Shifting Worlds

Conclusion from my original paper entitled  Shifting Worlds: The Evolution of Humans with Time – A Comparative Look at Time Among English and Hopi Speakers and the Relevance to the Future of Our Species

How time is conceived is a fundamental to how humans behave, as illustrated by different cultural conceptions of time as described by Whorf and illustrated through a brief analysis of time linguistically in Hopi. Even if there are less differences than Whorf claims (as Malotki would be a strong proponent of) it is clear that linguistically Hopi has maintained a more direct connection to natural movements than SAE (Standard American English). The ever compounding forces of globalization (economically, politically and otherwise) are fueled by a Western sense of time, which has been largely ripped apart from natural cycles and has taken on a life of its own. Only in a perfunctory way is a ‘day’ connected to the rising and setting of the sun in Western culture, as witnessed by the fact that a nine to five job is a year round endeavor, which does not fluctuate with the cyclical extension and reduction in the length of daylight’s presence. Nor do the months line up with the lunar cycle, which is nothing more than a periodic, quaint and aesthetically pleasing occurrence in the minds of many Westerners.  This formulation of time as it occurs in English as a continuous linear progression leading from the past into the present spanning to the future blindly continues to expand through time and space by means of the human mind.
Considering the deep interconnections of the global ecosphere and the increasing interdependence and integration of a wide variety of actors in the global economy, how time is perceived through the eyes of the human participants is of the utmost importance in the manifestation of our species as fully conscious beings. It is therefore valuable to invite comparison with other conceptions of time, which are as diverse and varied as the culture from which they arise; a diversity that has been undermined as the unfolding narrative of Western thought, dominated by a narrative of progressive technological innovation based on rational scientific control of nature, has spread its vines across the continents and threatening life with a monocultured existence. This malignant and hierarchical monoculture, if allowed to continue, will inevitably lead to a collapse of the ecosphere, which thrives and survives not in spite of, but because of the diversity of life (and human cultures). From even the most cursory examination of recent humanity’s impacts on our self and the rest of the natural world, it is evident that if there is a cosmological or natural balance underlying all forms (as a Hopi worldview entails) the larger Western world has lost sight of this. 
Alternatively, grassroots globalization relies on the diversity of worldviews, cultures, languages, genes and organic growth. This is not so much a model or top-down thought process, but it is the way things have developed since the beginning of life on Earth and from which Western society has violently attempted to separate itself, and to which we must inevitably return at an unprecedented global scale. Vandana Shiva (2005:6) a physicist and social justice activist from India, has a vision of an Earth Democracy taking form in which “living cultures based on nonviolence and compassion, diversity and pluralism, equality and justice, and respect for life in all its diversity” not only survive but thrive. For this to be possible we must use methods of communication that enhance this view of the world; Hopi provides an example of the contribution of a worldview that is in accord with these values, while SAE does not.
It is not a coincidence that scholarship gained through the exploration and all-too-frequent destruction of various cultures provides the possibility for intellectually undermining the dominant narrative through a deeper understanding of what it means to be human; this is clear from the brief assessment of time in Hopi. There is nothing more valuable than time in the ever-accelerating modernized Western view of the world, except money, which is dependent on time. This is illustrated by the fact that things such as time are considered valuable, and as Whorf pointed out, that time can be considered a thing at all. Changing one’s understanding of time therefore undermines the idea that time is itself a noun, a commodity that has a monetary value associated with it, thereby undermining the system of hierarchical corporate colonization that is thoughtlessly leading our species on the fast track to extinction at an ever-quickening pace.
 As beings that are not only in nature (as opposed to the common idea in the West that we are separate from nature), but integrally nature and therefore the universe, it is critical that we, as a species, wake up to a reality unrestricted by cultural constraints. In “Time, Space, and Language” Whorf describes a self-perpetuating cycle in which we (as SAE speakers)  culturally give time value, in turn creating a commercial structure that provokes the further precise dividing of time which cyclically feeds science, and back into culture in an infinitely circular race. Whorf’s prescience is powerful: “Science is beginning to find that there is something in the cosmos that is not in accord with the concepts we have formed in mounting the spiral. It is trying to frame a new language by which to adjust itself to a wider universe (1950: 171).” Science has been attempting to do this before, during and since Whorf’s time; the result of these attempts has been an explosion of scientific terminology and descriptive abilities, but those descriptive abilities remain limited within the cultural confines that science perpetuates.  Further, Whorf notes:
According to the conceptions of modern physics, the contrast of particle and field of vibrations is more fundamental in the world of nature than such contrasts as space and time, or past, present, and future, which are the sort of contrasts that our own language imposes upon us. And the Hopi actually have a language better equipped to deal with it than our latest scientific terminology (1950: 156)
Critically, in SAE, our binomial objectification of time as tangible pieces aligned in a row
persuades us to behave as if monotony were more true of events than it really is. That is, it helps routinize us…One phase of this is behavior evincing a false sense of security or an assumption that all will always go smoothly, and a lack of foreseeing and protecting ourselves against hazards…Such indifference to the unexpectedness of life would be disastrous to a society as small, isolated, and precariously poised as the Hopi society is (Whorf 1950: 171).
This continues to be the reality in the SAE world; however, what has changed is that the situation with which the large complex and globalizing society perpetuated by SAE time is now precarious, a reality from which it is blinded in par t by linguistic, and therefore thought, behavioral and cultural patterning. This has made the world a precarious place on a scale that is unprecedented for humanity and the biosphere in its entirety. Luckily, we have it within our capacity to realize this; the framework for this inevitable perspective shift already exists within the linguistic realm of time in Hopi. 


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