The society of evasion



How and why evasion has become, in contemporary capitalism, a serious social problem

The dropout phenomenon is something that permeates everyday life, but it is little noticed and little analyzed. It is a sociopsychic phenomenon, as it is a product of capitalist society and is effective in the psychic universe of individuals. Evasion was confused, in some cases, with “alienation”, through misuse of that term.[I] What is evasion? What are your forms of manifestation? How does it become, in contemporary capitalism, one of the most serious social problems? These are questions that we will be able to answer in a brief and introductory way, deserving deeper analyzes and further developments.

Evasion, as a psychic phenomenon, is a form of escape from reality. Avoidance occurs in various forms and can turn into more serious psychological problems. To understand avoidance, it is necessary to understand why many individuals seek to escape reality, as well as to distinguish this phenomenon from others that are similar. The fundamental question to understand evasion is: why flee from reality?

Human beings are, like all other living beings, bearers of needs. A living being only survives if it satisfies certain needs. These basic needs are eating, drinking, sleeping, reproducing, etc. Daily toil is necessary for millions of human beings. Historically, there have been times when no human being escaped – except in brief moments of life, like very young children or the elderly – from work.

With the emergence of class societies, a division emerged between those who dedicated themselves to the production of means of survival, aimed at satisfying basic needs, and those who were freed from the production of material goods and, thus, dedicated themselves to population control. (rulers and warriors), as well as those focused on intellectual production (philosophers, artists, etc.), or reproduction of the domestic unit, among other social activities. What matters in this process is that at this moment the possibility of releasing manual work emerges and, thus, the possibility of developing other activities.

Manual workers, exhausted by work, seek rest, pleasure, the satisfaction of their basic needs. Evasion can occur through dreams and daydreams, among other possible ways, but not so practiced. Individuals from the upper classes, freed from manual labor, can practice evasion more extensively, as they have available time. Some escaped through religion or orgies, among other forms of manifestation. This process changes with the emergence of capitalist society. And here we begin to better understand the problem of evasion, as it is in modern society that it manifests itself most intensely and widely.

In bourgeois society, basic needs are not fulfilled by millions of human beings. Approximately 10% of humanity goes hungry, not satisfying the most pressing basic need. In addition to these, there are millions of unemployed, homeless, and others who manage to feed themselves reasonably, but cannot satisfy other basic needs. These find themselves in a situation where reality is hostile. These human beings are faced with a miserable world alongside wealth and waste. Thousands suffer from police repression, lack of access to collective goods, among several other processes.

However, a considerable part of humanity is beyond basic needs. Once these needs are satisfied, the human being may have time and desire to carry out new activities. Historically, as Marx demonstrated (MARX; ENGELS, 1982), human beings perform work and cooperation to satisfy such needs and these means become needs themselves. Here we find what is specifically human, work as praxis, objectification, and sociality, human coexistence, forming a praxic and social being.

And this becomes vital for such human beings, they are needs that, once not satisfied, generate discomfort, dissatisfaction, generating psychic imbalances and other problems. The human being who cannot establish sentimental and work ties with others becomes the bearer of a great deal of dissatisfaction, even if he does not realize it. In the same way, if he fails to develop a praxis (conscious teleological activity), if he fails to develop his potentialities, his physical and mental capacities, his creativity, he becomes a deeply dissatisfied being. Undoubtedly, it is possible to compensate for this, as well as it is possible to escape from it.

Here we are faced with the phenomenon of evasion. Human beings, in modern society, for the most part, manage to satisfy their basic needs (good or bad, depending on social class), but they cannot satisfy their specifically human needs, which are not material, but psychic. They are not conscious and, therefore, can be diverted and can generate discomfort without the individual understanding the reason, including those who are from the upper classes and are able to carry out the most varied activities. Discussions about the meaning of life, for example, point to a situation in which individuals satisfy their basic needs, but do not satisfy their psychic needs and, due to this, seek a meaning for their existence or seek to escape reality. Evasion ends up spreading throughout society.

And this can and does happen from childhood onwards. In modern society, childhood can be marked by isolation from other human beings. Millions of children are unable to integrate with other children and, in many cases, not even with their own parents, relatives, neighborhood, etc. This process has different determinations in different cases, varying with the social class (the coldness of the parents of the upper classes is, for example, a specificity of the upper classes; the lack of fixed housing is an example that can contribute to this in the lower classes) , with social competition – a fundamental element of capitalist sociability – and social divisions being one of the determinants of this process.

A very common case, especially in the United States and popularized (as well as encouraged) by the oligopolistic means of communication, is that of children subjected to bullying. Isolation is common in these cases, and this can promote evasion as a daily act. The use of video games, electronic games in general, is one of the forms of evasion in these cases.

