Ted Chiang on Luddites

“People who criticize new technologies are sometimes called Luddites, but it’s helpful to clarify what the Luddites actually wanted. The main thing they were protesting was the fact that their wages were falling at the same time that factory owners’ profits were increasing, along with food prices. They were also protesting unsafe working conditions, the use of child labor, and the sale of shoddy goods that discredited the entire textile industry. The Luddites did not indiscriminately destroy machines; if a machine’s owner paid his workers well, they left it alone. The Luddites were not anti-technology; what they wanted was economic justice. They destroyed machinery as a way to get factory owners’ attention. The fact that the word “Luddite” is now used as an insult, a way of calling someone irrational and ignorant, is a result of a smear campaign by the forces of capital.

Whenever anyone accuses anyone else of being a Luddite, it’s worth asking, is the person being accused actually against technology? Or are they in favor of economic justice? And is the person making the accusation actually in favor of improving people’s lives? Or are they just trying to increase the private accumulation of capital?”

— Ted Chiang (via)