Return to Contents

The Apple Was a Clock

A New Myth of the Fall

by John Revington

Our attitudes towards time affect our relationship with the Earth in two obvious ways. Firstly, there is a compulsion among large numbers of people in industrialised countries to cram their lives with a great deal of activity, and much of it involves the consumption of too many natural resources. Secondly, we have an astounding disregard for the future. Repeated warnings from scientists and environmentalists about the consequences of our actions have had little effect. Economic growth and a burgeoning global population, the two basic causes of the ecological crisis, go largely unchecked. However, this is by no means the whole story. Our troubled relationship with time wounds our psyches on a very basic level, so that we are not truly at home in our lives, our bodies and our relationships. If we are not truly at home with ourselves and our world, how can we treat them with the respect and understanding they deserve? Our compulsive busyness and our disregard for the future are just the most obvious symptoms of our failure to do so. This article reveals how we reached our present state. It quotes no sources, but then neither do other better-known, but less accurate accounts of the Fall.

Thousands of years ago, before time began, our ancestors spent perhaps four hours a day gathering food and attending to their other needs. It was because their needs were not very great that it took so little time to satisfy them, and our ancestors were able to spend the rest of the time doing whatever they liked. They made love, played with their children or just hung around talking with one another.

"Nobody had a watch or a diary. Therefore, everyone was happy"

They also spent hours simply gazing at flowers or watching ants and marvelling at their busyness. People spent days walking to the bus stop, and when they got there, they discovered buses hadn't been invented yet. But they didn't mind. They didn't feel their walk had been a waste of time because there was plenty to see and experience along the way. If the passage of time was noticed at all, it was recognised against the background of the changing seasons, the cycles in womens' bodies or the aging of generations. The notion that time could have been divided into discrete segments of equal magnitude would have been incomprehensible. Nobody had a watch or a diary. Therefore, everyone was happy. Everything was as it should be.

And then, one day, something terrible happened. One of our ances tors got bored. Let us assume it was a man, since men like to decide which events in our history are the important ones, and then claim responsiblity for them. It would be interesting to know why he got bored. Perhaps he felt guilty about something, or angry, and so he found it unpleasant to be alone with his thoughts. Perhaps he had been banished from his tribe and had no-one to talk to. Whatever the reason, he felt bored. In need of stimulation.

He began rubbing two sticks together. They got warm. He rubbed faster. They got hot. Intrigued, he rubbed even faster, until one of the sticks began to glow . . .

The rest, of course, is history. In fact, history began with the Rubbing Together of the Two Sticks. History requires time and time requires change. Not the unchanging, cyclical change that our ancestors experienced prior to the Rubbing of the Sticks, but big, irrevocable changes that altered forever the lives of human beings and all that they touched.

Our Ancestor of the Two Sticks ended up creating fires that raged out of control, burning vast tracts of forest and consuming many of his fellow creatures in the process. Despite this, our ancestor liked what he had created. Because he could make fire and the other creatures couldn't, he felt separate from and better than all the creatures he had destroyed. And for a while at least, making fires was a welcome distraction from the boredom he felt.

He convinced his tribe that they could not do without fire. They began to spend a lot of time collecting wood, rubbing sticks together and cooking food they had previously been happy to eat raw.

Some time later, no-one knows how much later -- maybe a week or two, or a few thousand years, another of our ancestors got bored. Let us assume it was a man, since even if it had been a woman, there was bound to have been a man around to claim the credit. He rolled a log down a hill, he did a bit of thinking about the implications of that, and history began rolling downhill even faster.

"Out of boredom, civilisation was born. Through the fear of boredom, civilisation is maintained. Civilisation is waging a war against the Earth and nothing is safe or sacred any more"

He convinced his tribe that they could not do without wheels. People found ways of using wheels to get from one place to another much more rapidly. And once they could do so, they invented very compelling reasons for why they should spend their time moving rapidly from place to place.

Peoples' lives changed utterly, and in their confusion, they came to see these two bored ancestors of theirs as geniuses and heroes. In fact, they were villains. The Earth and all its inhabitants continue to suffer as a result of their villainy. Out of boredom, civilisation was born. Through the fear of bore dom, civilisation is maintained. Civilisation is waging a war against the Earth and nothing is safe or sacred any more.

With the advent of civilisation, people no longer spent just four hours a day providing for their needs. No longer did they spend their days playing with their kids, making love and talking to one another.

Kids got sent off to other people who were paid by the hour to look after them. It was reported that people made love less frequently because they were too busy, too tired or had stress-related headaches. When they did make love, it was usually all over in a couple of minutes. Because they no longer spent much time relating with others on an intimate level, their relationships became awkward and unfulfilling, so people developed strategies to minimise their intimacy with others. One of the more common strategies was for people to ask each other, "how are you?", without waiting long enough to hear the answer.

"because people were so busy, they didn't have time to stop and wonder why they were so busy"

Instead of looking at flowers, they picked them and stuck them in vases, telling themselves they would look at them when they weren't so busy. Instead of looking at ants, they tried to outdo them in busyness. To describe this busyness, they used the four-letter word, "work".

Instead of walking to the bus stop, people bought cars. They needed cars so they could drive to work. They needed to work so they could afford the cars they drove to work in. They couldn't walk to work because they didn't have time, which is why they had to have cars, which is why they had to work. Get the picture?

Once people had cars, no-one lived in one place for very long. After a few years in one place, the average human packed their bags and moved on. This meant they didn't have to care for the land they lived on, because they knew if they stuffed it up, they could always move somewhere else. The term, "a sense of place" was invented to describe what they had lost. When people thought of the future, they no longer saw that future as being inseparable from the future of the place where they lived. Because their future was no longer tied up with the future of a particular piece of Earth, they no longer realised that their future was inextricably linked with the future of the Earth.

Busyness became the norm. People who were engaged in constant and frantic activity no longer saw themselves as busy because there was no one who wasn't busy for them to compare themselves to. And because people were so busy, they didn't have time to stop and wonder why they were so busy.

"The Apple Was a Clock" is an excerpt from a 50-page paper on time and the environment entitled "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There". Copies are available from WRR, Rainforest Information Centre, PO Box 368, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia, for $8 (within Australia) or $10 (elsewhere). Postage included.

Return to Contents