In Arc 1.3: Justin Pickard sets Ned Ludd loose on the banking system

7 Oct

Machines are poised to make us all redundant – but only if we let them, says Justin Pickard. Here’s an extract from his piece in Arc 1.3, out now.

In addition to its acts of machine-breaking and organised raids – the recourse of the desperate – Luddism had a powerful impact on popular attitudes, as protesters sought to undermine the authority of the magistrates and thief-takers with a tide of threatening letters, songs and bogus legal summonses. Straddling oral and written culture, the traditions of rough music delivered a clear message, according to Katrina Navickas: “The workers had lost faith in the legal process to protect them, and therefore mocked it and tried to make it their own.”

This is an impulse familiar to today’s digirati, many of whom still cling to the belief that information technology can at best transcend (or at least, offer a genuine alternative to) realpolitik, brute force and physical coercion. On 8 February 1996, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s John Perry Barlow issued A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace from Davos, Switzerland: “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

We had heard this sort of thing before. For Kevin Binfield, author of Writings of the Luddites, it seemed, for a time, that the various missives of General Ludd had opened the space for dissent – a space quickly filled “both by protesters in enlarging their demands for change and by the authorities in their attempts to come to terms with what seemed to them a many-tentacled underground conspiracy.” From the outside, this gave the Luddites the impression of being – like the social media-wielding movements of the Arab Spring earlier this year – far more organised and cohesive than they actually were.

Read more in Arc 1.3, a digital quarterly about the future, made for e-readers, tablets, phones and computer screens; also available in a collectible print edition. Visit http://www.arcfinity.org for details.

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