The term Luddite is a political/historical term relating to a political movement during the Industrial Revolution; it is primarily used to describe those perceived as being uncompromisingly or unnecessarily opposed to technological or scientific innovations.
Neo-Luddism is a modern movement of opposition to specific or general technological development. Few people describe themselves as neo-Luddites (though it is common, certainly in the UK, for people to self-deprecatingly describe themselves as Luddites if they dislike or have difficulty using modern technology); the term "neo-Luddite" is most often deployed by advocates of technology to describe persons or organizations that resist technological advances.
Unlike anarcho-primitivists, someone labelled a neo-Luddite might not consider technology itself to be evil, though they may believe that many technologies influence human nature in a way that degrades the overall quality of human existence. However, most commonly neo-Luddites oppose the rapid adoption of technology by society on the grounds that such development's negative effects on individuals, society or the planet outweigh its benefits.
Neo-Luddite thinkers usually reject the popular claim that technology is essentially "value free" or "amoral", that it is merely a set of tools which can be used for either good or evil. Instead, they argue that certain technologies have an inherent tendency to reinforce or undermine particular values. In particular, they argue that some technologies foster social/class alienation, environmental degradation, and spiritual dissipation, though they are always marketed as uniformly positive by the companies that make them. Neo-Luddites claim that technology is a force that may do any or all of the following: dehumanise and alienate people; destroy traditional cultures, societies, and family structure; pollute languages; reduce the need for person-to-person contact; alter the very definition of what it means to be human; or damage the evolved life-support systems of the Earth's entire biosphere so gravely as to cause human extinction.
People described as "neo-Luddite" come from a variety of political backgrounds, anarchist and conservative, and the arguments used to obtain anti-technology conclusions similarly run across the political spectrum.
Accusations of "neo-Luddism" on the left are usually directed at those who oppose technology on the grounds that may contribute to any or all of the following: loss of personal privacy, environmental degradation (including human extinction), consumerism, authoritarianism, cruelty to animals, social decay, the collapse of tribal and nature-based ways of life, or the separation of the worker from the means of production.
Those on the right who are "neo-Luddites" generally oppose technology on the grounds that it may contribute to any or all of the following: decay of social mores, dehumanization, a snowball effect towards a "Brave New World", the collapse of traditional ways of life, consumerism, or the decay of religion and atheistic nihilism.
Whether the arguments come from the right or the left may not affect the general conclusions reached by those who are likely to be labelled as neo-Luddites. These conclusions may include claims that some or all of the following are needed: increased governmental control over technological development; increased consumer responsibility; increased corporate responsibility; and ethical inquiries into the ramifications that certain technologies have and will have on society and/or the environment. Some more radical thinkers call for the dismantling of the current technical superstructures of our civilization altogether, rather than merely trying to make human societies less dependent on technology.
Some of those who do not fit neatly into either group, or who fit into both to some degree, oppose technology on essentially anarchist grounds. In their view, the unhindered growth of technology in liberal societies tends to increase governmental and corporate control over individual lives, and lead to increased inequality.
Those labelled "neo-Luddites" may also be labelled anarcho-primitivist. The term "bio-Luddite" is frequently applied to individuals who specifically oppose the development of certain forms of biotechnology. Like "neo-Luddite" itself, these various labels are usually applied by their detractors. However, Kalle Lasn is a self-described neo-Luddite social activist.
Some "neo-Luddites", mostly of the anarcho-primitivist or green anarchist persuasion, do not consider "Luddite" to be pejorative and advance explicitly anti-technology arguments, viewing technology as a fundamental form of oppression and alienation. Notable thinkers and writers in this vein include John Zerzan, Derrick Jensen, Jacques Ellul, and Chellis Glendinning; the actions and words of Theodore Kaczynski and groups like the Earth Liberation Front may also be seen as a militant articulation of Luddism. The historical Luddite movement of the early 19th century is often referenced positively in this milieu in spite of its violence.
"Neo-Luddites" and politics
As noted earlier, people categorized as "neo-Luddite" usually are so due to their apparent cohesiveness on the political front. This is because when a policy that restricts one form of technological innovation or another is before a legislative body, it can be expected that anti-technology advocates on the right and left will support it, despite different or sometimes conflicting motivations. Most neo-luddites in popular culture(see 'popular culture' section for examples), have not publicly supported or condoned violent beliefs or practices, however some people do use the philosophy as a justification for violence.
