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article imagePhilosopher says speed threatens democracy: Q&A

By Claude CASTERAN (AFP)     Apr 10, 2017 in World

Christophe Bouton, a philosophy professor at Montaigne University in Bordeaux, who wrote "The Time of Urgency", says that democracy is threatened by a contemporary preoccupation with speed.

Here he answers AFP's questions about his theory:

- Time as succession -

Q: What is time? Would a scientist, a philosopher, a pupil or a pensioner have the same definition?

A: The many philosophical and scientific approaches to the concept of time... all agree on at least one point: he who speaks of time, speaks of succession.

The subjective experience of time -- which varies from one person to another, according to their mood, their age, their generation, the society and the era in which they live, etc -- does not challenge this idea of succession.

As the science fiction writer Ray Cummings said: "Time... is what keeps everything from happening at once".

- Age-old problem, speeding up -

Q: Did the tyranny of speed, such as we see today, also affect the ancient world ?

A: Even if we find descriptions of urgent lifestyles in antiquity, by (Roman philosopher) Seneca for example, relating to certain members of the elite overwhelmed by responsibility (merchants, lawyers), this phenomenon took on a hitherto unseen scope in the western world starting in the late 18th century and above all in the industrial revolution in the 19th century, where the notion that history itself is speeding up emerges.

This feeling is due in part to quicker modes of transport, following improved means of communication.

- Economic problem -

Q: At what point can we criticise speed ?

A: The problem in my view is not so much speed, as it is unbridled capitalism, which adopts ever more efficient methods of production and job organisation.

(This) has led to a prevailing ideology today of the advantages of speed, acceleration, and hyperactivity, which has resulted in the phenomena of hyperconnection and burn-out.

Another consequence is that the lack of time can result in citizens becoming less able physically and psychologically to deal with politics, which demands more and more time to be understood.

In this way, democracy, which requires spare time or what the ancients called "skhole", is threatened by urgency.

- Finding lost time -

Q: Who can escape this danger?

A: I do not believe much in individual solutions of withdrawal, which are a luxury that not everyone can afford.

The problem is systemic, so the solution must be collective and political. It is especially a matter of restoring political control over the economy.

To take just just one concrete case, recent, timid advances of the right to "deconnection" in France (the right not to answer work-related texts, emails, or phone calls outside working hours) show it is possible to pass laws that limit urgency at work.

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