Luddites believe that the essence of humanity is slowly being lost because of technology.

Mankind evolved for a different time- during most of human evolution we were hunter gatherers, and we grew to depend on that lifestyle for our mental health. That lifestyle provides lots of socialization and lots of exercise. We adapted to living in nature.
We still have stress, but it's different.
We weren't made for what we are now.
The name of this belief name from Nedd Ludd, who tried to start a peasant revolt in England in the 19th Century by burning down factories. He was eventually hanged.
Certainly this term has come to be used to dismiss those who have concerns about new technologies and their use. But as with most aspects of history, it is written by the winners.

The Frame Breaking Act was written by the British Parliament--in 1812 not any bastion of the common man--and was used to put down opposition to the then new technology; parliament was dominated by those who gained by the use of this technology.

Today, similarly, the term is used to remove from public debate those who call for even a reasonable examination of the technology, the uses to which it is put, the ends to which it is directed, and those who will benefit.

Technology is not neutral, not in its devising, not in its use, not in its effects. Coupled with the thing itself, is a whole mentality, a whole ideology of looking past fantasy future in which all will be well--utopia.

Until that veil is rent, until the sweet seductions of the thing are revealed, we will all be subject to the tyranny of the machine.

More can be found on this use of language and ideology by the victors of history, and the powers that be in:

David F. Noble
Progress Without People
New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance
Published by between the lines in 1995

outlawpoet makes several interesting points, and I won't be able to address them all, but I'll try to confront one or two.

I'm certainly not talking about living in some kind of romantic utopia of the past, any more than I am talking of ignoring the present for the future. Was the barbaric, short-lived, violent, and sense-less life referred to above the consequence of the lack of technology? Is the life many in the world today live any less barbaric, violent, and sense-less because there is technology?

And the people who know what they are talking about, as opposed to you or I, don't they have a vested interested interest in introducing the very things we are talking about, regardless of their being either harmless, or malignant.

As for unemployment figures, since the fifties, when I was born, the acceptable rate for letting people rot without work has risen: full employment was considered about 2 or 3% unemployed then, rising to at least 4 or 5% today. And there are more people today than then.

As for figures, there are, of course, lies, damn lies, and statistics.

There is an observation, whose author escapes me at the moment, which goes, in the early part of the twentieth century, when electrification changed the way we live, and think, not nearly everybody was employed in the electrical industries, or is now.

This observation can be generalized to any innovative technology. For all the hype, from those who will gain by them , no new technology will be the panacea for our needs: not for work, nor for our spirit, not for our bodies.

We must be clear-eyed about anything whose promises seem too good to be true.

See also:

Luddites get their name from Ned Ludd. He either was a worker in a textile mill who quit or was fired, or never actually existed. When bad things would happen at the mill, the workers would say Ned Ludd was responsible.
Later, when those same workers were rioting, and burning machinery, they were asked who their leader was. it was, of course, Ned Ludd.

On a related note, Luddites kind of scare me. I realize technology can be used really badly, but relinquishment is such an extreme measure when you think about all the things technology helps us with.

And when you get down to it, most neo-Luddites are kind of fuzzy on what "technology" is anyway. is it automation? a certain level of automation? new technologies like genetic engineering? why just those technologies? Are we talking about total halting of progress? We potentially have the ability to add decades to the lifespan of people still living. and far more to those yet to be born. does anybody actually want to go back to a point where people live in nasty ass adobe houses, and only for around 40 years? i consider myself a little bit of a romantic and i love middle ages fantasy, knights, king arthur, etc. but i could never live in a place like that, knowing how much cleaner, safer, long-lived, pain-free, and frankly more interesting, this tech level is.

When you get down to it, our current era will be looked down on the same way. do you want to be the one, locking people into a way of life that will be viewed as barbaric, short-lived, violent, and sense-less? Are you that confident that these things must be stopped? Do you really like the way things are that much?

there are many arguments against certain technologies. that you'll lose jobs, people will be hurt, it's against nature, god doesn't like it, it'll be scary. it'll be dehumanizing.
my answer to most of these is that it's change. you're arguing against change, not technology. if technology loses us jobs, where is the massive upswell of unemployment, given the primacy of assembly-line manufacturing nearly a century ago? or the use of industrial robots 25 years ago? it isn't going to happen. we don't have a lot of industrial welders anymore, but we have other jobs. it's change. people hurt, when less people will be hurt in the long run, i think is a good trade-off.

Bill Joy recently said that he's willing to let children die of genetic defects, rather than face the dangers of genetic engineering. First, let's realize that genetic engineering will be developed. be serious. do you really think you can force every country on earth to ban it? for how long? a hundred years? two hundred years? what about a million years? it's coming, regardless.
Second, how do you know people will immediately run out and kill things with this? Or that God really hates it? How certain are you? Certain enough to condemn people to die? because you are. lives could be saved by genetically engineered crops. people's lives could be extended by extending telomere's, and tuning our metabolisms better. people with down's syndrome, muscular dystrophy, motor diseases, congenital heart defects; could be saved. or we could let them die. and "fight the future".

but then, that's just genetic engineering. there are other things people are scared of. and i'm just me, and it's just my opinion. but i think these sort of questions should be left to people who actually know what they're talking about. like genetic engineers, and physicists. mechanical designers, and chemists. They've managed not to destroy the world, despite that fact that we've been theoretically able to for a while now. and despite the best efforts of politicians and lobbyists to make life difficult for them, they continue to give us all sorts of neat things to play with, and continue to save more lives than any other avenue of charity. the inventor of the polio vaccine probably saved more lives and helped more families than mother teresa. probably more than the whole catholic church EVER has. and people want this to stop?

that scares me.

