You see the title. You see the text. And if you’re busy, move onto what’s next. You might briefly skim, scan or scroll as many of us pay thousands to do with our college coursework. Nonetheless, if you do decide to read, for whatever sake, how long will it take? How closely will you try to comprehend, and to what end?
Our world is ravaged by an unyielding sense of urgency. So much so that reading four pages of text can feel like running four miles. But, then again, perhaps we are running. Running out of time, as we often claim to be. Yet how can you run out of that which you cannot see? Nor fully conceive? A myriad of machinations has led to this modern-day sensation of haste yet ultimately it is the forces of late-stage capitalism and their spiritually deficient demarcations that have damned us to a life of hurry and hustle.
Time and time again, the clock has been a ticking tool of capital. It is nearly impossible to envisage a time before modern mechanized clock time. From birth to death, we clutch tightly onto our clocks — our timepieces and wristwatches, calendars and schedules. According to philosophy scholar Teresa I. Reed, the uniformity of clock time, aside from enabling the measurement of natural scientific processes, has allowed for the synchronization of a series of human endeavors from school and labor, politics and religious affairs, sports and entertainment and beyond. In today’s time, the clock’s all-encompassing objectivity orders us to live a life in service to labor. To Reed, against the terrifying ticking of the clock it is evident that Capital becomes our God when “efficiency is the greatest virtue.” In our over-productive secular society, there is simply no time for the sacred which entreats us to contemplate the eternal. The competitive, commodity-fetishizing nature of late-stage capitalism and its ever-increasing imperatives to shorten labor time of production create ongoing conflicts and crises in the name of profit.
Even our interaction time with each other is centered around commodity consumption. Our social lives are filled with costly commercialized entertainment: driving, dining, drinking and drugs. As Cuban-French revolutionary Paul Lafargue claims, capitalism has manufactured within us as consumers an “excitement of appetites” and “creation of fictitious needs.”
Of course, mechanized clock time does have its basis in the seasonal and biological changes of celestial and human bodies and the rhythms of day and night. The system of days, weeks and months is derived from the many ancient creation myths of the seven-day periods which correlate with celestial orbit and lunar cycles. As this orbit is eccentric (not always uniform) and subject to deviation, it becomes clear that our standardized system of time measurement is far from fact, far from exact. Yet it is not the function nor within the scope of clock time to accurately reflect the natural universe. Instead, it is largely used in society as a social mechanism to enact structural homogeneity.
Historian J. David Lewis and sociology scholar Andrew J. Weigert assert that social time, as it’s been structured by clock time, carries with it a certain quality of “embeddedness, stratification, and synchronicity.” It is embedded in the sense that we have a general expectation for how we interact with others during different time frames and the disruption of these expectations (transportation delays or transaction mishaps) can carry drastic implications. This sense of social time is embedded insofar as it is imposed upon us by the organizational structures of today which adhere to rigid patterns and procedures. To Lewis and Weigert, the immense schedulization of our daily activities (such as school and work) with precise time frames which ignore social and psychological realities stifles creativity and spontaneity and restricts us from living with fluidity. With clock time’s shortened finite units, we are constantly racing against the clock, running out of time. Lewis and Weigert state that “we not only expect rigorous temporal control of events but positively value it, as is evident from the anger and frustration felt when scheduled events are delayed, postponed, or cancelled.” Clearly, we remain suckers of the clock.
As a sense of urgency remains a startling characteristic of white supremacy culture, it makes sense then why every aspect of our lives within the white power structure feels so pressing. The negative notions of “Colored people time,” beyond the historical conditions causing the phenomenon, might actually speak to a (sub)conscious resistance to the rigid expectations of society’s professional demands for punctuality and promptness. Traditional Afrikan societies did not adhere to abstract forms of mechanized time, but instead viewed time as cyclical and communal. This is why, according to Black author Snead, “[i]n black culture, repetition means that the thing circulates…(the ritual, the dance, the beat) is ‘there for you to pick it up when you come back to get it.’’ But I digress…
It is not solely within our daily endeavors that clock time has embedded a stringent structured routine but on a weekly basis as well. Material conditions, as well as deviations from the traditional Sabbath day of rest, have manufactured within Western society a routine in which, according to Lewis and Weigert, “many live for the weekends while merely living through the weekdays.” It makes sense then why so many risky behaviors — binge-drinking, perverse sexual practices and orgiastic drug usage — occur in the nefarious affairs of nightlife during the death of the week’s end. The grind culture of capitalism and the secularization of the Sabbath have made us maximize our weekends with worldly pleasures. Caught up in the conditioning of the Monday through Friday nine-to-five mindset, many of us in the professional-managerial class masochistically labor away for the majority of our week(s), callously overcommitted while neglecting nature, spiritual enlightenment and authentic interaction.
