July 28, 2004

A note about Luddism

The Luddites, like the saboteurs in France, rebelled against the industrialization of their livelihood, against the transformation of their work from home-based artisans to centralized factories, against the loss of their independence and the loss of their villages to the demands of fickle capitalism.
Lessons from the Luddites
[from "Setting Limits on Technology", by Kirkpatrick Sale, The Nation, June 5, 1995 -- available at the Free Range Activism Website]
  1. Technologies are never neutral, and some are hurtful.
  2. Industrialism is always a cataclysmic process, destroying the past, roiling the present, making the future uncertain.
  3. "Only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines" (Herbert Read).
  4. The nation-state is synergistically intertwined with industrialism and will always come to its aid and defense, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual. [The U.K., in response to the Luddites, made machine breaking a capital offense and at one time had more troops protecting Midland weaving factories than fighting Napoleon.]
  5. Resistance to the industrial system, based on moral principles and rooted in moral revulsion, is, however, not only possible but necessary.
  6. Resistance to industrialism must force the viability of industrial society into public consciousness and debate. The costs and consequences of technologies must be laid out as clearly and as fully as possible. Who are the winners? What will be lost? Will this invention concentrate or disperse power?
  7. Resistance to industrialism must be embedded in analysis that is morally informed, carefully articulated, and widely shared. Globalism must be opposed by localism. Industrial capitalism must be opposed by an ecologically sustainable economy. The logic of exploitation must be opposed by the humane.
The depredations of commercial wind power are analogous to the Highland clearances of small farmers in Scotland, the enclosure of common land for private profit, and the further centralization of economy which the Luddites fought against. To be Luddite is not to be against technology. It is to examine what is behind the introduction of a technology and to consider what will be lost against any possible benefit. Large-scale wind power takes away much and gives nothing. It is yet another encroachment meant to increase our dependence on large industry. It diminishes our lives and makes us less free.

The case is similar against genetically engineered food crops. In France, those who pull up those crops are appropriately called saboteurs.