Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This Is Not a New Year

published originally on CounterPunch

While in some respects the end of the month of December marks the conclusion of a year and the beginning of a new year (the 2014th year anno domini - the "year of our lord"), in a far more important sense what is being celebrated is not a new year at all. It is, in fact, an actually ancient year - or, if you prefer, an ancient type of year (a calendar comprised of Sumerian - or biblical - seven-day weeks, and twelve ancient Roman months, among other cultural distinctions).

At this point one might remark that I am conflating the year with the calendar; but, in this context, is there really any meaningful distinction between the two? To be sure, whenever one celebrates the beginning of a year, one is celebrating a specific (formal or informal) calendar. Otherwise, every day (every hour!) would be the beginning of a new year. This leads us to another question: what kind of calendar - what kind of distribution of time, and organization of life - are we, in fact, celebrating?

The word calendar itself, it should be remarked, supplies us with a clue to the solution to this question; for the word "calendar" derives from the Latin word "Calendarium," which means a banker's account book. And there is little doubt that in this society money, as the trope has it, indeed "makes the world go round." This is so, irrespective of the concrete fact that it isn't money that makes the world go round so much as people who (through force, among other manipulations) determine that money should be our society's "bottom line," the final word. For instance, regardless of whether or not a particular project - military, social, economic, or otherwise - makes any sense, money, above any other consideration, will be the factor that determines what will be pursued.

In spite of the above, and in spite of the fact that the present calendar helps to naturalize an unjust social system, there are many among us who (though they may be metaphorically sick of, and literally sick from, this particular Gregorian calendar - with its manifold workdays, and workhours, not to mention its idiotic, patriotic holidays and religious vacations) unquestioningly submit to this distribution of time.

And since many among us will be celebrating the New Year in some fashion (whether because of some sort of inertia, or from genuine pleasure at having, ironically, a bit of a vacation from the everyday calendar), it would do us well to reflect a bit on what the designation "new year" actually means. What does this truly entail? Will there ever be a genuinely new year? And, if so, how would - or, what may be a better way to phrase the question: how should a new year look?

Though such a question, arguably, ought to be decided democratically at the community level, there is at least one point that should be beyond dispute: in order to improve our lives - to ameliorate the harms that our political-economy has caused, and continues to cause, ourselves as well as the world at large - a new year should have, at the very least, half as many workdays as the present year has. And since we not only have the technological capacity to maintain (and even improve) our quality of life while, at the same time, halving the number of  hours we work each year, simple good sense demands that we work toward creating a calendar in which at least half of all of the days are vacations. That this may sound fanciful simply reflects the degree to which pathology has become the norm; for, aside from the fact that it makes a few people obscenely rich, there is no reason for people to work as many hours as people are forced to work - and the obscene wealth of a minority should not be terribly persuasive in a nominally democratic society. Some will no doubt remark - correctly - that such a "new year," or new calendar, will not be compatible with, among other harmful institutions, the capitalistic political-economy. This is indubitably the case. That the present calendar is incompatible with democracy, however, is equally so. Which deserves priority?

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