I often wonder what life would be like if the Luddites hadn’t failed in their attempt to humanise progress. But unfortunately they couldn’t win. For starters they weren’t an actual organised entity, just a collection of individuals who stood to loose most from, what was later termed, the Industrial Revolution. They were up against those with the capital, the British government, (predominately the same people), the British Army and the Police Force. Even so it took hastily drafted draconian laws, quite a few hangings and a lot of violence to quell them.
We are living with their defeat today. It’s why we travel in peak hour droves to a place of work where we exchange large slabs of our lives for money.
Before the industrial revolution there was an organic economy based on land, labour and local exchange.
The weavers of the north of England were largely one-person home businesses. Apart from producing woven goods, often with the involvement of his family, the weaver also had a small self-sufficient family vegetable garden. Because of the quality and the demand for his manufactured goods, he was always assured that everything he produced would be sold at a constant price. He and his family had abundance, stability and unrestrained social interaction.
Technology allowed the manufacture of goods, although inferior in quality, independent of nature, of geography and season and weather, of sun or wind or water or human and animal power. It produced an economy based upon fuel, factory and foreign trade. Humans became a minor consideration in the manufacture of goods and were now serving the machine.
It was this uncontrolled empowerment of the machine in human society that the Luddites fought against.
The people who formed the Luddite movement were mainly weavers or similar craftsmen. They had the most to loose. They fought for and lost their idyllic cottage industry lifestyle of stability and self-reliance. The very lifestyle that a lot of us yearn for today.
The combined power of weaving machines, the steam engine, the laws of enclosure that enabled industrialists to fence off farming land and build factories, put an end to the weavers way of life. Whereas before the factories, agreed customary prices and therefore income were stable, the new technology brought with it a free market economy, which drove prices and wages down along with the quality of the product.
Life for the displaced farmers and weavers forced into the urban factories had become grim. Working for long hours in dangerous conditions with no days off for very low pay, men, women and children spent their lives either working or sleeping. Several families would have to share one house to save on rent. Humans had become a disposable adjunct to the machine. This is what the Luddites and those before them were against.
History is written by the victors, who were obviously not the Luddites, which is how the word has come to be used to mean a stupid person who doesn’t understand and is opposed to advances in technology. They were in fact very perceptive. They could see what was going to happen to humanity.
And they were right. Despite their valiant opposition we now have a collective mindset that says we must have a JOB and go to WORK for some one else. It is now taken for granted that production and technological progress is more important than being human.
There was a brief time, with the advent of computers, that we all entertained the idea that computers would handle the more mundane tasks of modern life such that the working week would be reduced to three or four days, maybe less. It’s what the Luddites would have supported. Didn’t happen. The increased capacity that computers gave us was simply used to produce more not improve humanity. The amount of time many office workers spend away from home at a JOB has actually increased.
Interestingly a totally unplanned result of computer technology has given some people a chance to recreate the weaver’s lifestyle. I’m referring to the internet. There are those that have replaced the loom with the computer and yarn with broadband. They have offices in their homes where they can interact with their families, live in a country environment and grow vegetables and keep chickens should they choose. As for products they range from selling information to buying and selling on e-bay, trading in stocks and shares to advertising.
Thanks to appropriate technology, we have the opportunity to conduct business whilst packing the kids off to school, planting the spinach, feeding the chickens and maybe an afternoon delight between Google-ads.
Used this way the computer can give us more free time and at last live up to it’s promise.
It’s not much but I’m sure that the mythical Nedd Ludd would approve.
This Book Has More Information On Luddites