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On Waiting

June 9, 2013

Raymond Tallis in Philosophy Now:

imagesWaiting reflects our helplessness, our inability to control the pace as well as the course of events. We may wait singly or collectively, privately or publicly. We may have to wait because others are before us, acknowledging our subordination to ‘the General Other’ – bowing to those social constraints that, as the sociologist Émile Durkheim pointed out, are as real as physical forces. Taking our place in the queue, we surrender our position at the centre of the universe, accepting, in a gathering of ‘anyones’, a place determined solely by the time of joining. The intensity of our resentment of queue-jumpers reflects the depth of this aspect of the social contract. (…)

Waiting transforms time into delay and we bear delay with less equanimity if we think it avoidable. Waiting for a late train, we mill about, alert for the announcement that boarding is to start. At the signal, the milling of the crowd is transformed into a swarming, and a broad river of intentions is shaped into something like a queue as it slows to pass through human and mechanical barriers and onto the platform.

We may wait patiently or impatiently. Waiting for someone to finish the sentence, we want to shout ‘Spit it out, man’. We may betray our impatience by pacing up and down, drumming on the table, or sighing. Or we may use the same involuntary events deliberately to signify our impatience and coerce the thoughtless, or sluggish, or merely incompetent, into speeding up. We resent being kept waiting even when the alternative is not in the slightest bit attractive. (…)

To be kept waiting is to be designated as comparatively unimportant. As Roland Barthes said, to keep others waiting is the ancient prerogative of power. The one who is loved arrives late, and the one who loves tries not to arrive early. Dysfunctional states and oppressive regimes make their citizens wait for goods, services, papers, and justice. But even those who wish to serve others find they may cause their clients to wait. There is no profession that does not have its waiting rooms. Slavery and paid employment both entrain much waiting: all jobs makes us waiters. [More]

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 9, 2013 10:17 AM

    Wow, incredible thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    Julien Haller

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