Luddites and Everything We Were Taught Wrong About Them

Nottingham, England, 1810. A gloomy morning filled with permeating stench and smog of a dirty industrial city.

Wealthy owners of textile factories are awakened by an unpleasant smell of smoke and char enveloping the city from the direction of their production facilities.

Fires in England in early 19th century were a common thing, but what they had found in front of their factories rendered them speechless...

A group of revolted workers was destroying, crushing and burning down machines.

In an unfair and fierce fight, new machinery, unable to defend itself, had a tough luck.

A couple of years ago, it was exactly because of these smoldering machines that thousands of workers were made redundant or had their intolerably low per diems additionally cut down.

To be honest, those were not newbie workers unable to adapt to changes, unfamiliar with how to operate new devices. Quite the opposite, they might have been the best workers, among the first to embrace changes, who daftly handled weaving machines.

Their frustration was projected onto machinery which they perceived as symbols of injustice, enormous enrichment of big land owners and industrialists and creation of huge class divides and exploitation of labour force as a result of work automation.

They were not feeble-minded or schizophrenic, nor opium-eaters. Their true enemy had neither cogwheels nor pistons. But their anger had to find some vent.

It was on of the first proletarian uprisings ever, and certainly the first recorded "clash" between humans and machines.

The very name of the movement - luddite - is traced back to Sherwood apprentice - Ned Lud, who was said to have smashed down a weaving loom in late 18th century.    

Civil unrest that ensued was pretty short-lived.

The movement was stifled in a couple-of-years time, and the rebels were severely punished, some sentenced to gallows and others banished to Australia and other overseas countries.

What they left behind was the name Luddites which became an ill-fortune and incorrect synonym for human unpreparedness to face the industrial progress.

This presently derogatory term is aligned with the modern term technophobe, denoting a man who is afraid of modern technologies, devices and tools, not ready to embrace the innovation.

The Luddites' mistake was that they stormed the tools instead of the real cause of their misfortune.

Nowadays, for instance, destruction of computers and electronic devices would cause a global disaster. It would mean our end probably as we are all literally dependent on "life-support devices".

The first industrial revolution soon brought massive social tensions and revolutions.

The fourth one will not result in that, since ideology exists no more, but it calls for the (r)evolution of the human spirit.

Meanwhile in Serbia...

Anti-luddites: No one may beat you

Exactly two centuries after the failure of the Luddite movement, in August 2016, this is how the then-current aspiring Prime Minister, and current Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić, commented the criticism related to inhuman treatment of employees by a Korean company Jura:

I will fight the ideas that resemble the Luddite movement, particularly that of Ned Ludd, when workers demolished machines. Jura feeds more than 6,000 people, and this lunatic and luddite movement, embracing the ideas proposed by Ned Ludd, when they destroyed machines - I am strongly opposed to that and I will fight it with all my force.

Aleksandar Vučić, August 2016

Who is a luddite and who is a lunatic here?

A brother against a brother, that's ok, but the rage against the machine, no way man, the President won't let it happen.

I don't recall anyone threatening to destroy machines in Jura's factory, but President Vučić parable may be the best manifest of neoliberal capitalism, probably served in the kitchen of his British counsel Tony Blair, who is well familiar with the Luddite movement.

At least it will be recorded that for the first time in modern history, a president of the leading establishment stood up to protect the machines.

The only thing missing was the famous line ''No one may beat you!"

Again we have some red herrings here, workers are again accused of obstructing the wheel of progress. Some well-grounded complaints and evidence of exploitation and suppression of workers have been spun by the story of neo-luddites who are not satisfied for being fed, but they ask for more.

Are you gonna ludd it?

The Luddite movement has never completely disappeared.

There are some of its recurrences even now, reflected predominantly in certain anarcho-union organizations and socially engaged hackers and creators of various viruses, worms, malware and other malicious codes that can severely disturb the global system which fully relies on technology and global network.

Ted Kacinski
Ted Kaczynski - the Unabomber

The most one is the example of a US dissident, math professor, Teodor Kaczynski, aka Unabomber (he used to set up bombs at universities and airliners Uninversity and Airline Bomber that's where his nickname comes from).

Between 1978 and 1995, his outrageous attacks by improvised explosive contraptions left 3 people killed, and 23 injured.

As he said, bombing campaigns were extreme but necessary, to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom and dignity by modern technologies that require large-scale organization.

Kaczynski has certainly attracted attention, above all to himself and his madness, as his luddism could only be characterized as that.

The motto that the end justifies the means holds no water indeed, since sacrificing innocent people does not divert attention to major social issues, for sure.

From disruption to new humanistic eruption

The beginning of the 21st century is associated with the 4th industrial revolution, which marks the onset of integration of man and artificial intelligence in all walks of life.

Disruption has infected almost all industries and there are few occupations who have been spared of the automation challenge.

Millenials have readily welcomed the changes, but the members of older generations are more reserved.

You probably heard that even the tech giants, such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, used to restrict the usage of devices to their children (iPads, cell phones, tablets).

Have they just followed the old drug dealer's catch phrase: Never get high on your own supplies

Or maybe there is something that Steve and Billy know and we can only assume? Do threats outweigh benefits? Can they control the Frankenstein whose birth they have assisted?


Oh my god, I created a monster.

For instance, one of the most famous entrepreneurs and innovators in the 21st century, Elon Musk, is afraid that future battles will be fought between people and AI.

The man who made an electric car, invented solar roof tiles, Hyperloop - ultrafast vacuum train, developed SpaceX programme and who is getting ready to conquer Mars - he is afraid of machines and artificial intelligence?!

Elon Musk, are you serious?

In addition, he claims we have created something we have no more control over - the tool for our own destruction.

He says that it is only the matter of time when people will be connected with algorithms on a neural basis in order to avoid extinction.

Have the great innovators became converts, having realized that they are losing control?

Goddammit, what are we laymen to do?

FYI, do not rest assured that you are an exception, a unique creative soul whose profession will never be replaced by an algorith.

While Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the richest man in this segment of universe, happily announces that by 2030 one third of his employees will consist of robots, just ask yourself when it will be your turn.

Džef Bezos
Jeff Bezos

Hasn't the technological progress turned upside down?

Prometheus gave us fire, and we started using it for weapons of self-destruction, he gave us algorithms as well, and we became their slaves.

He had his liver eaten by vultures for our sake, but our predicament will be far worse, we will destroy ourselves. Now that Pandora's box has been opened, is there any chance left to make amends? Is there any hope?

I think there is, but time is ticking away.

That is why now, more than ever before, it is necessary to set new ethical standards and regulate the issues before it is too late.

If the man really wants to keep his freedom and preserve the planet and nature, he must jump into the caboose and take control of the train.

Besides, that equation should cover the entire eco-system, the entire plant of Earth. Our perspective is far too narrow-minded and anthropocentric, we are too important to ourselves and infinitely vain, and we have not proven wise enough so far.

We keep cutting the branch we are sitting on, even using a chainsaw to finish it completely.

We need a new perspective, a holistic approach that will include all living beings, even the inorganic ones that we cannot do without any more.

A new ethics that would encompass both computers and robots and Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence. These things have become dominant and inseparable parts of our lives and we must not ignore it. Our co-existence is inevitable.

There is just the issue of dominance, as in any type of relationship...

Who is in charge here?

My vote goes to the ethical usage of modern technologies, rather than to its abuse.

Until a new value system is established, that will put the man in the relevant context of the 3rd millenium, first he must comprehend his place in the system, and then to return to his real nature.

At the end of the day, we may all miss a speck of philosophical luddism, to avoid going completely crazy...