In Western society, and in industrial nations, we are wedded to clock time. Why? For economic reasons. We need to meet and exchange. And that is the success of the Western, industrial nations because we’re very much focused on clock time. If you’re three minutes late for a meeting with your boss, you’ll be punished. You can’t turn up five minutes late for an important meeting.
"Being enveloped in a society that has a fast pace of life has an effect on our perception of time – generally, people in Western societies moan about time passing quickly."
But there are countries that don’t rely as heavily on clock time. The social psychologist Robert Levine wrote a fascinating book, entitled A Geography of Time, on this. He had students from all over the world studying with him. And then during the summer vacation, when these students went back to their native countries, he gave them little tests to do – how fast you could they get a stamp in the post office? How accurate were the clocks? And so on, and so on. The results were clear. In cities and industrial nations, life is dictated by clock time, unlike in rural areas or developing countries.
So this has implications for how people perceive time. Being enveloped in a society that has a fast pace of life has an effect on our perception of time – generally, people in Western societies moan about time passing quickly. Conversely, having a more relaxed view of time occurs in not-so industrialised nations.
We feel time pressure because we’re focusing on time. I might be working on a paper, but I know that I’m expecting a phone call at a certain time. And that person will call at the right time and that’s perfect. It’s how we work. But in other societies you might have a person calling around noon. And that’s the difference. In those societies feel much more relaxed because you don’t feel pressured.
"In his book, Levine mentions Brazil where he gave courses and students would regularly turn up after the scheduled time."
I know that shortly I have a lunch appointment with my wife so I will be checking the clock. I can’t relax. Of course that date with my wife is important, but these are the pros and cons of the different ways of dealing with time.
In his book, Levine mentions Brazil, where he gave courses, and students would regularly turn up after the scheduled time. I have asked all my Brazilian friends and colleagues and they agree with this. Brazil is interesting, because you have all the ways of dealing with time in one country. Sao Paolo is an industrialised, Westernised city, but then you have towns in rural areas where time does not seem to pass at all.
You can also look within Europe for different attitudes towards time. The northern, Protestant countries and the southern Catholic or Christian orthodox countries both differ in economic wealth and in dealing with time. For instance, being industrious vs La Dolce Vita. Also within Italy you have a north and south divide, in both money and time. Wealth of time and wealth of money are inversely correlated.
Marc Wittmann is the author of Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time.
Robert Levine in his study of time and geography found that in Western societies people walk more quickly. Time can also affect personality types. In an office there will always be someone who is running around trying to complete their tasks, while another person seems much more relaxed. They will walk slower and they’re more mindful.
"People higher up the work ladder have more to do than those, let’s say, in the middle. But those that are on the top have more control over their time because they can tell others what to do."
So, you can immediately see how time affects your behaviour and your body language. If you’re feeling stressed - stress has a strong time component - you tend to be more fidgety. Whereas someone that is at rest and doesn’t feel stress will talk slower and make less movements with their arms and hands. This is something you immediately perceive and experience. If a person is stressed, their time is stressed. You immediately see it. Stress increases your arousal level because you feel that you have to fulfil these deadlines.
Those people that cope better with stress, it could be a sign that they’re higher up the social strata. There are empirical studies showing this. People higher up the work ladder have more to do than those, let’s say, in the middle. But those that are on the top have more control over their time because they can tell others what to do.
But in the middle hierarchal level others tell you what to do. Time constraints are imposed on you and you’re more at risk than when you’re on the top of the ladder and you impose it on others. If you look at top bankers they often seem very mindful, very quiet; they hold themselves well. People on the middle management level are much more fidgety, they talk quicker - they seem more hectic. This is a sign of hierarchy. If you’rein control of your time you can be more relaxed.
Another thing to take into consideration when discussing how time affects behaviour is the notion of Western societies glancing left when we remember things and to the right when we’re looking to the future. This is related to the X axis in mathematics when we plot graphs. Time moves to the right - it’s a cultural thing. In metaphors of time we say that we’re looking ahead, or in front of us. We look to the future. And we look back when discussing thing like memory. So in terms of body language, in front is the future and behind us is the past and memory.
