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Circular vs Linear TIME – Not Just Resource Use & Circular Economy (Part 2/2)

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

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[Many people, companies, and whole countries are leaving linear resource use (take-make-waste) and moving towards a circular economy.

They’re also moving away from linear culture/lifestyle towards more sustainable, e.g. NetZero targets, renewables, Paris Agreement, more interest in climate change, plant-based diet, composting, etc.

Both movements are gaining momentum.

But can we leave our linear time?

This is part two, part one is here.]

Note: this video explores linear vs circular time too.

In the previous article, we noticed a gap in our society’s movement away from the linear (take-make-waste) model towards the circular (borrow-use-return) model.

Although we're moving towards sustainability, we are limiting it to resource use and culture/lifestyle.

But there’s also linear and circular TIME, and that’s NOT addressed.

For a successful transition away from the linear (unnatural, unsustainable) model towards the circular (natural, sustainable) model, we need to tackle time use, not only resource use and lifestyle.

This is going to be difficult and there’re no ‘five steps to circular time’. But it should be on the table because we’re already committed to the circular economy and change of lifestyle.

Nature operates on circular time, infinitely repeating the same cycles, e.g. new leaves on trees in spring, buds and flowers, birds and whales migrating in autumn, hibernating animals…).

Traditional societies, e.g. Aboriginal, also operate on circular time, repeating the same acts and gestures according to their myths, and exemplary models (part one).

But we, modern people, operate on linear time, a one-way timeline, which is the opposite of circular.

Linear time - origins

(I am again drawing on Eliade’s ‘Myth of the Eternal Return.’)

The first notion of linear time, that is, a time where concrete events in history have meaning in themselves comes from the old Hebrew prophets.

Their vision was that catastrophes were punishments inflicted by wrathful God on the Israelites for their blasphemy and misbehaviour.

It was concrete wrath, manifested through concrete events, punishing concrete misbehaviour of concrete people.

Next time, there was another catastrophe, e.g. drought or siege … it was different concrete wrath of God, punishing different concrete misbehaviour, and so on.

“Thus, for the first time, the prophets placed a value on history, succeeded in transcending the traditional vision of the cycle (the conception that ensures all things will be repeated forever), and discovered a one-way time.” (p.104)

That’s how the linear, one-way time originated, out of a series of concrete events. That’s how our concept of history started.

It also meant that concrete historical events became meaningful. (Until then, individual events had no meaning because the only thing that had any meaning was that which corresponded to the ancient mythical model, which was re-enacted through infinite repetition/ritual):

“For the first time, we find affirmed, and increasingly accepted, the idea that historical events have a value in themselves, insofar as they are determined by the will of God. This God of the Jewish people is no longer an Oriental divinity, creator of archetypal gestures, but a personality who ceaselessly intervenes in history, who reveals his will through events (invasions, sieges, battles, and so on). Historical facts thus become "situations" of man in respect to God, and as such they acquire a religious value that nothing had previously been able to confer on them. It may, then, be said with truth that the Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God, and this conception, as we should expect, was taken up and amplified by Christianity.” (p.104)

This started a gradual movement away from the abstract, mythical, and circular time towards the concrete, personal and linear time.

And which major concrete event started our modern calendar?

The Crucifixion of Jesus

This event took place in a concrete location to a concrete person at a concrete time, 2023 years ago.

Our modern concept of history - marked by concrete events on a timeline - prevailed. Before Covid - after Covid; before the GFC 2008 - after the GFC; before 9/11 - after 9/11; before the World War II - after the War; before the first fleet - after the first fleet…

Before Christ (BC), after the death of Christ (AD).

It’s individual and unique EVENTS marked on a linear timeline that matter to us, not seasons, or yearly rituals repeated infinitely.

We’ve been moving like an arrow, one-way, in a linear motion, for at least 3,000 years (since the old Hebrew prophets).

Linear resource-use, linear culture/lifestyle, linear time.

Nowadays, people, companies and whole countries are leaving the linear resource use (Circular Economy) and linear culture/lifestyle (NetZero targets, renewables, Paris Agreement, more interest in climate change, plant-based diet, composting, etc.)...

But not linear time

Nature and traditional societies are circular - on all three fronts (resource use, culture/lifestyle, AND time).

We picked the first two but not the third.

The key question is:

Can we have a successful transition to a circular, sustainable society WITHOUT addressing linear time use?

I believe that we can’t, that we can’t have our cake and eat it too, that we can’t have it both ways.

An arrow only looks forward, towards the new horizon, new invention, new creation. Its speed, innovation and creativity got us, modern society, to where we are now, good and bad.

Extraordinary technological advances, restoring sight with lasers, DNA testing, AI and nanotechnology and thousands more...

Fantastic. But I don’t need to bore you by listing the by-products of this linear motion, e.g. deforestation. You know that already.

We said yes to circular with resource use.

We said yes to circular with lifestyle.

Will we say yes to circular time-use?

I don’t know how to resolve this conundrum.

But it must be on the table.

So, let’s put it there and look at it HARD.


If you missed part one, go here.

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