Luddism Redux

Around 1800, some new textile machinery technology was introduced to the world, including to the UK which relied heavily upon this industry. Sudden gains in productivity led to rising unemployment and plummeting wages, thereby causing social disruption. A movement called ’Luddism’ was born out of workers’ poverty and frustration, with as its core the ideal of fair profits as opposed to profit maximization. The Luddites attacked industrial properties and systematically destroyed machines as part of a social war on the industrial revolution. The movement became increasingly violent and ended up being crushed by the government by 1830.


The birth of the internet in the 90’s provided a fertile ground for Neo-Luddism. The Unabombers terror attacks were the most violent expression of that anti-tech movement. In his manifesto (1995), he states: ‘The human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines decisions. As society and the problems that gave it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them […]. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently At that stage the machines will be in effected control.’ It is not completely void of logic.


Today, the rather benign movement which acknowledges the benefits of technology but stresses that it should not be blindly trusted can be referred to as ‘Reformed Luddism’. From here onwards, the growing fear of long-term job insecurity resulting from advancing technologies will feed activists’ and politicians’ narratives and potentially lead to a louder movement: ’Luddism Redux’?


The Diversified Industrials space’s positioning at the core of the fourth industrial revolution comes with a great deal of social responsibility. A number of large tech companies failed to acknowledge similar responsibilities and saw their corporate image significantly deteriorate over the last couple of years. Diversified Industrials firms might be faced with the same dangers as they expand their ARD offering and become directly associated with both its positive and negative consequences, including rising unemployment, at a time of already heightened social tension (see ‘1968’ in January). Relationships with stakeholders would then need to carefully handled so as to avoid contributing to the rise of Reduxists who, in the words of Ted Kaczynski aka the Unabomber, believe that ’the only way [to change the current system] is to dispense with the industrial technological system altogether.’


Sources:

  • Smithsonian Magazine, ‘When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites’, January 2017

  • T. Fulano, ’The Unabomber and the Future of Industrial Society’, Fall 1996

  • M Kryszczuk, ‘Neo-Luddism: Contemporary Work and Beyond’, 2017

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