"Another thing to take into consideration when discussing how time affects behaviour is the notion of Western societies glancing left when we remember things and to the right when we’re looking to the future."
This is dominant in most languages but there are some special cases in which indigenous cultures - the indigenous Aymara people in South America for example - have it the other way around. And if you think about it, this makes sense. They say the past is in front of me - because you can see it. You know what you did last Christmas. But you don’t know what you will do next Christmas or next week.
Permaculture is a word that was originally coined in the mid seventies by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, to describe the design system pioneered as a response to what they, and many others globally, saw as serious challenges to the survival of all of us. Originally derived from the words ‘PERMAnent agriCULTURE’, permaculture has gone beyond its roots in looking at strategies to create sustainable food growing methods to become a worldwide movement encompassing all aspects of how we as human beings can live harmoniously in relation to our Earth and its finite resources – A PERMAnent CULTURE.
Permaculture offers a radical approach to food production and urban renewal, water, energy and pollution. It integrates ecology, landscape design, organic gardening, architecture and agro-forestry in creating a rich and sustainable way of living. It uses appropriate technology giving high yields for low energy inputs, achieving a resource of great diversity and stability. The design principles are equally applicable to urban and rural dwellers.
From: Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
Permaculture uses a set of principles derived from the intimate observation of natural systems. These are an inspirational aspect of permaculture –a means of connecting each of us more deeply to nature’s patterns and wisdom – and of applying that understanding in our daily lives. They can be easily learnt by anyone.
Besides the principle, the bedrock in permaculture is its three guiding ethics. They are not exclusive to permaculture and were derived by looking at the commonalities of many worldviews and beliefs. They are therefore shared ethics, indeed shared by most of the world but it is their combined presence in a design that has a radical capacity for ecological and social transformation.
There can be no elites here – no plutocracies or oligarchies – all members of the community must be taken into account.
The original idea of permaculture was to design Permanent Agricultures that care for all living and non living things. This has grown to embrace a deep and comprehensive understanding of Earth Care that involves our many decisions, from the clothes we wear and the goods we buy to the materials we use for DIY projects. Though we can’t all build our own house or grow all of our own food, we can make choices about how we act and what we consume and conserve.
Embedded in permaculture is also the concept of Permanent Culture. How can we develop a permaculture if our people are expendable, uncared for, excluded? There can be no elites here – no plutocracies or oligarchies – all members of the community must be taken into account. People Care asks that our basic needs for food, shelter, education, employment and healthy social relationships are met. Nor can genuine People Care be exclusive in a tribal sense. This is a global ethic of fair trade and intelligent support amongst all people both at home and abroad.
Permaculture rejects the industrial growth model of the global North and aspires to design fairer more equitable systems that take into account the limits of the planet’s resources and the needs of all living beings.
The last ethic synthesises the first two ethics. It acknowledges that we only have one earth and share it with all living things and future generations. There is no point in designing a sustainable family unit, community or nation whilst others languish without clean water, clean air, food, shelter, meaningful employment, and social contact. Since the industrialised North uses the resources of at least three earths and much of the global South languishes in poverty, Fair Shares is an acknowledgement of that terrible imbalance and a call to limit consumption, especially of natural resources, in the North. Permaculture rejects the industrial growth model of the global North and aspires to design fairer more equitable systems that take into account the limits of the planet’s resources and the needs of all living beings.
Permaculture is primarily a thinking tool for designing low carbon, highly productive systems. It is becoming increasingly important and adopted as our planet heats and our finite natural resources dwindle. The permaculture design process is based on observing what makes natural ecosystems endure, establishing their defining principles and using them to mirror nature in whatever we chose to design. This can be gardens, farms, buildings, woodlands, communities, businesses – even towns or countries.
My partner, Tim Harland, and I have used the ethics and principles of permaculture to design an ecologically renovated house and garden, with all the elements you would expect: solar thermal panels, rainwater harvesting, passive solar design, an edible landscape of fruit and nut trees, a raised bed vegetable garden, wildflower meadows, a ‘fedge’ (fruiting hedgerow)… and so on.
