The times they aren’t a changin’

With the end of every December, comes at least three weeks of Best-Of and Worst-Of list for the year that is about to end.  I’m certainly not complaining, as I happen to like to reminisce about the journey that we all took for 12 months.  It’s fun! (and I’ve done it myself more than once)

And at the end of every December of every year that ends in ’9′, there comes a whole other slew of similar lists, relating newsworthy items from the past decade! It’s an interesting mind-game that we get to play to try and put us in the same head-space that we were in 3,5,7, and 10 years ago to make a list worth reading.  Professional and amateur writers also like to do it because it’s an easy and fun way to find content during the holidays (now if you don’t mind, kindly look away from behind the curtain) so that J. Jonah Jameson (in the context of Skeptic North, I guess that’s me) doesn’t storm into your office demanding that exposé of Spider-Man.

Pictured: Me, apparently.
Simply put, it’s fun to reminisce and to collect the meaningful, formative events in our past, and what kind of list we put together may tell us or our friends a little bit about who we are as a person.  At the very least, we get to engage in a little bit of harmless navel-gazing.
However, this post is not about lists, but rather the shifts in time that inspires them.
Have you ever noticed that every year, there is always a plentiful supply of skeptics who assure us that they know full-well the arbitrariness of measurement and collation?  End-of year lists are but one example, and they sit next to birthdays, anniversaries, or a particular achievement whose only marked accomplishment is simply arriving at a large number in the base-10 system.  It’s as if we feel the need to apologize for arbitrariness so as to not offend some bizarre idealized super-skeptic who makes no decision that is not carefully weighed in detail, and in the utmost of rationality.
Two weeks ago, Skeptic North’s 100th post was my own post about the Sauna Ray. I didn’t even realize it until I looked up just now.  100 posts is hardly a noteworthy achievement in a blog that posts a new entry (mostly) every day, but what about when we hit 1000 posts?  10,000 posts?  I should think that numbers in those ranges deserve special notice, because getting that high a post-count is rather hard to do.  Obviously, 1000 posts is not as difficult to attain as 1001, and it’s more difficult than 999*. But do we really need to take every opportunity to assure the reader that we understand the arbitrariness? Do we really need to apologize for taking simple pleasures in the way we organize our time, and our lives?
I’m not here to point fingers at any other skeptic, as indeed, I am guilty of the same kind of apology.  When I turned 30, I tried to intellectualize it, assuring myself that it was just an arbitrary number in base-10 (which we only use because we have 10 phalanges on our hands), counting the number of revolutions around an insignificant star, and if that star wasn’t there, the same amount of time would still have passed, and my bones would creak in exactly the same way when I got up that morning.
Lots of skeptics do the same thing.  I won’t name names here, but chances are, you frequent one of the many skeptic resources where someone takes a moment to point out that time and counting in base-10 is just an arbitrary human construct, and that yes, we all indeed know better.  Chances are that a good number of the people reading this have done the same thing when conversing with other skeptics at some point.
I ask this, in my most non-confrontational, excessively polite and Canadian way: Why?  Why do we feel the need to apologize / reassure each other that we realize that we engage in this ostensibly silly practice of indulging our arbitrariness? Why is it not enough to just celebrate a 30th birthday, a 100th podcast, 20 years as an organization, or the significance of a decade past?
I really would like your thoughts on this.
*It’s 1 more difficult.

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  • Steve Thoms

    Steve is a professional music teacher living in Kitchener, Ontario. He studied recorded music production at Fanshawe College, and Political Studies/History at Trent University, where he specialized in political economy and global politics. He is an amateur astronomer, and an award-winning astro-photographer. Steve also runs the blog, Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic." can can be followed on Twitter, @SomeCndnSkeptic.