But similar processes occur with young people, adults and the elderly. Isolation, whether physical or mental[ii], or both, is a major source of evasion. Isolation generates the feeling of loneliness, being a social phenomenon (ROLL, 2020), and evasion generator. However, alienated work or the set of social obligations (bureaucracy, undesirable commitments, etc.) are also evasion generators. Procrastination is often accompanied by evasion, in which running away from something is combined with finding the substitute action. However, these processes only reveal the dissatisfaction of the psychic needs of human beings and, therefore, evasion is directly related to the lack of social and work self-realization. Therefore, the escape from reality occurs because it is unsatisfactory in a double sense: because it generates alienated, uninteresting, repetitive, unpleasant activities, involved in relationships marked by competition, bureaucratization, commodification, exploitation, domination and conflict, and because it does not allow praxic activities, enriching, creative, marked by social relationships based on cooperation, freedom, collectivization and the goal of meeting human needs.

The emptiness and meaninglessness that emerge from these capitalist activities and relationships promote evasion. That is why evasion can emerge as an escape from alienated work and alienated life, marked by many activities, or from the emptiness and lack of activities, as well as, in both cases, from the social relations that constitute them. In the first case, it is less frequent because of the necessary activities, and less harmful, since the individual continues to ensure his survival and maintains a psychic balance between reality and escape from it.

In the second case, it is more frequent, as it coexists with inactivity and thus ends up being more constant and lasting, and it is more harmful because it allows a greater distance from reality and promotes additional dissatisfaction for not having social results (and also generating intense demands and social pressures, which are even stronger for those who share the dominant values ​​and ideas). However, in both cases it is necessary to understand the concrete situation and the concrete individuals, with their multiple determinations (the sentimental relationships with other people, the social class and social and financial condition of the individuals, the possibilities of other relatively satisfactory sporadic activities, among others). thousands of others).

In this case, we can define evasion as the escape from an unsatisfactory reality through fixation on activities, actions, which promote the escape from it and its overcoming. In order not to confuse the dropout phenomenon with other phenomena, it is necessary to clarify here the meaning of the terms used in its definition. Escape here means escapism, but not the conscious process of running away from something. The worker who misses work does not evade, as well as several conscious and sporadic ways to avoid situations, relationships, that promote malaise. If reality is unsatisfactory, whether in its entirety or in some of its aspects, nothing is healthier than running away from it, momentarily or using rational and conscious mechanisms.

Thus, it is useful to distinguish refusal from escape. Escape is a process of not facing, of seeking to escape and distance oneself, which, even being relatively conscious[iii], does not point to its overcoming and is not accompanied by the perception of its social roots. Refusal is a coping process, which can generate an escape, but which is accompanied by a perception of its motivation, even if partial, and which aims to overcome it. However, evasion is not any departure from reality, but one that becomes a fixed activity. When a young person runs away from studies to dedicate himself exclusively to electronic games and spends several hours daily with this, he is evading. If he does it on the weekends and some days of the week, with variations (some weeks more, some not, more on vacation or periods without doing it), then it is not a matter of evasion.

On the other hand, this fixation must function as a substitute for reality, overcoming it. The creation of a parallel reality takes place in the world of fantasy and fiction, but this is produced consciously and not as an escape, but even if it were, it would still not be an escape, as it does not replace the concrete reality in the individual's mind, i.e. , reality is forgotten in elusive moments. Thus, for there to be evasion, there must be four interconnected elements: unsatisfactory reality, escape (and not refusal), fixation, replacement of concrete reality by an artificial reality.[iv]

Thus, evasion is a psychic and social problem, but it is not the big problem. Conservative psychology would stop its analysis there and move on to counseling to deal with avoidance. However, the big problem is the unsatisfactory reality for millions of human beings that evasion generates. Evasion is a response to a reality that denies the self-realization of human beings, which prevents the development of their potential and creativity, which generates social relations marked by exploitation, domination, commodification, bureaucratization and social competition. It is not difficult to see that the escape from alienated work, and from bureaucratic organizations (universities, schools, parties, unions, among several other institutions), from competitive environments, is healthy and a product of these very institutions that exist to guarantee their own maintenance and the reproduction of capitalist production relations.

Evasion is a problem because it generates psychic suffering and makes it difficult to move from escape to radical refusal, that is, to conscious action to combat the causes of the malaise generated by capitalist society. The only effective “treatment” against evasion is the transformation of the reality that generates evasion. Within the limits of capitalism, what can be done is to help some individuals overcome evasion, and this can be done in various ways, starting with expanding awareness about evasion itself.

