Time Is On Our Side

sand of time

There’s a guy in Norway who wants to do away with time.  We all know, strictly speaking, that’s impossible, so my guess is he actually wants to get rid of clocks.  (The article was poorly written.)  While this is an admirable sunshine-and-lollipops endeavour, it has its roots in a far stupider idea.

Ever since Lucy (Australopithecus) and her sisters decided to go for a walk in Ethiopia, 3 million years ago, there have always been people who want to abandon the march of civilization.  Their contention is that humans are inherently pastoral, and we’re not meant to be regulated by the time-counting machines we’ve created.  In other words, we’d be a lot happier if we just ate when we’re hungry, slept when we’re tired, had sex when we’re horny and enjoyed a few more sunsets.  This idea gets a lot pf play on college campuses and during after-dinner conversations (with the second bottle of wine) but it ignores one essential fact – 3 million years of history.  Oops!

There is actually no evidence to suggest humans were ever a come-day/go-day, God’ll bring Sunday type of species.  The only reason some sophomores jump to this conclusion is our closest biological cousins, chimpanzees, behave that way– and the assumption is, back in the evolutionary day, we did too.  Wrong!  The truth is, all – ALL – the archaeological evidence points to the undeniable fact that humans have always been workaholics.  We didn’t become the dominant species on this planet by hunting, eating and then lying around digesting for the rest of the afternoon.  (I’m looking at you, bonobos!)  No, we used the bonus time between full and famished to work our asses off.  Why?  Because, unlike all the other animals Noah put on the boat, from aardvarks to zebras, we realized that the sun was going to come up again tomorrow.  And our long evolutionary crawl from the savannahs of Africa to the Mars Rover is a litany of labouring for that future.

Everything human beings do, from building the Pyramids to buying more than one potato, is based on our unflappable faith in time.  It’s one of the amazing imaginary concepts (like religion, ownership and fair play) that’s hardwired into our DNA.  But more than that, time is also one of our essential tools, like language and mathematics.  That’s why we’ve always tried to measure it so accurately.  We use time to regulate, manipulate and evaluate our existence; without it, nothing we see around us would exist.

Personally, I believe the quaint notion that humans could live quite happily without clocks comes from the benevolent society we’ve created that allows us massive amounts of leisure time.  We have time to think, and sometimes the things we think are wrong-headed.  Seriously, suggesting that we should turn our backs on hours and minutes because our primeval ancestors didn’t have alarm clocks is as preposterous as saying we shouldn’t have elevators because humans are not supposed to live and work in the skies above Mother Earth.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion — but stay tuned cuz I’m already planning another one in 4 days, 96 hours or 3,960 minutes, depending on how you want to measure it.

Grog and his New Year’s Resolution

Every year, at about this time, I take a pen (remember those?) and a piece of paper and write:  “New Year’s Resolutions” and whatever year is bursting on the horizon.  I write #1 and then I write “Be more ruthless.”  There’s always a bunch of other, currently important resolutions, that may or may not matter next year, but I’m convinced that, over the course of several years, I will actually become more ruthless, simply by writing it down once a year.  That’s the power of New Year’s resolutions — it could happen.   New Year’s Resolutions are that idea that we can somehow be better — if we just set our mind to it.  And we can.  Primitive man knew this and acted accordingly.

For example, in Europe, back in the caveman days, there were two groups of people: the Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthals.  They were both basic knuckle-draggers, but there is one important difference.  The Cro-Magnon people survived and the Neanderthals died out.  Why?  I’m convinced that the Cro-Magnon understood the concept of improvement.  It’s pretty far-fetched to consider a bunch of Cro-Magnons sitting around the cave making plans to go to the gym or start an RRSP, but in caveman terms, I think that’s exactly what they did.  Meanwhile, the Neanderthal hillbillies down the block were picking their noses and wondering why they never seemed to get ahead.  If you multiply that situation by, let’s say, 30 thousand years, Darwin and his theory kick in, and suddenly the Neanderthals are wondering where all their friends went.  On the other hand, the Cro-Magnons have all the cool stuff — like circles and pointy sticks and the missionary position.  The layers of knowledge build up, and before you know it, your species is evolving.  In essence, the reason the Cro-Magnon people are the roots of our family tree and the Neanderthals are bones in a museum is that the Cro-Magnons learned how to do things better.  They also knew there was a thing called tomorrow.

Here’s the deal: it’s December 31st, no year (because they didn’t have them.)  Grog is sitting around the cave.  Mrs. Grog and the kids are huddled over in the corner, shivering and bitchin’ because it’s cold.  Gender equality wasn’t an issue in those days, so it’s Grog’s job to go out in the snow to get wood for the fire.  Grog grunts and groans and hollers and stomps around, but he does it; it’s a matter of survival.  When everybody’s toasty warm again, Grog is still thinking about how much he hates going out in the cold to get wood.  He’s just a little bit smarter than the average Cro-Magnon, so he understands that the snow is eventually going to go away and wood gathering is going to be a lot easier.  But — and this is way more important — he also knows that the snow is cunning, and it always comes back.  Ding dong!  The light goes on!   Grog says to himself, “Wait a minute!  If I get those useless kids to gather wood all summer, when it’s easy, and pile it over in the corner of the cave, I won’t have to go out in the cold to get it when the snow comes back.”  So Grog “resolves” to gather wood next year or make the kids do it.  Grog has a pile more time in the winter to do things like sharpen his pointy sticks (which makes hunting a lot better.)  The family eats better and more often.  At some point, Grog’s neighbours, two caves down, are going to see this and either put two and two together or ask, “Hey, Grog! You lookin’ fat, dumb and happy.  What’s your secret?”  The family Grog and the whole tribe are on the road to evolution because Grog’s kids are going to grow up and make their kids gather wood, too — “just like I did when I was your age.” From there, it’s only a matter of time before somebody’s going to decide that it would be kinda cool if a guy from Ohio took a stroll on the moon.

That’s why we make resolutions and why — every year — I write them down.  It’s not that I keep them (or even remember some of them) but we all have to try: the survival of our species depends on it.