We progress in reverse, we great pretenders
THE water is off, again, as I write. Yesterday it was power – off at sunrise, returned by noon, vanished again an hour after nightfall. We’d barely done the outage round-up, scratching for torches and candles and solar jars, when it put in its second reappearance.
That’s a mixed experience. Prompt restoration conjures up images of eager technicians speeding to the rescue, urgent to serve their public and uphold their professional honour, a quick apologetic kiss for the family as they rush out the door.
The truth may be a surly grump growling curses while he resentfully repairs a glitch that his own carelessness just caused, but rapid recovery bestows a default air of heroism on the council and its brave and noble workforce. It also means a twinge of let-down, normality reasserting control even while breached routine is waving its invitation to a small adventure.
The insistent meaning, though, is the dislodging of another brick from the fragile fortress of our confidence. We’d attuned to a disruption every several months; we’ve graduated to several disruptions every month. Weirdly, we’re worse off than when they confessed it, calling it load shedding and giving us a schedule.
Now, the start is a mystery, the end is a mystery, and the cause is a mystery. The switchboard’s phrase, “Our technicians are working on it,” need only shuffle the named suburbs.
It’s far from intolerable but it isn’t ignorable. Try as we might, the drumming in the back of the head keeps getting louder, the drum that says: “This isn’t progress, we’re in reverse.”
The main measurements are statistics, GDP, balance of trade and employment and all. In none of those are we shining, but right now we are talking of gut impacts, the ones needing no processing to tell their tale. There, number 2 is surely the tap that delivers no water, and number 3 is the switch that delivers no power.
Which leaves the top slot for that caricature sight, the broken traffic-light. That’s funny, at a time that the vanishing traffic light is a growing sight of super-progress in experimental towns such as Holland’s Drachten, Germany’s Bohmte, China’s Tekes in Xinjiang, Uygur.
There, lights are purposefully uprooted to make way for drivers’ discretion. It’s the opposite phenomenon from places where a flattened light pole can spend a decade blockading the pavement like an obstacle-race, classic symbol of a flattened society.
South of the Limpopo had escaped that flattened symbol till now. We thought/hoped we’d bypassed it. Now, the hints and forerunners keep smiting our eyes and ears, and souls.
The chief irony is that we all know why we are on this path. Highly public evidence rolls out all the time. Two simple reasons, our public funds being stolen dry by so-called public servants, and roles being allocated by criteria other than the capacity to do the job.
We’ve become a nation of great pretenders, pretending we can play ducks and drakes with our supply of ability and go unpunished, pretending we can blame it on history that we have let corruption become our norm.
One day we’ll take it as self-evident that we make the best use we can of all the skills we have. We’ll look back on today’s race-obsessed anti-racism as no less ruinous than the know-your-place prejudices that bottled up advancement for so long. One day we’ll take it as obvious that we keep our politicians on short stout leashes for their voters to yank at any time.
At core, people want decency, efficiency, honesty, stability. Put their votes on steroids and there’ll be no mistaking what progress is.