Friday, December 11, 2009

Liberation Through Luddism

Last week I ranted, so this week I’m going to rave. From the beginning, as I made my plans for what I wanted to do with this blog, it was my intention that for every post I ranted about what was wrong with the world and society and technology and whatever else ticks me off, I would offer at least one counter-post that offered a solution, a correction, or a course of action. Over the next several weeks I plan to alternate between themes of ‘Tyranny of ‘X’’ and ‘Liberation through ‘Y’’.

I’ve taken the label of Luddite, but as I indicated in an earlier post, I’m not truly a Luddite. What I actually am is a radical who questions the role of technology in our lives, and puts forth the proposition that the goal that all humans ought to be working for is a better life for us, our children, grandchildren, and so on down the line. If technology facilitates this, then we should use technology. Unfortunately, most of the time technology, most of the time, is nothing more than a wedge used by political and industrial forces to exploit and weaken humans, reducing them to cogs in a machine to further their own ends. My end goal is not a world free of technology, but instead a world full of free, fulfilled human beings living in harmony with themselves and the greater and all-inclusive world.

Luddism is a means to that end. I’m agnostic as to whether or not a single person can change the world, but I’m a firm believer that that a single person can change their life. I also believe that any single person can influence the lives of others through their own good example, and that if enough individuals change their lives of their own free world, eventually the rest of the world will notice.

So how does one achieve liberation through Luddism?

First, by realizing that the only true wealth in this world is the means of production, and by taking the necessary steps to acquire those means. In other words, become a producer rather than simply a consumer of wealth, and own what you produce. When net consumption is unavoidable, consume wisely – buy quality goods that can be repaired or re-used. Recycle, reuse, or re-purpose everything possible.

To become a producer, even in a limited way, is just about the most subversive and effective form of protest one can make about the state of the modern world. Where most people start down the road of home production is gardening – a tomato plant and maybe a few herbs to start. Even if you don’t take the additional step of learning to preserve your produce, the tomatoes you produce instead of buying for your summer salads or a pot of marinara represent economic transactions that did not take place.

The rewards aren’t immediate, of course. It takes a good two months from seedling to picking your first tomato, but there are definite rewards, both in the short term and the long term: the most obvious is that the tomatoes you pick the day they’re ready to eat taste so much better than the ones you buy from the store. There’s also an innate satisfaction that comes from eating food you produced yourself. You’ll also learn something in the process if you’ve never grown vegetables before – there are other creatures that like to eat tomatoes and tomato plants – you’ll have to learn what to do about them; you have to tend the plants, which while not onerous tends to be forgotten about occasionally. Weather has an affect too, and no longer is just a circumstance you have to dress according to. But this is real human life. The weather and bugs are part of real life, and learning to deal with them brings one back to the first economy.

Food is important enough that I’m going to give it a full posting (at least one and probably several) but it isn’t the only way to become a producer, nor do you have to confine yourself to the first economy of raw goods. There are numerous ways to become a second economy producer, some require expensive tools, materials, and/or years of expertise, but there are plenty that don’t. One good example is thread craft: for less than 20 bucks, you can buy a set of needles or hooks, a ball of yarn or thread, an instruction manual, and a book of patterns that are everything you need to get started knitting or crocheting. With a single dedicated afternoon of following along with the book, or with someone who already knows how, you can actually begin producing finished goods.. Eventually, by sticking with it, you can produce high quality items useful to yourself and potentially others.

The second way one can achieve liberation through Luddism is, whenever possible, buy directly from the producer. In fact, not only should one buy directly from the producer, but should do their best to build up a personal relationship, even a friendship with them. This helps to ensure that they keep producing, helps ensure that you get the quality you want, and can lead to unexpected opportunities for both of you.

No matter how efficient, skilled, or resource-laden you are, it’s unlikely that it’s possible, and not even necessarily desirable, that you can produce everything you yours need. All of us live in communities, even if they’re sparse ones. Establishing relationships with your neighbors, especially the producing ones, is a form of security. The stronger the ties that bind us to each other, the less likely we are to be at each other’s throats and even casual friendships can mitigate the possibility of conflicts.

Yet another way of achieving liberation through Luddism is through the use of tools. The astute reader may have noticed by now, that one of the few things I actually encourage people to buy are tools. Tools are an investment, as is learning to use them effectively. Tools and the skills needed to use them represent the means of production and thus are the cornerstone to true wealth.

It’s true that all tools don’t have to be bought, and learning to make your own tools, or make tools for others is a kind of meta-wealth. Still, the largest obstacle modern humans face is a chicken and egg type scenario of not knowing how to get started, and the purchase of basic tools helps to solve that riddle.

Anyone who’s ever taken a shop class remembers being told over and over to use the right tool for the job. There’s certainly an argument to be made for that position, but to a Luddite, the right tool for a job is the tool available that can get the job done. I’ll admit that I have a fixation on tools. Some I make for myself, but the majority of the tools I have and certainly all of the most important ones, I bought.

Maybe the most important thing that Luddism has to offer in the quest for liberation is that it’s built on the premise of learning to use what you have to accomplish what you need to do. Luddism is a philosophy of accomplishment and problem-solving. It means producing wealth, self-reliance, making do and creating solutions with the means at hand. There’s a learning curve for those of raised on convenience, and weaned on technology, but the results are worth it. Casting off the shackles of dependence and the ability to meet ones own needs are the very definition of Liberation.

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