We Pledge Allegiance to King Ludd
August 17, 2010 3:20 PM Subscribe
Is It Okay to Be a Luddite? Thomas Pynchon
posted by outlandishmarxist (38 comments total)
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wants to know. In an essay from 1984, Pynchon responds to the 25th Anniversary of C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution."
The term, "luddite,"
has come to be used as a term of opprobrium for anyone who opposes technology
or, even more inappropriately, for people who don't understand technology
. The real Luddites
, however, consisted of groups of artisans out to defend their trades from machines that directly competed with them. Pynchon sets out to defend Luddism, in both its 18th century and 20th century variants:
Ned Lud's anger was not directed at the machines, not exactly. I like to think of it more as the controlled, martial-arts type anger of the dedicated Badass.
The knitting machines which provoked the first Luddite disturbances had been putting people out of work for well over two centuries. Everybody saw this happening -- it became part of daily life. They also saw the machines coming more and more to be the property of men who did not work, only owned and hired. It took no German philosopher, then or later, to point out what this did, had been doing, to wages and jobs. Public feeling about the machines could never have been simple unreasoning horror, but likely something more complex: the love/hate that grows up between humans and machinery -- especially when it's been around for a while -- not to mention serious resentment toward at least two multiplications of effect that were seen as unfair and threatening. One was the concentration of capital that each machine represented, and the other was the ability of each machine to put a certain number of humans out of work -- to be "worth" that many human souls. What gave King Ludd his special Bad charisma, took him from local hero to nationwide public enemy, was that he went up against these amplified, multiplied, more than human opponents and prevailed.
(It's also worth pointing to this little gem from the end of the essay:
If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for will come -- you heard it here first -- when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge.