Episode

10/30 How Luddites Showed Us The Politics Of Machinery w/ Brian Merchant

October 30, 2023

Happy Monday! Sam and Emma speak with Brian Merchant, tech columnist at the Los Angeles Times, to discuss his recent book Blood in the Machine:The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech. First, Sam runs through updates on Israeli operations in Gaza as 2 million Palestinians remain stuck in a terrorized blackout, external (and internal) calls for ceasefire, UAW’s record contracts, and Donald Trump’s candidacy, before watching Hunter Professor Rosalind Petchesky’s reflections from Friday’s Jewish Voices for Peace protest in Grand Central. Brian Merchant then joins, diving right into the misrepresentation of the Luddites in mass culture – largely expressing their aversion to technology as a problem of intelligence or conservatism, rather than their actual ideology, which objected to technology’s role in increasing (rather than decreasing) labor exploitation in industrializing England. Stepping back, Merchant then contextualizes the rise of Luddism in the 18th Century, walking through the particularly rapid mechanization of the textile and cloth industries, bolstered by increasing cotton production from the slave trade in North America, and the complete alignment of the Crown with the Capitalists’ decision to leverage technological development for themselves, and against labor, consumers, and community. Next, Merchant dives into the story of George Meller to paint a picture of the climax of the Luddite movement at the turn of the 19th Century, as, despite their best efforts, the 1800s see even more anti-labor automatization, pushing their tactics from disruption to destruction, only for violent pushback from the Crown and dwindling public support to eventually crush the movement. Wrapping up, Merchant explores the legacy of the Luddite movement, both as a foreshadowing of the role of the state in labor disputes, and in putting forward the blueprint for the militant unionism we see carried out by the most successful labor coalitions of today.

And in the Fun Half: Sam and Emma watch Netanyahu update the public on Israel’s ground operation in Gaza with an unsurprisingly genocidal allegory, and explore the diverse array of dehumanizing reactions to the conflict among Democratic figures – from Fetterman and Gottheimer to Jake Tapper. They also discuss Mike Pence’s failure to hang with the GOP Presidential hopefuls, and DeSantis’ attack on Pro-Palestine college voices, plus, your calls and IMs!

Check out Brian’s book here: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/brian-merchant/blood-in-the-machine/9780316487740/?lens=lit

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