This essay about automation was written and published for Melbourne Knowledge Week 2017.
“Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.”
– Genesis 17:26, KJV
The weavers are coming to break the machines. They charge through streets that smell of kerosene and dung as the planets – still undimmed by smog – circle above the English midlands. The weavers carry lit torches and sledgehammers and cry the name of their leader, King Ludd. Ludd is a legend and an in-joke, a hero who doesn’t exist. A couple of the bearded weavers wears dresses and call themselves “Ludd’s Wives”. When the Luddites reach the mill they storm the door and swarm the floor to break the things that took their jobs. The guards have fled and the looms do not fight back.
The mechanised loom is an exciting advance for England’s economy and for humanity as a whole, but for the artisans it usurps it is a violent innovation. The Luddites fight for oldest reason: so their kids can eat. Tendons pull, elbows pivot, human cogs and levers break their iron competition. Cheers and splinters fill the mill. A dog howls in the distance.
Thick thread tumbles from a broken frame. It unspools through history, weaves through the red coats of the soldiers marching up from London and coalesces into ropes that loop around the throats of the weavers, then tighten as they fall. Ludd’s wives dangle in the breeze.