This Saturday, November 3rd, mainstream media will momentarily interrupt non-stop midterm election coverage focused solely on national races and fear-mongering over Honduran refugees to remind us, once again, to adjust our clocks. Because we’ve forgotten, and need to be reminded that Daylight Savings Time (DST) exists, that it is a thing we do, and it’s time once again this weekend to jetlag ourselves for no given reason. Except that we’ve “always” done it, and it’s now time to do it again.
In practice, many of us may not need reminding since our phones and smart-watches and smart-refrigerators and whatever else will adjust their clocks automatically, and they do so seemingly of their own accord across all apps even if you just step across a time zone, and now you have no real idea of when that text from your ex was written on their end.
And I suggest this, the mindless repetition of what we’ve done before and the automation that masks the process, minus the rather specific relationship example above, is the perfect metaphor to describe our relation to capitalism, authoritarianism generally and electoral politics specifically, and impending environmental collapse.
Because it’s not like you or I want to reset our clocks, or that we much give a shit either way. We may have caught John Oliver’s bit on it, or might hazily remember a few headlines suggesting adverse health impacts, or increases in traffic accidents, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. But we forgot about those the moment after we encountered them, just as we forgot about DST itself until right now. And yet still we will do it, every one of us, unless you happen to live in the roughly 60% of the world where DST isn’t observed. The rest of us, though, we’ll all change our clocks.
And for what? Why do we behave this way?
Do we not realize where this uncritical obedience to authority and blind deference to tradition leads? It leads to waking up disoriented on Sunday, going to work dead on Monday, and then it’s dark at four in the fucking afternoon all of a sudden.
Does anyone ask why, does anyone answer? Of course not, no one organizes around the issue because it’s too vast and it only happens twice a year. And so we live on in ignorance, perhaps catching a headline or two here or there like we’ve done for the last 17 years of foreign wars. But this November we Californians finally have our say: DST is on the ballot.
It may not be my issue, or one of your top five issues, or for some of us the one issue that brings us out to the polls, but it is on the ballot. It is part of our shared governance, our civic obligation to our neighbors.
Or maybe politics itself, by which we almost always mean exclusively electoral politics, maybe “politics” is only one among a handful of your concerns. Who has the time to keep up with it all, especially with one less hour this coming Sunday? And so we leave that arena mostly to the experts, the people in charge,who tell us that they know best.
So it’s only once every six months that DST presents itself as something to consider, only twice a year that we bother to think at all about the coordinated action of every person in this country and a sizable portion of the world.
And while we may not do whatever the mouthpieces for capital, our leaders, tell us, we clearly have no problem internalizing and imposing upon ourselves unpopular laws and abhorrent social relations. We treat abstract concepts like Law and Economics with a reverence entirely divorced from their practical effects. We change the clocks because they said so, then we just live with the new normal as though it were inevitable.
Please don’t misread this as satire, or as trivializing the importance of voting and the greater importance of non-hierarchical mass movements to break the gears of this infernal machine, because to me Prop 7 truly seems to be an accurate metaphor for the structure of our obedience to norms, and for our complete lack of interest in even the most basic civic participation.
We will change our clocks the same as we changed our climate: barely consciously. We left it to others, many of them long dead slave-owners and many of them equally wealthy and equally dead oil barons, to decide what is best for us here and now, and we stopped asking questions about their choices.
Which is not to reject expertise as such, only the craven ideologues presenting themselves today as experts, and our credulity of them in spite of the reality visible in our lived experience. One concrete example here might help: The US economy recovered after 2008 and now is stronger than ever. Does this ring true to you, based on your experience? Me neither, but it’s still what I hear every time I turn on KCRW.
Now replace Prop 7 and DST with something, anything, else that we never think about but nonetheless affects us in fundamental ways. Whether it’s the ultimate fate of our recycling (landfill), the energy-mix in our local electrical grid (coal, from western AZ), the living conditions of the animals in our diets (unspeakably vicious), or the campaign funding behind the person you’re about to vote for (Wall Street), etc. These are our responsibility to know and to care about, at the very least. And ask questions — ask your neighbors if they want DST, ask your coworkers. Ask the fringe-lunatic uncle at the holiday dinner table.
And if no one whom you talk with wants this, yet we all just do it anyway, then it’s a moral imperative to organize for change. DST has only existed since 1908, a time when our nation did not have a standing military. The conditions in which we find ourselves today are not eternal, not shaped by immutable or natural forces except for that bit about the temperature at which glaciers melt and flood us to oblivion, and the only thing standing in the way of a world that’s better for all of us is Mitch McConnell and a miniscule number of hoarders like Jeff Bezos. So let’s learn from history, not worship it, and together let’s decide what time it is.