Theodore Roszak, “In Defense of the Living Earth”

Forward to Turning away from Technology, Stephanie Mills (1997)


1.      Characterization of the debate over technology as between two extremes

         a.      Anti-technology Luddites: Indiscriminate hostility toward industrialism (Technophobia)

         b.      Technological enthusiasts: Favor “indiscriminate industrial growth” (Technophilia)

2.      Replies to false characterization of Luddism

         a.      There has never been a movement that

                   i.       Unthinkingly hated machines and destroyed them

                   ii.      Called all tech evil and want to get rid of all of it and live in caves

3.      Original Luddites were angry weavers put out of jobs by factory owners who used power looms and knitting frames

         a.      These first Luddites, after appealing reasonably and getting nowhere, resorted to busting machines

         b.      Quickly put down by armed force and several hanged

         c.      “A small futile gesture of defiance at outset of industrial revolution”

4.      Original Luddites were early victims of technology-caused unemployment (“technological unemployment”)

         a.      Does technology eliminate or create jobs?

                   i.       Explain how technology creates unemployment

         b.      Some label the idea that technology creates unemployment the “Luddite fallacy”

                   i.       They argue that labor saving techniques, while putting people out of work short-term, lead to productivity gains (same output with fewer inputs), which lead to cheaper products, more consumption, thus more production, thus more jobs

         c.      Useful discussion of whether today technology causes unemployment or creates jobs

5.      Note that Roszak’s focus is on industrialism, not technology per se

         a.      Not all tech, but industrial technology

         b.      Industrialism =? Involves manufacturing, factories

                   i.       Smart-phone apps as technology that is not “industrial”?

         c.      Some claim we are in an information society, a “post-industrial society”

         d.      Mightn’t there be technologies other than industrial technologies that Luddites and Roszak would worry about?

6.      Criticizes industrialism for its inhumanity and destructiveness

         a.      Has put people out of work and made work meaningless

         b.      Has caused severe environmental problems: Pollution and habitat degradation

7.      Roszak’s characterization of inappropriate tech:

         a.      Machines and systems of machines that sacrifice public good to enrich selfish few

8.      Examples?:

         a.      Computerized stock trading?

         b.      Flipping houses?

         c.      Banks that encouraged home ownership among those that could not afford it, and then repossessed those houses

         d.      Examples of withholding new technologies

                   i.       Practice of some corporations to buy up patents of their competitors and not develop them

                   ii.      If it were true that the automobile manufacturers had technology to make cars get 100 mpg, but where withholding the technology, because they can make more money by selling gas guzzling cars (perhaps because they are financially tied to the oil industry)

                   iii.     Who killed the electric car?

9.      Examples of technologies that benefit the public good and break up a wealth elite monopoly?

         a.      Uber as an example of a technology that democratizes a service for the public good????

                   i.       Criticism of Uber



11.    Absolutist Luddites

         a.      Sweeping prescription for tech withdrawal

         b.      Believe that “Our species can’t be trusted with anything that gets much beyond water wheels and windmills”

12.    Absolute technophiles or technological enthusiasts

         a.      Any technology is a good technology and should be employed

         b.      Accept Francis Bacon’s statement of goal of science/tech:

                   i.       “To establish and extend the power and domination of humans over the universe”

                   ii.      Is this an appropriate or inappropriate goal?

13.    Roszak is in the conflicted middle

         a.      Has anti-tech principles but also boards a 747 to attend conferences and he uses word processors and email

         b.      He has no choice; his current life is due to high tech medicine, for which he is grateful

         c.      Also he finds both pleasure and fascination in much modern tech

                   i.       Motion pictures are a marvelous art form

                   ii.      Electricity marvelous convenience

         d.      Science behind tech is “most enthralling intellectual adventure of our age”

                   i.       Can one love science and be a Luddite (skeptical and worried about technology)? (Yes)

         e.      Still worries that our growing dependence on computers will spell disaster down the line

                   i.       Roszak editorial against computers: “Raging Against the Machine”

14.    A Neo-luddite can make many compromises with Modernity

         a.      Wisdom is in the figuring which compromises to make

15.    Defense of “homo faber” (man/woman the maker)

         a.      Homo faber: “Humans as controlling the environment through tools” (from wiki)

         b.      Humans as makers account for some of humanity’s greatest achievements

                   i.       Such as?

         c.      But not the only source of these achievements

                   i.       What are humanity’s great non-technological achievements?

16.    Arrogant to insist that engineers--and corporate forces behind them--can be trusted to prescribe own values and limits

         a.      Claim is that society needs to control technology

                   i.       Winner’s idea

17.    Neoluddite criticism is rational and realistic

         a.      Owning machines is a form of power

         b.      Abuse of power to use technology

                   i.       To drive people off the land

                   ii.      Take their jobs away

                   iii.     To desecrate the natural environment

18.    True progress (improvement in quality of life not quantity of goods) never grows from machines (new technology) but from judgment and conscience of other humans

         a.      Aren’t there technologies that have clearly improved human’s quality of life?

19.    High tech is incredibly seductive

         a.      High tech is “subtlest and most seductive stage of industrialism”

         b.      Offers us nothing short of magic

         c.      Create own virtual universe and bend nature to our will

         d.      Breed perfect babies

         e.      Enjoy medical immortality

         f.       Redesign plants/animals to our specification

         g.      Globe trot the planet on economy fares

         h.      Colonize the cosmos

         i.       A tremendously intoxicating and deluded program



21.    Luddite program is simple

         a.      Scale down (“Small is beautiful”)

         b.      Slow down

         c.      Decentralize

         d.      Democratize

22.    Bigness is a key problem

         a.      A benign and constructive invention that is built at too big a scale turns into a monster

                   i.       E.g., solar power (on individual rooftops or in the stratosphere or the desert?)

         b.      Such bigness happens where profit is measure of progress

         c.      Luddites generally prefer small-scale and decentralized technology

23.    Luddites plea for

         a.      Living within limits

                   i.       Example?

         b.      Appeal for loyalty to place

                   i.       Example?

         c.      Respect for natural order that was here before us

                   i.       Example?

         d.      Roszak builds core environmental values into Luddism


24.    Earth is neo-luddites most powerful ally

         a.      Environmental limits that Luddites want us to respect are earth’s own limits and won’t long be violated

         b.      Is it true that modern technological society is threatening the life support systems of the planet on which humans depend?


25.    Luddites address great moral challenge of our time

         a.      One movement in world today that transcends the mystique of progress and links us to life on the planet

26.    Create a sustainable, post industrial culture

         a.      A sustainable culture can’t be industrial? Why not?

Study Questions, Roszak “In Defense of the Living Earth”


1.       Define Luddism. Who were the Luddites?

2.       What is technological unemployment? Is this a “Luddite fallacy?” Does technology create more jobs than it eliminates? Explain the argument for this claim? Is it plausible

3.        Explain the idea of humans as “homo faber.” Does Roszak accept this idea?

4.       Does Roszak reject all technology? Why or why not? Is he an absolute Luddite or a technological enthusiast?

5.       What does Roszak think about the science behind modern technology?

6.       Explain the four points of the Luddite program that Roszak identifies.

7.      What is the relation between Luddism and industrialism according to Roszak?