Evasion can be more or less intense, with a greater or lesser fixation, as well as there are cases in which it can be more “varied”. It is possible to distinguish between conscious avoidance and unconscious avoidance.[v] Conscious avoidance is when the individual knows he is running away from something. The degree of consciousness may vary, as he may or may not know what he is running from, although he does not know the reason for the flight.[vi] It is more moderate and more controlled, absorbing less time from individuals, but it can be, in a sense, more painful, precisely because it is conscious. Unconscious evasion is when one does not know that one is fleeing and what one is fleeing from. It can be more intense and less controlled, as well as absorbing more time and energy from individuals. Thus, when an individual gets involved with football and knows that he is doing it to escape his family, work, etc. so your evasion is conscious. Another individual who uses drugs on a daily basis may not be aware of his real motivations and that it is an escape. The evasion varies in intensity, ranging from the most moderate form to the form of psychic imbalance, as in the case of psychoses.[vii]

Evasion is more noticeable in the use of electronic games, drugs, but it is also present on the internet and virtual social networks, which become substitutes for real life. On the other hand, evasion is less noticeable in forms considered culturally higher or socially more accepted, as in the case of religion, literature, science, politics, work, etc. In these cases, the boundary between curiosity and/or profession, on the one hand, and evasion, on the other, is more difficult to define. In the case of political or religious fanaticism, it is more easily perceptible. There are other forms of evasion that are barely perceptible, such as, for example, the habit of traveling, which can be adorned with a taste for travel, which, deep down, can be just an escape from everyday life, work, among other possibilities.

On the other hand, what is evasion for one individual may not be for another. An individual who travels for work obviously does not perform evasion. Likewise, someone who actually enjoys political action and does it in a rational way (that is, not creating a parallel reality, as occurs in certain conspiracy beliefs) and without leaving aside the other activities necessary for survival and social coexistence, wouldn't be running away either.

The forms of manifestation of evasion are varied. Religion, football, videogames and games in general, art, sexuality, television, are some of its most common forms. What these cases have in common is that they all create a “second reality”, a parallel reality, which starts to surpass the concrete reality. Religion creates the religious reality that manifests itself in social and concrete life, but which works with supernatural beings and with “life after death”. Football has a real basis, the games, the championship, commercialization, etc., but it also generates its “reality” in the rules of the championship and in the dynamics of the games. Games in general also create a parallel reality, marked by their rules and dynamics (VIANA, 2019).

However, it is not possible to discard these and other phenomena as evasion or as something purely harmful. One can be less harmful than the other, even some individuals, with a lot of effort, switch from one to the other (this is the case of the drug user who could not reasonably survive and who switches to a religion and thus manages to re-enter social activities ). In other cases, evasion can become a profession or a means of survival.[viii]. However, some forms, such as football fanaticism, already generate greater difficulty in this process of passing from evasion to work. Another aspect is that evasion can intensify isolation or promote its reduction. Individual electronic games tend to generate greater isolation, while team games create sociability between players, even if more restricted.

Evasion is an individual and social problem. It is individual because it affects the individual and his life and it is social not only because it is a product of society, but also because it is inextricably linked with various social relationships and provokes social consequences. Undoubtedly, from the perspective of capital, evasion is a problem for performance at work, political participation, among other derived problems, but it is also a moment of profit opportunity and can generate political advantages. From clinical treatments for the most serious cases (and the remedies that benefit pharmaceutical capital) to the commodification of evasion activities, capital always profits from the misery it produces. Professional football works as an escape for many individuals and this generates an audience, acquisition of goods (tickets for the game, team shirts, etc.), publicity, among other elements that clubs and oligopolistic means of communication use to profit. The search for evasion promotes a broad consumer market for commodified leisure and becomes a source of profit.

Evasion has a fundamental political significance for capital. In a society in which all the basic needs of the entire population could be satisfied due to the technological and working conditions for this, but in which it is impossible to satisfy specifically human needs, psychic needs, evasion emerges as one of the alternatives and generates a false substitute satisfaction for a large part of the population. Capital generates a wide fabrication of desires (FROMM, 1986) and manipulation of social dissatisfaction (VIANA, 2021) with commercial and/or political objectives. Evasion is a product of capitalism and becomes a lucrative commodity or something politically advantageous.

New technologies and the internet have allowed for an expansion and generalization of evasion as never before seen in human history. An evasive society is, at the same time, manipulable and explosive, because alongside generalized evasion there is generalized dissatisfaction and, if manipulation fails, it opens the possibility of a social explosion that can generate a destructive revolt or a social revolution.

Overcoming evasion presupposes overcoming the society that produces evasion. Thus, it is necessary to overcome the realm of dissatisfactions and substitute satisfactions for a satisfactory world. Conservative realism made unusual and condemned the use of the expression “happiness”. The idea of ​​happiness, beyond ideological and reductionist conceptions, is precisely the process in which human beings manage to satisfy their radical needs – the basic and specifically human ones. In this situation, the human being does not need evasion. The absence of happiness guarantees the presence of evasion and vice versa. The fight against evasion is a fight for happiness, which is synthesized in the fight against capital and in favor of self-management.