In our locality, Tim and I have been involved in ‘recycling’ an old military base into the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire, which is an educational centre for children and adults for all things green. It also plays a key role in engaging the local community and providing a haven for many excellent projects such as a mental health outreach group and a drug rehabilitation programme. We have also used permaculture principles to design a publishing company, Permanent Publications, in terms of the materials we publish, marketing strategies and the nuts and bolts of running as green an office as humanly possible. Profit has never been our primary motive. What we are passionate about is providing practical, tested solutions for people and planet.
Human beings can either be the destroyers or the self-elected stewards of our planet. We have the capacity to put our ethics into action, literally to ‘walk our talk’. We can become stewards for our world whilst still maintaining an openness and humility to accept nature as perhaps our most powerful and wisest of teachers. What a culture we could build if these two perspectives were the bedrock of our civilisation!
It’s a fascinating question, and my initial challenge to it is: do we? The variations that we see in human populations are enough to warrant human behaviour reflecting them, and those differences in things like skin colour and facial features are the source of many conflicts and battles over human history – but I’m not sure it’s correct.
"If you look at the amount of genetic difference around the world, you see something very interesting – there is more genetic variation within Africa than in the rest of the world put together."
When it comes to the very obvious things, like skin colour, this is a phenomenon in which biology is effectively deceiving us. Because the number of genetic changes that result in all the skin hues we see around the world are a) very small – only a few genes, and b) isn’t reflected in the overall variation that we see within genomes. We do know that pale skin probably originated about 10,000 years ago, probably in an individual somewhere in Europe, and that all pale-skinned people inherit their pale skin-ness from that individual.
The human species, when it began in East Africa, was dark-skinned. But if you look at the amount of genetic difference around the world, you see something very interesting – there is more genetic variation within Africa than in the rest of the world put together. And that makes perfect sense, because only a small population left Africa, and effectively populated the entire world, which meant that there was not very much genetic variation within that group. The people who remained in Africa are much more genetically diverse as a result. If you take two black-skinned people from Uganda and Ethiopia, and compare their entire genomes with each other, they will be much more different to each other than either one of them is to anyone of European descent. A Chinese man is genetically more similar to a Ugandan than a Ugandan is to a man from Sudan.
"A big misunderstanding about evolution, especially human evolution, is that all of our physical characteristics are the result of positive natural selection"
So it’s gene/culture co-evolution. We have strong evidence that pale skin is an adaptation to northern climes with less sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency occurs when you’re not exposed to much sunlight, so reducing the amount of melanin, which blocks sunlight, increases the level of Vitamin D production. So that definitely looks like an advantageous trait which evolved in the people of northern Europe at that time, and has spread around the world through migration ever since.
There are other factors that convey obvious physical differences – but we don’t know whether they were selected. A big misunderstanding about evolution, especially human evolution, is that all of our physical characteristics are the result of positive natural selection. We just don’t know that. So many of our physical characteristics are just there because they’re there – a phenomenon in evolution called genetic drift. So we can broadly say that East Asians have a different skin tone, and certain typical characteristics – thicker black hair, different density of sweat glands, almost all of them have a different shape of the back of their teeth than almost everyone else on Earth, and the fold of skin above the eyes which gives them a distinctive shape. A lot of those characteristics that we associate with East Asian looks come from a single mutation that occurred approximately 31,000 years ago somewhere in Middle Asia.
Does that mean that they were selected, and that this conferred some great advantage to the people who had it, compared with people who didn’t? We don’t know. Probably not. It’s more likely that this is just something that happened, and spread through a population over the following tens of thousands of years. What that means is there’s a genetic difference which means these people look a bit like this. Does it mean anything biologically? No. Not at all.
Great Prime Ministers are winners. Attlee won Labour its first-ever majority with the landslide in 1945 and his government delivered an enormously transformative manifesto, practically in its entirety. The NHS, co-founding NATO, the end of empire, rebuilding the economy after the War, and the nationalisation of industry – these things were to shape Britain for decades ahead. The Attlee government set the framework of postwar politics.
