Neo-Luddism

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A novel written by Edward Abbey which concerns the use of sabotage to protest environmentally damaging activities in the American Southwest.

Neo-Luddism or New Luddism is a philosophy opposing many forms of modern technology.[1] According to a manifesto drawn up by the Second Luddite Congress (April 1996; Barnesville, Ohio) Neo-Luddism is "a leaderless movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age." [2] The name is based on the historical legacy of the British Luddites, who were active between 1811 and 1816.[1] These groups along with some modern Neo-Luddites are characterized by the practice of destroying or abandoning the use of technological equipment as well as advocating simple living. Neo-Luddism stems from the concept that technology has a negative impact on individuals, their communities and the environment.[3] Neo-Luddites also fear the future unknown effects that new technologies might unleash. The modern Neo-Luddite movement has connections with the anti-globalization movement, anarcho-primitivism, socialism, environmentalism, communism, leftism, Marxism and Deep Ecology.[2]

The word Luddite is also used as “a derogatory term applied to anyone showing vague technophobic leanings.” [4]

Overview[edit]

A major critic of technology was German philosopher Martin Heidegger. In The Question Concerning Technology (1953), Heidegger posited that the modern technological "mode of Being" was one which viewed the natural world, plants, animals, and even human beings as a "standing-reserve" — resources to be exploited as means to an end.[5] To illustrate this "monstrousness", Heidegger uses the example of a hydroelectric plant on the Rhine river which turns the river from an unspoiled natural wonder to just a supplier of power. In this sense, technology is not just the collection of tools, but a way of Being in the world and of understanding the world which is instrumental and grotesque. According to Heidegger, this way of Being defines our modern way of living in the West.[5] For Heidegger, this technological process ends up reducing beings to not-beings, which Heidegger calls 'the abandonment of Being' and involves the loss of any sense of awe and wonder, as well as an indifference to that loss.[5] According to Julian Young, Heidegger was a Luddite in his early philosophical phase and believed in the destruction of modern technology and a return to an earlier agrarian world.[6] However, the later Heidegger did not see technology as wholly negative and did not call for its abandonment or destruction.[5]

One of the first major contemporary anti-technological thinkers was French philosopher Jacques Ellul. In his The Technological Society (1964), Ellul argued that the rationality of technology enforces logical and mechanical organization which "eliminates or subordinates the natural world." Ellul defined "technique" as the entire totality of organizational methods and technology with a goal toward maximum rational efficiency. According to Ellul, technique has an impetus which tends to drown out human concerns: "The only thing that matters technically is yield, production. This is the law of technique; this yield can only be obtained by the total mobilization of human beings, body and soul, and this implies the exploitation of all human psychic forces."[7] Another critic of political and technological expansion was Lewis Mumford, who wrote The Myth of the Machine. The views of Ellul influenced the ideas of the infamous American Neo-Luddite Ted Kaczynski, who engaged in a nationwide mail bombing campaign, killing three people and injuring 23 others. The opening of Kaczynski's manifesto reads: "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race."[8] Other philosophers of technology who have questioned the validity of technological progress include Albert Borgmann, Don Ihde and Hubert Dreyfus.[9][10]

Contemporary Neo-Luddites are a widely diverse group which includes "writers, academics, students, families, Amish, Mennonites, Quakers, environmentalists, “fallen-away yuppies,” “ageing flower children” and “young idealists seeking a technology-free environment.”[11] According to Kirkpatrick Sale, some Luddites are victims of “technological assaults,” forming groups such as the Asbestos Victims of America and Citizens Against Pesticide Misuse while others are resisting environmental degradation by technology (such as Earth First!).[11] One Neo-Luddite assembly was the "Second Neo-Luddite Congress", held April 13–15, 1996 at a Quaker meeting hall in Barnesville, Ohio. On February 24, 2001, the "Teach-In on Technology and Globalization" was held at Hunter College in New York city with the purpose to bring together critics of technology and globalization.[11] The two figures who are seen as the movement's founders are Chellis Glendinning and Kirkpatrick Sale. Prominent Neo-Luddites include ecologist Stephanie Mills, Theodore Roszak, Scott Savage, Clifford Stoll, Bill McKibben, Neil Postman, Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon.[9][11]

