Life as Time
One definition of life is: “The period between the birth and death of a living thing, especially a human being.”1. Moreover, the usual definition of “period” is “a length or portion of time.”
Before starting a certain line of reasoning, I just want to point out that the importance of time with respect to life is so fundamental it even appears in one of its definitions.
The Principle of Universal Equality
If you ask any person in the world whether they believe their life should have equal value to that of another, I believe it is safe to assume that most people would undoubtedly say yes. Let’s call this the principle of universal equality.
The Principle of Equivalency of Value
If we then were to ask the same person whether they would agree that what has equivalent value necessitates equivalent treatment, it is also safe to assume they would. Let’s call this the principle of equivalency of value.
The Universal Paradox
The universal paradox is a term describing the paradoxical situation that even though most people would agree with the two principles above, everyday all around the world how people behave towards one another comes in contradiction with those two principles combined.
From the treatment of refugees trying to flee war zones, to how we treat people of different faiths, color, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, economic or class background, the list admits of numerous variations.
However, in this case, I’ll attempt to shift the focus on an area where people wouldn’t so readily admit there’s even a contradiction: The inter-relationship between life, work compensation and the universal paradox.
Time is money but is money time?
In a world where a lot of people are paid by the hour, it is easy to understand the saying: “Time is money”. However, does the opposite hold? And if yes, in what way?
At first glance, the answer appears to be no. Irrespective of how much money you may have, there is simply no way to buy back time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever and there’s no going back. In that sense, time, and by extension your particular life, is a unique, scarce, non-renewable, priceless resource. Alright, perhaps there’s no way to buy back time, but how about buying some forward? Is there a way to add time to our lives?
From what we know, a healthy life consisting of balanced nutrition and exercise is correlated with longer lifespans, so in some sense what you decide to do today can indeed “buy” you some time in the future. Moreover, with the advancement of technology perhaps in the near future we may be able to extend our lifespans.
But is there another sense in which money is time?
From a certain purely physical point of view, everybody has 24 hours a day. In that sense, a prisoner in solitary confinement has as much time as a person who inherited a fortune large enough that working a job is optional rather than necessary.
Yet our experience of the presence or absence of time is not purely physical. The time we value is the one in which we can do the things we want. The state of being able to be in control of one’s time and what to do in it is called temporal autonomy.
However, during our lives, there are some “necessities of life”, things we just have to do, whether relating to our bodies, our households, or our finances. The time that is left over after we’ve done what’s strictly necessary in those three realms is called discretionary time2 what we do with it is up to our discretion.
To go back to our example, while the prisoner in solitary confinement may have as many hours during each day as the person inheriting a large fortune, the prisoner has almost zero temporal autonomy3, though he may have a lot of discretionary time. In other words, having all the time in the world without being able to do what you want with it is surely not an enviable predicament. In short, discretionary time without autonomy is more a curse than a blessing.
Let us now look at the person who has inherited a large fortune. With a fortune large enough, he can hire people to facilitate the satisfaction of the necessities of life. The purchase and cooking of the food and household chores can be accomplished by a group of paid servants. The management of the large fortune can be accomplished by paying for a medley of bankers and wealth managers. A countless range of options, in terms of both goods and services, are available and feasible for him to exercise. His range of actions is only limited by the laws of the land and those of nature. His money has bought him the kind of time we value: Discretionary time coupled with temporal autonomy. In short, a kind of freedom. This is what I’ll mean by freedom from this point onwards.
The Universal Paradox and the Reassignment of Necessity
When a living being works for someone else, they are usually trading a unique, scarce, non-renewable, priceless resource, their lives in the form of time, for a common, abundant, renewable resource with a fluctuating price, money, which cannot be used to buy back what was given.
In addition, instead of judging the amount of money given according to the amount of life spent, we judge the amount of money given according to what the work is, when and where it is done and who is doing it. So we might find a situation where an illegal immigrant, working in certain parts of Asia picking produce in a time where the markets are flooded with excess produce, is paid significantly less than a citizen in Europe spending the identical amount of hours, doing the same thing at a time of produce shortages. In both cases, the amount of life spent is the same, yet what is given in return differs.
While in theory people tend to agree their lives have equal value and they ought to treat similarly what is of equal value, in practice, this is simply not the case. Market conditions determine the value we place on life, in terms of time, rather than the other way around.
The main reason why rich persons have more freedom is because somebody down the line is spending more of his time, for less of their money. Their necessities have been reassigned.
One person’s life is valued less than another’s. The freedom of one is stripped to supplant the freedom of another. One person is being treated as a means to the ends of another.
That is what we have willed into a universal law – and that is what we ought to change.
The Moral Vision behind the Regenerating Freedom Initiative
We are all born in servitude to the necessities of life. But money doesn’t make us free. It only reassigns our necessity to others. Genuine freedom is generated only when our necessities are satisfied without being reassigned to living persons. The only way this can be achieved is through automation.
If we believe everyone’s life has equal value, if we agree that what has equal value deserves the same treatment, if we want to treat each other as ends rather than means, if we want to be free to do what we want rather than what we must, we need to work together to automate necessity out of existence, to the extent that is possible, and distribute the ability to generate freedom equally to all living persons, so that we finally discover what this world can be when everyone is free.
This is the aim of the Regenerating Freedom initiative. To achieve “what the [ancient] Greeks sought for, but could not, except in Thought, realise completely, because they had slaves”4.
Regenerating Freedom is the beginning of a new Hellenism. Freedom through automation – without the need for slaves or the reassignment of necessity to others.