Time makes Luddites of us all

I was reading or better still revisiting the Horatio Hornblower series by C. S. Forester and the thought occurred to me that progress makes Luddites of us all.

In his 4th book, Hornblower and the Atropos, Forester places Captain Hornblower on a towed canal passenger barge carrying him and his family to the Thames. The modern equivalent of this journey would be for someone boarding a TGV (high speed train) in 1975. Reading about his adventures, I went down memory lane to the time of the Luddite movement.

Luddites, as one recalls from 8th grade history, were English textile workers who confronted by the mechanical products of industrialization otherwise known as machines, went on a five-year long binge trying to destroy and eradicate them from the face of good ole England.

They did so because they noticed that they were slowly but very surely being replaced by them.

The Luddites appeared in England in 1811 and by 1816, they were already out of the news. The Luddites started by destroying or putting out of action and burning textile works, machines, plants as they saw them as harbingers of the downfall of manual labour. And while they were not right to fear progress, their ways quickly alienated all other classes and what counted the most, alarmed government, which considered them traitors to the Crown, madmen, and rebels.
Their rebellion was quickly put down by a reactionary government, whose would later go on and order Her Majesty troops to open fire on the 60,000 unarmed civilians, many of whom were women, at Peterloo in 1819.

So basically, the same government that considered people simple tools of economics and punished them for desiring to survive in a rapidly evolving industrial England, cast aside any pretense of liberalism and openness and reacted in the same manner as Metternich’s Holy Alliance against the Carbonari: Blood, steel, and chains – in short, Repression.

The Peterloo Massacre of 1819. This is how democracy was won in general and in particular in good ole England, folks. The Hussars sabred 18 people to death, injuring 650 more. This is why when I hear people willy-nilly support government’s reactionary, half-assed, asinine measures, intending to do away with personal freedoms and rights, I feel personally betrayed. I feel this way because I know, oh I know, oh so well, how many people died to secure those freedoms that we so casually surrender to the government and corporations. If only people would see how unintelligent and impolitic that was, if only…

Coming back to the Luddite movement, they were symptomatic for a new England coming of age in a time when steam was arriving on the stage of the world. For let us remember that a defeated Napoleon, the mighty Ogre, reduced to coming to seek “asylum at the hearth of the English people”, would cast his eyes on one of the first steam-ships traversing the ocean towards America, in 1815.

Napoleon, a bit of a Luddite himself, had blatantly refused Robert Fulton’s schemes and plans of giving the French Navy the power of steam, a good ten years before losing the Wars against the English. How downcast and amer or sour he might have been the moment he saw Fulton’s chimera come true.

That much is historical fact and between you and I, that alone should not have prompted me into writing this.

However, I was suddenly pulled down memory lane, and brought back to the moment in time when a younger self first discovered with youthful and fascinated eyes this piece of information, apparently quite weird and even funny.

You see, folks, back then in 1993-94, as I read about the seemingly imbecilic Luddite movement, I remember giggling at the whole historical episode.

I mean how could Man be so obtuse as to destroy that which had brought the advantages of modern life?! Preposterous. Silly. What a bunch of silly illiterate jokers. What did they know about progress?

I considered the whole episode through the eyes of a 14-year old who aspired to things like a calculator, a personal computer, a stereo CD player. In short, I did not consider all the facts and firmly believed that Man has no right to pick a fight with Progress.

Why would anyone in their right mind destroy the products of human ingenuity that were designed to replace human labour, so imprecise, so bent to go on strike on a dime, and so very fickle?!

That was me then and there. Of course that in the fullness of time, when my young mind had given way to a more mature and better seized mindset, I had the chance to reconsider my original views on the subject.

Little did I know how much time would manage to alter my original perceptions.

They say that people generally stop learning past a certain age. I gotta say that I don’t really subscribe to this current of opinion. I mean from a personal perspective. Generally speaking, it is true that people after a certain age revert to a sort of standoffish mode when it comes to learning how to operate any new technology. Some resent it. Others hate it. A few come to embrace it. Nobody really likes change after a certain age. Almost all old people are Reactionaries. And that is good.

Some say that the age limit for this process is 40 or 45 years. Others care less for such a reductionist view. I belong to the latter.

I do agree with the notion that past the age of 40, some people will find it harder to learn new tricks than the new generations. This is hardly rocket science. That’s how the phrase ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” was coined.

However, if I was perfectly honest with myself, I would have to recognize that as of last I have come to appreciate the value of old values, proven technology to the point where the phrase “Not everything that is old is bad. And not everything new is good.” has become my mantra.

Am I turning Luddite? Don’t know for sure. I guess time will tel. But one thing is for sure. I don’t believe that technology can heal all of our problems any more.

I stopped believing in technology when I realized how easily it can be used against people. To spy, to steal information, to do away with personal freedoms, to make people hate one another without ever having met face to face, to divide and to conquer and control, all these are our New Reality. We live in a quasi-dystopian world, where the government and corporations reach out and inform us that “We need to stay indoors during the pandemic lockdown.”

Technology enabled the State to assume greater control over the people. And one doesn’t need to be a neo-Luddite to see its nefarious and far-reaching consequences. Social control is within reach of the government. In some parts of the world, people are being assigned a social score based on certain criteria that one has to meet to be able to enjoy one’s rights. If they don’t meet the standards set by the State, woe to them.

Technology today has a far greater impact on our lives than it had in the 1780s-1830s. It has the potential to annihilate not just our freedom but our lives.

We’d do well to remember that when we next decide which iPhone we should get our children.

Caspar Huberinus (1500-1553) was a German Lutherian theologian who coined the famous phrase Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis a.k.a. Times are changed; we, too, are changed within them.

In the end the question remains. As Change is immutable and inexorable, and given that we are Its Servants, is there a Point to resist It? I firmly believe so. But that is just me. I realize that most people find more peace and sense in Huberinus’ idea than he himself assigned to it.

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