Philosophy[ edit ] Neo-Luddism calls for slowing or stopping the development of new technologies. Neo-Luddism prescribes a lifestyle that abandons specific technologies, because of its belief that this is the best prospect for the future. As Robin and Webster put it, "a return to nature and what are imagined as more natural communities. Neo-Luddism denies the ability of any new technology to solve current problems, such as environmental degradation ,  nuclear warfare and biological weapons , without creating more, potentially dangerous problems.
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Recent targets of suspected sabotage include the London Stock Exchange and a nuclear power plant in Iran. Even off-the-grid extremists find technology irresistible. For the rest of us, our uneasy protests against technology almost inevitably take technological form. We worry about whether violent computer games are warping our children, then decry them by tweet, text or Facebook post.
We try to simplify our lives by shopping at the local farmers market—then haul our organic arugula home in a Prius. College students take out their earbuds to discuss how technology dominates their lives. Sorry, Amanda, real Luddites were clueless when it came to steeping vanilla beans in vodka. Some of the original Luddites were cross-dressers—more about that later—so maybe they would empathize. People use the word now even to describe someone who is merely clumsy or forgetful about technology.
So you can hurl Luddite curses at your cellphone or your spouse, but you can also sip a wine named Luddite which has its own Web site: www. Despite their modern reputation, the original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it.
Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new. Moreover, the idea of smashing machines as a form of industrial protest did not begin or end with them. In truth, the secret of their enduring reputation depends less on what they did than on the name under which they did it. You could say they were good at branding. The Luddite disturbances started in circumstances at least superficially similar to our own. British working families at the start of the 19th century were enduring economic upheaval and widespread unemployment.
Then, on March 11, , in Nottingham, a textile manufacturing center, British troops broke up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages. That night, angry workers smashed textile machinery in a nearby village. Similar attacks occurred nightly at first, then sporadically, and then in waves, eventually spreading across a mile swath of northern England from Loughborough in the south to Wakefield in the north.
Fearing a national movement, the government soon positioned thousands of soldiers to defend factories. Parliament passed a measure to make machine-breaking a capital offense. But the Luddites were neither as organized nor as dangerous as authorities believed. They set some factories on fire, but mainly they confined themselves to breaking machines. In truth, they inflicted less violence than they encountered. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April , some 2, protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester.
The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day. Earlier that month, a crowd of about protesters had exchanged gunfire with the defenders of a mill in Yorkshire, and two Luddites died. Soon, Luddites there retaliated by killing a mill owner, who in the thick of the protests had supposedly boasted that he would ride up to his britches in Luddite blood. Three Luddites were hanged for the murder; other courts, often under political pressure, sent many more to the gallows or to exile in Australia before the last such disturbance, in One technology the Luddites commonly attacked was the stocking frame, a knitting machine first developed more than years earlier by an Englishman named William Lee.
Right from the start, concern that it would displace traditional hand-knitters had led Queen Elizabeth I to deny Lee a patent. But labor disputes caused sporadic outbreaks of violent resistance. Episodes of machine-breaking occurred in Britain from the s onward, and in France during the revolution.
As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. Those were their only concerns. And what makes them so memorable even now? Credit on both counts goes largely to a phantom. Ned Ludd, also known as Captain, General or even King Ludd, first turned up as part of a Nottingham protest in November , and was soon on the move from one industrial center to the next.
This elusive leader clearly inspired the protesters. And his apparent command of unseen armies, drilling by night, also spooked the forces of law and order. Government agents made finding him a consuming goal. In fact, no such person existed. Ludd was a fiction concocted from an incident that supposedly had taken place 22 years earlier in the city of Leicester. According to the story, a young apprentice named Ludd or Ludham was working at a stocking frame when a superior admonished him for knitting too loosely.
The story eventually made its way to Nottingham, where protesters turned Ned Ludd into their symbolic leader. The Luddites, as they soon became known, were dead serious about their protests. Luddism stuck in the collective memory because it seemed larger than life.
Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand. The original Luddites would answer that we are human. But it needs to be about big things, too, like standing up against technologies that put money or convenience above other human values. And which they would use to break them. Richard Conniff, a frequent contributor to Smithsonian, is the author, most recently, of The Species Seekers. The Luddites, shown here hammering away in a textile mill in , were not the first protesters to smash technology.
See Article History Alternative Title: Ludd Luddite, member of the organized bands of 19th-century English handicraftsmen who rioted for the destruction of the textile machinery that was displacing them. The movement began in the vicinity of Nottingham toward the end of and in the next year spread to Yorkshire, Lancashire , Derbyshire, and Leicestershire. Their leader, real or imaginary, was known as King Ludd, after a probably mythical Ned Ludd. They eschewed violence against persons and often enjoyed local support.
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Recent targets of suspected sabotage include the London Stock Exchange and a nuclear power plant in Iran. Even off-the-grid extremists find technology irresistible. For the rest of us, our uneasy protests against technology almost inevitably take technological form. We worry about whether violent computer games are warping our children, then decry them by tweet, text or Facebook post. We try to simplify our lives by shopping at the local farmers market—then haul our organic arugula home in a Prius.
Who Were the Luddites?
The movement was said to be named after Ned Ludd , an apprentice who allegedly smashed two stocking frames in and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers. Ned Ludd, however, was completely fictional and used as a way to shock and provoke the government. The majority of individuals were primarily concerned with meeting their own daily needs. The new inventions produced textiles faster and cheaper because they were operated by less-skilled, low-wage labourers, and the Luddite goal was to gain a better bargaining position with their employers. There was a rebellion in Northumberland and Durham in , and an assault on Quaker corn dealers in Skilled artisans in the cloth, building, shipbuilding, printing, and cutlery trades organized friendly societies to peacefully insure themselves against unemployment, sickness, and intrusion of foreign labour into their trades, as was common among guilds. Thomis argued in his history The Luddites that machine-breaking was one of a very few tactics that workers could use to increase pressure on employers, to undermine lower-paid competing workers, and to create solidarity among workers.
What the Luddites Really Fought Against