Looking for an escape?

Each of our editors has spent the last few weeks philosophizing about the topic “escape.” This theme is quite general, as the variety of responses will show, but we’ve nailed down particular questions. We’ve all condensed our thoughts down to a couple pages of writing and will publish one article every day for the next couple weeks. This document will house individual links to each contribution as well as an overview of our project. We hope you enjoy.

A note from the editors:

At a young age, many hold the superstition that if monsters are under their bed, they’ll be protected if they hide beneath the covers. The rationale is something like: no one can hurt me if I’m under here — this place is safe! Why does that make any sense? If there really were monsters under there, why should they care if I’m under the covers? There’s something similar going on when a self-help book tells you the best way to avoid stress is to go to your happy place: nothing can stress you when you’re there — that place is happy! Why does that make any sense? Going to my happy place doesn’t change what I’m stressed about, unless of course I’m stressed that I’m not there. But these ideas have a real power. One might argue the whole program of stoicism is something along the lines of a self-help book pleading you to escape pain by looking inward — ignore what’s “wrong” and imagine yourself happy!

Escape, as discussed above, seems puzzling because it doesn’t resolve the situation that we find problematic. Escaping underneath the covers doesn’t magically make the monsters that I believe are under my bed disappear. And, going to my happy place doesn’t change the stressful situation. Is this a genuine cause for worry: are most of our attempts at escape moot and ultimately unhelpful? There do seem to be situations in which this is so; situations from which we can never escape, no matter how much we try – an issue that our editors will investigate further in this collection. But of course, as any college student knows, the occasional Netflix binge-imbued weekend provides much needed solace from the stress and worry caused by an overwhelming number of pages to be read and essays to be written. This escape from work might even be energizing, providing the necessary stamina needed to get through the work at some later point. So, while escaping to my happy place might not resolve the stressful situation, it makes the situation less stressful, and maybe even bearable, for the time being. The monsters underneath my bed don’t disappear when I hide beneath my covers, but when I do, I don’t feel like the monsters are a problem worth losing sleep over anymore. Escape, then, seems to be a way to deal with problematic situations, not by resolving them, but by taking away their problematic nature (at least temporarily).

Escape is an important way in which we face problems in our daily lives. But as such a rich topic, it has received surprisingly little philosophical attention, though reflection promptly invites some provocative questions. What should we make of our use of spatial metaphors when we talk of escape (we “escape from” distress and “escape to” our comfort zone)? Or, how do we escape, and when? And, where are we heading? These are some of the questions guiding our editors, who have interpreted our topic in multiple ways.

To start, we have Daniel’s article tackling escapism in video games. Why do we choose to escape reality when we act through our avatars? And when we do, who do we choose to be?

Perhaps there is a more general point to take from Daniel’s treatment of escape and video games. Here is where Anna decides to treat personal identity by means of escape. When we run away to far off lands in hopes of discovering ourselves, what do we mean?

Besides escaping to far off lands, David posits there is not just a common escape across time and distance, but across species, which he understands through transhumanism. How have capitalism, technology, and modernity altered our biological self-understanding?

And yet, these threats to our biology are supposed to simplify our lives. Varun analyzes several of these “convenient” technologies and how they force us to escape. But what are we escaping from? And what should we do about it?

But why should we care? Is escape always deficient? Steven argues for a Platonic account of escape that suggests we might call running away courageous, as we might for the soldier who knows when to retreat.

Perhaps though, not all escapists are soldiers. Perhaps some are showmen moguls, like Elon Musk, whose entire brand is built upon building offering escapes from — rather than solutions to — our problems. Felix guides us through questions concerning the viability of the Hyperloop to improve public transit or SpaceX and Tesla as legitimate forms of solving climate crisis.

Mere escapes like the “solutions” Musk offers have a particular intellectual history that Wen Li traces back through English theories of Utopia as far back as the 17th century. When imagining Utopia, why do so many escape into the abstract?

But many escape in more ways than this and those above. Perhaps beyond escape-from and escape-to, there is a distinctive escape-into as Andy argues. And what is the relation of this radical third to its counterparts?

More pragmatically, is there a sense in which studying the various forms of escape might have therapeutic value? Meera directs us to one sense in which depression might be understood in contrast to sadness and its parallel escapes by a feeling of valuelessness.

And if we take this further, we might ask how we can escape the end of this life. Henry discusses escapes from life as philosophical problems.

And how have philosophers made use of any of the above escapes? Ellie argues that externalists merely escape from skepticism while Lucy argues in our final article that Dewey derides abstract theoretical thinking as an escape from action-centric considerations.

UCPR is proud to present these twelve pieces on escape and we hope that you find them as interesting as we found them engaging to write.

– David & Varun