As the clocks go-forward this weekend, I was thinking about the role of the time-piece in our lives.
In a lecture to IBM Engineers in 1969 the philosopher Alan Watts was discussing the difference in thought between the Judeo-Christian West and the Ancient Chinese. One of these differences was the basic nature of man. The Judeo-Christian view, Watts claimed, is that man is essentially sinful and evil, whilst the ancient Chinese saw man as essentially good. Thus, if we see ourselves as being essentially selfish and untrustworthy we develop systems of authority and control to impose on ourselves.
[…] Therefore we need law and order. We need a control system to put us in order. We thereby project these control systems into the Church or into the police or into somebody, who are really ourselves disguised.
You see it’s like day-light saving time.
Everybody could simply get up an hour earlier, but instead of doing that we alter the clock, because a clock has a kind of authority and I would say “the Clock says its time for you to get up”. The Amer-Indians laugh at the pale-faces because they say “Paleface, he doesn’t know he’s hungry until he looks at his watch”
And so in this way we become clock-dominated, and the abstract system takes over from the physical, organic situation.
I remember Tommy Tiernan expressing a similar sentiment in a show once, that we have become slaves to our clocks, whereas in our agricultural past there was simply daylight and things to be done. Now, we have imposed this system of timekeeping on ourselves, which whilst obviously helpful in the day to day running of things, exposes its own arbitrariness via its ability to be manipulated.
Photo owned by LaurenKates (cc)
The Clock has allowed us to commoditize even the Sun itself. Therein, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez can order that all the clocks are turned back 30 minutes, so, ever the Socialist, they can allow “a more fair distribution of the sunrise”. Venezuela plans more such measures, according to the Science and Technology Minister, to “make more effective use of time”.
Thus, it is as Watts had said, instead of simply changing our habits to meet with the reality of the situation, we bow to the authority of the Clock and change it instead. It’s kind of odd when you think about it.