Attlee practised a collective model of leadership that was extremely effective after the convulsions of the War and Churchill’s idiosyncratic and charismatic rule. In person he was not overbearing by any means but he was skilled at manufacturing and managing consensus, at keeping discord at bay in a Cabinet full of strong personalities like Ernest Bevin, Herbert Morrison, Aneurin Bevan, Stafford Cripps and so on. After the larger-than-life, autocratic Churchill, Attlee was a reassuring figure on the national scene – a kind of understanding, trustworthy and reassuring Captain Mainwaring, the sort of man you want around in a time of national difficulty.
Attlee’s opponents tended to underestimate him, often fatally so. The Tories attacked him mercilessly as a non-entity when he was in office. Churchill is reputed to have said that an empty taxi turned up and Mr Attlee got out. His own party firebrands often felt frustrated at his measured approach, feeling that he followed rather than led. And yet whenever the dust settled, somehow Attlee would still be standing and would be seen to have made the sensible decision.
When Attlee’s government was finally beaten in 1951 by Churchill, it was largely because Labour had run out of steam. The party was faced with the choice of further nationalisation or consolidation. There was a lot of infighting instead of new ideas, and the Conservatives finally got their act together. And it has to be said that one of Attlee’s weaknesses was that he was bad at timing general elections.
Calling elections in 1950 and then 1951 were both terrible moves. There had been a huge reorganisation of seats that favoured the Conservatives, plus Labour was campaigning in conditions of austerity – not unlike now. Because Attlee had rebuilt the economy with an emphasis on exports and industry rather than domestic living standards, Churchill was able to exploit the fact that Britain was still under rationing. Labour went out of power for 13 years.
Politicians’ reputations do change over the years and it’s fair to say that Attlee’s declined quite drastically afterwards. By the time of his death in 1967 he was written-off by some writers as a sort of second-rate mediocrity. By the 1970s some historians were actually rating Macmillan above Attlee.
But the more we look in depth at his record, the more it grows in stature. It was only in the 1980s, when Thatcher began to sweep away much that Attlee had stood for, that we started to see the first proper biographical and historically informed appreciations of what he achieved. Since then his reputation has only grown. Attlee has topped my poll of postwar Prime Ministers among politics academics for the third time running; there’s growing consensus around the argument that he was not merely a effective Prime Minister but a great one.
No. There’s a common belief, based on research by psychologists, that you learn best two to four hours after waking up. I don’t think that’s true, and it’s different for everyone anyway. For instance, when I was at school, and even now, studying in the evenings and late at night has worked better for me.
Even if there’s evidence that two to four hours after waking up is the best time to learn, that doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can learn, or that you can’t overcome it through effort, or by being passionate about education. Research from University Hospital Zurich says that sleeplessness damages the brain, while other researchers say we have to let teenagers sleep late. But they’re going to have to get used to getting up earlier at some point. Life’s like that.
"Children learn all over the world in different situations – including in war zones – at all different times of the day, but do really well."
There are too many people trying to find ways to address problems that aren’t really there – such as the ‘best time to study’. Most educators feel that young people have so many barriers to learning, whether it’s their home backgrounds or their psychological make-up. They’ll ask “why aren’t they doing better?”, as if young people aren’t up for learning. It’s a very negative viewpoint.
The idea that children have different learning styles or can only learn at certain times of the day is a sign that many people have given up on teaching. It’s also a way of blaming children for not learning as well as people think they should. Behind it is what I’ve called a ‘diminished concept of children and young people’ belief that they are unable to cope with education or life in general.
Children learn all over the world in different situations – including in war zones – at all different times of the day, but do really well – and that’s because they’re being taught by people who believe in them, and believe in education.
I don’t believe there’s an ideal time of day to learn, but I do have a tip about studying. A teacher in a school I visited once told me that children in her school couldn’t retain anything. I knew immediately what the problem was – it wasn’t the children; it was the teaching. I once worked with an American teaching scheme for children with learning difficulties which had built-in repetitions – up to 170 in all, but, for someone of average learning ability you needed 24 repetitions in order to learn and retain information. The more often you say things, and the more clearly you say them, the more people will learn, so repetition is really important. Teachers and parents should remember that when they say “how often have I told you?”. If it’s not between 24 and 170 times, then it’s not enough.