Because some neo-Luddites are not opposed to using violent means, and because of the violent actions of some well known neo-Luddites (e.g Theodore Kaczynski, the "Unabomber") and neo-luddite groups (e.g E.L.F.) the FBI has stated it considers green anarchists to be the "leading domestic terror threat"Template:Fact. This has led to an ongoing crackdown on the radical ecological movement, known as the Green Scare; most of those arrested stand accused of sabotage actions reminiscent of the original Luddites' tactics. However, these people only comprise a fraction of and not the entirety of neo-luddites.
On August 9, 2001, a few months after taking office, U.S. President George W. Bush enacted a ban on the expenditure of public funds on Embryonic stem cell research other than those from cell lines developed prior to the date of his declaration. This policy was proposed by Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama in their work on The President's Council on Bioethics as a compromise between pro-life advocates (because of the Principle of double effect) and embryonic stem cell researchers (because it allowed some research), though neither side was happy about it.
The support for the ban as delineated in the works of Kass and the Council is not blatantly "neo-Luddite" or anti-technology because they are concerned about the personhood of the embryo (and similar issues), not about technology. However, Kass' extensive body of writing in the field of bioethics does express concerted and principled opposition to many forms of biotechnology, providing the basis for opponents to accuse him of being, more specifically, a leading right-wing "bio-Luddite".
It should be noted that prohibition of privately funded embryonic stem cell research was never proposed or instituted, at least not in the United States.
A number of countries, as well as the EU, have adopted the Precautionary Principle as law, statute, or regulation, especially with respect to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Effectively this bans GMOs from Europe, a fact which has rankled, for example, American corn farmers.
The adoption of the ban places the burden of proof on the producers of GMOs to prove that their products are not harmful. This is noteworthy, since in most other cases the burden of proof lies on governments to prove that a product is harmful.
Part of the reason EU governments adopted these policies is due to large-scale popular campaigns which started before GMOs became established in the European economy, and which included the suitably classic Luddite tactic of night-time sabotage, this time against genetic research and development.
A number of advocacy groups maintain a strict anti-nuclear stance. Often these groups describe themselves as environmental, such as Greenpeace, but may also be anti-corporate or anti-consumerism.
Arguments against nuclear technology surround the consequences of major accidents (Level 7 on the INES), the need to deal with nuclear waste products, the supposed monetary costs of nuclear technology and the extremely long half-lives of many radioactive elements. Other arguments against nuclear technology cite examples of irresponsibility or an possibility for an increase in material consumption.
National policy in some countries has been affected by anti-nuclear sentiment. New Zealand has declared itself to be a 'nuclear free zone', disallowing nuclear reactors or waste, and refusing port to nuclear armed or powered ships, such as American supercarriers.
Opposition to neo-Luddites consists largely of those who believe that technology is beneficial or, at worst, neutral. This opposition has sometimes been hindered by a focus on specific issues, and on occasion by a belief that the benefits of certain new technologies are obvious when in fact many people do not understand the technology in question.
A main concern of technological proponents is to question whether it is always worth saving those things that neo-Luddites seek to protect. One form of this objection begins by noting their defense of traditional cultures, and then pointing out culture as a static force enslaves people to its strictures, and is counterproductive to adaptation resulting in cultural if not ethnic extinction. Further arguments would point out elements of certain traditional cultures that modern societies find abhorrent, such as cannibalism and slavery.
- Deep ecology
- Development criticism
- Darwin Among the Machines, Erewhon and Samuel Butler (novelist)
- Fight Club
- Green anarchism
- Green fascism
- Kirkpatrick Sale
- Is it O.K. to be a Luddite? by Thomas Pynchon
- Luddism and the Neo-Luddite Reaction by Martin Ryder, University of Colorado at Denver School of Education
- Bill Joy (creator of Sun-Microsystems) in his famous write-up which many people claim is neo-Luddist
- on-line Luddism
- Primitivism writings archive
- Luddites Stan Iverson Memorial Archives (articles, links & timeline)
- Seafaring primitivism
- Exlev Indonesia
- Test Your Techno Tolerance: Asks questions to determine if you align with transhumanists, luddites, bioconservatives, or techno-progressives
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