Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Jem Bendell: the Collapse of E.S.C.A.P.E.

[Editor: I’m presenting the work of Sociologist Prof. Jem Bendell who introduced the world to his model of ‘Deep Adaptation’ as a response to societal collapse caused by the climate crisis. I have to admit that I don’t fully understand Bendell’s reasoning or world view, but I find it fascinating and challenging. Besides being a Sociologist, Bendell is also deeply influenced by Buddhism. This 10K word article is built around breaking down the ideology of E.S.C.A.P.E., which is Entitlement, Surety,  Control, Autonomy, Progress, Exceptionalism. Bendell claims that this is a deeply embedded ideology that underpins Neoliberalism, colonialism, white privilege, patriarchy and other dominant ideologies. Of all Jim’s writings, I resonate with this analysis the best.—Shaun Bartone]

The Collapse of Ideology and the End of Escape

An essay on the deeper causes and implications of climate-driven societal breakdown, by Professor Jem Bendell.

(Long Read – 10,000 words)


If you have begun to anticipate the climate-driven collapse of societies, what can you wish for? I have written elsewhere about the problems of being attached to hope, if that means we falsely assume we can’t engage in the world creatively unless we have an expectation of a lasting positive outcome. But it can still be useful to reflect on what we actually wish for, given our assessments of what we think is inevitable, likely or possible in the near future. When asked by Vicki Robin recently “what might possibly go right,” I took some time to reflect on what might be a realistic wish of mine: one that I could honestly believe, rather than desire to believe in order to feel a bit better or to please an audience (which could be colleagues or a wider public). I found that what I wish for is a collapse of the ideology which has caused so much destruction and suffering, and which will continue to do so as our ecosystems, economies and societies break down. I wish for that ideology to collapse as soon as possible, because the longer it lasts, the more destruction will occur and the less able we will be to reduce harm, experience joy and find meaning as societies break down.

So what is this ideology that I blame for our predicament and wish would collapse as soon as possible? Why is it so bad? Why did it proliferate and, therefore, what could bring it crashing down? How can we live creatively and meaningfully by consciously freeing ourselves and each other from that ideology?

These are the questions I will attempt to answer in this essay. I will not be sharing anything particularly new when describing specific elements of this ideology, but I group those elements in a new way for ease of recollection and discussion. I call this the ideology of e-s-c-a-p-e, which comprises our assumptions of, or beliefs in, the following: Entitlement, Surety (which is another word for certainty), Control, Autonomy, Progress, and Exceptionalism. There is a lot of sociology, psychology, and philosophy on each of these elements, which I may cover in my future writing, but in this essay my aim is to offer a simple synthesis to share with anyone I work with and people interested in the deeper implications of anticipating climate-driven societal collapse. My ideas draw upon, combine and adapt ideas from many different schools of thought, such as French existentialism, German critical theory, Buddhism and mysticism. I do not reference that scholarship in this essay, because few of the authors I have read say exactly what I am saying, and so I would need to provide nuance and further details.

The result is a dry read, particularly because I will not be giving examples of people and organisations that are doing things ‘wrong’ in perpetuating the ideology of e-s-c-a-p-e. My reason for that is I do not want to suggest that this ideology is outside of us or that the fault is with ‘others’. Instead, this ideology is within all of us, including myself, and is shaping how I approach my life even as I type these words. This is why I will give some examples of the elements of e-s-c-a-p-e ideology shaping my own life.

By doing so, I hope it may help you to spot when you are experiencing thoughts, emotions and patterns that are holding you and all of us back. However, I am also aware that much of what follows will read like gobbledegook to many people. In my experience these ideas can only be understood properly through facilitated experiences, and dialogue, rather than reading about them. Nevertheless, I hope this long read of 11000 words, will provide some material for reflection alongside any practices you are engaged in for your own inner awareness.

The use of the acronym e-s-c-a-p-e is intentional and convenient, as it alludes to the way this ideology has been motivated by a desire to escape from unavoidable aspects of our reality – impermanence and death, on the one hand, and our in-built aversion to those realities on the other, which arises because we are lifeforms with the ability to reflect on our existence as a separate mortal entity.

The ideas in this essay are not essential for people to understand and engage in their own Deep Adaptation to our climate tragedy, but are my contribution to the inevitable discussion of why we have got ourselves into this disaster and how we can help each other avoid making matters worse as we respond to it.

Please read the rest of Bendell’s essay at his website. Bendell goes through each of the letters of E.S.C.A.P.E. and how they contribute to an ideology that empowers us to destroy the planet and each other.

One comment on “Jem Bendell: the Collapse of E.S.C.A.P.E.

  1. don socha

    Caveats are always underrated.

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This entry was posted on 2020/06/29 by .


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