WHERE THE TIME GOES

Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Written by English folk-rock singer and songwriter Sandy Denny, this late ‘60s anthem was popularized by American folk singer, Judy Collins. Who has not been haunted by the lyrics! But why do they appeal to us so strongly…and what do they even mean?

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?

There is no concept of time per se in nature (no clocks, no calendars, no complex arithmetic) and yet processes unfold in an orderly and rhythmic fashion. The birds cannot ‘know’ that it’s time for them to go and yet…it is…and they do. The rhythm of nature demands it…and without thought or remorse the birds play out their role in the cosmic dance.

Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

The artist, taking her cue from nature, lives in a dream-like state, a state where there is “no thought of time”. Just as there is no concept of time in nature, neither is there in the pre-conscious human mind.

By contrast, for the conscious, rational human mind, everything is bound to space and time. ‘To be’ is to occupy a defined region in spacetime.

According to the logic of time, things that are not come to be and things that come to be eventually are not. But where do these things come from in the first place and where do they go when they are done being? (And what does a question like that even mean?)

Because no one knows where time goes, no one knows what becomes of entities and events that are time-bound once they are no longer present.

In the 1950’s, a TV show called Howdy Doody was a big part of ‘kid culture’. The show would always begin with the MC (Buffalo Bob) calling out, “What time is it?”; and kids lucky enough to be in that day’s ‘Peanut Gallery’ would dutifully respond in unison, “It’s Howdy Doody time!”

It was always ‘Howdy Doody time’, which in a sense meant that time was suspended. For 30 minutes, a lucky kid could descend into the pre-conscious world of make believe, free of homework, chores and parental expectations.

Similarly, a modern adult version of that Peanut Gallery might reply, “It’s present time!” Indeed, it is always ‘present time’. What other time could it be?

We think and talk a lot about the ‘past’ and the ‘future’ but we never actually experience either (except perhaps as memories or dreams). We always and only live in the ‘present’. So, when someone asks ‘where the time goes’, the logical answer is, “Nowhere.”

Accordingly, events bound to that flow of time may also be assumed to go precisely nowhere. Once no longer present, it is just as though they never were. That makes time the great eraser, the mortal enemy of life itself.

Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving
Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go

Nature is not perturbed by the processes that unfold within it. There is no sense of loss. Everything is just right, just as it’s supposed to be. One is reminded of the famous lines from Ecclesiastes:

“There is an appointed time for everything… A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant…A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them…A time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away.”

But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving
I do not count the time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

One does not ‘think of leaving’. To ‘think of leaving’ is to position oneself inside of time and to bind oneself to time’s peculiar, linear progression…and so to annihilate oneself in the process.

And I am not alone while my love is near me
I know it will be so until it’s time to go

I am not a bird, I am not the deserted shore; am I then doomed to be merely an isolated observer of natural processes? A lonely scientist? A frustrated anthropologist? Fortunately, no! There is ‘process’ that is naturally appropriate for us humans: It’s not thought, but love!

Love is the antithesis of time. Indeed, it has often been said that love makes time stand still. More accurately, love is a process that occurs outside of time. When I love, I give myself over to nature’s timeless rhythms. And so, for me too, eventually it will be ‘time to go’. But I will not discover that using a watch or a calendar; it will discover me and take me entirely unawares.

Is this death? Yes and no. Not the terrible annihilation that may be the fate of time bound entities but the peaceful fulfillment that is nature’s destiny.

So come the storms of winter and then
The birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?

In the arena of time, things appear and disappear, wax and wane; but do they ever just simply ‘be’? In time, things are past…or future…but never present. The present is at best an infinitesimal point. Therefore, ‘present events’ (an oxymoron in the context of time) have vanishingly short durations.

In timeless nature, on the other hand, everything that exists exists in the present (and only in the present). As long as it exists, it is present; and as long as it is present, it exists. There is no waxing and waning but there is process; process in the present is called ‘growth’. Therefore, love, which is always only present, grows. Growth replaces waxing and waning. And what grows endures…not on the external, objective timeline but internally, subjectively.

Because my love grows, I need have no fear of time, that great eraser. I don’t live because of the past or for the future. I live by and for the present. Love has no cause; it is sui generis. Likewise, it is its own end (teleos). It exists because of itself (causa sui) and it exists for itself (pour soi). It is its own raison d’etre.

In his First Letter to Corinthians, Saint Paul writes concerning the eschaton (the end of time):

So, three things remain, faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love.

Faith is the shadow of the past as we experience it in the present. Likewise, hope is the shadow that the future casts on the present. But love is the present; it is experience; it is being.

COMMUNISM OR SOCIALISM?

The terms, ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ are often used interchangeably. Yet in some respects, they are more like antonyms than synonyms.
Most Americans abhor communism. This, of course, is a hangover from the old ideological conflict between communism and Christianity and the more recent Cold War between the USSR and the USA.

