By Horus Alas
“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.”
–William Shakespeare, “Macbeth” (V.5.19-23)
At its most abstract, time is an inscrutable subject whose intricacies seem out of reach for even the most penetrating human minds. We can spend eternity debating what time is and die without reaching a substantive answer.
We can say this much about time with confidence, however—we’re only granted a limited amount of it.
None of us know when our time will run out, but from an early age, we’re aware that there will come a moment when we cease to form part of the fabric of this physical, Euclidean world.
The time between our entry and exit from physical space is, in theory, left entirely to ourselves to determine. “Life is what you make it,” playwrights and rappers alike have claimed. But there are certain things in life that supersede our supposed freedoms and become axiomatic necessity.
Rebecca Burn-Callander of the Telegraph UK writes, “At the dawn of humanity, bartering was used in lieu of money to buy goods. As early man began to rear domestic livestock, one of the earliest forms of barter included cattle, sheep, as well as vegetables and grain.
“The first known currency was created by King Alyattes in Lydia, now part of Turkey, in 600 B.C.”
Ever since then, human beings have without exception been required to seek currency in order to sustain their livelihoods. Everything from necessities like food, clothing and shelter to commodities like furniture and spices are dependent upon our ability to furnish some kind of coin in exchange for their sale.
For the most part, the pursuit of money requires us to engage in a job or occupation. The hours of our day are thus spent in a particular activity for which we are compensated with monetary payment.
So in short, our time—the essential component by which we measure the length of our lives—is sold to ensure our survival.
“Remember that Time is Money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that Day… has really spent or rather thrown away Five Shillings besides,” Benjamin Franklin wrote in “Advice to a Young Tradesman.”
Franklin’s advice echoes the pragmatist ethos of the American colonial period. In a new territory that disavowed Old World caste systems and titles of hereditary nobility, hard work was the only means of societal advancement.
In some iteration thereof, the same work ethic has permeated American culture. The California Gold Rush, factories of the Gilded Age and railroads that traversed the continent by the turn of the twentieth century were all built on the premise that time is money, and that it was in people’s best interest to doggedly pursue it.
Nearly a century later, we haven’t moved away from the mentality of rugged individualism whereby individuals themselves are chiefly responsible for sustaining their own well-being. Since its inception, American society has worshipped fervently at the altars of money and self-sufficiency, thereby encouraging the sacrifice of time as a necessary expense.
There is a basic pragmatic logic underlying this mindset. Each of us as individuals have bills and living expenses. And in an atomistic, personal framework for society, it would be unfair to expect someone else to pay for our livelihoods, in the same way we would probably complain about working primarily for other people’s benefit.
If you were to ask Marx and Engels about this setup, however, they would probably contend that the working class does in fact work chiefly for the benefit of capitalists and industrialists who control the means of production.
Ultimately, unless you’re born into vast sums of money—and even then, the case most likely holds true—you’ll expend a majority of the time in your waking life engaged in activities meant to provide you with more money.
Depending on which socioeconomic stratum we start from, this pursuit is either more or less critical to our survival in this world. But whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us have little choice as to how much time in the total allotment of our lives is kept to ourselves rather than sold to others in order to keep us alive.
Franklin was right, in a way; time is money. But it would be more accurate to say that money is a product derived from our expended time. As Proust can tell us all too well, we can never regain lost time.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of PixaBay.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.