In our distant past we did not always accept the idea of linear time. There are still some indigenous cultures left, that still cling onto our previous concept of time. Rather than the now widely held beliefs of Judeo-Christianity that time is a continuous line of Past-Present-Future, pre-Christian concepts of time were often based on “Time-circles”. Yearly events were seen as the seasons passing and the stars travelled across the sky in endless cycles. Events that have taken place were ranked according to their relative importance for the individual and the community they found themselves in. The more important an event is perceived, the more closer they are in time. Elders would tell stories of great floods handed down as if their grandfather had witnessed them, even though the event could actually be hundreds of years before. Common phrases still in use reflect this. It seems like only yesterday, time flies, all in a good time, all the time in the world, from time to time, in less than no time, in your own time, there’s no time like the present, time and time again…. Folklorists at the turn of the 20th century noted stories of raids by red headed pirates on the Island of Portland only to later realise they were accounts of Vikings.

In the West, it was the “Rule of Saint Benedict” (written around the early 6th Century) that set out the timetable that was to rule future rural life. He expounded the idea that Christian prayer was inseparable from physical life. “Pray and Work” with the order of St Benedict declaring that prayers were “Opus Dei” or the work of God. After the Christian conversion of England and elsewhere with the building of churches, the bells were rung at set times to remind people too pray. These were called the canonical hours. Later the ringing of the Angelus Bell at 6am became the signal for rural workers, especially those tenants of Church land to pray and go to work. The bell was also rung at noon and in the evening at six. Although this was not the basis of a working day at the time, it did start to regulate the actions of the population.

Before the Industrial Revolution, people still didn’t think in terms of working time. Instead they approached work as just a series of individual tasks. This worked quite well for a largely agricultural society but there were major changes in the wind. Someone would spend time doing a job or making something in response to their needs or requests by someone else. A simple supply on demand system. If he had no further work or chores to do, then the rest of his time that day was theirs, to with what they pleased. This attitude to life deeply offended one group of people. In contrast to Karl Marx’s views on historical materialism, in which he identifies religion as a derivative of capitalism, Weber in his “Pre-Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” attributes the work ethic as one of the primary causes of market driven capitalism.

The “Dissenters”, was an all encompassing term given to describe those free churchmen that refused to sign any loyalty oaths. In response the government had disenfranchised them. They were prohibited from meeting in public and from studying at university. They were not allowed to hold any municipal office, let alone join Parliament as a representative. They were not allowed to join the Army in case they spread sedition. Most importantly, because the State believed them to be potentially dangerous revolutionary fanatics, they were forbidden to preach within 5 miles of any city. All they had left were small time jobs and local commerce. All avenues of upward mobility were closed to them.

One of the core beliefs they derived from their understanding was the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden in the King James Bible. This coloured their entire outlook on life. They believed that man and woman, for the sin of upsetting God, were cast out of paradise and cursed to work hard and suffer for the rest of their lives. Life was a punishment and the only way to enter heaven was through hard work, thrift, and efficiency in one’s worldly calling, which, especially in the Calvinist view, were deemed signs of an individual’s election, or eternal salvation. Thanks to their persecution by society, they were to channel their talents into an enterprise that would change the nation and turn a population of sea-faring agricultural workers into the new working class of a capitalist society. Among their beliefs was the strong priority that they gave to proper education. Raising funds among themselves they opened a nationwide series of new academies to teach their children to succeed in the only jobs left open to them, capitalist entrepreneurs. Surrounded by lots of rich landed gentry, with more money than sense, these academies turned out the equivalents of 18th century Harvard Business School Graduates and without any competition in sight dazzled their rich investors with promises of incredible wealth. They taught their children maths, foreign languages, engineering, accountancy, commerce and all the latest sciences with up to date equipment and experimental learning techniques. Added to this, everything was taught in English, not Latin. Meanwhile the Universities that had banned them were still churning out hundreds of clerics.

It was the Dissenters that created the Industrial revolution, financed by a rich elite who had made so much money from slavery and landowning, they were desperate to invest and spend it. The first factories were operated by orphan children but the accident rate was high and the greedy investors wanted the factory machines and mines to be opened and worked all the time, 24 hrs a day. So, the Dissenters engineered the circumstances where the “lazy and heathen” yeomanry, the semi-independent farmers, were dispossessed of their small holdings and forced to work long shifts of forced labour in the mines and factories. To manage the logistics of 24 hour running, companies now needed clock time to co-ordinate the workers efforts and “keep the wheels turning”. Time itself became a valuable commodity, with some owners even taking advantage of their workers by adjusting their clocks to get more work out of them. Now, instead of working to order and having a customer waiting the factories relentlessly turned out goods. To keep the profits rolling in, the factories hired a new breed of workers to find customers for their goods, the salesmen, and to support their efforts the advertising men and then warehouses were built and manned to store the surplus. Business was booming and the investors were getting richer and reinvesting in expansion. Meanwhile the ordinary factory worker, who once could have carved themselves a pair of shoes and added a piece of leather in around three hours, would have to work three days to to be able to afford a new pair of shoes from the company store. A successful business was no longer measured by need or quality of the merchandise but on productivity.

It was at the start of the 20th century that a man called Frederick Winslow Taylor appeared. He had developed scientific methods to measure and maximise a workers output down to the second. He could use his methods of observation to prove that productivity increased the more work was divided into simpler, more repeatable tasks. This was the birth of time management or professional managers, as they are now called. Management theory began to be centred around doing more with less or “Downsizing” to increase efficiency and productivity. It became apparent that if you put a large clock on the wall, in front of a worker, they develop ‘time awareness’ and will do more. All this advanced time management has resulted in us producing 200 times more products than we were producing 30 years ago. It stands to reason that there cannot be enough customers for all these goods, even with the temporary solution of inbuilt obsolescence.

This is a long way from making something in your workshop for a customer who commissioned it and then going down to the river to catch a fish for your tea. As we can see TIME has become a tool not to help us but primarily to exploit us.

To end with some classic humour by the wonderful Dave Allen:

David Hogan

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