April 13, 2023
Why we should politicise time
Insight by Alessandro Sahebi
Not even time to think about time. The modern worker drags himself to the workplace for most days of his week automatically: a long coffee to take away, headphones in his ears and a head full of goals that, even if they are achieved, will never be enough for the bulimic hunger of those in charge. One day off a week, two if he is lucky, to be filled with the ordinary activities of a normal life - such as shopping in a big supermarket or queuing at the post office - or to be transformed into high-intensity adrenalin activities, such as a trip out of town or sporting activity, in a vain attempt to give color to a life that has very little color. All this with a smile on her face, her clothes ironed and an optimistic public image to be flaunted on social networks. Every day he consumes, every year he goes on holiday, every luster he is called upon to vote and on average around the age of eighty he dies. He spends his time killing the little time he has, until time kills him. Time does not politicize him, he does not recognise it as a right, he cannot hate those who take it away from him every day. On the contrary, he often thanks him.
Why do we work all day?
While experiments to reduce working hours are multiplying around the world, Italy is at the top of the list of European countries where people work the most. A serious comparison, from a political point of view, simply does not exist. The interests at stake are high, and there are numerous narrative mechanisms that legitimize and promote a strong work ethic.
Why does this happen? Mainly because of a mere quantitative issue: those who own the production processes have every interest in paying the worker the minimum necessary by forcing him or her as long as possible at his or her station. The purpose of this practice is plain to see: to increase the profits generated by this and to distribute them as bonuses to management or shareholders.
Most working men and women are thus not paid for the value they have produced with their work, but are forced to accept the conditions imposed on them with the blackmail of unemployment and dismissal. Of course, there are also those who accept to devote their whole day to their task because they convince themselves that working hard is an exercise in virtue. In our society, in fact, those who work are not only called upon to be productive but also to make a real personal emotional effort, which we often praise as sacrifice. Statements that are probably applauded by most of those reading this, but which inevitably clash with the realism of our convictions: how can we work less? Concretely, without too many frills.
The parasite of our existences
We are sitting on an immense, growing wealth, enough to guarantee everyone a decent life, unencumbered by the hellish rhythms of the production system in which we are immersed. The myth of unrestrained growth turns time into a precious commodity, and the elites' ability to intercept this wealth makes the resources allocated to us scarce. We need to work harder, train more frequently, update every day. And while we wait for capital to invent the pill to make those pesky eight hours of sleep that cruel nature has imposed on us to live healthily profitable, even the remaining sixteen do not seem enough.
Modern work is a parasite of our existences that ends up distorting us: committing individuals all day to an activity means in fact restricting them in the most important dimensions of their lives.
First of all, individuals are not allowed to devote time to unproductive activities: creativity, which makes us alive and characterizes us as a species, is subjected to the metrics of profit, squeezed for money. Sociality is reduced to a minimum: the more years pass, the more we are friends with our colleagues.
Passions, hobbies if we are lucky, a faint memory at worst.
The aspect that characterizes us most, the political nature of our existences, is totally sidelined. With our heads down, we live our individual existences without asking ourselves questions about our role in a collective, without asking ourselves the question that has plagued our species probably since the dawn of time: which direction are we going? How to return, in a genuine way, to politics?
Right to political idleness, the mother of all battles
Are we becoming depoliticised due to lack of time? Access to time determines our participation in collective life: if we do not have time, we have no resources to inform ourselves, we cannot meet with others, we cannot organize ourselves and become passionate.
All the rights we have are under attack if the time we could devote to political idleness is taken away from us. Political idleness is not activism, or mobilization, or running for parliament: we are not all suited for this, not immediately. Political idleness is what happens before we become active political agents and can only be enjoyed to the full when our ordinary activities do not overwhelm us: reading a programme, chatting with a stranger while informing ourselves, attending a public event. Political idleness is the chance to gradually access ourselves in a new guise, to rediscover being a citizen, to know ourselves as social animals. Regaining space to think of ourselves as a collective. Political idleness is also a conversation of a few hours with a friend, over a coffee or in the park, without the guilt-ridden blackmail of wasting time on non-productive or low-adrenaline activities. We do not lack the means to arrive at information, we lack the mental resources and concentration to collect it and ferment it, calmly and in time, in the material and immaterial spaces that only political idleness can give us.
A seemingly irremediable contradiction remains: to fight against the scarcity of time, we need time that we do not have. A vicious circle introduced by the perverse talent of capital, as the philosopher Mark Fisher (1) calls it, which is a dramatically real problem.
Time scarcity must be politicized, it must become tremendously scandalous and placed at the top of party agendas. And not only that.
The shortage of time is not only an impersonal and intrinsic condition of society, it is the unjust spoils of the systematic and daily predation operated by the ruling class on the last. It is the landlord who asks you for crazy rent (forcing you to work more than you would like), it is the employer who is not satisfied with your productive effort, it is the commoditization of all forms of leisure that imposes payment of a subscription to enjoy any creative product. Talking about time without highlighting the cause of its lack is conflict denial useful to raise a few likes and sell a few books. But it is never part of a process of social emancipation. Those who take away your time are primarily responsible for depoliticisation. Denied rights are only reasserted through battles. The one on time, scandalously far from the perspectives of many parties, is paradoxically one of the most important ones to fight. If not, to use a term once in vogue, the mother of all battles. Let us start with Article 1 of the Constitution, let us reject labor as a value, it is timekiller tool.
Let us remake the Republic, let us remake it on idleness.
(1) In “Ghosts of my Life” Zer0 Classic