A recent article on the BBC News website details the investigation of an Amazonian tribe called the Amondawa who don't make any linguistic distinctions between time and space. Lacking temporal concepts applied to space, as the article points out, makes statements like "study through the night" linguistically impossible. This is in some ways an expression of the awareness engendered by taboo as discussed in a previous essay on Modern Mythology, Where Nature Lies Naked Awaiting the Hunt. Writing on the day of Harold Camping's predictions of immanent Rapture the power of language to control the cultural narrative is rarely so pointed.
For the Amondawa the concept of a Rapture would be impossible to express. There can be no rectification of time and space, spirit and matter, eternity and finitude, when the two are not separated in the first place.
As Chris Sinha, a professor of psychology of language at the University of Portsmouth, describes in the article, "What we don't find is a notion of time as being independent of the events which are occurring; they don't have a notion of time which is something the events occur in." A simple linguistic lack completely reconfigures the possibilities of the cultural narrative. Lacking a word for time the Amondawa cannot anticipate an End of Time, and by not relating temporal and spacial concepts through a division they cannot have an End of Days.
The Rapture as understood by Camping is based on Dispensational Premillenialism, the awkward child of 19th century Rationalism uneasily married to Judeo-Christian visionary texts. It is a mytho-mathematical theory based on a literal and temporal understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition. For the most part this is all much more useful as fuel for infographic abandon than deep theological engagement.
Here the return of the Messiah is seen in multiple stages in which believers physically enter Eternity prior to the culmination of the End of Time. Time and Eternity continue to coexist in the interim between the two events which are both assumed to be at a certain distance in the future from the present time. The crux of the entire program is firmly rooted in materialism, from the means of the ascension of the chosen to the heaven into which they ascend.
With the current reaction against Intelligent Design, Creationism and other heterodox materialist theories loosely based on Christianity, concepts such as the Rapture seem a bit absurd to many people. Unfortunately the same relationship between time and space that allows for 19th century Rationalism to transmute Judeo-Christian visionary texts into pulp fiction tropes also protect ideas like Progress, Evolution, space exploration and utopian theories such as the Singularity and New Age narratives.
Western civilization is fueled by the longing for some transcendent moment that will heal our compounding ills. Hidden beneath nearly every layer of culture are concepts just as shaky as Camping's ideas of the Second Coming. The sense of timelessness that the Amondawa have due to the structure of their language has been the bane of Western expansion for centuries.
When there is no sense of time, no possibility for a culmination of time, there is no impetuous for consumption. As Kali teaches so perfectly, Time and Death are intimately acquainted, and Death in its many guises is the most potent tool any Advertiser, Activist, Marketer, Propagandist, Leader or Judiciary can wield. When the devotee finds Kali, Time and Death cease to exist as opposition becomes union.
Without Death there is no end to pleasure, thus no excess or need to over indulge. Without excess there is no lack, therefore there can be no debt, and no one in debt to another. Take away the word Time and you unseat the entire program of Western civilization.
Both Capitalism and Marxism have their secular Raptures, the faithful taken up into the Utopian ideal of wealth in perpetuum mobile or equilateral distribution. In either case stasis, and thus Timelessness, are achieved. The Amondawa have no Adam Smith, no Karl Marx.
The Amondawa also escape the binding power of the progressive Myths that Smith and Marx created to sustain continued development of Western civilization. Without that ever elusive end point, there is no reason to keep going forward.
We continue to be fascinated by Camping's Rapture, 2012, Atlantis, Utopia and so many other narratives because the Amondawa exist. We need a Time killer, a culmination, a story that explains how we return to forgetfulness of Time, that little word that drives us. In all of our movement, however, there is always the sneaking suspicion that we may in fact be standing still. What the Amondawa teach us is that it's much easier than all that. There's no need for complex metaphysical acrobatics, it's as simple as forgetting a word.
***David Metcalfe is a researcher and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth. Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. The Long Now Foundation has made the unlikely decision to include one of his illustrations in their 10,000 year library vault. He also co-hosts The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.
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