There is nothing more alarming and appalling than people who trash talk technology while using it to convey their discontent and hatred. Much of this technological revulsion is ironically transmitted over the internet, through silicon chips and computer devices, with webpages like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and others, which are based off of packet transfer protocols—all while the sender sits smugly behind the keyboard, indifferent and unfazed by his glaring contradiction.
One cannot genuinely maintain this neo-Luddite technophobia while being immersed in the convenient, efficient, and beautiful world of 0’s and 1’s, and while using the equipment produced by capitalistic endeavors and entrepreneurship. Thus, my goal here is to demonstrate the errors of Luddite thinking, and show how their views on technology and the marketplace are woefully inaccurate and inevitably detrimental to progress.
Close Encounters with a Luddite
Following is a Facebook exchange I had with a Luddite about the efficiency of technology and the possibility of techno-anarchy. In this exchange, the individual said that he sacrifices technological efficiency while using internet chat rather than government mail services or other antiquated means of communication.
“Unless everyone has an equally powered computer, techno-anarchy is impossible, the very fact that one can manipulate the power and data process prevents equality, prevents us all from being equals. There are physical predators, they eat you; there are mental predators, they get you to work “for them” and take from you what you earn. If I were an ant in a colony, I’d walk away. You want us to be a colony.”
“Notwithstanding the fact that we are not all equal anyway, the power and data process is based on a consensus network within the Blockchain protocol, so it is an incredibly democratic and fair computer system. And actually, no, it will not be a colony. And if it is a colony, the computer programs and protocols are based on the principles of voluntary interaction. You can choose not to use them, but you would inevitably be hurting your own life and its efficiency. Many of us use Facebook now, is that the kind of “colony” you are referring to?”
“Efficiency is a farce. If you lived an efficient life it would be over as soon as possible. Patience is infinitely more useful than efficiency. The more efficient we are, the more we do, the more we do, the more we have, the more we have, the less we share. Efficiency is an enemy of anarchy. Therefore, techno-anarchy is impossible. What you are talking about is technocracy.”
The exact opposite of this is true. One’s life is not immediately over if they are efficient; they are not dead. Their life is greatly enhanced and made better by the fruits of technology. If one is living in a modern day society and they sacrifice technology, their life is made more treacherous and difficult. Places where technology is absent, ease of living and efficiency in living is also absent. What tech visionaries are producing is not a technocracy—but a technotopia.
The Good of Technology & Technological Growth
Arguably, various technologies can and have been used for destructive purposes (such as thermonuclear weapons), but the vast majority of technology has been a great boon for humankind. Like any tool, technology can be used for ill or good. Inanimate objects and technologies alike are essentially amoral. They are not good or bad in themselves, but they are certainly making life easier and more manageable. Industries like biomedical science and engineering have been a godsend for humanity.
Today’s thrust toward greater evolution in telecommunications and internet technologies is especially more powerful and liberating. According to some authors, like technologist Ray Kurzweil, humanity may be moving toward a technological singularity (the instantiation of general artificial intelligence) due to this technological Big Bang.
“Most long-range forecasts of what is technically feasible in future time periods dramatically underestimate the power of future developments because they are based on what I call the “intuitive linear” view of history rather than the “historical exponential” view.”
This exponential growth of technology will continue to aid mankind in his mastery over nature; help him control and manipulate cyberspace, and bend many aspects of reality to his will. The growth of programmable cryptocurrency systems like Bitcoin, new blockchain D-apps, self-driving cars and autonomous organizations are already revolutionizing the way people create institutions, exchange goods and services, allocate resources, and experience life. The benefits are palpable, tangible, and far reaching. Perhaps Kurzweil is right. Perhaps there will be a singularity…
Yet, even with the splendid nature of technology, many people still hate it. But why?
The Source of Technological Hatred
The term “Luddite” comes from a 19th century anti-technology movement in England. The movement was comprised of traditional artisans and workers who believed that technology was replacing their jobs and way of life. This group of disgruntled workers attacked factories and smashed machines. A History.com article summarized their situation:
“The original Luddites were British weavers and textile workers who objected to the increased use of automated looms and knitting frames. Most were trained artisans who had spent years learning their craft, and they feared that unskilled machine operators were robbing them of their livelihood.”
Of course, as history progressed, the term Luddite lost its historical context, and turned into a synonym for people who dislike technology or take issue with it. Nonetheless, the idea of wanting to smash machines or destroy the technology still resonates within certain groups of people. And many may actually believe that technology will cause the ruination of society.
