Life is rhythmic. Think about your daily routine, what signals the beginning and endings of the movements of your day? Perhaps, your day begins with the signal of your alarm clock or the buzz of your cell phone. What is your day oriented around? What time do you have to be at work? When do you go home? Our everyday lives have a certain rhythm to them; the rhythm we most often live to is that of capitalism. However, our lives are not mono-rhythmic; varieties of different logics and rhythm’s vie for our attention and energies. For the Christian, the rhythm of life is the church and liturgy. In this discourse on time and rhythm I’m presenting two ideas: 1.) the rhythm of the church and capitalism are incongruous 2.) the body and rhythm of the church have an intrinsic potential for a movement against capitalism.
In the political left and in Marxist theory capitalism can become a scare tactic or used in an intensely abstract and unhelpful for way. Due to this, let it be clear what is intended by capitalism here. Capitalism is an entity, which holds a certain logic at its core and carries out this internal logic through external apparatuses. There is a dual logic to the entity of capitalism. The guiding logics of the capitalist body is accumulation and speed.
Marx’s conception of value and production in the capitalist political economy are the basis for the core of the capitalist entity. Marx says,
“Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it; the more idle and unskillful the labourer, the more valuable his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogenous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power. The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society counts there here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units.” (Capital, 442)
What is to be gleaned from Marx’s words is that the labor that produces value is a labor that has been abstracted en masse without differentiating between workers. Clearly this is different from past modes of labor in which artisans produce a commodity. Industrial capitalism extracts labor as “one uniform labour power” from workers. This separates labor power and commodities from workers.
In light of the way industrial capitalism extracts labor, it can be said that the successful capitalist finds ways to extract the most labor from their workers. Industrialized modes of production works toward extracting the greatest amount of labor power in the shortest amount of time.
Though we no longer labor under industrial modes of production in the west, technological revolutions have been made to continue the abstraction and extraction of our labor. The computer and the Internet are the new means of labor extraction in the United States. One is no longer signaled to the workday by the whistle of the factory; rather the ding of email or buzz of the cell phone activates the cognitive laborer. In the 21st century labor has become increasingly cognitive and because of the advancements in technology one can get work orders or assignments from their boss anywhere. The eight-hour workday has been lost. One receives work in and out of the physical work place. Consider the Information Technology technician who is always on call. Regardless of the time of day, if a crucial system goes down the technician must perform their work duty.
In Paul Virilio’s text Speed and Politics, Virilio explains the effects of speed on territory. Virilio tells us, “Territory has lost its significance in favor of the projectile…With the supersonic vector (airplane, rocket, airwaves), penetration and destruction become one.” (Speed and Politics, 149.) However, labor is not shackled even to the supersonic vector, labor is extracted at the speed of light through fiber optic cables.
The essential question of struggles against work is always “what is to be done?” There are a great many people who do not like their daily work. To be clear, work is the activity that one sells one’s labor power for with regularity. This is not true across the board, some love what they do for a living. However, even if one likes one’s job one has to recognize their precarity. One could quickly lose one’s job either to the capitalist system or to illness or injury. How can we take control of our labor? The classical Marxist answer is solidarity, unions and strikes. I find a great sympathy in these means of refusal, but Christians have a means of refusal already at their disposal. Simply, living in a different rhythm of life.
The Christian church has inherited a certain rhythm of life from the two thousand-year tradition that precedes the present day church. Christians are called to a kind of living that is not governed by accumulation and work, but instead joy, love and community. These Christian virtues are shown in the liturgy of the church. Coming together with one’s community in daily prayer is in itself a subversive act. The liturgy of the church calls to us to a slow start of the day. Consider a Morning Prayer service, fifteen to twenty of minutes of sitting, standing and prostration. Why go to work when you can be with those who you love?
Most importantly the Christian liturgy invites a slow pace into our lives. Church gives us a space of non-work that is slow and intentional. The logic of living together in community is slow. Capitalism pushes us into faster modes of life, don’t read, don’t think, just work. In church we read together, at a slow gait that lets everyone participate. Simply put, capitalism doesn’t have time for church. Work wants us to be connected, plugged in and waiting to respond. The church community wants us to be slow, intentional, joyful and full of love.
Communal prayer and liturgy is a type of refusal to work. Rather than answering the call of one’s cell phone and going to work, answer the call to prayer. Listen to the bells of the church ring and take a nice detour. The Benedictine slogan Ora et Labora can be used to diabolical ends. If you have to work, work for something you love. The rhythm of daily prayer and living out the liturgy can open up to a new way of being; a community built on love and joy. The Christian community ought embrace building a community built out of common love and support.