Email This Page to a FriendPreview: I Am a Luddite
May 4, 2018
Harry Bryan’s recent thoughtful essay (Am I a Luddite?) prompted many comments and more than a bit of reflection on the part of the membership. Personal philosophy, along with the global and societal issues our lifestyles affect, are but a few of the facets of life we can all contemplate regularly.
With a salute to Harry, who I admire and aspire to mimic in some small ways in my life, and as someone who sails around in a boat named Ned Ludd, I thought it might be enlightening to post a written answer to the most commonly asked dockside question I receive:
The simplest answer is that Ned Ludd was nominally the head of the Luddite Rebellion in early 19th century England, but there is so much more to the story. The Luddites were a loosely organized band of textile artisans in the Midlands of England during the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution. They united and organized when their crafts (knitting, weaving, etc.) were the first to be industrialized both by powered machinery and by factory economics, and by the not-so-surprising fact that even the earliest factory owners were caricatures of exploitative greed. Their protest was not actually against new technology, but because they foresaw and decried the loss of home occupation and that family lifestyle that industrialization would bring.
Ned Ludd himself was a probably apocryphal early protester; legend has it that he threw his wooden clog into a machine, but there is no actual historical evidence that a real Ned existed. What is known and true is that for two decades “General” Ned Ludd was the charismatic figurehead of the Luddite Rebellion; signing broadsheets condemning local factory owners, rallying towns and crowds with flamboyant speeches and leading the authorities on a not so merry chase for years. By creating a fictional leader, the Luddites brilliantly allowed for multiple persons to don General Ned’s wigs and dresses (yes, appearing in drag was part of the sham) and to appear in multiple rallies all over the region. Just like Bugs Bunny, upon the appearance of Royal troops, the speaker could round a corner, ditch the costume and blend into the crowd. Upon capture and interrogation any Luddite could truthfully deny ever having met the Ned Ludd.
Needless to say we know the results of the rebellion…not so good for the Luddites. Some were captured and imprisoned for their crimes (burned factories, broken machinery, the odd murdered factory owner), a few were hung, and eventually all had to capitulate and go to work in a smartphone factory in China. It is a cracking good story, and my admiration for this band of illiterate, proudly independent, unbelievably prescient artisans is what lead me to honor them by sailing around with Ned Ludd’s name proudly painted on my sheer strakes.
For my knowledge and insight into the Luddites let me recommend Kirkpatrick Sale’s 1995 book Rebels Against the Future. My copy is made all the more special by having been given to me by Turner Matthews, a fellow boatbuilder, small craft enthusiast, and contemplative bon vivant from Florida.