About Time: An Essay On The Nature Of Time


About Time: An Essay On The Nature Of Time

by Dan Camilli         dancamilli.com


Eternity is in love with the productions of time.

William Blake


Time is largely a culturally defined concept.  It’s been said that in America, time is money; in Italy it’s fleeting, and in India it doesn’t exist.  Regardless of one’s definition, time, like much of our identity, is largely formed by socially agreed upon concepts; a socially constructed reality.  This consensus –based reality concept is in accord with Buddha’s Principle of Dependent Origination (Pratitya-Samutpada) in which he explains that all sentient experience is dependently originated: “When this is, That is.”  We notice the passing of time only in relation to other people, activities and events. For example, we may agree that a machine (clock) says that it is 3PM and thus share a mutually understood meaning for that event such as “coffee break”.

The definition of time is a very powerful means of social control. Since the industrial age, the corporatist “clock-driven/time is money” definition has been most effective in enabling the capitalist class to regulate and control the lives of working people. Indeed, much of the working classes’ struggle has centered upon control of their time; the hourly wage, eight hour day, forty hour week, vacations, family leave, etc. The wrist watch became the new handcuff.

This clock-driven view of time has been globalized by the proliferation of multi-national corporations who introduced the drudgery of the sweatshop and punch clock to many previously agricultural societies. For there is a distinct difference in the ways that industrial and agricultural societies view time.

Agricultural societies have a task-oriented conception of time; “quitting time” is when the field is plowed or harvested, etc.  They work within nature’s calendar which provides a time to plant, tend, harvest, and rest based on dawn, dusk and the seasons.

A task-oriented agricultural people develop unique beliefs, values and behaviors in sharp contrast to those of a clock-oriented industrial culture. In agricultural societies, interactions with others are often more personal as they have the time to speak “with” and not just “at” each other.

A vestige of this can still be found in the contrasting conversational styles of American Southerners and Northerners. When a Southerner goes to a coffee shop take- out counter they often spend several minutes inquiring about the well-being of the server. Topics such as the weather and even family issues may be discussed while awaiting their cup of Joe. Meanwhile Yankees, from a long industrialized North, view this as time wasted and simply say “Hi, coffee, black. Bye”. Consequently, Northerners believe that Southerners are slow and Southerners view Northerners as rude. And they are both correct.

The Eighteenth Century transition from agriculture to industrialization saw wealthy American and European men douse their faces with white makeup in order to emphasize that they did not spend time working in the fields and consequently, were not tanned.  Ironically, in our post-industrial culture, where most work is conducted indoors, the sun tan itself has now morphed into a socially desirable status symbol which suggests that one enjoys the luxury of outdoor leisure time. Thus the advent and popularity of tanning salons and, for the more frugal, tanning sprays in order to attain that “Lord of Leisure” look.

A more recent example of conflicting cultural definitions of time is the manner in which Italy and Spain have staunchly defended their cultural practice of Siesta despite relentless efforts by the European Union to coerce conformity to corporatist “Business Hours”. Yet the Italians persist in savoring “La dolce far niente” -the sweetness of doing nothing. They work to live but don’t live to work.

Alas, the triumph of the Italians and Spaniards in expressing their own unique definition of time is being steadily eroded by corporatist lawmakers and employers who refuse to honor Siesta, as the global hegemony of “corporate time” increasingly becomes the norm.

In our social media age, control of one’s time has, itself, become a form of wealth as “technology idolatry” makes us increasingly accessible on a 24/7 basis. We each voluntarily carry about our own personal GPS in the form of our cell phones and our location can be determined in minutes from virtually anywhere. Sayonara “down time”!  Adios, “out of pocket”!

The standardization of American public school curriculum also reflects this “business model” as there is increasingly less time for students to ponder and explore ideas when being constantly prepped for high stakes exams. Apparently, playtime is no longer deemed appropriate even for children as in some districts, parents of 7th Graders are fighting to restore recess!

Our most popular spectator sports are now clock-based as football and basketball have replaced the more pastoral baseball as national pastimes.

We are taught to feel guilty for “wasting time” and to reject British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s astute riposte that “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

In this clock-obsessed cultural landscape, the simple gesture of taking time to appreciate the aesthetic, to become immersed and filled by nature; to engage in the most human conduct of observing beauty and truth is itself a revolutionary act.

The ancient Greeks believed that beauty and truth were the two values worth living for and much of what ails our “9 to 5” clock-driven society today may well derive from a culturally constructed lack of time to appreciate the eternal timelessness of now. We must each make a personal commitment to take the time for wonder; to fully appreciate eternity’s love affair with the productions of time and reclaim the magic of our lives.   “Tempus fugit.”

© Copyright 2016 by Dan Camilli All Rights Reserved


Award-winning philosophy/history teacher Dan Camilli is the author of the “funny yet thought-provoking” golf philosophy book “Tee Ceremony: A Cosmic Duffer’s Companion to The Ancient Game of Golf “, available at Amazon. For blogs, columns, podcasts and more visit dancamilli.com