Luddite Bicentenary.

According to wikipedia

“It’s not that Kaczynski, who is a fierce, uncompromising critic of the techno-industrial system, is saying anything I haven’t heard before. I’ve heard it all before, many times. By his own admission, his arguments are not new. But the clarity with which he makes them, and his refusal to obfuscate, are refreshing. […] Maybe it’s what scientists call ‘confirmation bias’, but I’m finding it hard to muster good counter-arguments to any of them, even the last. I say ‘worryingly’ because I do not want to end up agreeing with Kaczynski.”

More from Paul Kingsnorth: “I would suggest that 'anti-globalisation' is simply a continuation of the Luddites' struggle, and I touched on this in my book on the movement (One No, Many Yeses) years ago. Same shit, different century, as it were.”

“We see this all the time: one man’s freedom is another’s industry run amok”

modern Neo-Luddites are more likely to “confine their resistance…to a kind of intellectual and political resistance.” The manifesto of the 'Second Luddite Congress' specifically rejects violent action (…) Neo-Luddites are generally opposed to anthropocentrism, globalization and industrial capitalism. (…) Neo-Luddites also believe that current technologies are a threat to humanity and to the natural world in general, and that a future societal collapse is possible. (…) They advocate a return to nature and what are imagined as more natural communities. (i.e. small-scale agricultural communities) –Neo-Luddism

… Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they need rather than want…

Much misunderstood, the Luddites weren't Primitivists, but opposed machinery 'harmful to commonality'. Their view that technology is never neutral is very resonant today. However for activists they also pose the troubling question of when tactics become self defeating. The people of Britain in 1812 had the choice of supporting injustice or anarchy, and they chose injustice.“

In 1990, Chellis Glendinning published her “Notes towards a Neo-Luddite manifesto” in the Utne Reader, reclaiming the term 'luddite'. According to Glendinning, Neo-Luddites are “20th century citizens — activists, workers, neighbors, social critics, and scholars — who question the predominant modern worldview, which preaches that unbridled technology represents progress.”[15] Glendinning then gives the following principles of Neo-Luddism:

  • “Neo-Luddites are not anti-technology:” Glendinning proposes that Neo-Luddites are only against specific kinds of technology which are destructive to communities or are materialistic and rationalistic.
  • “All technologies are political:” Technologies are not neutral but have been created in specific social contexts for specific interests. Mass technological society has created technologies to perpetuate its specific values (short-term efficiency, ease of production and marketing, profit) and this has led to rigid social institutions.
  • “The personal view of technology is dangerously limited:” Instead of focusing on how technology will improve the life of an individual, critics need to look at the wider social, economic and ecological implications of technological systems.

Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone's physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes “treatment” to cure his “problem.” Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them “sublimate” their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.

Laws in Walden (Thoreau):

  • One must love that of the wild just as much as one loves that of the good.
  • What men already know instinctively is true humanity.
  • The hunter is the greatest friend of the animal which is hunted.
  • No human older than an adolescent would wantonly murder any creature which reveres its own life as much as the killer.
  • If the day and the night make one joyful, one is successful.
  • The highest form of self-restraint is when one can subsist not on other animals, but of plants and crops cultivated from the earth.

Bioluddism is a modern movement of opposition to specific or general technological development and Emerging technologies. The term “Bioluddite” is derived from Luddite, a political/historical term relating to a political movement by that name, that took place in England during the Industrial Revolution. The term “Bioluddite” is used to describe persons or organizations that resist technological advances. Bioluddites come from a variety of political backgrounds, ranging from anarchists (such as anarcho-primitivists) to political conservatives (such as eco-fascists).

“What are you? The answer, Determined – he will say, What for? Your answer, Free Liberty”

“Precarious as this moment may be, however, an awareness of the fragility of what we call civilisation is nothing new.”

“We the biopunks are dedicated to putting the tools of scientific investigation into the hands of anyone who wants them. We are building an infrastructure of methodology, of communication, of automation, and of publicly available knowledge.”

From: The Shuttle Exchanged for the Sword by Warren Draper (In Dark Mountain Issue 2)

All mythologies have their monsters, and for modern industrial civilisation it can sometimes seem that there is no more terrifying beast than the Luddite.

In the closing years of the 18th century, the weaver’s profession would come under threat; not only from the introduction of new technology, but also from the newly emerging capitalist attitudes towards production.

Indeed, many labourers and artisans worked only as long as needed to ensure that the immediate needs of their families were met; the idea of working to the clock for extra surplus value (profit) would have seemed somewhat ludicrous (…)

It wasn’t just family ties that were closer thanks to pre-capitalist production methods, community life benefited as well. (…) Every weaving district had its weaver-poets, biologists, mathematicians, musicians, geologists, botanists:… [T]here are accounts of weavers in isolated villages who thought themselves geometry by chalking on their flagstones, and who were eager to discuss the differential calculus. In some kinds of plain work with strong yarn a book could actually be propped on the loom and read at work.

