New, Improved Positivist Calendar

There is something deeply unsatisfying about the calendar we all use, for three reasons. The months have a variable number of days – 28, 30 or 31 – and I have to remember a mnemonic to keep them straight. Thirty days hath September, April, June and November; all the rest have 31, except February, which has 28. Any day of the week can therefore be potentially associated with the number of any day in the month.

The calendar is out of sync with the seasons. New Year’s Day usually occurs 10 days after the Winter solstice, which is either the real start or finish of the year, depending on your point of view. This error perpetuates throughout the calendar year.

And the calendar is a product of Christian culture, starting with the mythical birth of its founder. I don’t deny that someone existed to set it all in motion, I just don’t accept that this figure necessarily resembled the hagiography. More fundamentally, the Christian insistence on a 7 day cycle derived from the Bible means that the weeks do not fit into an astronomical year without 1 or 2 days being left over.

Therein lies the problem. It takes the Earth an intractable 365 and a bit days to orbit the Sun. The “and a bit” is neatly taken care of by making every 4th year a leap year. But 365 days? It would be so much easier if it only took 364 days. Then you could have 13 months of 28 days, comprising 4 weeks of 7 days each. Mondays would occur on the 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd day of each month, and so on.

Auguste Comte

That is exactly what occurred to Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a French Positivist philosopher, whose work was instrumental in founding the discipline of sociology. His solution was to take the 365th day out of the calendrical year and make it a separate day in honour of the dead. In leap years, the 366th day was similarly removed in celebration of holy women. This was Comte’s Positivist calendar.

In essence, a simple and elegant solution. But he screwed it up. Comte wanted to replace all the Saints’ Days in the French calendar with Secular Saints’ Days. Each day and month had one such associated with it. For example, today in the Comtean calendar is Friday, Bichat 19, with the day dedicated to Berthollet. I’m guessing that nobody except the writer of the Wikipedia pages has heard of these two gentlemen. Hopeless. Let’s get rid of saints of all stripes. Even to suggest such a scheme indicates that Comte was in logical fallacy mode, relying on the argument from authority.

Then he compromised his brilliant idea even further, by starting his year on January 1st of the Christian calendar! Instead of taking the opportunity of aligning his calendar with the seasons, by placing the extra day on the winter solstice, he makes it New Year’s Eve instead. Thus the new Positivist calendar is as out of sync as the traditional one.

The basic idea is perfect, and I propose to rescue it from Comte’s obfuscations. Away with the secular saints. Place Solstice Day on the winter solstice. In a leap year, put the 366th day (Leap Day) between the 14th and 15th of the new 7th month, which I will call Sol. That leaves only the problem of where to position Year One.

Charles Darwin

This should obviously be a significant year. Christians use the supposed birth of Jesus; Comte used 1789, the year of the “Great Crisis” of the French Revolution. Well, it’s bit Francocentric, isn’t it? I understand that Comte was a man of his times, but political regimes change constantly.

Year One should be significant for the whole world. I considered 1809, the year of Charles Darwin’s birth, but that seemed no better than building a shrine around his birthday. It’s what we do that matters.

So I propose 1859, the year he published  On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, a book that shook the world to its foundations and revolutionized our understanding of human life. The fact that many people continue to be brainwashed into thinking otherwise does not detract from one of the most comprehensively verified theories in science. Here are the depressing statistics.

Since I can only speak for myself, and since a blog is the perfect place to do just that, I will add an Aside each day, giving the Darwinian date and linking to this post. There will also be a sun icon in the Where I Stand section that links to the New, Improved Positivist Calendar. This calendar uses the winter solstice as the starting/ending date of each year. AE for After Evolution, making pre-1859 dates BE, Before Evolution.

Today’s date is Solstice Day, 152/153 AE. (See the calendar here.)

And here’s the title page of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Not a religious text where you are required to believe through Faith, but an extremely well-supported theory based on scientific method.

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