Now Is Not the Time
What’s so special about now? To maintain perspective, we need to be aware of our past and alert to the future.
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Human beings have an overwhelming tendency to overemphasize the significance of the present without considering context or historical perspective. For many, here and now is as good as it gets - we have steadily progressed from a savage past, and all we have to look forward to is the great unknown. But if our literature and cinema are anything to go by, many are convinced that the future will indeed be dystopian. At the same time, arguments abound that living in the moment is a key to happiness and success.
However, to privilege the present over the past or future, Brett Bowden argues, is to engage in tempocentrism. More than a mere preoccupation with the present, tempocentrism involves comparing and judging the past in relation to the present, with the tendency to assume that the present isn’t only materially and qualitatively different from the past but also superior to it, often morally so.
Yet tempocentrism, a mistaken belief in the unprecedented nature of events going on around us, brings with it a skewed perspective loaded with bias and prejudice. Requiring just as much ignorance and arrogance as Eurocentrism - tempocentrism implies that the present is somehow superior to the past because we live in it now. The point, however, is not to suggest that there is not something special about the present - there might well be - but now is not the time to decide whether it is more significant than previous moments, or those still to come. Depending on the issue or event in question, the time for that is later … possibly hundreds or thousands of years later.
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We privileged Western humans treat time like a commodity – we want to save it, freeze it, reverse it perhaps, or more usually, speed it up. We are obsessed with a small chunk of history, our history, from which the West emerges preeminent, satisfied. Now is Not the Time takes the obsession with the present to task for its lack of context and historical perspective, its universalism and arrogance. Thinking with big history, and thinking in ways that are disconcerting for moderns, Brett Bowden’s powerful book prompts us to ruminate on the problem of tempocentrism as one which is political and imperial. It raises profound questions for people working across many disciplines of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Engaging and quick, this is however, a slow burning and bold intervention which will unsettle and provoke readers for a good while after they finish the final page. ~ Erika Cudworth, De Montfort University, co-author of The Emancipatory Project of Posthumanism and Posthuman International Relations
Bowden combines erudition with remarkable readability. Now is Not the Time is an eloquent call to embrace the flow of time lest our hasty judgments obscure our understanding of the present. ~ Nelly Lahoud, US Army War College, author of The Bin Laden Papers
How should we think about the relationship between past, present, and future? Brett Bowden offers an erudite and insightful answer. At once a meditation on the character of historical analysis and a pointed challenge to the manifold dangers of presentism, Now is Not the Time is a welcome addition to scholarship. ~ Duncan Bell, University of Cambridge, author of the award-winning Dreamworlds of Race: Empire and the Utopian Destiny of Anglo-America
Like Saramago’s Blindness, this book reminds us of the absences in our gaze at time, history and the present. It offers an important contribution to humanity, eloquently and persuasively arguing for a deeper appreciation of vision and time and therefore our lives and impacts on this planet. A beautiful book about the importance of seeing thoughtfully. ~ Maria Bargh, Professor of Politics and Maori Studies, Te Kawa a Maui, Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka
I was drawn into the vortex from the outset with this notion of tempocentrism. It made me wonder if I do have a skewed or even deluded perspective about the world as I experience it. Am I biased? Should I compare this moment to those that have come before? And how can I possibly make any judgement on what is still to come? So many new questions, meaning perhaps Now is (Not) the Time to contemplate so much more. ~ Leigh Radford OAM, President, Royal Geographical Society of South Australia