As capitalism progressed, knowledge has been reduced to a meritocratic means-to-an-end (qualification) rather than an end in its own right; and in wealthier countries the self-educated polymath has become an endangered species.

Robbed of their traditional land-rights, and divorced from communal production methods, the artisans and peasantry were forced instead to rely on the wage labour system; and the newly dominant merchant classes took full advantage of the situation.

Byron’s speech was loaded with sarcastic references to the 'benefits' of progress. (…) Unfortunately, capital and the state - inseparable aspects of what William Cobbett called 'The Thing' - are driven solely by motives of profit and power, and are therefore impervious to arguments based on knowledgeable reason and impassioned intuition (Byron being one of the only Lords ever to offer both).

(…) Frame breaking in Nottinghamshire became even less frequent, although 1812 did see regular food riots in the area which were themselves a by-product of the hardship created by the introduction of the mechanical looms.

Having borne the brunt of the industrialisation for three decades, they knew better than most what factories and machines could do to the welfare of the local population. In living memory the vast majority of the well-fed peasantry and relatively wealthy artisans had been reduced to powerless, starving proletariat - and all in the name of progress.

In Luddite circles, taking an oath was known as 'twisting in', in reference to the twisting of separate threads to form a single, stronger yarn. This sworn bond was further strengthened by military-style, night-time drills.

Prior to 1813, the Luddites had wanted to save an autonomous, communal way of life based on self-sufficiency and skilled craftsmanship. Later loom-breaking incidents were almost exclusively centred around disputes regarding levels of pay; reflecting the later (and modern) labour movement, which claimed to stand against capitalism, but failed to question the central tenets of the 'progressive' production system.

Put simply, pre-modern resistance was a fight against enclosure - a battle to save independent, self-sufficient ways of life from destruction; to prevent the industrial machine from enslaving the people. Modern industrial unrest was a battle waged after this war had been lost.

Our societies have been so comprehensively remade in the image of capital that it is hard to talk about concepts like self-sufficiency, independence and the land, without being immediately dismissed by progressives on right and left as Romantics and, of course, Luddites.

The land-based movements of the twenty-first century (MST in Brazil, EZLN in Mexico, Landless People Movement in South Africa, Bhumi Uched Pratirodh Committee in India…) may have little hope of becoming a worldwide revolution - certainly not within the time-scale dictated by catastrophic climate change or peak-oil - but these communities may yet prove to be the most resilient in the face of an unfolding collapse.

This should start with accepting that the Luddites were right. The Thing - the state -industrial nexus which Cobbett identified in its infancy - is now the dominant force in the world, and its mythology shapes the times we live in. Today the mill owners are global brands.

(…) It’s going to mean developing and using human-scale technologies which can augment our liberty and self-sufficiency rather than enslaving us to a grid. It’s going to mean hand-looms rather than wide-frames; control by the people rather than control of them. The best way to avoid being controlled by technology is to be in control of the technology you use.

If you take a visit to one of the many websites which encourage a little technical tinkering, you’ll find a combination of free and open information, Open Source software, reduced material costs, high volumes of useful waste and micro-innovations have made it possible to develop and create projects at home - from bicycle trailers to slow cookers and mini robots - that would have needed highly specialised multi-million-dollar factories just a few years ago.

We are now, in other words, approaching a position where it may be possible to create once again an infrastructure built upon localised, craft-orientated, community-based, ecologically sensitive production techniques - in other words to potentially return to the pre-capitalist idea of the cottage industry which the Luddites fought so hard to devend. Its’ a world in which not only is it easier to work from home, but it is easier to work away from the growth-addicted world of capitalist production. Traditional crafts are also experiencing a renaissance as people look for more ecologically sound and more self-reliant ways to live. The artisan, it seems, is coming back from the brink of exctinction - just as progressive civilisation itself begins to tip over the brink.

Much of it (appropriate technology movement) focused (…) on simple technologies that could be put to work by ordinary people without six-figure incomes, doing the work themselves, using ordinary tools and readily available resources.

I see at least some spark of a hopeful future in the development, practice and sharing of what I call ADApt (Anticipatory Design and Appropriate Technology) initiatives, which help us to distance ourselves from the corporate leviathan and restore some of the freedom of action and creativity that the Luddites went to their graves to protect.

Related: fringejoyride_residency_notes

  • notes_on_the_luddites.txt
  • Last modified: 2014-08-05 20:16
  • by nik