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01 January, 2010

A.D. Disorder

With the new year, some people are wondering how to pronounce 2010. Twenty-ten, two-thousand and ten, and so on. The people who in my childhood would pronounce the year Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-five are all gone now, and the odds of Twenty Hundred and Ten look pretty slim. I like the stripped-downness and rhythm of TWO-oh-one-oh, personally, but then I'm an outlier on most matters of popular taste.

More to the point, it's too hard for me to think of 2010 as anything other than an accidental abstraction. There are all sorts of calendars. Chinese, Hebrew, and Mayan Long Count all have us beyond a piddly 2010. Even the Western calendar has been messed with and re-set a few times, and in its present form is not even endorsed by the mish-mash of gods and ancient celebrities whose names appear on its months and days. January 1 of Year 1 on this calendar does not even correspond with any particular significant day in the life of the Nazarene honored by the year count.

Look at A.D., Anno Domini, or as the pious must intone on solemn dates, "The Year of Our Lord." First of all, he never used this calendar, and will probably mark his second arrival on a Hebrew calendar. While Jesus is implied, A.D. literally stands for "The Years of our Domination." History may be written by the victors, but there has to be some higher level of victory to be able to write the calendar. Every time a non-Christian signs a contract with the A.D. date, the crusade wins a small battle. When the world celebrates the New Year on January 1, the global mind becomes occupied territory, part of the western dominion.

Before empires economic and military, before the iron hand of the Church had strewn saints' days on a calendar to be used throughout it's earthly domain, every fiefdom's master was free to make his own calendar, but there was no reason to think it would be used over the mountains. The variety must have been stunning, and it would be interesting to see what systems of reckoning existed.

For the most part, though, calendars of the distant past probably reflected the only truly sound dominions. Linked to the moon's cycle, or the solstice, or the caribou migration, a calendar can claim some empirical basis, some relevance beyond the aspirations of a prophet, or, as is more often the case, the political animals who invoke the prophet.

The further we have moved from time markers anchored in the physical world, the less sense it makes. Why should the new year not be the moment that the days stop getting shorter and start lengthening? (Then the southern hemisphere could have their own new year, offset half a year from ours.) Why should months be 28, 30, or 31 days (not to mention 29 every 4th year), instead of one lunar cycle?

The simplest explanation is that our calendar is a cobbled-together instrument of domination, such as the Bush administration. Like that gang of thieves and torturers, the Christian calendar is not a conspiracy, which suggests some kind of secret agenda. It tells you how many years of domination have passed, and has no term limit. Nobody elected it, but we're all stuck with it. Every time we celebrate the New Year on January 1--or crazier still, structure our economy on a fiscal year starting July 1--we reinforce the dominion of capitalists who use an ancient Judean socialist revolutionary as their shill. We drift from the everlasting life of the tides and moon, the seasons and solstice, and become subject to abstraction.

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