Fox, Nicols. AGAINST THE MACHINE: THE HIDDEN LUDDITE TRADITION IN LITERATURE, ART AND INDIVIDUAL LIVES. 2002. A Shearwater Book, Island Press. USA.

An interesting and original work about “taking control of one’s life”, this is about making conscious choices about the mindless acceptance of the technology which floods our lives. This is mainly a book for people who live in the minority world or live minority world lives in the majority world. Most of those living on this planet don’t have many choices to make.

The author believes we don’t need to live in mud huts in order to lead a considered life. She says… “we must find ways of incorporating subjectivity; we must find a place for the people and things we love”  The Luddites were an obscure, now famous but misunderstood, group in Britain in 1811-1816. They were a group of workers and their supporters who went to factories and smashed new kinds of mechanical looms. The author says, “The workers were to be, as perhaps they had begun to suspect, merely cogs in the machinery of the industrial revolution in the textile industry of the midlands.” They foresaw the loss of a way of life and their resistance was brutally crushed by the government.

But their ideas and the evidence of the power of machine resonates with us today. As today, many thinkers and intellectuals sympathized with the vision of these activists. A vision that has unfolded in dimensions they could never have imagined. I particularly liked how she re-politicises the work of the Romantics – Blake, Wordsworth and many others who believed that humans were entitled to simple pleasures and a dignified life.

There are many interesting stories in this book, personal journeys, examples and roles to ponder. Fox visited and interviewed many people for this work and delved deep in history. For me it lasting impression was as a guide to visit The Watermill, a mill operating for over 250 years, in northern England. It grinds organic grains, grown in England, and sells its products throughout the country. We visited this beautiful place in the tiny village of Little Selkald and followed it by a picnic lunch with a loaf of its warm bread on the stones of Long Meg and her daughters – England’s second largest stone circle. It is about one kilometre from the mill on a farmer’s field. We enjoyed our lunch in splendid isolation with only distant cows and crows for company. Long Meg, a giant red stone with a distinct profile carved on one side, towered over us and the lichen clad granite stones. A good place to ponder human history and destiny.

“T o see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a wildflower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.” 

William Blake in “Auguries of Innocence”

Filed under Book Reviews, Nicols Fox