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Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives / Edition 2

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From the cars we drive to the instant messages we receive, from debate about genetically modified foods to astonishing strides in cloning, robotics, and nanotechnology, it would be hard to deny technology's powerful grip on our lives. To stop and ask whether this digitized, implanted reality is quite what we had in mind when we opted for progress, or to ask if we might not be creating more problems than we solve, is likely to peg us as hopelessly backward or suspiciously eccentric. Yet not only questioning, but challenging technology turns out to have a long and noble history.

In this timely and incisive work, Nicols Fox examines contemporary resistance to technology and places it in a surprising historical context. She brilliantly illuminates the rich but oftentimes unrecognized literary and philosophical tradition that has existed for nearly two centuries, since the first Luddites--the "machine breaking" followers of the mythical Ned Ludd--lifted their sledgehammers in protest against the Industrial Revolution. Tracing that current of thought through some of the great minds of the 19th and 20th centuries--William Blake, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Graves, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and many others--Fox demonstrates that modern protests against consumptive lifestyles and misgivings about the relentless march of mechanization are part of a fascinating hidden history. She shows as well that the Luddite tradition can yield important insights into how we might reshape both technology and modern life so that human, community, and environmental values take precedence over the demands of the machine.

InAgainst the Machine, Nicols Fox writes with compelling immediacy--bringing a new dimension and depth to the debate over what technology means, both now and for our future.

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Editorial Reviews

Harper's Magazine
"[Fox] carefully and convincingly makes her case that there have always been reasonable, indeed often brilliant, people who were not at all sure that technology was solving more problems than it created."
Author of Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser
"Against the Machine is timely, compelling, and important. Its intellectual sweep extends from the transcendental to the transistor, covering much unfamiliar ground and reviving a long-neglected tradition of dissent."
"Against the Machine is luminous, lyrical, impassioned, profound. I had to put the book down every few paragraphs and breathe in relief."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559637190
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The Kellams and Their Island 3
Ch. 2 The Frame Breakers 24
Ch. 3 Romantic Inclinations 41
Ch. 4 The Mechanized Hand 74
Ch. 5 Golden Bees, Plain Cottages, and Apple Trees 118
Ch. 6 Signs of Life 150
Ch. 7 The Nature of Dissent 186
Ch. 8 Going to Ground 219
Ch. 9 Writing Against the Machine 257
Ch. 10 The Clockwork God 285
Ch. 11 Looking for Luddites 330
Notes 367
Bibliography 383
Acknowledgments 390
Index 391
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2005

    A Great Insight Into The Control Modern Life Has Over Us

    Nicols Fox has pinpointed so many key items as to why modern life can be so frustrating for so many of us, and why it is so difficult for us to understand the reasons why. One main reason is that the history of the 'machine control' goes back way before our own lifetimes, and so we are often unaware of what life might be like without that degree of machine control we all currently live with. The roots go back to the start of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, where over-rationalised 'reason' and 'calculation' started to assume an increasing degree of respectability over moral values. The moral premise that just because you are powerful or 'able' to do something, you should not necessarily actually do it, effectively went out of the window. Children were sent down coal mines and were made to work in factories for 16 hours a day, and so on. It took Acts of Parliament to eventually outlaw such extreme examples of control, but the overwhelming force to treat people simply as calculated units of production continued. We see the machine operating in everyday life today, where so-called 'restaurants' (some fast-food joints) are more similar to factories, and where the staff have their hand movements calculated down to the 1/10th of a second and their words exchanged with customers often have to come from a script. Human input is no longer required by so many workers, simply the mechanistic following of prescribed steps to the nth degree, a wholly dehumanising process. This dehumanisation of people can lead to frustration, anger, or even violence, with people really not understanding why. It also leads to a society where people as consumers have become totally dependent or 'addicted' to factory-made items which their parents used to produce themselves. Home cooking is a great example, where on Thanksgiving Day in the US Emergency 'Hot Lines' are set up on TV channels for people who still feel the need to cook a turkey and celebrate their tradition, but who have absolutely no idea how to do it any more. Calls come from people who have put a totally frozen 14lb turkey, still in its shrink wrap in the oven at 500 degF, and are wondering if that was the right thing to do. The reason being is that modern TV dinners and junk food have taken away people's need to practice the basic human skill and have the dignity of cooking their own meals. So many have become dependent on 'ordering-in' a pizza every night, or microwaving pre-packaged food, never even knowing how a vegetable grows or where chickens come from. In short people have become addicted and dependent on technologies which take their money, in a similar way as with drugs, just less extreme, with little or no knowledge or vison of how to become 'undependent' and have the freedom to choose whether to buy the factory-made product, or not. I think this book 'Against the Machine' by Nicols Fox is a fantastic contribution to a vision of human freedom where people can make better choices in their lives, and not have to be so dependent on 'The Machine' in life's many facets.

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