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Hmm...

I seriously contemplated joining the nationwide protest against internet censorship by blacking out my blog for a day.  As far as I understand them, the SOPA and PIPA bills are flawed bills, which, like most congressionally mandated regulation, necessitate huge unwieldy compliance requirements.  This benefits giant corporations (which can afford whole wings of lawyers, testers, and bureaucrats) while effectively crushing smaller players.  As a toy manufacturer, I recognize this strategy!

However there is a self-crucifying element to today’s internet strike which reminds me of melodramatic high school logic: “If adversaries want to hurt me or take advantage of me, then I’ll hurt myself worse!”  Yeah, that’ll show ‘em.

So instead of blacking out my site, I am advocating a more direct strategy.   All American voters should utilize our democracy more intelligently and simply vote against all incumbents this year. I know that most of my American readers are somberly nodding their heads and thinking, “That’s right, everyone else should vote out the crooked elected officials whom they have stupidly chosen…but not me. My elected officials are greedy and self-serving–but they do look after this district and they are better than the alternatives.”   This article summarizes  how most American voters feel exactly that way.  Argh!

Opinion: Everyone else's incumbent versus my incumbent

Reality: Everyone else's incumbent versus my incumbent

To illustrate my point, here is an anecdote involving my grandmother, who is one of the toughest & most all-American mavericks I know. Grandma ran a bar in the small wild town in West Virginia where my family is from. She kept a .357 under the bar and a profane quip on the tip of her tongue and generally exemplified all-American concepts of personal freedom.

Yeah!

When I was in high school I remember talking with Grandma about the county sheriff of that era.  Grandma thought the sheriff was both incompetent and crooked.  She gave me a long (and compelling) list of reasons to believe these claims.  Appalled, I inquired how the sheriff obtained his job.  She said he was elected!  Problem solved!

No!

“Just vote against him, Grandma,” I earnestly advised.

“That’s impossible!” she snapped.

“Well is the other guy even more corrupt?” I asked (my mind boggling at the concept of such a bad cop).

“No, he’s a republican,” she replied.

Just fill in the blanks differently and that is how everyone feels.  We have all been carefully districted and gerrymandered into such a shape that it is almost impossible for the candidate from the other party to win in your district. It’s supremely difficult for a lot of us to even think about voting for the other candidate.  But if we all did we would suddenly have a congress full of socially progressive republicans and fiscally conservative democrats

I don’t know a great deal about my current congressional incumbent, Yvette Clarke,  because I just moved.  All I can say is it looks like she takes most of her donations from public sector unions, lawyers’ associations, and health care professionals and…you know what, that’s enough for me.  I want her out.  And I have long disliked New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer–his staffers never even wrote back to me about toy legislation. They could have at least sent me a photo and a sticker (although both NY Senators just got reelected in 2010 so it’ll be a while before I can vote against him again).  Courageously join me! You don’t have to shut down your website.  Just vote against whoever is in office during the election of 2012.  Most elected officials probably don’t even know what an internet is, but they have heard of voters. We’ll have internet freedom in no time flat.  Or even better, we’ll be free of the wretched clowns who are ruining the country.

Or maybe the elected reflect the electorate...

Ned Ludd was a person with severe developmental problems back in the 18th century, when society lacked effective ways of assisting people with disabilities.  In the cruel parlance of the time he was a “half-wit”.  Supposedly, Ned worked as a weaver in Anstey (an English village which was the gateway to the ancient Charnwood forest).  In 1779, something went wrong—either Ned misunderstood a confusing directive, or he was whipped for inefficiency, or the taunts of the villagers drove him to rage. He picked up a hammer and smashed two brand new stocking frames (a sort of mechanical knitting machine used to quickly weave textiles).  Then he fled off into the wilderness where he lived as a freeman. Some say that in the primal forests he learned to become a king.

The Leader of the Luddites (Annymous, published in 1812 by Mess, Walker and Knight)

Ned is important not because of his life (indeed it seems likely that he was not real—or, at best, he was just barely real) but because he was mythicized into a larger-than-life figure around whom the Luddite movement coalesced.  This diffuse social rebellion had some roots in the austere and straightened times of the Napoleonic war but it was mostly a direct response to the first sweeping changes wrought by the Industrial revolution.  Skilled weavers and textile artisans were aggrieved that machines operated by unskilled workpeople could easily produce much more fabric than trained artisans using traditional methods. The unskilled workpeople were angry at being underpaid and mistreated in the harsh dangerous early factories.  This anger was combined with widespread popular discontent about the privations of war and the rapacity of the elite. Free companies of rebels met and drilled at night in Sherwood Forest or on vacant moorland. Anonymous malefactors smashed the new machines.  Mills burnt down and factory owners were threatened.  It was whispered that it was all the work of “King Ludd” whose rough signatures appeared on broadsheets and threatening letters.

The first wave of Luddite Rebellion broke out in 1811 centered in Nottingham and the surrounding areas.  It is interesting that the same region which came up with Robin Hood, the hero-thief of folklore, also was responsible for remaking Ned Ludd from a lumpen outsider into a bellicose king of anti-technology.  Disgruntled (male) artisans marched in women’s clothes and called themselves “Ned Ludd’s wives”.  Circulars were addressed from the “king’s” office deep in Sherwood forest.

The original teasing tone quickly vanished as Luddite uprisings broke out across Northern England in the subsequent months and years until British regulars were sent in to quash them.   For a brief period, there were more redcoats putting down Luddite insurrections in England than there were fighting Napoleon on the Iberian Peninsula. Professional soldiers made short work of the rebels and Parliament hastily enacted a series of laws which made “machine-breaking” a capital crime. A number of Luddites were executed and others were transported to Australia.

Ned Ludd escaped these reprisals by being from a different era (and fictional).  “Luddite” has now become a preferred label for all people who eschew technology.  The half-wit King Ned still lives on in the imagination of people who have lost their jobs to the march of progress and in the nightmares of technophiles and economists. Indeed one of the great constructs/truisms of economics is the Luddite fallacy—which holds that labor saving devices increase unemployment.  Neoclassical economists (who named the concept) assert that it is a fallacy because labor saving devices decrease the cost of goods—allowing more consumers to obtain them.  However there are some who believe this has only been the case so far because the machines have not become sophisticated enough. Once a certain threshold of technology is passed thinking machines might replace many skilled positions as well as unskilled ones.  This simultaneously awesome and horrifying concept will be our theme tomorrow.

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