Re: Luddites and Neo-luddites

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 29 Jan 1996 08:47:11 +0900

Allen Lutins writes,
"...yes, many folx are responding, but i don't see much linkage to
*anthropology* in this thread...perhaps if we don't find some
common ground this could be taken to a philosophy group or

As someone who's seen folks standing in water that's just above
freezing to replant rice in paddies in central Taiwan, I had no
difficulty whatsoever understanding why young people were
leaving the fields in droves to work in sweatshops making plastic
shoes. (This was circa 1970.)

On a more general note, Jeremy Rifkin observes in _The End of
Work_ that each stage of the industrial revolution has
dramatically shortened the work week: steam from 80 to 60
hours, oil and electricity from 60 to 40. The political issue at each
stage has been owner/managers' unwillingness to share the
gains of productivity by spreading the work around. Overcoming
this resistance has been the primary mission of unions and other
labor organizations. The perceived threat of the new electronic
technologies lies (a) in the absence of a new economic sector for
displaced workers to move to--even fast food is now being
automated--and (b) the difficulty of organizing to fight
management that can easily shift the means of production half a
world away. Rifkin's proposal for dealing with (a) is a
combination of tax and regulatory schemes that make it
worthwhile for industry to further reduce the work week and
expand its support of "third sector" (non-market, non-
governmental=community NGO) activities. His pessimism
derives from (b). Here, perhaps, anthropologists working with
the new communication technologies might have a role to play,
helping to build the international organizations needed to
confront multinational businesses. Whether we have the
political skills and political will to do that is, of course, an
interesting question.

John McCreery
Monday, January 29, 1996