Time vs. Life

Modern materialists, forever eager to debunk ancient notions of eternal being, have carelessly fostered a linguistic and psychological reduction of life, the activity of the soul, to time, the only remaining measure of man’s existence once eternity has been discarded as even a goal. But to reduce life to mere temporal continuation — to “time on Earth” — is inherently to overvalue mere extension at the expense of (if I may wax linguistic) intension, which is to say accidental quantity over definitional quality.

In other words, a world that has embraced, or rather succumbed to, this reduction of life to time, due to its having debunked eternity, becomes increasingly willing to sacrifice its essence in the name of prolonging its existence. Hence, late modern man, who most dreads death and clings so maniacally to what he calls “life,” has become, somewhat paradoxically, precisely the man who is least alive in any sense that would be recognizable even to the men of earlier modernity, let alone to the pre-moderns, i.e., those who adhered to some variant of the view that time, far from being identifiable with life, is merely life’s container, in an analogous sense to that in which the body is the soul’s container. 

The practical result of this oh-so-scientific reductionism, to bring this discussion down to its everyday application, is a race of beings, superficially resembling humans, who have redefined cowardice and risk-aversion as higher virtues, because they have elevated the mere consciousness of elapsed time to the status of “the good life.” Hence, for this new race of ours, diversions, distractions, and by extension all means of “passing time” — or even, as we sometimes say, “killing time” — have become almost definitive of “leisure,” whereas Aristotle had explicitly defined leisure (time freed of toil) as the realm of spiritual development and the pursuit of wisdom, i.e., the most naturally human life. In brief, though without oversimplification, modernity has effectively reduced human life to wasting time, albeit in the most decorative and self-congratulatory ways.

But time that is wasted is worth nothing. Imagine having a very large, plain box with nothing in it. Would you ever think, “I wish I could trade this big empty box for an even bigger one”? As Socrates said at his trial, in answer to the hypothetical but all too urgent question of whether he would give up philosophizing in exchange for more time on this Earth, “The unexamined life is not worth living for a man.” In other words, if you are not living with your soul fully active, engaged in self-development, and excited by the promise of discovery, then your time is empty, in which case a “longer life,” which is to say merely more time, would result only in more emptiness.

A tiny box full of searching thoughts, precious pains, and communications that heighten the meaning of both — life as it must be experienced by one with the courage to face it — is worth immeasurably more than an enormous box full of the dust and cobwebs of settling comforts and clinging clichés. Indeed, the worthlessness of such an empty box increases exponentially as it expands. And yet today we live in a world of empty boxes, with each one straining at all costs towards our collective dream of infinity. 

Infinite emptiness — the apotheosis of nihilism, and the ideal condition for submissive compliance to authority — is the late modern dream, our slavish fantasy of temporal continuation at all costs. We therefore create ever more impressive diversions, distractions, and polymorphous palliatives to help us evade the disturbing question that our ancestors dared to hear: the barely comprehensible whisper of eternity, audible only to those courageous and free enough to approach their own souls in respectful silence, like one entering a cathedral alone.

That is the truth about the relationship between life and time. 

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