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Monday, October 19, 2009

Which way is progress?

Important message for anyone about to visit Samoa:

If you haven't noticed yet, Samoa became the first country for a generation to switch sides of the road last month, moving from the right-hand-side driving imposed by the Germans early in the last century to the left-hand-side driving that most of the South Pacific practices.

A fun item for several reasons. Firstly, much of the driving-on-the-right world seems to consider driving on the left as odd and archaic. The American novelist Tom Clancy even threw in a comment near the beginning of Patriot Games, calling Britain "one of the few countries remaining still driving on the left."
I love it - driving on the right is some kind of inevitable progress and Britain (of course) is a backward, traditional hold-out. Nonsense, of course. Someone buy Clancy an atlas. Over 30% of the world's population drives on the left.

Samoa's action reminds us that it isn't possible to say in advance what progress is. Progress may even look like what used to be considered regress. Progress for you may be the opposite for me. Also- consensus is impossible to achieve for radical change, even when the advantages are clear and the costs low - the Samoans have learnt this lately.

It's also clear that small size makes radical changes easier. Few large countries today could make such a switch easily. Sweden switched to driving on the right in 1967 and Swedes I have spoken to say that such a switch would be impossible today with the sheer size and complexity of the modern road system.

It's a shame I have no ESL classes this year - this would be a great item for discussion.

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