Rebels Against The Future
A discussion of the book "Rebels Against The Future" by Kirkpatric Sale
Tracy Reed CS 440 3/10/96 A discussion of the book "Rebels Against The Future" by Kirkpatric Sale This book describes the battle between economic forces which drive society towards the most profitable and efficient way of getting things done and those who oppose it. The books main focus is on the Luddite. This is the self ascribed name of those who actively protested the industrial revolution in England. The name is derived from a fictional character of unknown origin who was their symbolic leader and figure head. They were working class citizens who saw their jobs being taken away by machinery and decided to take action. The first chapter of the book describes several violent attacks on automated factories and mills. In addition to all of the weaving and milling equipment destroyed d, people were killed during the attack by the factory owners and the troops stationed in the area by the government. Many of the artisans whose jobs were being phased out by steam powered looms and other devices felt betrayed by society and their own government. The government advocated the use of machinery and supported the factories by placing troops at key locations to fend off attackers. The word Luddite has been used to describe those who resist change ever since. Sale's position on technology becomes quite obvious early in the book. He strongly sympathizes with the Luddites and feels that mankind should turn back to nature before it is too late. However, he seems to present a very one-sided view of the situation. He often talks about the dehumanizing effects of technology and the hardship it brings to those it displaces, and dismisses any perceived benefits as insignificant. While it does indeed put some people out of work, it also greatly reduces the cost of manufacturing those goods. A few people were put out of work, but many more people could now afford the goods they needed. Given the luxury of hind site, I don't understand how anyone could say that the industrial revolution was a bad thing. We are far healthier, live longer, and in general have a much higher standard of living than the Luddites could have ever dreamed of. Sale would say that this has been at the cost of the planet, and perhaps even our own humanity. But the planet has not yet been destroyed (and may never be), and humanity is very subjective. I think I am at least as human as any Luddite, despite the fact that I happen to love working with computers and other sorts of machinery. Sale also misuses the example of the Luddite. While it is true that they attacked factories and opposed mechanization, it was not at all because they felt it was dehumanizing or destroying the biosphere. They did it for entirely different reasons. The Luddites acted for purely selfish ecomic reasons. The very same selfish economic reasons which spurred on the industrial revolution in the first place. Nobody likes to be put out of work, especially by a machine. While one can certainly sympathize with the plight of the Luddite, their actions do not appear to have much to do with the authors cause. However, some authors of the early 1800's felt similarly to Sale. This is shown quite well through the use of poetry and comments from authors such as Wordsworth, Bronte, and Mary Shelley. Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, is especially representative due to it's theme of technology enslaving it's inventor. Human beings are made out to be slaves to the machines. Having to run them and tend them. Sale describes the horrendous working conditions, the long hours, the beatings, practically slave labor. But this is not necessarily the fault of technology. This was the fault of fellow human beings and the laissez faire attitude of the government. The focus of the book eventually moves from the Luddites of the early 1800's to the Neo-Luddites of the 1980's and 90's. Sale describes the efforts of the Neo-Luddites and exposes Neo-Luddite overtones in modern society. Examples given are modern movies such as "Return Of The Jedi" where a young boy from a farm on a desert planet runs off to defeat the "Evil Empire" and ends up in the Ewok village among the trees. While this is somewhat similar to the Luddite view, I'm really not sure it's what writers of this movie had in mind nor do I think it really has much to do with how society feels. It seems rather contrived. A few ideas to improve society are also given. One of these is cited from a paper written by Chellis Glendinning, a psychologist in New Mexico. She envisions a future where all nuclear, chemical, biogenetic, electromagnetic, television, and computer technologies are abandoned and new technologies are created. She says, "We have nothing to lose except a way of living that leads to the destruction of all life. We have a world to gain. She is making some very large claims here. It's not at all clear what these claims are based on. And since Sale cites this work, one can only assume that he agrees with it. The reality is that this is completely impractical. If it were possible to create these new technologies, they would be created. If we could invent alternative technologies that would solve all of these problems, it would be done. The fact is that it is simply beyond the currently known laws of universe to do this. And she feels that by abandoning what we already know we will be able to do this? The ancient Egyptians could not do it, and that is precisely the situation we would be in if we took her advice. They took the only options which were available to them which led us to where we are today. The only way to those environmentally friendly technologies is to move forward with current knowledge. Sale then goes on to cite many modern examples of Luddite thinking, movements, and victories over technology. Usually involving the obstruction of learning. He then claims that computers have two fatal flaws apart from the "fact" that a great deal of pollution and sweatshop labor go into producing them and that considerable deskilling result from their corporate use. It seems doubtful that the author has even seen a computer assembly plant, but from personal experience I can say that it is highly automated and the people who do work there are skilled individuals who are not slave labor. Although there are many chemicals used in the production of computers, environmental damage can be minimized with proper recycling and disposal techniques. And operating a computer requires additional skills, not fewer skills. The first of the two actual fatal flaws are that computers are "steering the world toward social inequity and disintegration and toward environmental stability and collapse. On the contrary, they appear to be doing just the opposite. Flow of information is every totalitarian governments worst enemy. China is afraid of the Internet and have begun regulating it. By allowing people to easily exchange political ideas and other information, they are being freed. The environmental problems are solved by recycling and proper waste management. The second is that computers separate people from the natural world. Aside from the fact that many people sit in their rooms for hours on end playing the latest video game instead of enjoying the outdoors, I don't see how this is true. Computers have helped us to understand the natural world much better than we would have otherwise. There's much more to the natural world than flora and fauna. Chemistry and physics and all of the other things which make modern technology possible are all part of the natural world. The book chronicles the Luddite movement and the Neo-Luddite movement quite well. It even cites the sources used and has a handy time line in the back. It shows that Luddites have been around ever since the very beginning of rapid acceleration of technology . While their movement is not very strong, they have been quite consistent over the years. I feel that Sale lacks some fundamental knowledge to speak on this subject. The first is a knowledge of science. All too often, people who speak against technology do not understand exactly what it is they are speaking about because they feel it is bad and have never explored it. The second thing Sale is lacking is an understanding of Darwinism. It is a natural property of all living things to do whatever is required of them to survive. Our lifespans are increased by technology. It is unnatural for us as a species to go back to the old ways. This Darwinism is what actually drives the economy. We all want a roof over our head and food on the table so we do whatever is necessary. Even if it is at the expense of the Earth, up to the point where a poor environment becomes a threat and then we will naturally begin to react to remedy that situation. The Luddite movement seems to be advocating ignorance and a step backward for mankind.