The most recent installation in the Dune SciFi series is Sisterhood of Dune, continuing the story of the post Butlerian civilization. Don’t stop reading; this is not a book review, although I’m enjoying this new book particularly because of its relevance to current political trends. I’m going to guess that Herbert and Anderson, the authors, are being inspired in no small way by political news and issues in the American leadership campaigns.
In Sisterhood of Dune, the Butlerians are a group of religious zealots who, after the overthrow of the AI despots which had cruelly ruled humans for centuries, campaign to destroy all forms of technology, condemning them as evil. This is reminiscent of the Luddites who operated in England in the early 1800’s. Angry at the rise of technology in the textile industry after the Industrial Revolution, with that technology resulting in the loss of many unskilled jobs, the Luddites rose up against the factories, burning and destroying them in protest. They regarded technology and progress as being evil. The movement spread to agriculture, with workers smashing farm machinery such as threshers. Rather than raising themselves up to meet a new challenge, these unskilled workers chose to rebel against progress to protect their own ignorance. The movement ended up clashing with the British military and “machine breaking” became a capital offence. In 1813, 17 Luddites were executed in London.
In modern times, Luddite behaviour has switched from anti-industrial to anti-technology and anti-intellectual, and is seen clearly in the more extreme elements of right wing, conservatism. It is seen in Santorum’s disdain for universities and the conservative disdain for intellectuals in general. It is seen in the rejection of the scientific proof for Global Warming and for evolution. It is seen in the fear of stem cell research and other medical research. One has little trouble seeing religious zealots swarming a laboratory or research facility and smashing it in the name of God and Jesus. Hasn’t happened yet, but it doesn’t seem to be out of the question. In order to protect a world view that is vulnerable to the common sense of modern progress, these conservatives rant against that progress, hoping that the noise and fuss they make will eclipse the truth. Certainly we see the same kind of thing in the anti-western paranoia seen in some Muslim nations.
(This is not to say that all progress is good. Clearly, an argument can be made for the fact that we are losing some important, fundamental values and social structures in the name of progress. Moving ahead blindly is never a good idea. However, there is an old saying that applies well here: Be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.)
Conservatives who are anti-intellectual often cherry pick their objection, making choices regarding which technologies they accept and which they protest. The same science that disproves creationism is the one which allows them to turn on a TV set. The same science that confirms Global Warming is the one that allows them to fly from city to city in their campaigns. There is usually a self-centred, self-serving, self-righteous hypocrisy underlying their protests.
I’m not an Ayn Rand fan, but her theme in Atlas Shrugged of the intellectual elite being offended and marginalized by the ignorance of the masses is strangely applicable here. Oddly, it’s aimed at conservatives (-other than Ron Paul-), not liberals.