Friday, August 25, 2017
Who Sculpts Identity — The Problem of Time — Part IV
I remain eager to move onto posting about liberation already.
I’m just not quite ready yet.
I write from vacation in Amsterdam.
Oddly, I’m reading a book gifted by my dear friend Robin, entitled, No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People.
Oddly because I’m in the land of the Dutch, far from the First Peoples of Canada, or the Native Americans. The Algonquin were a substantial tribe in America’s northeastern border with Canada, and some remain there to this day.
Speaking of tyranny, I feel the bite of an internal oppressor imposing its ever strict discipline. Shouldn’t I be reading art history, studying Dutch imperialism, exploring Rembrandt’s personal history, or investing in some similar geographically-relevant pursuit of knowledge?
I sit on a small, unstable table overlooking the Amstel River, tapping on my laptop. Last night, I started reading about one sub-tribe of the Algonquin, the Micmac. It’s featured in the book I just mentioned. The Micmac lack language for time.
The book’s author, Evan Pritchard, notes that the Micmac have no word for time. He adds,
The way time is dealt with in Algonquin speech teaches us that time is relative in nature, just as Einstein proved, and as quantum researchers are discovering.
Pritchard proceeds to detail the Micmac’s attitudes towards time. The tribe values integrity and reliability, he notes; but they consider measuring time absurd. Some Micmac tribe members wear watches. But mostly they avoid them. When receiving one as a gift, they typically give them away or throw them in the trash.
Why measure time on your watch?
Why measure it anywhere?
It has to do with dignity, perception, and many other less tangible factors such as energy flows and vibrations.
It’s so much more appealing than,
Are you running late?
I hope you, like me, identify vacation as liberating you from the tyranny of time. This morning, I had to check my computer for the day and date; I could care less about time today. I have no plans whatsoever. I’m watching the clouds pass over the river; I’m watching the barges pass by.
Only reluctantly, I set a dinner reservation for 730p.
I regret it.
It ties me down.
Reflecting on our lives in the US, or in any developed country, the way time controls us is astonishing. I pride myself on the personal liberation I offer others through my work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist.
And yet my profession requires me to structure my day in precise time allotments. Always modeling boundary maintenance, we psychotherapists ideally begin and end sessions in a timely fashion.
While not as rigid as the psychoanalytic time clock, the majority of Western culture runs tightly by the clock. German trains are known for their timeliness; the Swiss are famous for their watches; most countries sport squares built around clock towers, as if time itself watches over the people.
It’s a chronological panopticon.
Arguably, the only city lacking time obsession is Las Vegas. Lest you accidentally believe it liberates, you of course immediately recall the manipulative reason for Las Vegas’ amnesia for time:
Casinos want to make sure you lose track of it.
They want you to forget time, and to forget money. But only so you’ll give them your time and your money.
I recommend Pritchard’s book about the Algonquin. By his own admission, many of the ideas mimic those found in Buddhism, Taoism, and other Asian-based ideologies.
Consider a few other ways time oppresses:
Some people identify themselves by their timeliness.
Others identify themselves by their tardiness.
Still others seek help with time management.
Like language, habitats shaped like boxes, and other features of culture we never chose, time shapes our experiences of life.
It molds our very identities.
Unless we choose to live off the grid, complete escape from oppression by time seems impossible.
Nonetheless, we can prepare ourselves for liberation — in a manner similar to other revolutionary activities — by increasing our awareness of the absurdity of time and its measurement.
Imagine the freedom implied by alternative examples of managing time as practiced by the Micmac:
I’ll meet you at the coffeehouse just before sunset.
Let’s discuss the progress of the resistance at mid-day.
Thanks for reading, talk to you later.
Pritchard, E.T. (2001). No word for time: the way of the Algonquin people. Poughkeepsie, NY: Council Oak Books.
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