Switzerland (Cause It’s 1987 All the Time)

June 11, 2008

The good Dr. …Butwithawhimper’s last post about Switzerland is not so much a critique of Swiss neutrality as it is a eulogy for the country. Still every eulogy is also an encomium, a word of praise or panegyric. His greatest argument: neutrality was once a virtue, but now detracts. It has moved beyond its time and place and is now nothing but pure isolationism. My God, Switzerland isn’t even in the Euro zone! Bully for us, I guess, as the Franc is still trading at less than the dollar. But I have to admit that I had not realized just how un-cosmopolitan the Swiss were before reading Notwithabang’s post. Not only are the Swiss not engaging in disparaging Russian culture, the Swiss are determined to maintain their exclusivity at all costs. Swiss citizenship, and the luxurious tax benefits that come with it, is one of the most exclusive citizenships in the world (at the very least behind The Principality of Sealand): applicants need to have lived in Switzerland for over a decade, be acclimated to the law and culture (thought they can still dress in inclimate clothing), and speak the local language (French, Italian, German and sometimes Romansh). Yet that’s not all; prospective Swiss have to apply for citizenship to both their federal government and the local municipality whose citizens then vote on the applicants’ status, sometimes, until recently by secret ballot. Just take a moment to consider what this means. No offense to the great people of Little Rock, the Paris of Arkansas (take that Paris, Arkansas!), and their in-need-of-expansion Streetcar, but, would you really want citizenship in the greater US decided at such a local level? No, there isn’t even a functioning sense of “cosmopolitanism” within Switzerland. Instead, Switzerland is held captive by that same rabid impulse for localism or locavdom that demonizes California beets but is all too ready to appease when it comes to the Mangosteen. In many ways, Switzerland is the antithesis of the cosmopolitan community.

Yet Dr. …Butwithawhimper’s rhetoric cannot help but undercut his argument, pointing out a significant virtue of Switzerland. Our author twice makes reference to Swiss time-pieces: he quotes Orson Welles on the insignificance of the Cuckoo Clock, and dismisses their “overpriced watches.” However, Swiss watches, though expensive, are hardly without purpose as they accomplish two tasks necessary for the functioning of a society. Firstly, Swiss watches are an integral agent of cultural transmission. The slogan of Patek Philippe is, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” (emphasis in Google search) If the TV show Mad Men has taught us anything it’s that advertising represents both truths and diversions, symbolism and literalism. Don Draper explains in the Pilot that “Advertising is based on one thing–Happiness.” Instead of referencing the reports that smoking is bad for your health, Draper diverts and creates the nonsensical advertising campaign, “It’s toasted.” While true, this has nothing to do with your health. And therein is the genius. Likewise, the Patek advertising campaign establishes its status as an agent of cultural transmission without ever asking if its a good thing. You look after the watch for the next generation, you take an active role in stewarding the future. The symbolic exemplar of a state.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the precision in Swiss watchery has enabled it to get a significant advantage in the Space-Time Prism. As invented by Torsten Hagerstrand, the Space-Time prism is a way of evaluating urban travel networks.

A space-time path represents the path taken by an individual, but any one path is only one of many that can actually be taken by a person in a given amount of time. A space-time “prism” is the set of all points that can be reached by an individual given a maximum possible speed from a starting point in space-time and an ending point in space-time. (more)

Most urban planners, researchers, or enthusiasts studying the space-time prism focus on the speed/distance network and treat time as a given. However, people exist in different times. For example, someone traveling to the central time zone from the eastern time zone has an extra hour to make the trip, and, if flying, may even arrive before she took-off. The reverse is also true. Simply put, time is not a constant. The Swiss have nefariously exploited the flexibility of time in their watch design. Their incredible watch making precision enables them to take advantage of even the most minute temporal variances. Touche, Switzerland.

Still, one other point of Dr. …Butwithawhimper’s needs addressing: his claim that Switzerland is a proper noun. True. But, in this age of googlism, is anything still just a proper noun?

Ultimately, however, I agree with the conclusion that Switzerland has to go. I only fear that with their advantages in time we’ll never be able to catch them.

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