Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art and Individual Lives
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Published by Island Press in November, 2002.
FROM the cars we drive to the instant messages we receive, from debate about genetically modified foods to astonishing strides in cloning, robotics, and nanotechnology, it would be hard to deny technology's powerful grip on our lives. To stop and ask whether this digitized, implanted reality is quite what we had in mind when we opted for progress, or to ask if we might not be creating more problems than we solve, is likely to peg us as hopelessly backward or suspiciously eccentric.
Yet not only questioning, but challenging technology turns out ot have a long and noble history.
In this work, I examine contemporary resistance to technology and place it in a surprising historical context. I have tried to illuminate the rich but oftentimes unrecognized literary and philosophical tradition that has existed for nearly two centuries, since the first Luddites--the "machine breaking" followers of the mythical Ned Ludd--lifted their sledgehammers in protest against the Industrial Revolution. Tracing that current of thought through some of the great mids of the 19th and 20th centuries--William Blake, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Morris, Rovert Graves, Aldo Leopole, Rachel Carson, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and others, I have tried to demonstrate that modern protests against consumptive lifestyles and misgivings about the relentless march of mechanization are part of a fascinating hidden history. The Luddite tradition, I am convinced, can yield important insights into how we might reshape both technology and modern life so that human, community, and environmental values take precedence over the demands of the machine.