Thursday, October 22, 2009

Conception of Time

I've been increasingly interested in how our perception of time impacts our politics. A while back, I talked about how conservatives and liberals value time differently, but it's even more complex than that. I have a bunch of threads going through my head on this, and I'm just going to throw them out there in the hopes that writing them down will provide some semblance of order.

First, there's the difference between circular and linear time. Circular being where day turns into night into day. Seasons come, go, and return. Ideas of reincarnation. Etc. Linear represented most importantly by the Judeo-Christian, but particularly Christian, idea of a Creation, Messiah, and Apocalypse. But even the Ancients understood linearity of time, as exemplified by The Fates measuring the thread of life. What are the political consequences of this distinction? Well, for one, it's kinda difficult to conceive of progress when you perceive time as circular. Therefore, circular time has an inherent conservatism to it. We're going to be repeating stuff over and over. So, might as well pay attention to what tradition has told us about it.

Second, if we do shift to linear time perceptions, it matters how much we value the present over the future and past. As I argued previously (link above), and won't re-hash.

Third, as various scientific understandings change our perception of time (Newtonian physics emphasizing the permanent, unchanging nature of physical laws. Relativistic conceptions of time changing those. Etc.), does it have consequences for our political understanding as well?

Fourth, what are the political consequences of our commodification of time via obsessing with multitasking and scheduling? I'm sure it's more than driving while texting and increased stress. There's the increased expectation of instant gratification, which is valuing the present absolutely over the future.

Fifth, to what extent will a switch from fossil fuels to renewable, sustainable energy shift our perceptions back to circular time? Solar power, tidal power, and even biofuel follow the rhythms of Nature. Will this influence our perceptions of time?

Lastly, this involves health care as well. What is ultimate aim of health care? To extend and improve our time on this planet. Does lengthening our lives lead us to value time less? It doesn't seem so. It seems that as if the longer our lives are, the more we want to overcome death.

Anyway, that's it. No big thoughts. Just need to do some more reading and thinking on the topic.

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