The Paradox of Progress by Dr James Willis [Quote] Throughout this book, I have used my experience of general practice as an analogy for life in a technological world … I have quoted some of the things they say in order to show the wisdom, love, humanity of ordinary people.[Unquote] A thoroughly recommended read, even if tinged with anger at the Thatcher years.
As Jacques Ellul predicted half a century ago in The Technological Society, ?Mankind is to be smoothed out, like a pair of trousers under a steam iron?
But that doesn?t worry the regulators in the least. They have all the certainty that they are right of converts to a new religion. They are absolutely unshakable in their conviction that the representation of everything in rigid rules and formal mathematical models is the very epitome of progress and they present their beliefs with a self-confidence, not to say arrogance, which would be fatuous if it were not so familiar ….. It is the replacement of individual experience, common sense, and responsibility by an external structure of rules which is the key change in the new situation.
When I started work at the Middlesex Hospital my senior medical registrar told me that our job in life was to make sure the patients died with their electrolytes balanced. Once I commented to a local undertaker on a body lying rosy-cheeked in his chapel ? ?He looks surprisingly well, considering he?s dead!?. Joking apart, when doctors work to rule there is a grave danger that the rules will do better than the patients.
Here we are at the crux of the paradox. We want to define clear solutions to the problems we can see in the world. But as we do so we progressively destroy the essence of life itself. It seems to be an unavoidable rule that the precise definition of human affairs has the effect of killing humanity itself …. As Robert M Pirsig said in his wonderful book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “?the crisis is being caused by the inadequacy of existing forms of thought to cope with the situation. It can?t be solved by rational means because the rationality itself is the source of the problem.” … And all the time the answer we are seeking is there, not actually under our noses, but an inch or two above and behind our noses.
KEEP ON TAKING THE TABLETS OF STONE – Rules, we all knew, were made to be broken. But now technology is being used to enforce the rules without fail and the detached machinery of law is being used to impose penalties without any understanding of the human reality. Computer systems are par excellence machines for the carrying out of rigid rules.
Although many people now suspect that civilisation is rushing towards the brink of a precipice, they have adopted the short term solution of closing their eyes. ?You worry too much, James, why don?t you have a drink.?
Magic stuff – just read the whole thing on-line today at two sittings. As passionate and inspiring as Pinker’s Blank Slate. Amongst philosophers, only Popper and Pirsig get quoted in the text, but the reference book list not surprisingly also includes Dawkins and DNA/H2G2. I’ve just ordered his other book Friends in Low Places on-line.
3 thoughts on “The Paradox of Progress by Dr James Willis”
Wonderful to see this post almost twenty years later. It’s on the top of my reading list now, after ZMM by Pirsig.
Ha yes, not much of a review, and formatted from some pre-Wordpress technology, mostly me “gutting” my readings for content (’twas ever thus).
Great to re-read after all this time – the forgotten Ellul reference (!) – and instant reference on to his next book.
AND – notice below the very next post is “Re-Reading ZMM”
This was in my Cambridge working away from home days – the conversation reference would have been in a bar in Cambrideg where I used to read in the evenings – most likely The Pickerell by Magdelene bridge.
Splendid, I commented on the next post as well, regarding ZMM and the quotes.
This little throwback reminds me of Iain’s idea of attention creating reality. Picking up a thought from nineteen years ago, and building on it, making it partly present again.