Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lessons from the Luddites

"Only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines."

This wise maxim of Herbert Read's is what Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets of the Luddite era expressed in their own way as they saw the Satanic mills and Stygian forges

Mercantile capitalism showed scant regard for nature
but until the 19th century it had not developed many technologies capable of wholesale destruction
What happens when an economy is not embedded in a due regard for the natural world
It also loses its sense of the human as a species and the individual as an animal
land and air, decent food and shelter, intact communities and nurturing families
An economy without any kind of ecological grounding will be as disregardful of the human members as of the nonhuman
4. The nation-state, synergistically intertwined with industrialism, will always come to its aid and defense, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual.
There is no sign of hurt or astonishment in any of the Luddite letters written in reaction to the government's decision to defend the new industrialism with some 14,000 troops
so stark and clumsy and brutal, and accompanied by systems of spies & informers, zealous magistrates, illegal arrests, and rigged trials --- to control

its own populace.
the real meaning of laissez-faire: force would be used by the state to ensure that manufacturers would be free to do what they wished, especially with labor.
the industrial regime hardly cares which cadres run the state
it can accommodate itself to almost any national system --- Marxist Russia, capitalist Japan, China under a vicious dictator, Singapore under a benevolent one, messy and riven India, tidy and cohesive Norway, Jewish Israel, Moslem Egypt --- and in return asks only that its priorities dominate, its markets rule, its values penetrate, and its interests be defended, with 14,000 troops if necessary, or even an entire Desert Storm.
Some among the Luddites might have entertained a dream that the British government could be overthrown
Some among the Luddites also entertained a dream that the British government could be reformed
no figure of the Luddite era more pathetic than that of Gravener Henson
organizing Nottingham stockingers
getting Parliament to consider

to consider a bill preventing "Frauds and Abuses" in the knitting trades, only to see his bill become so distorted
that it ended up allowing manufac- turers to "Cheat, Rob, Pilfer" as never before --- and then finding that even that bill was rejected by the Lords.
5. But resistance to the industrial system, based on some grasp of moral principles and rooted in some sense of moral revulsion, is not only possible but necessary.
it is true that in a general sense the Luddites were not successful either in the short-run aim of halting the detestable machinery or the long-run task of stopping the Industrial Revolution and its multiple miseries
is that they resisted, not that they won
Luddism as a moral challenge, "a sort of moral earthquake," as Charlotte Bronte saw it
perception of right and wrong that went down deep in the English soul.
somewhere in the blood, in the place inside
where pain and fear and anger intersect,
one is finally moved to refusal and defiance: "No more."

"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part," is the way that Mario Savio put it before another movement in 1964. "And you've got to put your bodies upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop."
The "Great Refusal," in the words of Michel Foucault, is made up of "a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that are possible, necessary, improbable, others that are spontaneous, savage, solitary, concerted, rampant, or violent." Lewis Mumford, at the end of his lengthy analysis of "the myth of the machine" a generation ago, argued that indeed anyone could "play a part in extricating himself from the power system" by "quiet acts of mental and physical withdrawal," and he thought he saw such resistance "in a hundred different places":

Though no immediate and complete escape from the ongoing power system
is possible, least of all through mass violence, the changes that will restore
autonomy and initiative to the human person all lie within the province of
each individual soul, once it is roused. Nothing could be more damaging to
the myth of the machine, and to the dehumanized social order it has brought
into existence, than a steady withdrawal of interest, a slowing down of tempo,
a stoppage of senseless routines and mindless acts.
the Old Order Amish communities from Pennsylvania to Iowa and the traditional Indian communities found on many reservations right across the country.

The political task of resistance today, then --- beyond the "quiet acts" of personal withdrawal Mumford urges --- is to try to make the culture of industrialism and its assumptions less invisible and to put the issue of its technology
on the political agenda
Neil Postmen, a professor of communications at New York University and author of Technopoly, "it is necessary for a great debate" to take place
Is this invention
nothing but, as Thoreau put it, and improved means to an unimproved end?
who the principle beneficiaries
large, bureaucratic, complex, and secretive organizations of the industrial world
an immensely self-satisfied laissez-faire plutocracy whose access to means of forcing debates and framing issues
that task ought not to be so difficult --- in spite of the continued opposition of a plutocracy grown only more powerful and complacent
some of the fish at least not only seem to be seeing the water but realizing it is polluted. Industrialism
is on a collision course with the biosphere

Industrial societies
shot through with inequality, injustice, instability, and incivility
tribal societies
devoid for the most part of crime or addiction or anomie or poverty or suicide
they did not have atomic bombs and death camps, toxic wastes, traffic jams, strip mining, organized crime, psychosurgery, advertising, unemployment, or genocide.
For durability, however, they are not enough, they do not sustain a commitment that lasts through the adversities of repression and trials, they do not forge a solidarity that prevents the infiltration of spies and stooges, they do not engender strategies and tactics that adapt to shifting conditions and adversaries, and they do not develop analyses that make clear the nature of the enemy and the alternatives to put in its place.
elements of such an analysis
are in existence
Mumford and Schumacher and Wendell Berry and Jerry Mander and the Chellis Glendinning manifesto
deep ecologists
essentials of that analysis

opposed the principle of biocentrism and the spiritual identification of the human with all living species and systems.
its economic and military expression, is the guiding strategy of that civilization, to which must be opposed the strategy of localism, based upon the empowerment of the coherent bioregion and the small community.
Industrialism, the ethos encapsulating the values and technologies of Western civilization, is seriously endangering stable social and environmental existence on this planet, to which must be opposed the values and techniques of an organic ethos that seeks to preserve the integrity, stability, and harmony of the biotic community, and the human community within it.
Anthropocentrism, and its expression in both humanism and monotheism, is the ruling principle of that civilization, to which must be opposed the principle of biocentrism and the spiritual identification of the human with all living species and systems

Globalism, and its economic and military expression, is the guiding strategy of that civilization, to which must be opposed the strategy of localism, based upon the empowerment of the coherent bioregion and the small community.
Industrial capitalism, as an economy built upon the exploitation and degradation of the earth, is the productive and distributive enterprise of that civilization, to which must be opposed the practices of an ecological and sustainable economy built upon the accommodation and commitment to the earth and following principles of conservation, stability, self-sufficiency, and cooperation.
8. If the edifice of industrial civilization does not eventually crumble
as a result of a determined resistance within its very walls, it seems
certain to crumble of its own accumulated excesses and instabilities
within not more than a few decades, perhaps sooner, after which t
here may be space for alternative societies to arise.
The two chief strains pulling this edifice apart, environmental overload and social dislocation
Industrial civilization is different only in that it is now much larger and more powerful than any known before, by geometric differen-

ces in all dimensions, and its collapse will be far more extensive and thorough-
going, far more calamitous.
It is possible that such a collapse will be attended by environmental and social dislocations so severe that they will threaten the continuation of life
But it is also possible that it will come about more by decay and distension, the gradual erosion of nation-state arrangements made obsolete and unworkable, the disintegration of corporate behemoths unable to comprehend and respond, and thus with the slow resurrection and re-empowerment of small bioregions and coherent communities having control over their own political and economic destinies.
It is now the task of the neo-Luddites

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