This is in part because of the tremendous stratification intrinsic to social time. Lewis and Weigert remark that in today’s time, a solid hierarchy emerges in which organizational and bureaucratic time triumphs interactional time (time meant for engagement with others, typically for non-productive means), both of which triumph self-time (time meant solely for conservation and care of the self). Moreover, they maintain that one’s access to time and efficiency, as well as propensity to be waited on is shaped by our social identities of race, class, gender, etc. — those of higher status are generously granted more leniency and provided with patient regard.
Lewis and Weigert finally note that as we’ve been shaped and molded by our historical epoch, we find that we must synchronize ourselves to fit within our embedded and stratified social time scheme. This synchronization begs us to ask the questions: how much control do we actually have over our daily lives? How much time do we truly have on our hands? And more broadly speaking, what could and should we do with that time? Under the secular capitalist system, we’ve been conditioned to spend most of our present moment focused on the future, marginalizing the past. Rather than orient ourselves toward spiritual transcendence, we roam in the realm of individualistic monetary gain and egoistic endeavors.
This fixation on the future remains a result of our tendency to conceive time as linear. Philosophy scholar Juan Carlos Durán contends that our standardized linear conception of time is constituted by concrete quantitative components which prohibit us from fully experiencing the fluidity of existence. To combat this, Durán draws upon German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s theological notion of a “weak messianic force” which pervades the human psyche. He implores us to rectify our notion of time to align with that of Jetzt-Zeit, a Judiac conception that invites us to live as if every instance is a potential return of the Messiah (or coming of the Revolution) and the subsequent redemption of those disenfranchised not only in the present but in the past. Durán cites philosophy scholar Simon Jules, who describes Jetzt-Zeit as an experience of the eternal nature of time through the (ever-flowing) “current” instances of love which “is essentially spontaneous and unpredictable and thus is basically unfaithful to the determination of the past and incapable of looking forward to the future.” Such love is divine, and recognizing our divinity allows us to see each moment anew with infinite opportunity.
Similarly, within the Islamic tradition is an understanding of atomic theory as a molecular manifestation of our sanctity. As Islamic studies scholar Gerhard Böwering puts it, “there are no intermediate causes … each moment within time is the direct creation of the eternally active God.” As we are constantly being renewed in realms both seen and unseen, every instance of our creation, of our consciousness, is a chance for transcendence.
Meanwhile, Buddhism, which acknowledges the impermanence of our existence, invites us to forgo worldly attachments to reach enlightenment. Wrapped up in a flurry of fleeting fixations, we devote days upon days of our lives to brandishing our “brand,” cultivating our ego through excessive beauty practices, satisfying sexual urges through ephemeral gratification, creating and cultivating series upon series of social media content — to what end? For what purpose?
Hinduism perceives time not only as cyclical but also illusory. It is instead believed that we are in a continuous, present moment. The spiritual benefits of being in the moment are monumental. Philosophy scholar Gary Peters states, “To yearn … is to enter a regime of desire here the diremption of self and other … shatters both space and time into a ‘spurious’ infinitude of dislocated subjects eternally striving toward an absolute unity forever denied.” In other words, rumination on the past and future leads to immense suffering. It makes sense then why activities such as improvisation which center us fully in the present, through the “ecstasy of absolute attention,” the “co-presence of the collective” and persistence on “being in the moment” elicit an otherworldly altered sense of (time) consciousness.
Christianity, while largely adhering to linear time (and serving as a model for our modern mechanization of time measurement) through Christ, espouses a personalized conception of reality along historico-cultural lines in which meaning in life is created through salvation. The theological significance of the Cross not only signifies our Creator’s unification with those crucified but calls for a continuous struggle against oppression and toward liberation. As postulated by Spanish-Salvadorian philosopher Ignacio Ellacuría, “Glory of God requires passing through persecution and death” as the reign of God and reign of sin respectively are diametrically opposed.
Thus, it goes to follow that our many faiths move us toward the transcendence and liberation from time itself. We are no longer defined by the dictates of the clock and capital. Instead, we acknowledge the timelessness of the eternal being. To suck my clock, then, is not to begrudgingly accept nor outright renounce our socially constructed mechanized conception of time — it is, instead, to devour whole the determining demands of our temporal existence, of our societal expectations, and in turn (and in time) take in the numinous nutrients of a more sacred mode of being.
MiC Columnist Karis Clark can be reached at email@example.com.