*Nildo Viana is a professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG). Author, among other books, of Capitalism in the era of integral accumulation (Ideas & Letters).


FROMM, Erich. From Love to Life. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 1986.

MARX, Carl. Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts. Lisbon: Editions 70, 1989.

MARX, Karl & ENGELS, Friedrich. The German Ideology. São Paulo: Human Sciences, 1982.

ROLL, Richard. the meaning of loneliness. Goiânia: Coping Editions, 2020.

SCHNEIDER, Michael. Neurosis and Social Classes. A Freudian-Marxist Synthesis. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1977.

VIANA, Nildo. Alienation as a Social Relationship. Sapiência Magazine (UEG). Vol. 01, no. 02, 2012.

VIANA, Nildo. Games and Values. Report and Review. Available in:

VIANA, Nildo. Social Movements and Social Dissatisfaction. in: ANDRADE, Gabrielle; TELES, Gabriel; VIANA, Nildo (eds.). Social Movements and Modern Society. Goiânia: Coping Editions, 2021.


[I] Many thought they were using the Marxist concept of alienation, while in fact they were deforming it, turning it into a phenomenon of consciousness. For Marx, alienation is a social phenomenon and materializes, fundamentally, in alienated work, which is work controlled by others and it is precisely in this process of domination over the worker's activity that alienation is established. The alienation of work, that is, the control of the worker's activity, generates the alienation of the work product, that is, the control of what is produced. The materialist conception of alienation comes to explain that it is work that creates property, that there is a social relationship of control and domination that allows the social relationship of exploitation. Some, under the pretext of a faithful “translation” from German into Portuguese, completely deform the materialist character and transform alienation, as it was in Hegel, into a phenomenon of consciousness, generating an idealist conception. We cannot develop this question further, but there is a bibliography that contributes to the understanding of the Marxist conception of alienation (MARX, 1989; VIANA, 2017; VIANA, 2012).

[ii] Mental isolation is when the individual is surrounded by people, but does not identify with, does not match, does not share things or has no affinity with them. It is the old idea of ​​the individual “alone in the crowd”, the theme of several popular songs in Brazil and around the world.

[iii] Escape can be effected from a mental situation ranging from totally unconscious to relatively conscious. In the first case, it is what is common in problems of psychic imbalance, which is the case of psychosis, but there are intermediate forms until reaching the relatively conscious, since, in the latter case, the individual may be aware of the escape, but it will hardly reach to the proposal of effective overcoming or an understanding of its determinations (except the immediate and/or apparent ones).

[iv] The border between evasion and other similar phenomena is tenuous, as well as the distinction between escape and refusal, because in a society founded on exploitation, domination and derived processes (including social conflicts and class struggle), with the specificities of capitalism (commercialization , bureaucratization and competition) escape and refusal of reality is common, but not always generating evasion. However, evasion becomes extremely common and occurs to a high degree and has been expanding with the development of capitalism and technology.

[v] The term "unconscious" is unusual, as it is usually used either "unconscious" (according to its use in everyday language, which can lead to confusion with its psychoanalytic meaning) or "unconscious". The unconscious is something that is not conscious and thus differs from the unconscious, in the psychoanalytic sense, which refers to repressed desires or needs in the individual's mind. The use of the term unconscious avoids the misunderstanding of being confused with the unconscious in the psychoanalytical sense of the term, as well as being preferable to non-conscious, as it has the same meaning and points to a real phenomenon that is not only characterized by the absence of another phenomenon. (awareness).

[vi] Here we are aware of the escape and what is being fled, but not the motivation for the escape. Thus, a worker can run away from work (alienated) and know that he is running away and what he is running away from. But the deep reason why he does this is not conscious. Deep down, this generates a psychic contradiction, as the individual knows that he is running away from work, but does not know the reason and this is due, in part, to the dominant ideas and values ​​about work, which generates additional dissatisfaction, because in addition to dissatisfaction with work, which generates running away, there is dissatisfaction with running away, which is condemned by morals, by dominant ideas and by society as a whole.

[vii] Psychosis is a more common psychic imbalance in the lower classes, in which the intensity of dissatisfaction and lack of substitute satisfaction is greater. Thus, the division made by Schneider (1977), according to which psychosis is more common in the proletariat and neurosis in the bourgeoisie, is explained by class relations in capitalism. Psychosis is a kind of total evasion, in which reality psychically constituted by the individual replaces concrete reality.

[viii] What can create your overcoming or just merging with a professional activity.

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