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You got to love those neo-Luddites February 1, 2011

Posted by Summerspeaker in Primitivism, Technology, Transhumanism.
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I read this book for David Correia’s class this week. Jones analyzes the constructions of Luddism from its origins in early nineteenth-century England to the neo-Luddites of the past decade. He stresses the active role in mythmaking and cultural creation for all involved as well as the profound differences between the historical and contemporary movements. He questions the dominant narrative of technology as an autonomous force that he identifies as arising after the advent of the atomic age. With this emphasis of human agency comes a call for serious reflection to anyone invoking the legacy of Ned Ludd and his army, particularly the terror and violence involved. Though obvious, the admonition that we as a species collectively shape the future is worth remembering. Until Goertzel or somebody else creates a genie, technology doesn’t function on its own.

Because of preexisting knowledge about the current anti-technology scene, I found the section on the appropriate technology faction of 1960s counterculture most intriguing. I have long held interest in tracing in the intellectual legacy of the dream of an automated egalitarian society. Though not covered by this book, the left has sought to employ technology for the common good and against capitalist bosses from the beginning. Reading this chapter helped me better understand the political circumstances in which Shulamith Firestone wrote The Dialectic of Sex and outlined a plan of cybernetic communism as part of feminist revolution. This economic vision had a significant following during the period. I wish popularize an updated version of this platform. The widespread neo-Luddite sentiment in the present-day radical community – as discussed by Jones – concerns me. The struggle for the soul of the revolutionary cause waged by authors such as Edward Abbey in the 1970s continues and intensifies.

Given the strong assertion held by John Zerzan and company that the whole technological system must go, long-term collaboration and compromise appears hopeless regardless of close ties primitivists and traditional leftists now share. On the other hand, the simple aesthetic preference for life without a computer or internet connection that Jones suggests lies at the heart of much neo-Luddite philosophy might find satisfaction under a number of scenarios. Already those sufficiently affluent and/or adept can comfortably survive on the edges or even outside of the industrial and communications apparatus. John McCain managed to nearly become the president of the country despite limited or nonexistent ability to browse the web. If the technologies neo-Luddites so fear and we transhumanists so desire come to fruition, the tensions between the romantic pastoral and techno-utopia could conceivably turn obsolete. An advanced nanotech community would – if desired – look more like a primeval forest than one of our noisy, grimy cities that the neo-Luddites understandably detest.

Indeed, pursuing the technological path strikes me as the only moral and plausible way to achieve the green anarchist dream. Ability to manipulate the fundamental building blocks of matter should give the option of living in harmony with the rest of the ecosystem without submitting ourselves to degeneration, misery, and death. Knowledge inherently lends itself to a multiplicity of possible goals. We need not accept notions of an inevitable drive to convert the universe into computronium or even remake the the food chain. I don’t know where I stand on these cosmic questions. I’m only certain that our current condition is intolerable.

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1. Parke Burgess - March 22, 2011

Your wrote, “pursuing the technological path strikes me as the only moral and plausible way to achieve the green anarchist dream.” You may be right. But beware of that slippery slope over to the right. I refer to the phenomenon I have dubbed technotalitarianism. For more on this, see my blog.


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