Some who believe Luddism also follow communistic and socialist philosophies. They hate capitalism. They think that technology monopolizes the market in the vilest way, and creates vast dependent classes who do not have technological acumen. They think that machines pervert equality, and allow the few to emerge as the technological elite who will rule over all of humanity as bourgeoisie technocrats. However, it is fair to say that not all socialist sects are Luddites.
The Truth about Luddite Claims & the Tesla Model
The aforesaid socialist beliefs about technology are erroneous. They are primarily based on technologic and economic ignorance. Most of the advancements in technology tend to follow market trajectories. This means that when new technology emerges, it is generally more expensive, more difficult to acquire, and perhaps more difficult to use. However, as people start to adopt the new technology, depending on its utility and usefulness, manufacturers work to bring their product to a broader customer base, in order to seize new markets.
For example, when Elon Musk got Tesla motors under way, he was not able to bring the most affordable electric car to the market. Some of his first cars, like the Model S, depending on the amenities, ranged from $70,000 to $100,000. But for his business to function, and for him to generate revue for his company, he needed to sell a pricier car.
But now that Tesla has gained momentum and the cars have proven to be durable, beautiful, and reliable, he has started preparing to look at developing and releasing the Model 3. The projected price of this model is estimated to run at about $35,000. It is meant to appeal to the everyman, and its price point echoes that sentiment.
A TechInsider article verified this claim, “The batteries created at the Gigafactory will enable the company to produce its first mass market car, the Model 3. The Model 3 will be priced at about $35,000 and have a range of more than 200 miles per charge, Musk said earlier this year.”
With this knowledge, Musk does not appear to fit the bill of the evil capitalist swine who wants to horde his cars and only build them for the privileged few. He appears to be another intelligent capitalist who follows the laws of economics, supply and demand, and who wants what his customer’s desire: efficiency, good price, and good car.
The Function of Marketplaces, Capitalism
There are a myriad of other examples like this that show how tech companies follow the rhythm and hum of the marketplace. If Luddites considered the truths of how the market functions and what goes into capitalism, they may change their mind about their anti-capitalistic mindset and hatred of technological development.
Strictly speaking, capitalism is just an economic arrangement based on individual ownership over the means of production. It denotes that an individual has the right to acquire or obtain the land, materials, and production means to develop a new product or service and bring it to the masses. Capitalism is the crux of individual freedom and it contains the endogenous anarchism that resides in the human spirit. In “A Spontaneous Order: The Capitalist Case For A Stateless Society,” economist Christopher Chase Rachels eloquently talked about the self-evident principles that underpin capitalism:
The Libertarian Ethic (aka the Private Property Ethic) holds that all legitimate rights are derived from property rights. The most fundamental of which concerns one’s relationship to his own physical body i.e., that he and he alone has an exclusive claim to it. This is commonly referred to as “the principle of self-ownership.”
Tragically, Luddite-socialists disregard principle, self-ownership, and the private property ethic. Some of them take a more atavistic and communal approach to economics. They want any technology or company to be based on shared and equal ownership, equal work, and equal pay. They want economic tribalism with distribution of all the wealth to all works, regardless of their output or productivity.
However, History has showed that this perspective is impossible, deadly, and destructive. When socialists forcibly co-opt businesses and make them communal or a State nationalizes resource production and services, many people die of mass starvation and pauper’s graves litter the alleyways.
In a brilliant essay by Austrian economist Ludwig Von Mises called, “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth,” he expertly identified the consequences of socialism:
“Socialism attempted to replace billions of individual decisions made by sovereign consumers in the market with “rational economic planning” by a few vested with the power to determine the who, what, how, and when of production and consumption. It led to widespread shortages, starvation, and mass frustration of the population. When the Soviet government set 22 million prices, 460,000 wage rates, and over 90 million work quotas for 110 million government employees, chaos and shortages were the inevitable result. The socialist state destroyed work ethic, deprived people of entrepreneurial opportunity and initiative, and led to a widespread welfare mentality.”
Luddites tend to harbor technological and economic ignorance because they automatically view it as evil or destructive. But it is capitalism that has given rise to massive influx of technological variety, and it is technology that has started to free humanity from the fetters of toil and drudgery.
The original Luddites literally thought that technology was going to steal their jobs, but modern Luddites have taken their fear further: they think technology will end the world. But instead, it has actually created a new world. Technology has not only given humanity an escape from fieldwork and hours of manual labor, it might now emancipate humankind from the throes of authority. The Luddites just have to be able to see this, start attending to the changing world, and see technology as the amoral objects they are, and imagine how they will be continuously harnessed for the greater good of all human beings.
What have your experiences been with people who suffer from neo-Luddism?
Image Sources: tumotech.com, shhut.ac.ir.jpg, biggovernmentsucks.net, allcarbrands.com, gizmodo.com, gradmemory.wordpress.com