A harsh challenge to the cult of early

I’ve just discovered that the website Vice runs a feature called Cry-Baby of the Week, and then there’s an annual round-up called Cry-Baby of the Year. In this context, “cry-baby” seems to mean a person or organisation who overreacted to a specific provocation. That’s not actually what “cry-baby” means, but anyway: this year’s round-up includes someone I’d kind of like to shake by the hand for challenging the cult of early so very very thoroughly.

Number 8 is Bill Riley, a prosecutor who sent a bin collector to jail for starting his shift early . Harsh? Yes. Fair? Well…

I recently moved house. In my previous house, I was routinely woken early by the bin-men outside. Yelling at each other. Running the lorry’s engine. Throwing glass as hard as they possibly could so it smashed as loudly as possible. Yelling at each other some more. In any other context, having a gang of young men outside your house during the hours of darkness, shouting and throwing glass, is a big fucking problem and possibly a reason to call the police. But in the context of the bin-men, they’re just hard-working lads doing their jobs and obviously they can’t hear each other over the noise of the engine so of course they have to yell.

The time they reached my house would start at a bearable 7am-ish, and then gradually creep earlier and earlier and earlier until it was more like 5:30am. Then someone (sometimes me) would complain to the council. The council line was: “We’re doing our best. We’ve got a contract that prevents them starting too early and they’re obviously breaking the terms of that contract; we’ll have a word.” The other council line was “But we can’t have them starting too late, because then they’ll be blocking the main roads during rush hour and we must make life as easy as possible for people in cars.” (I paraphrase.)  Once I said: “Well, why not have them do the main roads first, when it’s really early, and then do the residential areas closer to rush hour?” This idea was rejected because maximising your route for residents’ convenience means you can’t maximise it for efficiency. Good old efficiency.

Anyway, the council would “have a word” and then it would be OK for a while (“OK” meaning that they were yelling and smashing glass outside my house at 6:30am instead of 5:30am), and then the start time would start creeping earlier and earlier again. (Not long before I moved, they finally adopted a policy of switching the engine off while the bin lorry was stationary, which meant they didn’t have to yell over it. Yes, it was possible all along. Who knew?)

Listen. Nobody starts work at 5am rather than 7am by accident. The other way round? Yes. It’s called oversleeping. But nobody starts their engine-running, glass-smashing, screaming shift two hours early by accident. They do it because they think they can get away with it, and the reason they think they can get away with it (when someone turning up two hours late would be in deep trouble) is because of the cult of early. And, obviously, they do it because they’re a selfish cunt who figures that because they’re awake, everybody else should be awake too. That’s the kind of logic that’s only really acceptable in someone under two years old.

The main article about the case begins plaintively: “American society has long placed a special value on rising early for a hard day’s work. But this is apparently not always the case in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs…

Pure cult-of-early bullshit. What about the nurses, factory workers and so on who work later shifts and get to bed at 2am? Does their work not have value? Is it OK that they get woken within hours of going to bed so that someone who’s already been told not to start work before 7am can start work at 5am and feel smug about it?

Yes, sending him to jail was an overreaction. And yes, this case has all the hallmarks of the terrible, terrible American justice system: surprise prosecutor when the bin-man thought he was just going to court to pay a fine, plea bargain, probably a big chunk of racism.

But just imagine a world where everybody who “accidentally” starts work two hours early and wakes up hundreds of sleeping people actually gets a punishment in line with their selfish, shitty behaviour, instead of being treated like a fucking hero for having a body-clock that’s more lark than owl. That’s what a world without the cult of early could look like. But I’d prefer it if we could get there without putting too many more early-birds in prison.

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