Monday, November 6, 2023

A Flood of Ludd.

I'm reading right now a book called "Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech," written by Brian Merchant. You can buy it here from an independent bookseller. Or you can buy from non-tax-payer Jeff Bezos. 

You can read the Times' review here (which is adorned with the great illustration above.) Or the Wall Street Journal review here. Both reviews mean you have to get past a paywall. So, bring a hammer.

As modern human beings living in a country with no historical context, no serious edumacation system and where the death of a mediocre TV actor is front-page news for a week, most of us probably don't really know what the Luddite movement is/was and why it's important today.

Even the title of the Wall Street Journal's review, above, reveals a bias and a lack of understanding of the Luddites. More important, why the Luddite movement is important for us to understand today.

The Luddites, in our contemporary corporatist times, have become somewhat of a joke. They are seen as bury-their-heads-in-the-sand types who hate technology. Often today, you'll hear people apologize, saying things like "I'm a bit of a Luddite" because they can't turn on their microwave or their app-controlled four-slice-combination lawnmower, cold-pour-coffee-maker nose-hair-trimming toaster.

However, at least in my reading, the Luddites were not against technology and "progress". They were against two of the primary repercussions of technology and progress. One, the production of goods, products or services of inferior quality. And Two, the devaluation, diminishment and discarding of humanity itself.

In the original Luddite movement (Ned Ludd was a fictional, Robin Hood-like meme who served as a symbol for the loosely organized protesters) technological displacement in the form of machines to manufacture and finish clothing destroyed a centuries-old way of life. Across the United Kingdom in the late 18th Century, approximately one-in-ten people were involved in the garment trades. Machines would take the jobs of about 85-percent of those people and lower the wages of all of them.

Whole families and huge swaths of England were now destitute. Starvation was endemic and children in orphanages as young as six or seven were rented out to manufacturers by the foundling organizations with the foundling organizations earning a financial reward.

Meanwhile, the archly conservative government was funding a "perpetual war for perpetual peace," and sending troops to quell unrest in newly-risen manufacturing centers like Nottingham, Leicester and Manchester. They had no money to help the poor but plenty of money to police and repress them.

Destroying a machine was a capital crime, punishable by death. Operating machines was also a crime. But it wasn't enforced.

All the while, a few rich men and rich families got vastly richer, obtaining in a sense, all the income that used to be distributed to many for themselves. What's more, the raw material of the Industrial Revolution itself, cotton, was produced by slaves in either India or the southern United States. Millions, yes, literally millions, were exploited for the benefit of dozens.

The Luddites were not anti-technology. Labeling them as such was a semantic victory by the ruling classes, in the same way, that calling someone who is pro-choice 'anti-life,' is a semantic victory for the 'anti-choice' people.

The Luddites were not anti-tech, they were pro-humanity. They were pro-humanity in a sense that they believed all people had the right to live--to eat, to have control over their lives, to have a home, a certain-level of security and freedom. They weren't against a rise of machines--but did it have to be so sudden with such dislocation, with so few, if any rights, granted to humanity.

We're dealing with the same dilemma now all over the world. And are certainly dealing with it in the advertising industry. In our industry, the work we produce and how we produce it is stridently anti-human. I feel besieged and insulted by about 99.78-percent of every ad I see, and it will only get worse as more and more of them are machine-made and machine-placed.

There's a Murphy's Law of sorts in effect in the ad industry today. The more annoying the ad, the more often they air it. The advertisers don't give a shit that it irks you. It's deemed cost-effective.

The same macro-economic issues that arose in the early 19th-Century are hitting us again today. The average holding company head makes 300 times as much as the median salary of his average worker. And if there were any investigative advertising press besides this blog, you might know that in the last seven years, the number of people employed by WPP, the largest of the holding companies has cratered, going from about 200,000 people in 2017 to about 105,000 today. 

And btw, Martin Sorrell still gets paid over five-hundred-thousand pounds a year by WPP and will be paid in-perpetuity. There's a 99.78-percent chance that's more than you, reading this, gets paid.

As I read "Blood in the Machine " every evening I think. What can we do? We can't smash our laptops with an Enoch hammer as workers two-hundred years ago went after the looms that oppressed them. Going after your laptop in 2024 would be like going after an individual sewing needle in 1824.

But there are no unions allowed anymore. No progressive taxation or even regular-old taxation for the rich. And we're on the cusp of seeing virtually everyone in virtually every media agency subjected by displacement due to AI and automated media buying. Expect huge swaths of media companies to be canned in the next eighteen months. 

That's progress!

It's all ok, I guess.

Good for the share-price.



No comments: