Thursday, March 6, 2014

Oh, you're a Luddite.

An acquaintance said to me once after listening to one of my rants.  "Oh, you're a Luddite."

What is a Luddite?  Well, it isn't too difficult to find out but the history of the word has some discrepancies and there is an element of the apocryphal too.
The OED reports the following:

(Said, but without confirmation, to be f. Ned Lud, a lunatic living about 1779 who in a fit of rage smashed up two frames belonging to a Leicestershire stockinger.)  A member of an organized band of mechanics and their friends, who (1811-16) went about destroying machinery in the midlands and north of England. 
Webster's New World Dictionary (college edition 1957) says:
(said to be after Ned Lud, feeble-minded man who smashed two frames belonging to a Leicestershire employer (c. 1779), any of a group of workers in England between 1811 and 1816 who smashed new labor-saving textile machinery in protest against reduced wages and unemployment attributed to its introduction.
The American Heritage Dictionary (New College Edition, 1980):
Any of a group of British workmen who, between 1811 and 1816, rioted and destroyed textile machinery in the belief that it would diminish employment.  (Probably after Ned Lud(d), a late 18th-century worker who destroyed stocking frames in England.)
Then there is this from a history of economic thinkers  titled "The Worldly Philosophers" written by Robert L. Heilbroner:
 "..the horrors of working conditions were not the only cause for unrest.  Machinery was now the rage, and machinery meant the  displacement of laboring hands by uncomplaining steel.  As early as 1779 a mob of eight thousand workers had attacked a mill and burned it to the ground in unreasoning defiance of its cold implacable mechanical efficiency, and by 1811 such protests against technology were sweeping England.  Wrecked mills dotted the countryside, and in their wake the word went about that "Ned Ludd had passed."  The rumor was that a King Ludd or a General Ludd  was directing the activities of the mob.  It was not true, of course.  The Luddites, as they were called, were fired by a purely spontaneous hatred of the factories that they saw as prisons and the wage-work that they still despised."

Americans have been taught that a Luddite is a perjorative word, such people being backward and against progress.  Differing opinions are not acceptable, I guess.  Such as Wendell Berry's observation that "labor saving means people replacement."

Today we live in a technological and mechanical world.  We have bet our future on cyberspace, robots, machinery, and artificial intelligence.

I leave it to a better mind than mine to complain:

We see that great masses of people, left to themselves and allowed to pursue their private pleasures and interests as the spirit of the day moves them, will spoil themselves if the requisite facilities for doing so are available to them.  And the commercial interests - the advertisers and the others - will eagerly provide those facilities, because this involves consumer spending and they make money out of it.  
He continues:
The politicians, left to themselves, and anxious to say only what they think people and the special interests that support them want to hear, will be the last to try to halt this process.  Their main concern will be not to oppose it but to exploit it.
...One can contemplate only with sadness and apprehension the prospect of the American federal government intervening in problems of the habits of daily life among the citizenry.  Certainly, it would be better if this could be avoided.  Yet whenever public authority, here as elsewhere, has stood passively by and permitted technological innovations to be thus recklessly and uncritically appropriated into people's lives with out concern for their social effects, it has assumed, whether or not it meant to, a measure of responsibility (and who else to do it?), it will draw a cloud - is already drawing such a cloud - over its own adequacy as a form of government for a great people in the modern age."

from:  Around The Cragged Hill  by George F Kennan, 1993.

Philosophically I am a Luddite.  I would not destroy another person's machines but I would be willing to prevent their use in my workplace, and my life.


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