Neo-Luddites are apprehensive about the ability of any new technology to solve current problems without creating more, potentially dangerous problems.[12][13] Neo-Luddites are generally opposed to anthropocentrism, globalization and industrial capitalism. Neo-Luddism often expresses itself in stark predictions about the effect of new technologies. John Philip Sousa for example regarded the introduction of the phonograph with suspicion.[12] predicting: "a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste" [12] Most Neo-Luddites, however, point to more wide-ranging and devastating consequences of our technological civilization, such as climate change, environmental degradation,[9] psychological disorders,[8] social alienation, loss of community, unemployment, economic and political inequality, nuclear warfare and biological weapons. Neo-Luddites also believe that current technologies are a threat to humanity and to the natural world in general, and that a future societal collapse is possible. According to Sale, "The industrial civilization so well served by its potent technologies cannot last, and will not last; its collapse is certain within not more than a few decades."[11]

In a letter to David Skrbina, Neo-Luddite Ted Kaczynski gave an extensive "partial list" of problems he believes are brought about by the technological system:

War (with modern weapons, not comparable to earlier warfare), nuclear weapons, accumulation of nuclear waste, other pollution problems of many different kinds, global warming, ozone depletion, exhaustion of some natural resources, overpopulation and overcrowding, genetic deterioration of humans due to relaxation of natural selection, abnormally high rate of extinction of species, risk of disaster from biotechnological tinkering, possible or probable replacement of humans by intelligent machines, biological engineering of humans (an insult to human dignity), dominance of large organizations and powerlessness of individuals, surveillance technology that makes individuals still more subject to the power of large organizations, propaganda and other manipulative psychological techniques, psychoactive medications, mental problems of modern life, including inter alia, stress, depression, mania, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit disorder, addictive disorders, domestic abuse, and generalized incompetence.[14]

Neo-Luddism believes in slowing or stopping the development of new technologies. Neo-Luddites prescribe a lifestyle that abandons specific technologies as the best prospect for the future, or as Robin and Webster put it, "a return to nature and what are imagined as more natural communities." In the place of industrial capitalism, Neo-Luddites see small-scale agricultural communities such as those of the Amish and the Chipko movement in Nepal and India[9] as models for the future.

Major principles[edit]

Chellis Glendinning

In 1990, Chellis Glendinning published her "Notes towards a Neo-Luddite manifesto" in the Utne Reader, reclaiming the term 'luddite'. According to Glendinning, Neo-Luddites are "20th century citizens — activists, workers, neighbors, social critics, and scholars — who question the predominant modern worldview, which preaches that unbridled technology represents progress."[15] Glendinning then gives the following principles of Neo-Luddism:

  1. "Neo-Luddites are not anti-technology:" Glendinning proposes that Neo-Luddites are only against specific kinds of technology which are destructive to communities or are materialistic and rationalistic.
  2. "All technologies are political:" Technologies are not neutral but have been created in specific social contexts for specific interests. Mass technological society has created technologies to perpetuate its specific values (short-term efficiency, ease of production and marketing, profit) and this has led to rigid social institutions.
  3. "The personal view of technology is dangerously limited:" Instead of focusing on how technology will improve the life of an individual, critics need to look at the wider social, economic and ecological implications of technological systems.

Glendinning then proposes the dismantling of the following technologies: nuclear technologies, chemical technologies which create "synthetic, often poisonous chemicals", genetic engineering, television, electromagnetic technologies and computer technologies.[15] She argues in favor of the "search for new technological forms" which are local in scale and promote social and political freedom.

