Thursday, December 14, 2017

Punch ... the Time Clock

"Time Wars - The Primary Conflict in Human History" by Jeremy Rifkin, 1987

Rifkin is a former peacenik who has gone on to a career in the social sciences as an advisor to the EU, the UN and China, while penning influential books on the 'end of work' and a 'third industrial revolution' for a green economy.  His generally progressive credentials are rooted in social-democracy, which is both his strength and his weakness. 

This book written in Reagan time, with its somewhat bombastic assertion that 'time' is the primary contradiction in human history, rings of pop sociology.  Sort of an early progressive version of Malcolm Gladwell. The primary contradiction in human history is actually between classes.  But methods of time keeping are certainly essential to the understanding of historical economics. Rifkin's book sees the relationship while undermining its own case.
Yeah, you hate it...

Any proletarian knows that a certain attitude to time is how capitalist life is structured.  In the U.S. it is the alarm clock, the quick breakfast, the dash to the car or train or bus, the half hour lunch embedded in an 8.5 hour day, the dash home or to daycare or a second job.  Blue collar workers have time-clocks to look forward to.  White collar workers have time sheets if they are non-exempt.  White collar workers who are 'salaried' still have to do their 8 hours or more.  Our time is taken from us.  Just as we are robbed of surplus value, we are robbed of time.  You work 50 years and hope you live to retirement.  Where you might still might have to work again, and be 'on time.'  Nearly everyone in this society is time-pressed.

Those farmers and peasants who lost their land and were forced into the factories of early England had a very difficult transition adapting to the demand that they sit or stand in one place for 12 hours doing repetitive tasks.  That is one reason child labor took off - because children were more malleable than grown people who had known a certain amount of time freedom as farmers. These former farmers also resisted the destruction of religious holidays, which gave them more days off than the Ebenezer Scrooges of capital would allow in this time of the new Protestant 'work ethic.'  Newly inducted members of the proletariat from the global 'south' are now going through this same situation.  What happened in England so long ago has now spread world-wide.

Rifkin describes sequences of time that correspond to changes in the economic structure of society.  Natural biologic time ruled the period of hunter/gatherer societies, which lived by the seasons, by the sun and moon, by rain, wind and weather.  Time was essentially circular, though slow changes happened even in this allegedly circular environment.  Agricultural/slave societies were also based on this, but the ruling elite then introduced the calendar, which gave time a certain rhythm beyond biologic time, celebrating certain political or holy holidays each month or year.  These still returned over and over again, but the calendar extended time beyond natural cycles. This method was heavily adopted by medieval serfdom, which used the sacred Church calendar to control the peasantry and create 'sacred' time.  

Early capitalism adopted the clock from Benedictine monks, which allowed factory owners to regulate work efficiently, in a linear manner.  Large clocks were installed in the center of towns as secular monuments.  From this came a period where 'time is money.'  Then schedules were developed, which further structured time.  Now, in the hyper-capitalist environment of the world-wide market, the computer has introduced instantaneous 'nano-second' time. Store websites on a computer are open 24/7.  Capital can travel in seconds to different exchanges or banks, trades are made in seconds, corporations, millitaries, media and governments can communicate in seconds. 'Change for change's sake' seems to be the mantra, but beneath it is the search for profits.  Marx pointed out that capitalism naturally speeds everything up, and modern capital, with its ability to leap the earth like this, has reached its zenith regarding time racing. 

Rifkin is anti-Marxist of course, because Marx challenges his technologic idealism.  But Rifkin does see that it is not merely a practical issue.  He sees that the economic ideas of time are then translated into the philosophic world. Religious types continue to believe we live in a 'clock-work' universe, where the 'clockmaker' keeps things ticking.  Muslim lives are supposed to be controlled by a 'call to prayer' 5 times a day, starting very early.  You can see how this might be a problem in a fast-paced capitalist society not attuned to rural life.  Corporate executives work in airports at any time of day, but now their embrace of the 24/7 internet is called 'creative destruction.'

Yet Rifkin insists that each method of time-keeping created these different types of economy, not the other way around.  I.E. the clock created capital.  Capital did not seek out the clock.  He is essentially a somewhat religious anti-materialist and desperately tries to ignore his own history of time-keeping and its link to class structures and methods of production.  Rifkin advocates the 're-sacralization' of time, nostalgically wanting a return to a period of 'deep ecology' where nature is the only time-keeper, where time was circular.  Time unfortunately is the center of present and past social life, but the methods of time are decided by those in power.  And those in power are normally the ruling class in each society.  So control over time is one way that power is exercised in the interests of that ruling class. Human society will not go back to primitive communism unless all the productive forces on this planet are destroyed. So Rifkin's dream will never happen.

Class status is partly about how important your time is.  If you have money, you can hire others to do the drudgework.  The more 'time' you put in, the possiblities of your career increase.  Children suck time, so having them is a drag on careers, unless wifey stays home or nannies are present.  And of course, our time living on earth is limited, so 'time' hangs over us all. 

Rifkin does not address the nature of time in certain former workers' states, where the phrase 'You pretend to pay us, we pretend to work' had some relevance.  Most people in Russia or Central Europe did not break their backs at work, as the pace of work was much slower than in the capitalist 'West."  This was one of the benefits of not having a capitalist system. He also does not address the benefits of a workplace democratically controlled, such as co-ops that exist in various countries, which could adjust time standards to fit the needs of the people who work there.
We have an App for that...!

This book is dated, but Rifkin makes good predictions on where computers were going, hinting at the power corporations and governments had using them.  He describes the computer-generated philosophy that 'information' is at the heart of all processes, biologic and otherwise, where negative feedback guides machines.  The body is a mere information storage system.  This mechanical view of the natural world has been christened 'cybernetics.' Time is no longer linear, but 'associative' in this view...an idealist idea that time is fungible, and maybe even goes backwards or 'leaps' forwards.

Rifkin notes that parts of the working class and proletariat are more 'present' oriented, as their lives are so chaotic that planning and the 'future' are vague and impossible to define.  The middle class plans better due to their economic stability, as do some sections of the working class.  But now modern capital, with it's short-term profit focus, its opportunist looting of the commons, its 'catastrophe' profiteering, is beginning to lose its own ability to plan.  It is throwing the future to the winds as we speak...and reaping a whirlwind.

Book reviews that reference time:  "Flash Boys," "Ten Assumptions of Science," "Factory Days," "Night Shift," "China on Strike," "Night Shift - 270 Factory Stories,"

And I bought it at May Day's used book section
Red Frog
December 14, 2017

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