663: Time is Our Tyrant.

Time, as we know it, is a very recent invention. The modern time-sense is hardly older than the United States. It is a by-product of industrialism — a sort of psychological analogue of synthetic perfumes and aniline dyes.

Time is our tyrant. We are chronically aware of the moving minute hand, even of the moving second hand. We have to be. There are trains to be caught, clocks to be punched, tasks to be done in specified periods, records to be broken by fractions of a second, machines that set the pace and have to be kept up with. Our consciousness of the smallest units of time is now acute. To us, for example, the moment 8:17 A.M. means something — something very important, if it happens to be the starting time of our daily train. To our ancestors, such an odd eccentric instant was without significance — did not even exist. In inventing the locomotive, Watt and Stevenson were part inventors of time.

Another time-emphasizing entity is the factory and its dependent, the office. Factories exist for the purpose of getting certain quantities of goods made in a certain time. The old artisan worked as it suited him with the result that consumers generally had to wait for the goods they had ordered from him. The factory is a device for making workmen hurry. The machine revolves so often each minute; so many movements have to be made, so many pieces produced each hour. Result: the factory worker (and the same is true, mutatis mutandis, of the office worker) is compelled to know time in its smallest fractions. In the hand-work age there was no such compulsion to be aware of minutes and seconds.

Our awareness of time has reached such a pitch of intensity that we suffer acutely whenever our travels take us into some corner of the world where people are not interested in minutes and seconds. The unpunctuality of the Orient, for example, is appalling to those who come freshly from a land of fixed meal-times and regular train services. For a modern American or Englishman, waiting is a psychological torture. An Indian accepts the blank hours with resignation, even with satisfaction. He has not lost the fine art of doing nothing. Our notion of time as a collection of minutes, each of which must be filled with some business or amusement, is wholly alien to the Oriental, just as it was wholly alien to the Greek. For the man who lives in a pre-industrial world, time moves at a slow and easy pace; he does not care about each minute, for the good reason that he has not been made conscious of the existence of minutes.

This brings us to a seeming paradox. Acutely aware of the smallest constituent particles of time — of time, as measured by clock-work and train arrivals and the revolutions of machines — industrialized man has to a great extent lost the old awareness of time in its larger divisions. The time of which we have knowledge is artificial, machine-made time. Of natural, cosmic time, as it is measured out by sun and moon, we are for the most part almost wholly unconscious. Pre-industrial people know time in its daily, monthly and seasonal rhythms. They are aware of sunrise, noon and sunset, of the full moon and the new; of equinox and solstice; of spring and summer, autumn and winter. All the old religions, including Catholic Christianity, have insisted on this daily and seasonal rhythm. Pre-industrial man was never allowed to forget the majestic movement of cosmic time.

Industrialism and urbanism have changed all this. One can live and work in a town without being aware of the daily march of the sun across the sky; without ever seeing the moon and stars. Broadway and Piccadilly are our Milky Way; out constellations are outlined in neon tubes. Even changes of season affect the townsman very little. He is the inhabitant of an artificial universe that is, to a great extent, walled off from the world of nature. Outside the walls, time is cosmic and moves with the motion of sun and stars. Within, it is an affair of revolving wheels and is measured in seconds and minutes — at its longest, in eight-hour days and six-day weeks. We have a new consciousness; but it has been purchased at the expense of the old consciousness.

(Aldous Huxley, “Time and the Machine.” In: The Olive Tree and Other EssaysLondon: Chatto & Windus, 1936, pp. 122–124).

663: Time is Our Tyrant.

662: Idols & Idolaters.

Why cannot the modernists live and let live? Do they think that by eating their grandfathers they will acquire all their virtue and reputation? It was not always so. Literature presents the spectacle of a long procession of great writers holding by each others’ robes, and, incidentally, with their hands in each others’ pockets. Virgil pays Homer the flattery of continuous imitation. To Dante, Virgil is the highest type of human reason. Milton bows to “blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides.” Even the leaders of a rival school, the earlier rationalists and realists, were true to their forbears. Voltaire held by the Greek tragedians. Pope and Dr. Johnson edited Shakespeare and praised him nobly. The great writers of the last century, — Goethe, Hugo, Scott, Tennyson, — prostrated themselves before their predecessors. Thackeray wanted to black Shakespeare’s boots. In general, every one who has become an idol has been an idolater.

(Charles Leonard Moore, “The ‘Waning’ Classics,The Dial, Vol. LX, 1916, p. 71).

662: Idols & Idolaters.

660: Miserable Creature.

War, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. […] A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

(John Stuart Mill, “The Contest in America,” Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. LXV, 1862, p. 268).

660: Miserable Creature.

659: Ugliness.

The ugliness that comes from an individual way of seeing, or from the absence of adequate means, is attractive: it is disinterested. The ugliness that comes of a general way of living, or from the use of superfluous means, is repellent, and it is utilitarian. The one is grotesque, the other vulgar. There is a difference between the gargoyle and the advertisement.

(Edith Sichel, New and Old. London: Constable and Company, 1917, p. 74).

659: Ugliness.