Just to further some views in your arguments. As I recall, in 1812 Parliament was not yet dominated by the new manufacturing classes, but still by the landowners. The Frame Breaking Act was more necessary vis-a-vis the efforts against the Napoleonic Wars and the continental system to keep production on the go.

On to the core of the matter. Outlawpoet underlines accurately the dangers but also the good sides of technological advances. It is also true that "barbaric livelihoods" are still to be found.

The debate on technology should be one with a deeper and a wider vision. There are two approaches to technology: the humanitarian and the commercial. The former would be such solutions as the polio vaccine, administered through large-scale organisations such as WHO. The commercial approach is the pure profit-making use of technology whether in military, pharmaceutical or business equipment. One can conclude that technology is a tool, and it is its use that determines its positive or negative outcome.

However, there is also another aspect that is being left out if one talks about a global vision of technology. Where is technology to be found? The answer is simply that it is a small percentage of world population that HAS technology. The danger is that every day the gap between worlds that only had a socio-economic problem to overcome, will now find themselves with a widening technological gap.

Furthermore, there is also the risk of a technological stratification of society even in the First World. The first real danger was sensed when mobile phones appeared. Luckily, the fact that the market grew so fast has allowed easy acces to virtually everyone's fingertips in the First World.

One cannot ask technological innovations to stop... they will not. One cannot demand that cloning should not take place... it will (food cloning and genetically-modified crops -such as cold resistant wheat- are necessary solutions to a world population always on the increase). What one should demand are the imposition of certain limits, but which in no way should be argued as being permanent.

Change is life's fuel.

Gentlemen, you are missing the point.

"Luddite", as it is now understood, means someone who is against technology. However, Ned Ludd, and his early followers, were not against technology itself, but the uses it was being put to.

The Luddite argument is against using technology to put people out of work, and as an excuse to pay the people you do hire less than a man can live on. The Luddite movement in England in the early 1800s was right on the tail of an act that allowed landowners to toss tenant farmers off the land with no notice. This left some 30% or 40% of the English population with no means of feeding or sheltering themselves. So, like displaced people tend to do, they moved to the cities to take factory jobs. This influx of workers meant that wages could be lowered because people wouldn't complain as long as they were getting something. There was also an insanely high turnover rate as factory owners would fire anyone who was sick or slow because there were a hundred other people waiting to take his place.

This is the environment in which the Luddites came into being. Breaking the factory machines was not a strike against the machines, but against the purses of the factory owners. If the owners lost enough money, the theory went, they would listen to the needs of the peasants, who were starving.

Instead, Parlaiment responded with the Frame Breaking Bill of 1812, which passed, despite the protestations of Lord Byron. The thinking there was, "Well, if we can't shut you up, we'll just kill you. Hundred more where those peasants came from, not to mention the Irish."

Despite all this, eventually labour laws became reasonable in England; sometime in the 1830's, if I'm not mistaken, and the Luddites faded into near oblivion for more than a century. Well, until some horse's ass decided it was an anti-technology movement, and used the Luddite name to back his own fears of new things.

It should also be mentioned that the original stocking frame, supposedly trashed by Ned, himself, was not a new invention. It was a version of a frame invented in the 1500s by a priest, for his girlfriend who never had time for him because she was knitting. More on this later when I've remembered the guy's name.

see also New Feudalism and Semi-feudal corporate anarchy.

One of my favorite lines in a Star Trek movie is in Insurrection. "We believe that when you build a machine to do the work of a man, you take something away from the man."

Some day, I'm going to find my copy of In The Absence Of The Sacred by Jerry Mander. ((The book isn't faultless; after I read his description of Epcot center, I dreaded going to Disneyland-or-world----it wasn't as bad as I feared.))
But there's an excellent table which compares American indigenous people's way of life to modern day life. One trade-off: perhaps because of the competitiveness of the job market, those who have jobs must work many many many more hours per week than a hunter-gatherer. According to Mander's table. This is just a guess but, maybe the underlying cause is this: Labor-saving devices don't actually save each worker from working so hard; instead, they save the bosses from having to hire so many workers. The other side of this trade-off is that the hunter-gatherer dude has less security--in the event of a drought, he's screwed.

Another trade-off. Re: making decisions which affect the whole nation. Mander says that american-indians had days and days and days to debate any issue and reach a consensus. The thing about majority rule, the way that we're familiar with, is that the minority is stuck with whatever the majority decides.
Somewhat related to this: Mander points out that in the age of push-button, I.C.B.M. warfare, the congress has no time to debate how to respond to a perceived threat. Are the missiles on the radar screen real? Is it a glitch in the detection system? Someone has to decide, and quickly. So the President, of the executive branch of government, decides whether we fire our missiles, how many, and at which targets. The legislative branch is out of the decision loop. A side-effect, you could say, of high-technology, efficient 'implements of destruction.'

Lud"dite (?), n.

One of a number of riotous persons in England, who for six years (1811-17) tried to prevent the use of labor-saving machinery by breaking it, burning factories, etc.; -- so called from Ned Lud, a half-witted man who some years previously had broken stocking frames.

J. & H. Smith. H. Martineau.


© Webster 1913.

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