I have always hated daylight savings time. When I was a kid, the change to daylight savings time occurred on the last Sunday in April, right around the time of my birthday (on the 29th) and I thought it was a lousy present from the world that I would have to get up an hour early.
But of course, politicians love to mess with time. Hence, for example, the months of July and August, reputedly added by Roman emperors. There is, it seems, and I want to emphasize the ‘seeming’ rather than the ‘real’ here, a certain godly quality to altering time—or, more precisely, but less apparently, altering the measure of time.
The zeal for manipulating the hour at which we get up can’t be justified on evidence. Politicians do it anyway, appealing to a supposed popularity of daylight in the evening or to energy savings or, I suppose, other things. I understand the appeal as distinguished from what I think to be the actual reason: the imagination that because time is based on the apparent motion of celestial objects, the manipulation of the measure is to move the heavens themselves, something only a god can do.
But I now have a reason to be grateful for daylight savings time. I still hate it. And indeed, now I have one more reason for hating it.
A few years ago, when I read Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice, by Jack Holland, I was left with two questions. One, an obvious shortcoming, is that the Platonian association of the mind (as intellectual, and therefore male) as superior in a binary (or, more precisely, a hierarchically invidious monism) with the body (as sensual, and therefore female) in ancient Greece fails to explain a worldwide oppression of women. Riane Eisler offers something of an answer when she connects male domination with warmaking and with the establishment of authoritarian society in the Neolithic.
This distinction in the treatment of women between indigenous and commercial societies (the latter appeared with the Neolithic) appears, for instance, with the Spanish empire, when Catholic missions spread into California. Soldiers accompanying the missions would frequently rape indigenous women. The padres would object and one might think this was a lousy way to win friends and influence enemies, but the rapes ‘soiled’ the women, making them inferior to men in what were previously largely egalitarian societies. This introduced the notion of hierarchy to local Indians, who could then be subjugated in service to the missions. This aspect of sexual violence appears wherever, it seems, there are soldiers in large numbers. The violation of local women highlights the failure of local men to protect them and rape thus humiliates not just the women but the entire population, diminishing the people’s resistance to domination by armed men.
But my other question about Misogyny, the book by Jack Holland, was why people, especially but not exclusively men, would choose even to adopt that hierarchically invidious monism that positioned the intellect as at odds with sensuality and men at odds with women. Or, to put the question in a form that has been present in my mind since I was coming of age at the tail end of the 60s (as an era and as a phenomenon that extended into the early 1970s), why make war when we could be making love?
My answer, for the moment anyway, will repeat Holland’s apparent error of resorting to the Greeks, but actually draws upon an insight that control of women is somehow intrinsic to authoritarian society.
Hannah Arendt explained that the Greek conception of freedom entailed the possession of sufficient resources that one did not need to labor or work to fulfill one’s needs. In the triads that make up her thinking, labor is distinguished from work in that labor tends to consist of repetitive chores, including cleaning and cooking, that are necessary to everyday existence. The free man (sexist language intentional), therefore must have servants or, as in Greek society, slaves to perform those functions. She’s pretty explicit about this:
What all Greek philosophers, no matter how opposed to polis life, took for granted is that freedom is exclusively located in the political realm, that necessity is primarily a prepolitical phenomenon, characteristic of the private household organization, and that force and violence are justified in this sphere because they are the only means to master necessity—for instance, by ruling over slaves—and to become free. Because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence toward others; violence is the prepolitical act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of world. This freedom is the essential condition of what the Greeks called felicity, eudaimonia, which was an objective status depending first of all upon wealth and health.
In this conception, freedom arises from the control of the means to fulfill needs. Hence for a man (again, sexist language intentional) to be sexually free, he most control sex objects, be they women or young boys. Relegating women to the private sphere, the sphere of labor, is, similarly, a means of controlling the need to raise children and do housework, and frees men for the public sphere, the sphere of dominance and importance.
In this way, the valuing of some people over others takes on a distinctly gendered character. And this is also, ultimately, an insight into the nature of daylight savings time.
One of the curious aspects of modern Western civilization is that bosses have us all competing for limited road space and limited public transportation services at the same time as we commute to work. They insist that we should all show up at the same time and in the same, often high-rent, places every working day, apparently so they can be sure that we’re actually working. Understand that this is different from actually caring that they’re getting a result for their money; it is about ensuring that we are under their control, that they are paying for our time, even more fundamentally than they are our output.
Time is a curious thing. Its measurement—and thus, quantification—began with the need to navigate using stars across otherwise featureless oceans. By knowing what time it is and observing the angle from the horizon to a star, one can determine one’s location on a sphere, the earth, with some accuracy. But time zones arose with the need to manage railroad schedules; it would no longer do for each little town to set its clocks according to the local zenith of the sun. And Carl Honoré thus connects time with centralized authority. Time, only a bit oversimplistically, becomes tyranny.
When the drill sergeant commands you to jump, it is said that your only correct response is to ask, “How high?” The manipulation of daylight savings time, and thus, the time when we all have to get up in the morning, is thus a demonstration of authoritarian control. Rise and shine, sucker.