The Corner

Spring Forward, Fall Back, Kneel to Your Masters

How did you spend the extra hour? The twice-yearly flipflop from standard to “daylight savings” time and back again may not be the most terrible thing the government does. But it is certainly the most irritating, the most unnecessary, the most maddeningly dependent on — and reinforcing of — the innate idiocy of all of us.

And make no mistake: The Standard/Daylight Dosey Doe is not some hugely popular activity mandated by broad societal consensus. The Super Bowl, Spring Break and high school 4/20 day all have more claim to being of, by and for the people than does the spring and fall manipulation of measured time that was first instituted under the dictatorial monster Woodrow Wilson and is regulated by the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Sporadic attempts have been made to defy this stupid practice in maverick areas like Arizona, but under the Uniform Time Act of 1966 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it’s harder to opt out of Standard/DST regulations than you might think. The courageous Hoosier dissent that lasted from 1970 until 2006 came to an end after years of pressure on Indiana. Interestingly a UC-Santa Barbara study of the before-and-after effects in the state found that per capita and total energy costs increased after Indiana caved, giving the lie to the common claim that time-faking saves us money and keeps us free from Arab oil sheiks. No matter: The purpose of law is never to solve the problem. It is to humiliate you, demonstrate the government’s power over you, and ensure that there is no area of your private life, no matter how small or insignificant, that is free from the bloody talons of the state.

There is also a left/right dynamic going on in DST/Standard — and as always, the left has won. When Republican Colorado state senator MaryAnne Tebedo tried to get rid of the spring/fall madness in 1999, she found that federal law prohibited her goal of maintaining daylight time all year round. She tried to put Colorado on year-round standard time instead. But her bill was defeated despite popular support, and Tebedo herself was trashed by the late liberal Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen, an early harbinger of the Centennial State’s emergence as the bluish-purple polity it is today.

There are several reasons DST/Standard is more irksome than higher-profile government encroachments on your life. First is the the sheer hubris of it, the assumption that the technocracy in its infinite strength can even overcome the natural tension between tropical and sidereal time, ease the autumnal sorrow in your heart that comes with seeing the days get shorter. As is usually the case, the technocracy is wrong: There is no evidence that the switcheroo does anything to help productivity or save energy.

There is also an emotional reason. My preference would be Tebedo’s solution — year-round-daylight time — because I prefer to rise in darkness than to end the workday in it. But year-round standard would also be preferable to spring-forward/fall-back. As indicated in the previous paragraph, there is nothing human ingenuity can do to change the earth’s inclination relative to the sun. From June 21 through December 21, the days will keep getting shorter no matter what the government does. But that is a natural process, and for our own mental health we should keep it that way. One of the few things that mitigates being a year closer to the grave is the quiet joy of observing the gradual shifting of the shadows, the barely noticeable changes in your perceptions from one day to the next. Spring-forward/fall-back throws all that out the window, and it undoubtedly heightens the depressing feeling of oncoming winter. Just as you’re really starting to notice how short the days are getting, they slam you with standard time. It’s 4:30 and you’re still half an hour away from quitting work, and already it’s dark.

In addition to these two, there is the people-are-idiots madness of the whole thing. No matter how many studies prove that the shift does nothing to keep children from getting hit by school buses on dark mornings, or enhance the well-being of milk delivery men, or turn us into slightly more efficient producers of wealth to be seized by the welfare/warfare state, there’s always some dope who says this is the best way, simply because he’s never been allowed to experience any other way. More recently, nudniks have been saying there’s nothing wrong with this dimwitted practice because, unlike our benighted ancestors who put a man on the moon, we have computers and phones that update themselves automatically. And then there are the nincompoops who are actually grateful for this unnecessary intrusion. The first sentence of this post is a joke, but many people actually do think “Oh kewl! I got an extra hour.” (Which is wasted anyway on a Sunday morning. And how come nobody ever complains about their lost hour in spring?) I suspect all these dingbats are late risers to boot, and late risers deserve no respect when it comes to daily scheduling. There is nothing more empowering than to flash a light in the eyes of some slugabed and announce, “It’s four-thirty, time for milking!”

Finally, there’s a philosophical problem. A few weeks back, Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace interviewed Demetrios N. Matsakis, timekeeper for the U.S. Naval Observatory. At the end of the profile, Matsakis revealed that he doesn’t wear a watch, because, in Wallace’s phrasing, he doesn’t want “the measurement of time — especially something as imprecise as a watch — to get confused with time as an objective reality.” God or the Big Bang or both created the time we all live under. Humanity, over many millennia, has adjusted itself to this solar schedule in ways that are wondrous to reflect on: organizing weeks and months with fantastic precision; even, after the discovery of the heliocentric universe, figuring out how to make a calendar that, with only a minor four-year adjustment, reconciles the vast differences among the solar, terrestrial and lunar cycles. (Hey, Muslims: If you’d get on the solar calendar you could schedule Ramadan permanently in December and not be so angry from having to fast through long summer days.) But we should accept the reality of universal time in comparison with which the allotted human life forms a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity. The passage of time, the lengthening and dwindling of the days, exists beyond us and above us. Stop trying to cheat it.

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