14 May 2008

Timelessness is Bliss

Having studied philosophy at university I tend to shy away from it now. However, it seems we need to have a little think about time. The woman who taught me philosophy was actually a specialist in the philosophy of time. She dwelt at the top of a flight of concrete steps in a brutalist building in my college grounds. She was immensely small with an oversized head and nobody has ever better exemplified for me the philosophical thought experiment of the brain in the vat.

Imagine our amazement when she upped and left one day - ran away with a male philosopher she had met at a conference. Whispering sweet nothings about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein had clearly led on to more bodily interests. Good for her! And perhaps she was on to sometimes that I wasn't able to grasp as an opinionated 21-year-old.

Ecofeminist Teresa Brennan has said that ‘nature is the source of all value, and ultimately of all energy, but the inherent dynamic of capital is to diminish this value and this energy in favour of time and technology.’ This seems to imply that if we spent more time in country walks we would begin to see through the hollow sham of our technotopia and probably find we had more time on our hands too. I can't be the only person who finds that when I work less I feel as though I had more time - and sometimes get more done too.

Rethinking time is valuable when it comes to rebuilding a local economy. It is clearly irrational, if you take time for granted, to bother to do anything for yourself at all. The rational response is to work a large number of hours, for the highest rate of return you can negotiate, and purchase everything in the market. Thus a fixation on time strips everything of value out of human lives.

E. P. Thompson pointed out that one of the hardest things for the early capitalists was to train people to respond to factory time rather than natural time. Like laboratory rats they were trained to respond to a system of bells and whistles. Over time this seeped into the culture: we were trained to believe that 'time is money', we were softened up for having our lives stolen from us via working time directives and by the Time-Life Corporation.

In 'The World as Will and Representation' (great title!) Schopenhauer wrote that 'the will transcends time and space, which together constitute the principle of sufficient reason of being. Time and space are conditions for manifestations of the will, but the will itself is unconditioned by time or space. The plurality of things in time and space is an objectification of the will.' And remember he also had a dog called 'World's End'. Nothing helps to re-evaluate time like an awareness of how short our span on earth is.

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