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From linear to circular

The concepts of linear and circular time fascinate me. The most well known is, I suppose, is the Abrahamic eschatological concept of the ‘end of times’: i.e. as in Armageddon, the Day of Judgement, etc. The belief that the world was created, had a beginning, and that it will one day come to an end.

This is linear – i.e. in a line. Linear time makes sense to me, until someone produces a time machine. Even considering the relativity of time, Einstein only proved that time can be relatively slower in one ‘frame’ compared to another – not that one can go back in time.

Another widespread concept; particularly in Hinduism (and by implication Buddhism, but not necessarily), and apparently in Maya cosmology too, is the concept of cyclical time, or ‘ages’. Again, expressed in terms of cosmology, it means that there was no beginning point, and will be no end point of the world. It will simply carry on changing.

The Big Bang theory lends some credence to this, given that the universe is constantly expanding, and will therefore in theory eventually contract back to the initial compressed point.

For me, one problem with the circular, at least using a diagram in the way I have, is that it implies that things go back to the way they were initially. Which is why I like the idea of a spiral better: the way I see it, things tend towards equilibrium, and thus many things seem to repeat themselves, but on every ‘pass’, they have changed from before.

The spiral is really just another line, with a beginning, and never repeating itself; but the advantage of the spiral is that it reminds us that the past can ‘catch up’ with us. Everything has a consequence; and we’re not advancing straight into a virgin future, untrammelled by the past; nor can we just carry on because everything is going to be wiped clean and we start over again…

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is that I just watched “The Story of Stuff”, a film about the ecological consequences of consumerism. In short, it says that consumerism as we know it is unsustainable – a position I agree with.

It also uses the linear/cyclical models to good effect.

First, the linear ‘production chain’

“extraction to production to distribution to consumption to disposal” (Leonard). This is what we’re used to, and for me problem is that we produce too much, consume too much, and chuck most of what’s left in a hole. Or, as Leonard puts it:
“the truth is it’s a system in crisis. And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.”(ibid.)

Watch the 20 minute animated movie for yourself, and she explains it all well. Finally, the solution is quite plain “transform this linear system into something new, a system that doesn’t waste resources or people.” (ibid.)

Finally, I was dubious about some of the claims she was making – for example, she said “Do you know what is the food at the top of the food chain with the highest levels of many toxic contaminants? Human breast milk.” (ibid.)

That seems like an extraordinary claim, and very worrying if true. I wanted to check her claim, and to her credit, she has supplied an annotated script. In there the breast milk claim is attributed to a joint statement by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) & International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN). They don’t say that breast milk has the “highest levels” of any toxic contaminants, but that such contaminants can and do pass both the placental barrier, and get into breast milk. So I guess she may be guilty of some hyperbole…

Anyway, it’s worth watching. And yet another scary reminder that we really are screwing up this planet.

For related information: check the Basel Action Network for a trailer of The Digital Dump, highlighting what happens to all that electronic waste.


Works Cited.
Leonard, Annie. Story of Stuff, Referenced and Annotated Script. ND. 14 Jan 2008


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Isis on :

Very well written.Thanks for sharing such a nice article.

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