One of the things that has concerned me increasingly in recent years is that our society seems to be ever more inclined to follow rules, even if those rules become quite meaningless when considered in a particular context.
Take, for example, this situation that happened near Derby.
Some roadworks were being undertaken, and as a result it had been found necessary to turn off the street lighting that has normally illuminated the roadway at night.
Now that event is fairly self-evident. If the street lighting isn’t on, and it gets dark, then by and large you notice the lighting is not there. So there really isn’t much need for a sign to be placed on the road side that says the street lighting is not on.
But if one has to have a sign that says the street lighting is not working, then by and large it is probably going to be necessary to have that sign announcing the failure of the lighting system, illuminated – because there is no street lighting to allow drivers to see the sign.
So to have, as the A52 has, a situation in which there is no street lighting, but there is an un-illuminated sign saying that the street lighting is not working, strikes me as rather ludicrous on at least two counts.
However this moves from the ludicrous to the interesting when one asks how two such utterly silly decisions could be made. In short, why did no one responsible for street signs notice that this whole procedure was completely bonkers?
I suspect that no one did notice because there are over-arching rules that say, for example, when something that is normally operational by the roadside is not operational there needs to be a sign that says so. Which is fine if the non-operational issue is, for example, traffic lights. A sign saying that one needs to take extra caution because the traffic lights at a cross roads are out of commission is not just helpful but quite often utterly essential if drivers are used to charging by with the assumption of right of way.
But I fear that this lack of asking “why?” is both deeply ingrained and spreading. To give another example, to get to my friend’s house one leaves a main road at a roundabout and follows the route into the village where he lives. If one continues along the road it eventually reconnects with the main road at another roundabout a couple of miles further south.
However for the present, the second connection with the main road is closed because of a major building project. There is just the one way in and out of the village, instead of two.
The logical approach one might think at the first roundabout would be a notice that says, “local traffic only” or “road closed in 2 miles” or something like that.
But it seems no one has yet created a sign that says “road closed in 2 miles” so instead at the roundabout we simply are told “road closed” which looks completely ludicrous because the road beyond the sign is palpably not closed, and there is a constant flow of traffic past the sign as people ignore the notice in order to get to their homes.
There is no reference to which road is closed which leaves a lot of people confused, and as a result there have been a couple of minor accidents as people have stopped, or suddenly changed direction wondering where to go.
We might call both situations ones in which there is no joined up thinking – or indeed again a failure to ask “why?”
Wondering if such thoughts just occurred to me, or whether others had noticed, I mentioned these musings to a friend of mine who supports one of the big football clubs, and who goes to games on the train. The trains on the line he uses can have four carriages, six carriages, eight carriages, or even ten carriages at different times of day.
Although there is not too much pressure on the train service before matches since supporters tend to spread their arrival time out, some arriving early, some just before kick off, etc, there is a huge pressure on the service at the end of the game when everyone leaves at once. And yet after every single match the trains arrive with just four carriages and get dangerously over-filled. One asks again, why?
Following these three examples, I wonder if there ought not to be classes in schools in “joined up thinking” – or to put it another way, asking the question “why?” (Or, if one prefers, the application of fairly basic logic.)
I guess the reason in part comes from the fact that asking “why?” is absolutely discouraged in many schools, where it can be seen as a sign of pupils or students “being difficult”.
Indeed perhaps if our civilisation does eventually decline, those who are left to record its demise might call us, “the people who couldn’t ask ‘why’?”