Jon de Vos: Burning down the house
May 3, 2012
My wife springs from a long line of Luddites. The other day her computer balked and she asked me to look at it.
“What were you doing before it happened?” I asked.
“Well, some stupid message came up with a yes and no button,” she said, “I figured you’d tell me to press ‘yes’ so I did and now nothing works. This is your entire fault.”
“You have no idea what the message said?”
“Oh, it was some blah-blah about downloading and installing something,” she said.
“Let’s see,” I said, “could it have been, ‘would you like to download and install the Mother of All Viruses?'” I said.
“Yeah, that sounds like it!”
I was pondering that fact when it dawned on me that I didn’t know too much about the Luddites. Their name today is a synonym for one who fears and lives without technology. Faced with a looming deadline and nary a thought in the echoing corridors of my pea-brain, I decided to learn more about Luddites.
You will surely remember that the Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars waged by France from 1799 to 1815, against a shifting European alliance. Under Napoleon, France became the dominant superpower. Only England was able to muster effective opposition to the swift-moving French army, defeating them soundly at the Battle of Trafalgar. This kept Napoleon out of England and in 1813, the combination of Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia turned Napoleon’s tide by cutting his over-extended supply lines, causing his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Remember the Luddites? Be patient, it’s all in the context.
Right in the middle of Bonaparte battling for Big Ben, the U.S. declared war on Britain, starting the War of 1812. The U.S. wanted the British out of Canada in retaliation for oppressive maritime practices by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. It was in the summer of 1812 when a British force stormed Washington D.C. and burned down the White House in retaliation for an American force that had earlier stormed Toronto and burned down a parliament building. The war ended two years later when both sides agreed that insurance premiums had gotten out of hand and everybody signed the Treaty of Ghent and went home.
Meanwhile England’s blockade by the French navy was causing a huge economic downturn. No British goods could get to Europe. By 1811, British wages had been cut in half and cost of food had risen by two-thirds. A considerable portion of the lower working class was engaged in the textile trade, raising sheep and weaving the wool or growing cotton and converting it to cloth in frame looms in their homes. The war blockades doomed any hope of exports and what trade existed was increasingly becoming industrialized at great loss of jobs.
Among the jobless poor, a champion named Ned Ludd rose from their midst who believed that by destroying the mills and textile plants they could bring back the cottage industries that served England well for hundreds of years. The movement spread across the land, fueled by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Many mills were burned, many factories were destroyed by Luddite militia. The British government rallied quickly by making industrial sabotage a capital crime and hanging all the Luddites. Lucky Luddites were sent to the British penal colony of Australia and the movement died out in just two years.
I wonder if Bill Gates has a security patch for the Mother of All Viruses?
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