The 20th Century seemed to have a prime objective, build bigger and faster everything. So we had oil tankers which carried enough oil to destroy an entire regional coastline and planes and then trains which could whizz us around the world so fast we didn’t see what we passed.
I entirely resonate with a desire to know if I can do something, the stretch, the challenge, but the idea that this is necessarily then a good thing to do universally is erroneous. That is mixing up the ‘can I’ with the ‘should I’? Governments seem desperately bad at the should I! If something can be done they seem to think they are morally obliged to do it, or at least try.
It looks like the UK Government is about to approve something which seems entirely idiotic. At a time when there is no money for anything, even for early years support for young families which has been shown to save money long term, there is a plan for HS2, a new high speed train line from London to Birmingham which would save people 20 minutes on the journey time.
Somehow this saving of 20 minutes is worth carving up the countryside. It is worth billions of pounds, which if you earned interest on would mean the cost of the line stretches into eternity.
It cannot be a ‘green’ thing to do. Anyone flying instead of getting the train is not going to go into the centre of London and all the mini journeys that entails rather than hit the local airport, and the drive is not that long anyway. And the 20 minutes ‘saved’ is not saved anyway, you can work on a train, you can read a book, you can even talk to people!
The judgement that this is right must come from some deeper driver which then allows feeble brains to seek and find numbers which justify it. Thinking about all this last night got me waking up to a poem in my head, so here is my first poem on How to Advise the President:
If I was an Eskimo,
sitting in a tree
I would count the snowflakes
to as far as I can see
And when I got to 61,
I would start again
I can count no more than that,
unless I’m in the rain
And when I start again it would
be from the number 4
and then the next time it would be
from 7 or 8 or more
Each and every time I end
I pick a new beginner
Until I start with 61
and start and end the winner
I want a job which uses numbers
3 and 8 and 9
Or 2 and 6 and 7 and 10
would also be just fine
My Government loves numbers
in everything they do
To plan new train lines here and there
like a brand new HS2
It all makes sense, it is so clear
To you and me and it,
That Governments love numbers just like
Flies are fond of Gobstoppers
I think we need to campaign against Governments using numbers to justify decisions, it is all lies, damn lies and statistics as they say. Decisions should be based on morality, which usually only has a small numerical element to it. Those elected to lead the country should sign up to an understanding of this.
Meanwhile, perhaps we can ask Justine Greening to think again.
If not, then she will be known for the white elephant of the decade.
The 21st Century should be about being smarter, bigger and faster.