Alternatively, in "The coming revolution", Ted Kaczynski outlined what he saw as the new Luddists' "new values that will free them from the yoke of the present technoindustrial system":[16]

  1. Rejection of all modern technology — "This is logically necessary, because modern technology is a whole in which all parts are interconnected; you can’t get rid of the bad parts without also giving up those parts that seem good."
  2. Rejection of civilization itself
  3. Rejection of materialism and its replacement with a conception of life that values moderation and self-sufficiency while deprecating the acquisition of property or of status.
  4. Love and reverence toward nature, or even worship of nature
  5. Exaltation of freedom
  6. Punishment of those responsible for the present situation. "Scientists, engineers, corporation executives, politicians, and so forth..."

Relationship to Violence[edit]

Theodore Kaczynski at Unabomber trial

Some Neo-Luddites promote the uses of vandalism and sometimes violence to achieve social change.[17] According to Kirkpatrick Sale, modern Neo-Luddites are more likely to "confine their resistance...to a kind of intellectual and political resistance."[18] The manifesto of the 'Second Luddite Congress' specifically rejects violent action.[11]

In May 2012, credit for the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi, an Ansaldo Nucleare executive, was claimed by an anarchist group who targeted him for stating that none of the deaths following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami were caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster itself:

"Adinolfi knows well that it is only a matter of time before a European Fukushima kills on our continent [...] Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self destruction and slavery [...] With our action we give back to you a small part of the suffering that you scientists are bringing to the world."[19]

Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, initially sabotaged developments near his cabin but dedicated himself to getting back at the system after discovering a road had been built over a plateau he had considered beautiful. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski engaged in a nationwide bombing campaign against modern technology, planting or mailing numerous home-made bombs, killing three people and injuring 23 others. In his 1995 manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future,[8] Kaczynski states:

"The kind of revolution we have in mind will not necessarily involve an armed uprising against any government. It may or may not involve physical violence, but it will not be a POLITICAL revolution. Its focus will be on technology and economics, not politics."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jones, Steve E. (2006). Against technology: from the Luddites to neo-Luddism. CRC Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-415-97868-2. 
  2. ^ a b Sale, Kirkpatrick, America’s new Luddites. URL=http://mondediplo.com/1997/02/20luddites
  3. ^ Christensen, Karen; David Levinson (2003). Encyclopedia of community: from the village to the virtual world, Volume 3. SAGE. p. 886. ISBN 978-0-7619-2598-9. 
  4. ^ Brosnan, M.J. (1998). Technophobia: the psychological impact of Information Technology. pg 155. London: Routledge.
  5. ^ a b c d Wheeler, Michael, "Martin Heidegger", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/heidegger/>.
  6. ^ Young, Julian. Heidegger's Later Philosophy, pg 80. Cambridge University press, 2002.
  7. ^ Ellul, The Technological Society p.324
  8. ^ a b c The Washington Post: Unabomber Special Report: INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY AND ITS FUTURE by Theodore Kaczynski
  9. ^ a b c d Basney, Lionel. Questioning Progress, Books and Culture magazine, 1998. URL=http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/1998/sepoct/8b5018.html?paging=off
  10. ^ See: Dreyfus, H. On the Internet.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Doresa Banning, Modern Day Luddites, November 30, 2001, URL=http://www.jour.unr.edu/j705/RP.BANNING.LUDDITE.HTML
  12. ^ a b c Graham, Gordon (1999). The Internet: a philosophical inquiry. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-415-19749-6. 
  13. ^ Huesemann, M.H., and J.A. Huesemann (2011). Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won't Save Us or the Environment, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada, ISBN 0865717044
  14. ^ Theodore J. Kaczynski, David Skrbina; Technological Slavery, The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. "The Unabomber."
  15. ^ a b Glendinning, Chellis. "Notes towards a Neo-Luddite manifesto" 1990, Utne Reader
  16. ^ Kaczynski, Ted. The coming revolution, url=http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ted-kaczynski-the-coming-revolution
  17. ^ Bell, David (2005). Science, technology and culture. McGraw-Hill International. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-335-21326-9. 
  18. ^ Interview with the Luddite, Wired magazine, Issue 3.06, Jun 1995. URL=http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/saleskelly.html
  19. ^ Tom Kington (11 May 2012). "Italian anarchists kneecap nuclear executive and threaten more shootings". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 

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