Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Going Slower

Yesterday, the usual Maryland traffic that impedes my progress as I go pick up my sons from the synagogue had snarled into an impressively static nightmare. Long lines of cars piled up along small suburban back roads, inching forward in small, sad increments. Had there been an accident? None could be seen. Was there construction? Nope.

Things just...weren't working.

As it turned out, that was the problem. An aging computer traffic management system in Montgomery County had gone down. It had been chugging along since it was installed in the Carter administration, and while it's slated for replacement, we're not there yet. The system is what makes the lights go in a logical sequence to maintain traffic flow. While all of the lights still worked, they didn't work together. It was every light for itself, cycling from green to yellow to red with no relation to what the other lights were doing. Without intentional management, the whole network of roads could no longer handle the volume of traffic, and Chinua Achebe once put it..fell apart. What folks in Montgomery experienced was remarkably like the entropic snarl of Nigerian traffic, the legendary go-slows that sometimes gridlock the blighted city of Lagos for days.

Yesterday, we had a little taste of what I think will inevitably come to America. We have become, as a nation, utterly self-oriented. We don't see beyond our own individual interests, so we're not willing to work together or make any concessions for the common good. We are utterly oblivious to the complex infrastructure that is necessary to maintain a modern society, and snarl and grumble at the idea that we might have to pay one thin dime of our hard-earned money to maintain our roads and bridges. As those systems crumble and fade, our grumbling will grow louder...but as long as we maintain the conceit that you can have something without paying for it, we will continue to fade.