Patchett’s Chapter 10 sees the conclusion of the novel. The consequences of the terrorists actions are long overdue, and Chapter 10 brings the lives of many characters to an end. But what particularly caught my attention was how the hostages and terrorists were able to so effectively forget the serious situation they were mixed up in – as well as the looming outcome. The characters chose to ignore potential outcomes instead of focusing on finding actual logical solutions. For example, although “Gen was born to learn,” the “last months had turned him around and now Gen saw there could be as much virtue in letting go of what you knew as there had ever been in gathering new information. He worked as hard at forgetting as he had ever worked to learn.” What theory could explain this phenomenon? What are the theory’s implications and how does it pertain to actions similar to Gen’s and Carmen’s?
Escapism is defined as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” This definitely sounds like such the theory I’m seeking to research and better understand. In his novel Escapism, author Yi-Fu Tuan discusses many implications of the tendency. Tuan writes that “culture is… closely linked to the human tendency not to face facts…” (Tuan). “Seeing what is not there lies in the foundation of all human culture” (Tuan). The very animal tendency to escape is one that has been acquired over the course of tens of thousands of years; migration is a primitive example of this, where humans moved to new homes after their ground started to deteriorate. The natural tendency to escape reality is one that is shared by both humans and animals alike. The immediate gratification as pleasure from avoiding dealing with a situation altogether is far more attractive an idea than putting forth effort to coming up with a solution.
Author Roy Baumeister writes in Escaping the Self that “people seek to escape from the self for three main reasons: to avoid thinking bad thoughts about oneself…, to find temporary relief from the stressful burden of maintaining an inflated image…, or to seek transcendence in the very act of shedding the self” (Baumeister). In other words, we always hope to suppress whatever bothers (or will bother) us by focusing on the temporary and immediate pleasures from forgetting. Thinking about something we enjoy is far more attractive an option than working toward facing a problem we simply do not want to deal with. Alcoholism is a popular example of this that comes to mind, and Baumeister actually touches on this topic in his book as well.
Baumeister describes a situation where a working father, initially stressed from the high demands of his job, receives a phone call from his wife saying that she is leaving him with their child. In this situation, the father turned to an evening of alcohol consumption. And although alcohol is a depressant, it is often used in an attempt to “escape from self-awareness.” And the father of this scenario isn’t alone: “When the cost of lost production, crime, and accidents due to alcohol are totaled, and added to the cost of treating alcohol addiction… the ticket comes to over $50 billion a year” (Baumeister). The fact that these expenses alone are not enough to sway so many away from abuse of the depressant shows just how powerful it is – and how desperate some are to escape the reality of their lives. Just as Tuan wrote of the cultural connection between escapism and society, the “drug of choice” for western cultures is the modern, far-less practical form of migration.
An article on this matter analyzes a particularly relevant study on the relationship between “drinking and drug use in relation to stress and escapism…” (Sadava). Although internal psychological stress is often “followed by heavier drinking,” a series of experiments as “failed to provide consistent physiological, behavioral, and experimental evidence of the relief of tension in drinkers” (Sadava). To summarize the mindset of a typical drinker with the learned behavior, “the drinker wishes to escape from an external situation or internal state, is willing and able to drink, expects relief, and attributes mood changes to alcohol” (Sadava).
In actuality, however, the effects of alcohol are often quite different from what one would expect; one study found correlation between “problem drinking and personal dissatisfaction (low expectancies, alienation) in Italian Americans but not Italians” (Sadava). Again, the views around alcohol in western culture are able to explain this finding. “Drinking in response to dissatisfaction or stress must be mediated by the cultural or personal meanings of drinking,” and not just the alcohol itself (Sadava). So, if if alcohol alone is not enough to even temporarily separate one from his/her stresses (contradictory to what Baumeister writes), a complicated relationship between cultural influences and the laws of escapism must be the concluding drive.
In conclusion, Gen’s newly-found ability to forget his troubles and focus on living in the moment is exemplary of the theory of escapism. The tendency to seek distractions out of desperation to ignore an approaching issue is one that can be learned; immediate satisfaction is easily chosen over putting effort into solving the greater problem. Although alcohol can serve as a temporary, effective distraction in the right context (and culture), it doesn’t solve any problems. Alcohol itself does not do a drinker any good; it requires a specific mindset and several acquired external factors.
Baumeister, Roy. Escaping the Self: Alcoholism, Spirituality, Masochism, and Other Flights From the Burden of Selfhood. New York: Basic, 1991. Print.
Sadava, S. “Stress, Escapism and Patterns of Alcohol and Drug Use.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 39.5 (1978): 725-35. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://www.jsad.com.librarylink.uncc.edu/doi/pdf/10.15288/jsa.1978.39.725>
Tuan, Yi-Fu. Escapism. Johns Hopkins UP, 1998. Print.