What’s wrong with progress?

Funny thing, progress. It should work: we learn from experience, improve things as we go along, and one morning we wake up and everything’s perfect – or at least, better than it was before.

Sadly, though, it seems to work backwards. All right – scientific advances mean that if you have a health problem, you have a better chance of getting it fixed than you did 50 years ago. But can you get an appointment more easily? No, that’s much, much harder than it was 50 years ago. I know: I was there.

Of course, if you are an administrator, especially in the NHS, things are much better: more jobs, more money, new things that have to be regulated. But those of us who are being administrated might not see it like that. Oh no we don’t.

Much of this backward progress had happened because there is a large body of people who, as Charlie Brown would say, like to function in an advisory capacity – or as I might say, a dictatorial capacity.

I read this morning of a motorist who was fined for driving “too close” to a cyclist – the evidence (and this is the critical bit) coming from the cyclist’s camera. I’m sure that gave a wide screen view taking in all the contributing factors. Or am I? We all seem to be far too keen to catch our fellow human beings out … as well as helmet cams, we have windscreen cams in cars and will no doubt have pedestrian cams soon. If we haven’t already.

The result, of course, is that those of us who don’t hate motorists hate cyclists, especially when councils plough up cities to put in unnecessary and often unused cycle paths.

We also have battalions of busybody speedcheckers who have nothing better to do than stand at the side of the road and try to catch motorists out. It doesn’t matter how well someone is driving: someone else has decided on a random speed limit based on dubious statistics, and they have gone just beyond it; so they are evil and must be stopped. Really?

But it’s not just health and the roads. Everywhere new rules and regulations are being introduced, often in the spurious name of health and safety but also to “avoid giving offence”. To be alive in Britain in 2022 is to tiptoe through the world, afraid of breaching one abysmal dogma after another. And there are plenty of people who love to set the system up and make sure it’s applied.

During the Covid outbreak, many of these compulsive “managers” were in their element, of course. So many more rules; so many more offenders. And now, as things return to “normal”, I am convinced that many would-be volunteers are dissuaded by the reams of paperwork that have to be filled in. A woman who lives not far from me recently appealed for volunteers to help with a meals on wheels scheme – only to be taken to task by a neighbour who warned that such volunteers might constitute a risk unless they were properly registered and filled in all the necessary forms.

I’m sure that successfully dissuaded anyone who might have been wanting to lend a hand. Well done, Madam.

The only progress we really seem to have made is in eliminating trust and giving way to fear on all fronts. If that is the case, I have to agree with Ogden Nash, who said that “progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on far too long”.