Friday, July 9, 2010

The Luddite Guild

Over at The Archdruid Report John Michael Greer has issued a challenge for followers to become ‘Green Wizards’ – that is masters of appropriate technology. While I don’t disbelieve in magic or even druidery, I am a Christian and more pragmatic – I believe that hard work, properly applied, is more important than magic, so while I am pursuing his course of study (which has nothing to do with magic, necessarily), I’m putting my own stamp on it, borrowing a page from the past, and organizing a guild – The Guild of Luddite Practitioners.

Mr. Greer’s timing is impeccable, and reflects a train of thought I’ve been pursuing recently that was recently brought to relevance by starting to read Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini. Where Greer has his Wizards, and I have my Luddites, Mr. Petrini has developed the concept of the ‘gastronome’. Like myself, and presumably Mr. Greer, Mr. Petrini has discovered that any solution to the world’s problems requires going back to our roots, and to extend the metaphor of the tree, the roots are deep, elaborate, and complex, touching every area of human knowledge and wisdom. The tree cannot live without the roots, and understanding the roots is a daunting task. ‘Where do I start?’ is no small question, and like many great questions, it has no single ‘best’ answer.

What I’ve come to realize is that where you start isn’t so important as the fact that you do start, and that you keep some basic tenets in mind. One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s even easier to start with a problem that has a known solution and work backwards that it is to start with an unsolved problem and work forward. An example of this that I recently faced was removing rust from old tools. The most immediate solution available was to use Naval Jelly (phosphoric acid), but me being me, I wondered how they used to do it, and how would I do it if couldn’t just run to the store and by a tub of Naval Jelly. I found a plethora of solutions – from sanding and abrasives, to chemicals, to electrolysis. Eventually I settled on electrolysis because it meant that I didn’t have to buy anything at all. (I plan to write a future column on the process).

In the Guild of Luddite Practitioners, most of us are just Apprentices, those some of us might qualify as Journeymen in particular aspects, and true Masters are as rare as hen’s teeth. In normal guild operations, Apprentices must train under Masters, and only a Master is considered worthy of recruiting Apprentices. In these times however, until such time as a new tradition can be restored, we as Apprentices must recruit our fellows and introduce them to the work of the Masters and Journeymen. The barriers against entrance are high – taking up this work means voluntarily forgoing some of the creature comforts that our society believe it is due, it means working hard, often failing and learning lessons the hard way, but the benefits are true freedom and independence and hopefully someday, becoming Masters ourselves, and passing on our knowledge to a future generation.

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