Americans’ views on socialism are much more varied, but generally, more benign. Is that distinction based on an accurate understanding of the differences between the two ideologies? Let’s explore.

Both communism and socialism believe that the current distribution of wealth in the world is unjust. This distribution reflects an underlying ‘algorithm’ that rewards native talent, hard work, risk taking, and to some extent, sheer luck.
Defenders of the socio-economic status quo will, of course, emphasize the ‘hard work’ and ‘risk taking’ elements of the algorithm; detractors will highlight the inequality inherent in the ‘talent’ and ‘luck’ components.

Both communists and socialists would prefer a distributive algorithm that places primary emphasis on the value of each human being qua human being. Everyone would be entitled, at least ab initio, to a non-trivial share of society’s wealth. The current variables might still be allowed to operate but to a much more limited degree.

Both Karl Marx, the ‘founder’ of communism, and his socialist predecessors understood that the distribution of society’s goods reflects the ownership of its ‘means of production’ (factories, farms, etc.). Marx noted that in a capitalist society, the means of production are generally owned by people and groups that have ‘surplus wealth’ (or ‘capital’) that they can afford to invest in pursuit of future returns. (Folks who need to ‘invest’ every cent they make just to obtain basic food and shelter are unlikely to also own factories.)

While both socialists and communists understand that permanent economic change would require a change in the way that the means of production are owned and managed, they have very different ideas on what that new ownership should look like. Classical communists believe that the means of production, the engines of wealth, should ultimately be owned by the producers (workers) themselves.

Crudely speaking, a factory combines technology (including machinery), raw materials and labor to produce products that generate the profits that ultimately become ‘surplus wealth’. The workers in that factory, at least theoretically, own their own labor; why should they not also own the products that their labor produces and the profits that those products generate?

Socialists, on the other hand, tend to believe that the means of production should be owned, or at least strictly managed, by society as a whole. Workers engaged in a common enterprise would not own their own means of production but rather they would share in the ownership of all means of production, generally.

Both socialists and communists envision the ‘state’ playing a crucial role in rebalancing the distribution of wealth. It is understood that the ‘propertied classes’ are unlikely to give up their wealth and privilege voluntarily. It is assumed that a strong state would be needed to achieve an organized and non-violent redistribution of that wealth.

According to the socialist model, a strong state will always be needed to manage the economy and oversee the equitable distribution of income. Most communists, on the other hand, see an omnipotent state as a temporary necessity only. Once the means of production have been decentralized and transferred into the hands of the workers, there is little need for a strong central government. The state will atrophy and, perhaps one day, even ‘wither away’.

Driven by these differing economic and political visions, socialists and communists also disagree about how society itself should be organized.

Socialists tend to believe that policy should be set at the broadest level, the level of the central government. They believe that the central government should legislate for society as a whole. Power is centralized and ‘trickles down’ to more local communities.
Communists envision an entirely different approach. People naturally exist in social groups (e.g. work sites, industries, social organizations, neighborhoods). Each of these groups performs a social function and each person performs his or her ‘civic duty’ through participation in one or more of these groups.

People are not islands. According to the communist model, society begins at the level of these natural groupings. So far as possible, such groups should be self-governing. To the extent that broader social policy is needed (e.g. coordinated economic planning or national defense), representatives may be sent by these groups to make up regional or national assemblies. Power is local and ‘trickles up’.
Communists’ and socialists’ visions of political process reflect these disparate social models. Socialists usually insist that the (central) government be chosen according to the principle of ‘one person, one vote’. People are islands after all.

Communists, on the other hand, see politics as another phase in the workers’ struggle to gain control of the fruits of their labor. As long as a state is needed, a strong workers’ party (often the ‘Communist Party’) is expected to play a dominant role in shaping government policy.

So, we see that the relationship between communism and socialism is complex. There is much that overlaps, but there are important differences. Broadly speaking, communism may be seen to adopt many of the ideas and institutions of socialism; but it adapts those ideas and institutions to its own unique social vision.

Final note: Nothing in this essay should be interpreted as either endorsing or disparaging socialism or communism (1) in absolute terms, (2) relative to each another, or (3) relative to entirely different models of social organization.

However, I would be remiss if I did not at least offer one important caveat. Both systems rely heavily on the institution of the ‘state’ to accomplish their objectives; but both totally misunderstand the intrinsic nature of that ‘state’.

Communism views the state as a passive agent of the proletariat while socialism views it as a passive agent of the polity (electorate) in general. Nothing could be further from reality!

The state is always an actor in its own right; it has its own interests and, consequently, its own agenda. For the most part, those interests and that agenda run at cross purposes to the aims of both socialism and communism. In a post capitalist society, the state becomes its own ‘special interest’, its own social class, a new bourgeoisie. No wonder a recent poll of French teenagers found that the vast majority aspired to a career in civil service. How few teenagers in the U.S. would say the same!