Stopping clocks 

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How we choose to measure time greater influences our perspective on its usage. If you count seconds or moments, we have more than we can imagine- if we count years, it’s comparatively very small. Varying views on how time works has greatly affected the society we live in, as well. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.

To quote Rent, “how does one measure a year?” Weeks, days, seconds, events, love, decimal weeks of Robespierre? All of these are equally valid options. Time can really only be measured in change; the personal flow account of time. However, we are all familiar with at least two other types of time: clock-time — or as Walter Benjamin calls it, “homogeneous linear time” — and messianic time. Messianic time disrupts and breaks the monotony, the structures and rules of homogeneous time.  Vladimir Jabotinsky, a right wing Zionist, held that placing money and time as more important than man, rather than the inverse, was the predominant illness of capitalism.) An example of how this disease manifests itself is in the absence of messianic time in capitalist societies of the 20th century. 

To ameliorate this, he recommended three Jewish innovations – tied to either respecting the human in capitalism or breaking homogenous linear time. His examples were the “Shabbat, Sabbatical years and the Jubilee.” The Shabbat is not enforceable, as we are not a Jewish theocracy. Mandating a six-day work week is and has already been implemented, however and is a secular analogue to this reform. The Jubilee and sabbatical years can also be implemented secularly.  

Historically, the sabbatical year was a year in ancient Palestine where every seven years, debts would be removed and the land would lie fallow, hence the name; it was a Shabbat of years. Every seven of those a jubilee would occur, which reapportioned land as reckoned by the previous jubilee and totally disregarded debts, considering the idea that God owned the land and all humans are merely renters. This is a highly appealing concept, however, there are two large problems with this theory.  

Firstly, how do we ensure wealth is not initially maldistributed? Secondly, the homogeneous linear time will win out. Messianic time periodically introduced to people could serve to prevent burnout. It would serve this purpose by creating a break from the old homogeneous linear time, enabling refreshment. Another problem, tied to the preceding problem, is that a predictable messianic timeline can become a homogeneous timeline. Historically, predictable intrusions of this sort of time have led to a sort of “debt futures” market where lenders would refuse to loan before a sabbatical year. Hillel the elder solved the quandary of loans or messianic time by abolishing messianic time. Can we prevent this co-option of the jubilee? One option, more secular and less able to render anti-burnout benefits of messianic time, would be to make the jubilee aperiodic. This can be found in both Jabotinsky and pre-Jewish Jubilees. In the pre-Jewish version, jubilees were arbitrary and unpredictable. In Jabotinsky, he linked it to the Gini index and not time, thus preventing an excess of inequality, in theory. In this solution, the benefits of periodic rest are sacrificed for avoiding a debt of the future market.  

So how do we measure years? 

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