CLARIN

The Rush Of Capitalism Defies Eternal Concepts Of Time

Our linear, utilitarian view of time may be simply a construct of this modern, materialist civilization. What's the rush? What does it mean?

Ever fleeting
Ever fleeting
Darí­o Sztajnszrajber

-Essay-

BUENOS AIRES — Our conception of time is based on certain unresolved paradoxes. On the one hand, there is Saint Augustine's classic proposition that capturing the present is impossible, that this very instant is inconceivable. While our binary logic thinks through definitions that create limits between what is and what is not, the moment flows and becomes, being and not being simultaneously. Every time I want to conceptualize the now, it has ceased to be. Time always evades us.

Then, as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur would say, there is the impossibility of resolving the question of whether time is subjective or objective. We are in fact conscious of time subjectively, in terms of "my" or your past, present and future. Yet time surpasses us. We neither create nor dominate it. It comes and goes. There is an objective time, but we access it subjectively.

Thus our culture has gradually normalized a linear image of time that is also associated with a string of established values like productivity, profit and efficiency. What is linear time? It is the idea of time as a progressive line with a certain continuity of meaning, as if the progression ensured the completion of a whole. It is the purposeful vision philosophers call teleology. Instants here are like road markers or sign posts that mean nothing yet, but will acquire meaning when seen from the end of the linear stretch. We are thus fulfilling a purpose in the course of our time. It is like an assembly line whose only glitch is that we are its final product.

There is clearly a Christian root to this idea. After the original sin, worldly time appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to reconcile ourselves with the Divine. Living is carrying out commands that assure salvation. Beyond the religious story, the linear, teleological matrix persists in the modern world. To live is to be here for a purpose you must fulfill: The meaning of life is to ensure life has a meaning. And Capitalism will duly turn any remaining time on our hands into a productive investment, even if at the end, whatever its returns, the production chain will stop.

Could we live the time experience another way? Perhaps less quantitatively, and more qualitatively? We could perhaps think of our time not from an economic, but from an artistic perspective wherein time becomes a poem or a song whose every verse is valid in itself and within the whole, and whose last chord terminates and completes the opus. Escaping the productivity matrix, we thus reformulate notions of profit and loss. Instead of making use of time one could discard it, and make the inversion a doorway to let in the unforeseen.

Alternative pace, different directions — Photo: John Bastoen

Walter Benjamin suggested that a single historical course or direction could be equally viewed as progressive or calamitous. The Jewish Sabbath interrupts the work week to create a space that is unproductive, and existential. The Latin carpe diem advice to "seize the day" on the other hand seeks to fragment that time line in order to give depth and significance to every instant.

But as some of the great thinkers have pointed out, the definition and duration of a moment is an open question. Moments do not last, but express another means of relating to time. When we sit "awhile" to read or do nothing, we are making a break in our linear conception of time, or interrupting its putative progression. But does time move, or run or even "run out?" Does it have inherent meaning, or does our conscience seek a meaning we know to be absent? Where does this leave the notion of haste? Indeed, what's the hurry since we are all heading straight for oblivion.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