Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Symphony for Mr. Ludd

with 6 comments

So, this morning, on ALDaily, I found this


Yet another hymn to what is good about Luddism–the stubborn refusal to accept change as it manifests itself in new technologies, particularly the technologies that disrupt our world by making some forms of employment and occupation obsolete and substituing new ones–

Or, as all Luddites, ne0- or otherwise, insist, possibly not substituting anything at all.

It is this fear–that technology will take over all our employments and leave us with nothing, groveling and starving in the dirt while the few people who own these technologies or who are otherwise able to access and use them gobble up all the resources and ignore us as if we don’t exist.

I have gone over and over and over again why I believe this scenario is farcical, not the least of which is the fact that those people who own the technologies need custoners if they’re going to make any money at all. 

If we ever did reach the point where there was nothing but the “1%” and the starving, groveling masses whose only opportunity for making a living consisted of playing pool boy to Silicon Valley tech barons, the whole system would promptly collapse and the tech barons would find themselves out on the streets with the rest of us.

There is no market without people.  It would be possible for the tech barons to make individual products for individual rich buyers, but they would be a lot poorer when they did it, and the rest of us could and would ignore them.   They’d do what they do, and we’d go back to doing things like farming small plots of land or herding cattle or inventing widgets that our neighbors and friends would value.

We tend to forget that “employment” as we now understand it is a very knew thing, brought on by the industrial revolution.

But that’s the worst case scenario, and it’s not what I’m worried about, because the changes that it will come about are virtually nil.   Tech barons like to make money just the way robber barons did, and to do that they need a middle class.

That middle class may be in India and China instead of here, but it will be somewhere, and it will have both employment and income.

With any luck, it will also have more imagination than the writers of these articles ever seem to have, because if there is one thing that categorizes pieces like this, it is the MONUMENTAL failure of imagination required to even conceive them.

I understand that it is very difficult to peer into the future and conceive of what might be coming down the road.  And my older son is always telling me that we’re very bad at knowing what we’re going to get good at, his prime example being the old Jetsons tv show,  where there are flying cars and robots doing all kinds of work people did then, but where telephone calls still need a switchboard and computers still occupy entire buildings.

No, I do not know what’s coming next, but I do know that whatever it is it will be something we do not have now, at all.  We’re having trouble conceiving of it because it does not now exist.

Whatever it is will come, however, and when it’s been around for a while, people will start complaining that the good jobs it once guaranteed to the middle class are being decimating by yet newer technologies coming up.

But nobody will say “yet newer.”  Everybody will talk as if the technology under discussion existed from always and it’s just this latest innovation taking away what we’re “entitled” to.

But all those things aside, the REALLY interesting thing about this piece occurs near the end, where the author talks about a new HBO series called Silicon Valley.

The author heartily approves of this series, because he feels it shows Silicon Valley for what it really is–a collection of very strange people who don’t care at all about our welfare.

Think about that.

“…very strange people…”

You know, weirdos.

We are, God help us, back to that.

And that, quite frankly, says all I need to know about Luddism, neo or otherwise.

Luddism has been synonomous with stupid, or foolish? 

Well, that there–that “very strange people”–is why it should be.

Written by janeh

September 5th, 2014 at 8:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Symphony for Mr. Ludd'

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  1. Well, for that matter, I think of shows like “Housewives of (insert leisured wealthy demographic here)” are about some very strange people. Most of whom have values and perform behaviors I have trouble fathoming.

    I’m pretty sure the Housewives don’t care about my welfare either. So, I think there’s something different going on here. Fear of the unknown and the human tendency to think “what I’ve known in my life is how it’s always been and always should be”, basically. Remember, back in the 70s, we were all supposed to be starving in our waste by now, Malthusian predictions of our extinction being pretty dire. Technological solutions of various problems and globalization of economies mean that we can, in fact, support billions more people than anyone conceived of. Even the famines in Africa are caused more by wars than weather or other traditional famine-causes.


    5 Sep 14 at 10:43 am

  2. Yeah, I know. For centuries we’ve been taking jobs away from good, hard-working people–harnessing horses, inventing windmills and watermills, printing presses and combines, cotton gins and mechanical looms–and every generation an hours’ work buys more stuff, and about the same percentage of healthy adults find jobs. You have to ignore a LOT of history to believe in the coming automation-driven dystopia. Of course, lots of people are very good at ignoring history.

    On a personal level, it really is the end of the world sometimes, and we need to get better at helping old typesetters and ropewalkers find a soft landing without raising a new generation of them. It’s very easy to protect or subsidize an industry, but stopping is notoriously difficult. (We COULD, of course, give retraining or early retirement bonuses to workers above a certain age instead of subsidizing firms–but I don’t really think we will.)

    As for the strange people who don’t care about me, I’ve seen the ones who care about me so much they make a religion–and a career–out of managing my life. Of the two, me for the Silicon Valley nerds.


    5 Sep 14 at 7:15 pm

  3. Malthusianism is alive and thriving in Century 21. Paul Erlich, who famously predicted in the 1970s that the world would have run out of most of the vital mineral resources long since, only to have been proven wrong, is still making doom-laden predictions to the enthusiastic applause of the Green Left and other fairies at the bottom of the garden. The whole global warming panic has its roots in Malthusianism.

    There is simply no way people of that mindset will ever learn.


    5 Sep 14 at 8:50 pm

  4. There is no market without people. Henry Ford knew that back in 1914


    I would add that robots can only do what they are told to do. I can imagine a robot taking blood pressure but what does it do if the patient suddenly starts screaming?


    5 Sep 14 at 11:19 pm

  5. I thought giving people early retirement was, well, not universal, but fairly common. It’s the people who are just a bit young for this (or who don’t want to retire for financial or personal reasons) but not quite young enough to retrain for something else and still avoid the ‘we’d rather hire a younger person’ thing some employers have who really struggle when an industry collapses.

    I don’t have much to say about the general theme – there are things I don’t like about my current culture, but increased technology usually isn’t one of them. There’s LOTS of increased technology I really enjoy.


    6 Sep 14 at 6:54 am

  6. jd, me for the blood pressure robot–and I have a nurse sister and an MD cousin. Some decades ago, at the dawn of computerized medical histories, someone decided that early efforts to have medical professionals compile them were too expensive, and had early clunky computers compete. The computer was programmed to thank the person for his or her help, and suggest a short break at random intervals. Those who used both systems, when surveyed later, preferred working with the computer to working with the professional care-giver. The computer, one noted, was “more human.”


    6 Sep 14 at 8:23 am

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