Neo-Luddism - a future based on simplicity (first published on Nov. 2012)

People who have asked me about Neo-Luddism often assume that I am completely anti technology, but that is not the case. Like the original Luddites, I am opposed to the use of technology to disempower and impoverish people and I am also opposed to the abuse of technology simply to make profit or to kill (sometimes it’s both).

We have had technology for a long time, some would consider the stick, a flint hand axe or fire as the first technology; hence to be opposed to technology per se is somewhat disingenuous.

My position is not based on ignorance – I have a science degree, which consisted primarily of Business Studies and Computer Science; I have personal experience of working in the City of London for financial institutions and financial publications and I spent 10 years living a thoroughly modern lifestyle in one of the world’s major cities and I have also visited several other major cities around the world.

My position is based on personal experience and observation of the system of human civilization that most people would (incorrectly) describe as Capitalist society. Like previous versions of this system, which appears to have emerged from the early city states of Arabia, I believe this version is also destined to crash.

The difference now is that the system has spread to encompass the whole planet and hence its collapse will have a global rather than a localized impact. If we consider the Earth as a system, I would posit that it is a single input closed system. That single input is radiation, mostly solar, although the Earth is on rare occasions influenced by the impact of meteorites. However, in terms of Human existence we can effectively ignore the infrequent input of a significant meteorite collision.

A truly closed system is one that has no outside inputs, but our planet has a single continuous energy input from the sun, that is fixed within a narrow range (TSI approx. 1.3 KW/m2). Everything else here is of finite quantity – there is a limited amount of useable water, useable land, limited fossil fuels, limited air-borne gasses, limited metals etc.

The natural equilibrium established over millions of years does allow variance in temperature, drinkable water, oxygen levels etc, however these are within limits defined by the size and content of the system – i.e. the physical limitations of this planet, a factor in life that we have tended to ignore.

After several millennia of experiments in living – what me might call civilizations we still do not seemed to have mastered the basics of prudent use of resources, cooperation for the benefit of the species or understanding the limits imposed by being a constituent of what is essentially a closed system.
I believe that our current state of technology could enable us to achieve an equitable, sustainable and efficient way of living, but I do not believe that we currently have the will to implement such a way of life. Technology is employed mostly to find more creative ways of killing each other, creating mostly useless rubbish for consumers to buy and also for finding more efficient and cheaper methods of achieving the above.

Alvin Toffler wrote what I’d consider a visionary book about our future in 1970, entitled ‘Futureshock’. Unfortunately Toffler’s disturbing predictions proved to be correct and I’d suggest that the onward march of technology, which seems to be for its own sake, is making our problems worse, not better.

Two other writers that have influenced my thinking are E.F. Schumacher and Thom Hartmann. Although writing from vastly different perspectives, I feel that both of them accurately illustrate the mistakes we’ve made and the problems that we will continue to encounter.

If we must insist on filling our homes with useless plastic crud, manufactured and shipped from China (or the next up-and-coming cheap producer) and continue to rely on those others than ourselves and our immediate social circle for the necessities of life then I think that we can expect our civilization to completely collapse within decades.

I do not endorse Neo-Luddism simply because I find a simple lifestyle to be emotionally satisfying. I believe that simplicity, up-skilling and self-reliance are essential tools for survival. If I am indeed right about a collapse then those who are just good with iPads will have dramatically lower chances than those who are good with basic knowledge of food production, herbal medicine, DIY, mechanics, etc.

If I am wrong (I’d honestly love to be wrong) then these are all additional skills that might come in useful at some point, might be fun to indulge in and could even save on expenditure. Personally I am not prepared to put my faith in a technological solution to the world’s problems. After millennia of perceived ‘progress’ we can’t even stop killing each other (over 1.6m deaths due to murder, suicide or war in 2002 – WHO/GBD stats), so call me cynical but I think I will continue to hedge my bets!