Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Crowning King Ludd: Tradition, Technology & Society

    One of the means by which any society is measured is the way in which they respond to and make use of the technological innovations of their era. From the bronze spear to the steam engine, technology has been a means by which we have both shaped and passed judgement upon civilisations. Our own society is certainly no exception to this. The increasingly global digital society of the twenty-first century is indisputably one that is being shaped by technology in ways without precedent in the history of the species. Only the European and American Industrial Revolution of the 19th century can compare in the social effects felt not only in its own era, but in the consequences of its innovations generations after the fact.

    Like the Industrial Revolution, the march of technological progress has drawn forth many increasingly pressing questions on the nature of Humanity and the societies of which we are a part. In many respects, the questions haven’t changed. Like the 19th century man we, or rather those with the inclination to consider them, are left wringing our hands over the place of the individual human being that grows increasingly distant from the organic constructs of nature and society that had been the norm for the vast majority of our ancestors. Like that 19th century man, we see a world increasingly mechanised, and now digitised, flooded with pollution and rapacious abuse of the land to feed an ever greedier machine of global resource consumption. We see a society where the traditional structures of community into which we had been born, whether it be the rural village model or the more contemporary urban and suburban neighborhoods that were often drawn on ethnic, professional, and class lines, being broken down into an ever more mobile mass of individuals with little to no ties to a cultural or family group. We have seen those family structures themselves broken down amid growing rates of single parentage, dysfunctional family dynamics, decrease in overall family size and the economic demands of both parents needing to work longer and longer hours simply to support themselves. Deprived of both traditional community support networks and the hands and hearts of an extended family group, the modern family is left to fend entirely for itself in a world socially and economically hostile to its existence.

    This situation has created a generation of young people primed for the dysfunctions of the digital age. Raised by television and the internet by desperation or choice, the children of the new millennium are increasingly wracked by neurosis and social anxiety, struggling with even the most fundamental aspects of human interaction. The void is filled by media, by the video game, the reality show and the social network. Technology has divorced us not just from the fundamental natural processes of the world but from one another in ways only the 19th century’s greatest pessimists could have fathomed. Is it any wonder then, that our fundamental conception of society along that of our place upon the earth is collapsing? Is it any wonder that vast numbers of youth already socially adrift, raised on a media narrative that glorifies pseudo-individualism to drive the machine of consumption in the name of an off-the-shelf identity, embrace the very soulless globalist machine that created their quiet misery? But is it also any wonder that in the face of this encroaching emptiness of progress unfettered, there are murmurs of discontent? You wouldn’t be reading these words if there weren’t.

    Like the 19th century man, many a 21st century man and woman has gazed upon the bounty of progress, and found it wanting. Like their ancestors, there is a determination not to go quietly in the plastic night of the inevitable future. The cottage crofters and weavers of Olde England conjured the figure of King Ludd, a personification of the rebellion of the traditional rural working man against the Industrial Age, and in his name smashed the factory machines that had robbed them of their identities and livelihoods. It seems long past time that King Ludd, like King Arthur, rose from the past to reign upon his throne again.

    The raw truth is that the current modern, digital global consumerist society cannot coexist with Mankind as he has come into being on this Earth. Everything about it is inimical to the nature of our existence, even our very survival. Its effects upon the ecology of our precious planet are plain for all to see. Day by day it continues to reduce the vast plethora of peoples and cultures into an indistinguishable monocultural mass, a vast herd of human capital to be freely exchanged across the world for the benefit of the manufacturers and media moguls who profit by it. What we are witnessing is not the creation of a utopia, as promised to our forefathers of the Industrial Revolution and the builders of the now receding glories of the Space Age, but the spawning of a vast international sump, where all of Humanity can share equally in a morass of putrid mediocrity; a globe-spanning chain of urban islands clawing at the sky adrift in a sea of filth, plastic and discarded computer parts. The future of our children will not be the exploration of the wondrous gulfs of space, but rather a great fleeing into the global digital mindscape, desperate for a shred of escapism and simulated companionship amid billions of lives huddled together alone. This we cannot permit.

    To defeat this coming world we must reject and destroy the means by which it will bring itself about. To simply plant a garden and build a Tiny House, while admirable and necessary, are not enough. We must shatter the cult of Technological Materialism. We must oppose consumer culture not merely through passive disdain but in open war. This is a conflict of annihilation. Those who desire and dream of a world of green fields and happy families cannot coexist with the world-in-being, the world of the strip mall and the computer screen. It is not enough to dislike consumer technology in private, alone. It must be hated in the open, en masse. The engines of septic monoculture, the transmitters of the caustic materia that eat away at the fabric of culture and human nature, must not merely be questioned, they must be smashed. Polite and quiet discourse on technology’s place in our world will not change the course we have set. Idle frustration will not unseat something that has parasitically inserted itself so intimately into our lives. Great masses of people will only question when they see equally great masses in the streets shattering their iPhones with hammers, disdainfully and casually discarding something we have been taught is so very essential to our collective sense of self. Only in such acts of outright violence against the material will people ask “Why?”. Only in triggering that question can we turn the key on the locks of our chains.

    One may perceive a certain amount of irony, even hypocrisy, in this message being composed and transmitted by the very means it decries. Yet these words are little different from words that were spoken over a century ago, on how Man has morphed from a master to a slave of his tools, and through them the slave of those who profit from them. Those same words spoke of how this new age unbound would be the doom of their respective societies, and history vindicated their prophecy. This first age of mass technology ushered Man toward two devastating World Wars that claimed over one hundred million lives and shattered the societies that took part in them. It brought us to the brink of a Third which threatened to annihilate all traces of civilsation and perhaps even higher life from the face of the planet. It is perhaps difficult for us, the living, to fathom just how we are alive at all. Are we so arrogant to think that we are now somehow exempt from these same forces that brought so much ruin over the last century? Do we feel ourselves above the consequences of our actions? Are we so ready to consign our collective destinies to uncaring invisible hands?

    If we are to have a hope of a better future, we must first regain mastery over our tools. To do so we must see them as tools, not as product, not as an extension of an artificial ego. This is not a rejection of all technology, such anarcho-primitivism is nothing short of madness. What it is a rejection of technology as parent, technology as lover, technology as master. What is necessary is to not merely hear the already time-tested arguments on technology versus humanity, but to apply them in new, dramatic, militantly aggressive ways. The old counterculture slogan “Kill Your TV” takes on a literal meaning here. Like our 19th century forbears, we must once again crown King Ludd, and engage in a very real resistance against the commoditisation of ourselves and our world.  This is a war not simply to resurrect the past, but to secure a future that, if we do not change the present, we may not live to see.

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