Messing with Time

Lately, it seems to me, that everyone wants to mess with time. The activists want to flatten out time; they want to bring their one issue (activists plow all their efforts into one issue) to trial from anytime time or place, to sit and be judged by their present standard. Columbus, Al Franken, John Calhoun, violated the indigenous, the female, the black man. 

I’m not sure who gifted any of these judges and juries with a purification screening device that allows them this magical ability over everyone else. Hopefully it is becoming pretty clear to most that ignoring the norms of a time in the review of a person’s performance is in someway dishonest.

My reticent (in a Scandinavian sort-of-way) liberal arts alma matter boldly ripped the name of Reidar Dittmann from an arts building a few years ago.  He was dishonored and his family put to public shame in response to several quiet, unproven or unpublished, allegations of sexual misconduct. Apparently the value of the decades of work which lead to his recognition and adoration could be evaporated into thin air by the hot breath of the latest passions. 

Norms of today create crimes in yesteryear. Real question: How does that work?

And then there are those of limited tenure attempting to topple that which has stood in good stead for generations. The Minneapolis city charter was adopted in 1860, yet the current city council, most of whom are serving their first four year term, feel equipped to amend its authority. They lean into their elected status and are calling for a citywide vote.

But 59.4% of Minneapolis voters report having moved to their residence since 2010. Is it right that the impulses of today are able to overturn a core functioning structure of a fairly successful city? It feels transaction–in the here and now. Aren’t such documents meant to provide guidance over a generational timeline?

Researchers such as Melissa Dell, an economist at Harvard, are pulling together evidence of the importance of a history of social norms in the creation of economic value. When comparing villages in Vietnam, the past existence of a state structure led to 150 years of advantageous economic outcomes.

Rich historical data document that in villages with a strong historical state, citizens have been better able to organize for public goods and redistribution through civil society and local government. This suggests that the strong historical state crowded in village-level collective action and that these norms persisted long after the original state disappeared.

The time factor in her work is not the here and now, not the short term business transaction, but the well worn treads from action over generations. Her theme is persistence. 

An effort to stop the habitual use of behavioral norms is at play in the new rental guidelines  for Minneapolis landlords. Whereas a landlord would have put substantial weight on the criminal history of an applicant, the guidelines prevent denying applicants for felony convictions when the offenses are more than ten years old, or evictions are more than three years ago.  Landlords are unable to use the decision of the courts to exclude an applicant from living amongst their other tenants.

The whiplash from which norms can reach back into the past and which can only be shored up in recent history– from which past actions are convictable under today’s standards to which behaviors ones are to be ignored–is going to require the use of a neck brace.

I’m not sure exactly how the time factor plays into it all. But I can say without a doubt that the societal grifters and corruptors are presently playing it on all sides of the board.

Society needs to take back the narrative that stretches the complex and multidimensional human experience canvas over time. Protests, revolting against wrongs and upsetting of the status quo is necessary. But now it is time to resettle and be productive; to channel energy that so rightly pointed out the flaws in our ways and use it to solve the issues at hand.



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