil salesmanship is superfluous, save to recall a naughty song of my childhood: “♫Oh St. Paul the Apostle, he had an epistle/So wonderfully long, it made the girls whistle!♫”)
A transliteration of “ekbasis” would be more scholarly, but as it happens the word has made a previous appearance in English. The Oxford English Dictionary notes uses in 1706 and again in 1847 as a term in rhetoric, meaning roughly a digression. In those uses the word is spelled “ecbasis,” and since that’s how it was first welcomed into the language I shall be using that spelling here. Back to main text.
**Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 157, in Walter Kaufmann’s translation. The original German text (from here) is “Der Gedanke an den Selbstmord ist ein starkes Trostmittel: mit ihm kommt man gut über manche böse Nacht hinweg.” Back to main text.