When we think about politics, we tend to abstract away our concerns into measurable things, or at least, things that we can measure laterally. Money. Lives lost. Surveys.
These things oddly are tangible, in part because they’re intangible. Putting them in numbers renders the unknown to the known and the manipulable. That makes us feel powerful.
These things, no matter how spread out, can be grasped in an instant. We can summarize all that space into a single point or symbol. It’s different with time.
Events that occur over time are not easily summarized because they cannot be measured in singular conclusions, but must be shown to be curves. There is no way we can take time out of the equation and still be accurate; anyone who has ever blighted an A average with a failing grade can tell you about that.
As a result, we tend to forget about time. Our time, in particular. What do we do all day? We get up, and then there are things we have to do, and things we like to do. We question neither.
In part, this is because if we look too closely into the things we have to do, we will end up as total misanthropes. This is because most of what we do is wait for other people, sit in meetings and try to urge others to get along, interpret other people’s chaos, serve other people’s needs, etc. Most jobs are mostly waiting.
For another reason, we accept at face value any word handed down by society that something is necessary. We must go to jobs, to pay for our kids, etc. This is a quantitative assessment. It is binary: go to job (yes/no?). It assesses itself in terms of what is retained at the end. It does not look at qualitative concerns, like how this affects us, how it shapes our outlook on life, or how it makes us behave around our kids.
We are afraid to look at time because the more we analyze it, the more of our society falls away from the “necessary” label. In fact, looking at time would make us re-order politics entirely. We would have to stop focusing on quantitative results and have to start focusing more on the steps necessary to get those. We would start valuing efficiency again.
A large but not majority portion of our society fears the focus on efficiency. Efficiency requires we all work together. We would work less, thanks to advantages in networking and internal organization. By economies of scale, the results would be better across the board. But efficiency requires we defer our individual gratification until a goal is accomplished.
For most people, this is bothersome. They don’t mind an attendance requirement, because they’ll just move position to the place of attendance and resume doing whatever else they were doing (the rise of smart phones has aided in this grand solipsism). What they don’t like is having to give up their individual goals, even for a few moments, to participate in a group goal. That offends their sense of personhood and morality, in which the individual is always more important than the goal, nature, objectivity, reality, etc.
As a result, we pander to these people. Everything slows down. We can’t go forcing people to pay attention, can we? Instead, we must all move slowly toward goals that are written in abstract and lengthy standards. Inching forward by attendance, not accomplishment. And to pacify our fear of time, we waste our time, and then have no explanation for our sudden fervent rage.
Tags: efficiency, servitude, time