I Am Not a Luddite

Cartoons like the one above make me frustrated. This frustration lies beyond the generalized stereotype of Occupy Protesters that it portrays. No it isn’t because cartoons like this miss the point that many Occupy identified individuals don’t believe in an end to capitalism. My frustration lies in the idea that an activist must be a Luddite. I’ve seen this so many times, have read it, and have been confronted about it. This idea that the Occupy movement must denounce technology.

Now I know that the argument isn’t as simple as this. The argument stems from the idea that if the Occupy movement is against large corporations they must resist all the commodities that these  corporations produce. The argument is valid but off the mark a little. The Occupy movement isn’t just about avoiding options that support large, corrupt corporations but also about finding alternatives.  When the Occupy hive mind announced that individuals should remove their money from large banking corporations they had an alternative ready: credit unions.

There are many within the movement who have for years been “off the grid.” Dumpster diving, foraging, and participating in other such activities. This is great. They are able to reduce their personal impact on the world around them greatly.

However, most of the world seems very hesitant toward taking on such lifestyles. Thus that is where alternatives come into play. Alternatives make moving away from corporate control a bit easier for most of those living comfortably within the dominate Western culture.

Now there are certain things that don’t need alternatives, such as McDonalds and Starbucks, and on that topic I agree wholeheartedly with the critique presented in the above cartoon.

There are also certain things that don’t yet have an alternative that are begging for one. The big one is computer technology and this brings me to the point of this essay.

Just like there are dumpster divers, squatters, and others that reject cooperate control by separating themselves from the problem there are Luddites. There is a strong history of Luddite beliefs within activist movements with the most notable one I can think of being the Environmental movement. This tradition, however, does not permeate throughout all movements that carry the activist or radical flag.

Computer and internet technology come horribly full of social and economic issues, however, they also present great opportunities. The internet has paved the way for “alternative globalization” where global connections are formed between individuals and not between markets. Social media has revolutionized how activism works and how movements are built. The list goes on but my point is that computers and related technologies are great tools. They are also a permanent reality. As much as frightened Luddites may wish for computers to disappear I don’t foresee this happening any time soon.

The Luddite tradition, in this case, is not only flawed but perhaps a tad dangerous. Like other aspects of the corrupt market system that controls the world, removing computer technology from ones life does not make the issues inherent to the technology go away. Consuming without a care in the world isn’t any better either though.

This is not a defense of Apple or any other related corporation. There are some pretty large issues with companies such as these; planned obsolesces, gold and silicon mining operations, and environmental impacts among them.

We need alternatives. There are plenty of software alternatives but the list becomes much smaller when it comes to hardware.

A solution is the individual who both embraces and is critical of computer technology. One who is technologically literate both as a consumer and a producer. From this group perhaps will rise those who are willing to take on the challenge of providing hardware alternatives.

Even more needed are those who are willing to teach the average consumer how to create, repair, and recycle the physical components, ie. computers, of this technology. There are some groups who have already appeared. Slash Root in New Paltz, New York is one such organization. From their facebook: “Slash Root is a freedom-focused technology collective offering web / python software development, consultation, computer repair, and more” with the more including education.

There needs to be more however. Many more.

The issues that the computer industry creates will not be challenged by a few who reject its products. As much as this essay has been a critique of comics like the above one and a place for me to vent my frustration with them, it is also a call to the Makers of the world. We must learn more and educate more. We must create a culture where the control of computer technology, one of the greatest tools ever created by man, is in the hands of the average citizen. We must also examine and find alternatives to the flaws inherent in this technology.

To the activists of the world, we must not reject technology out of hatred for what harm it creates. We must actively challenge it.

To the political cartoonists of the world… I’m not even going to bother. You’ll keep on with your half informed wittiness till the end of time no matter what I say. And good for you. You offer the challenges that the rest of us must rise to meet.

So as much as you frustrate the fuck out of me sometimes, thank you.


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