as if / Ethics / Philosophy / Thoughts

New Year

The year is an as-if-construction. We pretend that at this time, one period is ending and a new one is going to start. In different cultures, years and months were and are counted differently and the beginning of the new year is put on different days. In the Western European tradition I am coming from, today is the last day of the year.

As we can see from the names of some months, this was not always the case even in this same tradition. The names September, October, November, December (from the Latin numbers “septem” (seven), “octo” (eight), “novem” (nine) and “decem” (ten)) show that December once was the tenth month. February was the last (hence it is the shortest month that received the rest of the days and the leap days) and the new year started in march, when (at least in the Mediterranean) the weather started getting warmer again. Some historical accident shifted the beginning of the year. The calendar, originally Egyptian, was reformed several times and at some time a counting of years was introduced.

In a way, the calendar is a game and I am taking part in it. So collectively we pretend that today “2013” comes to a close and “2014” begins. Many of us will meet friends or go to some party. We will collectively pretend that a new year starts at midnight. This will happen at different times, depending on where on the planet we are. My sister in New Zealand is going to do this a couple of hours before me here in Germany, so for several hours, we will have 2013 and 2014 at the same time, until 2013 finally peters out somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, when most of us have forgotten it already.

As is often the case, as-if-constructions result in strange anomalies in their murky border areas. If you are on the date line, you may experience the special fun of standing with one foot in 2013 and one foot in 2014. For the rest of us, the change between the years is a short moment in time. What is the new year going to bring to us?

The new year will be as nice or as terrible as all of us collectively are going to make it. As individuals and as groups, we are playing games, we view the world as-if this and as-if that. And we often invest our emotions into those as-if-constructions. We are enclosed inside as-if-bubbles. We do not agree upon the rules of all those games we are playing and not even on which games there actually are.

As long as we have a “live and let live” attitude, this is fine because only by force and violence could we all be pressed into playing the same game. We don’t all need to play the same games, as long as it is clear that we are playing. But some of us are involved in games that pretend to be reality, and this results in hatred, fighting and destruction. Not all of us are going to celebrate tonight.

Maybe, as a first step to an improvement, we might try and exercise our ability to view the as-if-nature of a lot of things around us, of roles and institutions and things, to see that we are involved in games. You can build for yourself an as-if-o-scope. This is easy to do, you don’t need any parts for it because it can be done purely using as-if-technology. Equipped with this useful device, you can see these games as what they are and find out how they work.

The house becomes a pile of stones, the car becomes a lump of metal and plastic. Gold is just a mineral. The football is just a piece of leather. The goal line is just a white line on the grass. Now you can decide if you really want to attach yourself to these things emotionally. I am not saying we should not do so at all, but we should do so consciously, where we see it is worth it.

Stepping out of all those games for a moment allows us to see each other just as human beings again. Let us smile at each other.

I wish everybody a good new year!

(The animated picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dateline-animation-3deg-borderonly-180px.gif.)

7 thoughts on “New Year

  1. I have no degree in philosophy. However, I see asification (I am not sure what term would suffice) as highly useful (beyond useful really). I hope you have a wonderful new year. I am taking a closer look at your work. In doing so I am sure to gain insight to start my new year.

    • I don’t share some of the ideas common in many brands of Buddhism and I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, but I don’t deny that some of my thoughts have a lot in common with Buddhism and owe something to it.

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