"Luddite" is today's stylish insult. To be called a Luddite implies
a pointless and futile rejection of technology, tinged, thanks to
Ted Kaczynski, with the threat of violence. In fact, it is neither
a naive illusion, nor a nostalgic delusion, but an enduring
tradition of resistance to mindless mechanization, whether it is of
means of production or social organization or ways of thinking.
It began with a group of passionate and rebellious workers in
England's weaving industry in 1811 who took up whatever weapons
were at hand in revolt against the machines that were taking their
jobs and destroying their families and communities. These were the
followers of the mythical Ned Ludd.
But the essence of luddism is not violence – far from it. Instead
it is a respect for and a confidence in those things that make us
human, with a related rejection of the mechanistic approach to
being that devalues that humanity. It is a philosophy that respects
tradition, intuition, spirituality, the senses, human
relationships, the work of the hand, and the disorderly and
unpredictable nature of reality, as opposed to a mechanistic or
reductionist construct of the world. It questions the domination of
science and the elevation of efficiency to a superior value. It
Luddism favors a thoughtful use of appropriate technologies that
does not damage those relationships we hold dear. And it goes
without saying that it cherishes the natural world from which we
attempt to separate ourselves only at our peril.
Luddites today are self-selecting. There is no litmus test. You may
live in a mud hut, carry water and chop wood by choice, or simply
hate your computer, yearn to outdistance your cell phone and wish
you could buy a car without automatic windows. But at bottom you
feel some identification with all those who are apprehensive and
resistant to the domination of the machine in our society, in our
work, or in our individual lives. Luddism is neither conservative
nor liberal; both capitalism and Marxism are committed to the
concept of industrial progress, the wisdom of which Luddites
It is, however, a conscious approach to living. Luddites, or
neo-Luddites, if you prefer, carefully evaluate what contributes to
the considered life and what does not. They do so to the degree
they find personally appropriate. We must think about the
"encompassing technocratic, manipulative world that we have
established," writes Thomas Berry in The Dream of the Earth. "We
must not over romanticize primitivism...yet when we witness the
devastation we have wrought on this lovely continent, and even
throughout the planet, and consider what we are now doing, we must
reflect." Reflection is a beginning. Action follows. The tools for
both reflecting and acting are, we hope and believe, here.
The characteristics that define luddism can be discovered in the
Romantic poets, in the writings of Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin,
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. They can be found in
the life and work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts
Movement; in the work of potters such as Bernard Leach and his
followers. Resistance to technology is a thread that winds through
the writings of the Southern Agrarians and the novels of such
diverse authors as Wallace Stegner, Iris Murdoch and John Fowles.
It reaches its heights in such recent cult figures such as Robert
Pirsig and Edward Abbey. Modern poets from Robinson Jeffers and
Gary Snyder to W.S. Merwin express their anger against the
technological juggernaut and its rampage across the landscape.
Environmentalism has its roots in resistance to this same ruthless
domination of the machine and those who use it to conquer and
subdue nature, a sentiment that has its roots in the writings of
John Muir and Aldo Leopold and evolves into the deep ecology of
Arne Naess. Behind the modern Luddite movement is a solid body of
philosophical writing. Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford construct a
base upon which present-day eco-philosophers such as Edward
Goldsmith build. And carrying forth this thinking are contemporary
writers and thinkers such as Jerry Mander, Stephanie Mills,
Kirkpatrick Sale and many others, who with clear arguments and
passionate voices articulate valid concerns that technology may
undo more than we bargained for, leaving behind a wake of damage
from which it may be difficult to recover.
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