Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Thief of Time


I've an essay in the latest New Philosopher magazine: 'The Thief of Time'.

Something of a companion to my book Distraction, this piece explores procrastination, and what it says about human time and value:
If procrastination is the thief of time, then William James knew this criminal intimately—as a detective, not as an accessory to burglary. The philosopher and psychologist described one dilly-dallier doing everything but his job: stoking the fire, dusting specks, nudging around furniture, skimming pages from the library. He will ‘waste the morning anyhow… simply because the only thing he ought to attend to is the preparation of a noon-day lesson in formal logic which he detests.’ James argued that what marks off the idler from the doer is not force of will, but inventiveness and curiosity. The genius will find ways to make tedium more novel, but the slacker will seek relief in trivia. The result: the first sticks with his labours, the second avoids them. 
This is a noteworthy observation about concentration, but it also illuminates our relationship to time. To procrastinate is not simply to lack verve or potency. It is also to put todays’ pleasure—or, just as often, avoidance of pain—ahead of tomorrow’s. William James’ lecturer who turns up to the hall without notes will fail to teach well, and this will be far worse than the dullness of writing. In this, he knows exactly what to do, and how to do it—but the threat of misery to come is faint and fleeting next to the ennui of his study. To paraphrase Augustine of Hippo: please give me curiosity and industry—but not yet.
The essay features thinkers including William James, David Hume, David Harvey and Martin Heidegger.

You can subscribe to New Philosopher here, or grab a copy from good bookshops and newsagents.

(Photo: Vic)

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