Note — Dec 04, 2019

General Ludd in the Long Seventies

At LibrarianShipwreck, a review of Matt Tierney’s Dismantlings, a book seen as “a vital contribution to attempts to theorize what Luddism might mean, and how we are to confront the various technological challenges facing us today.” The book is focused on the “long seventies” (1965 to 1980) and looks at the work of Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Norbert Wiener, and Stewart Brand, but also Ursula Le Guin and Samuel Delany. It’s kind of fascinating, and more than a bit depressing, that some of the thinking from back then was already talking about technology alongside decolonization, sexual and gender autonomy, and racial justice. One might think we’d have gotten further ahead by now but on the contrary, we seem to have gotten closer to what the “Ludditeish” thinkers of the late seventies were worried about.

In contrast to the “technological Messianism” of the likes of Fuller and McLuhan, the “communion” based works by the likes of Le Guin and Delaney focused less on exuberance for the machines themselves but instead sought to critically engage with what types of coexistence such machines would and could genuinely facilitate. […]

“Decentralized technologies that meet the needs of the people those technologies serve will necessarily give life to a different kind of political structure, and it is safe to predict that the political structure that results will be anticolonial in nature.” […]

That the Luddites are so constantly vilified may ultimately be a signal of their dangerous power, insofar as they show that people need not passively sit and accept everything that is sold to them as technological progress. Dismantling represents a politics “not as machine hating, but as a way to protect life against a large=scale regimentation and policing of security, labor, time, and community.” […]

To a certain extent, Dismantlings stands as a reminder of a range of individuals who tried to warn us that we would wind up in the mess in which we find ourselves. Those who are equipped with such powers of perception are often mocked and derided in their own time, but looking back at them with hindsight one can get a discomforting sense of just how prescient they truly were. […]

[L]inking Luddism to “species expression and…planetary survival,” Tierney highlights that even if this Luddism is not “the hatred of machines as such” it still entails the recognition that there are some machines that should be hated – and that should be taken apart.