Fast lane to nowhere

By Jill Segger
October 2, 2011

“Slow down,you move too fast” In the 45 years which have passed since Paul Simon wrote the 59th Street Bridge Song, we have come to move a whole lot faster.

Web pages are expected to open in a nano-second, rail and air travel are judged, not by the reliability, safety or quality of the transit experience, but by the length of time taken to deliver a passenger from one hyper-ventilating city to another. And now, the government proposes to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph.

Acknowledging that this will mean more pollution, (fuel consumption and CO2 emissions up by 20 per cent), injuries and deaths, the government, in the the person of the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, nonetheless justifies the decision by the stunningly fatuous comment that the UK " needs to be back in the fast lane of global economics."

Governments can only perpetuate this kind of destructive idiocy because somewhere, deep down in our psyches, we have been willing to believe that fast equals success and that prosperity and status, both personal and national, may therefore be increased by arriving at destinations in a shorter time. Add this to the largely male concept of speed as an index of power and potency, and it is not difficult to see why Hammond's non sequitur may find an audience beyond the Clarkson tendency of neo-liberal marketeers.

But if we will step aside for a moment from the propaganda of those whom Greenpeace's head of media, Ben Stewart, has described as “nincompoops on crack”, a smaller,quieter voice may just be heard reminding us that GDP is not the only measure of well-being, and that the implication that we must move over the surface of the planet at ever greater speeds unless we are to look like no-hopers, is more likely to lead to breakdown than to breakthrough.

The Quaker dictum “the simple life, freely chosen, is a source of strength” might have a chance of influencing the unquestioned acceleration of our consumerist rat-race if that freedom of choice could be made more accessible through a greater re-distribution of wealth and influence. And those of us who are fortunate enough to have a sufficiency - if not abundance - of means, need to heed the words of Advices and Queries: “seek to know an inward stillness, even amid the activities of daily life” if we are to play a part in re-calibrating our society's speed-fulfilment nexus.

Many of the fast-laners who are trapped on the hamster wheel of speed as the price for acquisition, spend large sums of money on counselling, health farms and other forms of stress-busting. This is the logic of madness and we need to challenge the orthodoxy which fails to question it. Refusing to worship at the altar of speed is a good place to start.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: You can follow Jill on Twitter at:

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