Saturday, 19 June 2021

Towards Utopia


Luddite is a term that has come to mean one who is opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation and/or new technologies in general. The term originated in the early 19th century, when hand loom weavers saw that mass production methods were making their cottage industry lifestyle unsustainable. When spinning and weaving was based in the household, kitchen gardens could be tended. Waged slavery in the mills and mines brought great misery and threw the 'unemployed' onto the streets. To this day the 'unemployed' continue to be thrown out of work because the new technologies render their labour superfluous. In Life and Money: Being a Critical Examination of the Principles and Practice of Orthodox Economics with A Practical Scheme to end the muddle it has made of our Civilisation, (1933) Eimar O'Duffy explored the flaws in conventional economic thought and practice. As he explained, amidst the plenty of our modern world:

" ... we have our work cut out for us in providing the hungry, the naked, and the homeless with food, clothes, and houses. Remember that men, women, and children are suffering the agonies of poverty now. Remember that mankind are one flesh. That poor old woman selling matches in the rain is your mother; that pale widow addressing envelopes to keep her children is your widow, and her children your children; that plucky little chap I read of the other day who supports his invalid parents and his eight brothers and sisters, is your own little chap; that girl, driven by despair to prostitute herself, is your sister; and that-broken man carrying a sandwich-board is your brother. Let us open the golden gates and call them in to the gardens of plenty. ...

"These considerations, of course, are not economics, but ‘man doth not live by bread alone.’ It was in an effort to inspire his disciples with his own deep sense of this mystic oneness of humanity that Jesus told them in his last discourse that ‘I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you,’ and begged them three separate times, with something of despair at their failure to imbibe his spirit, to love one another. If we could but see our own joy and sorrow in those of others, there would be no more poverty.

"The alternative to taking the course which I have proposed [in Life and Money] is to go on as we are going at present, leaving the vicious circle I have described unbroken, with poverty spreading wider and wider as time goes on. Unemployment is increasing in every civilised country, and must, unless man loses his inventive power, go on increasing. If we continue our present policy in regard to it, the logical end of the process would be a small band of wealthy people enjoying the benefits and luxuries of civilisation, produced in overflowing measure by a small number of workmen, with an immense poverty-stricken multitude looking on in helpless idleness. But before that end could arrive, one of two things would have happened. Either Parliament would have yielded to an irresistible popular clamour to suppress all machinery; or the whole of civilisation would have been smashed in universal warfare or revolution." (page 116)

In the so-called interwar years (1918-39) many writers, like O'Duffy, tried to make sense of the political economy that brought war and poverty amidst plenty. Over the intervening century, very little has changed. As the film I, Daniel Blake demonstrates, a practical common sense economics has yet to emerge. In the meantime, the business-as-usual political economy continues to devastate human society and the natural world upon which we all depend.

O'Duffy's analysis of the workings of corporate capitalism has stood the test of time. It is available for individual and group study. See on SOCIAL ART page, The Works of Eimar O'Duffy, Life and Money. See also his Goshawk fictional trilogy exploration of the same themes.

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