Decision to stop off-shore drilling because of risk betrays American Exceptionalism.
“Technology is … a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one
hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.”
— British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow
“But then again, you know, you see that, you turn on
television and see this enormous disaster and you say to
yourself, why would we want to take that
— Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, on his decision to refuse oil drilling off the coast of California
Arnold as Ned Lud.
Who would have imagined this casting? The Austrian-immigrant turned body builder, entrepreneur, movie star and governor of the nation’s largest state. The man who once seemed to have such a perfect grasp of the can-do spirit behind the idea that is America — starring in a 21st century portrayal as Ned Lud.
Who is Ned Lud, you ask?
Actually, there’s a bit of a dispute over whether he even existed. But the more or less accepted story is that Ned was an English weaver from the village of Anstey, trodding God’s earth in the neighborhood of 1779. In a fury one day, Ned took out a hammer and smashed a couple stocking frames. Stocking frames were the next step up the line in the industrial revolution from the knitting once done exclusively by your mother’s two hands, and by 1779 they’d been around for a while. A while being, specifically, 1589. By 1812, there were estimated to be 25,000 or so stocking frames in the burgeoning knitting industry in the three counties surrounding Ned’s supposed ancestral home.
And right about 1812 there began to sprout up in Britain what American novelist Thomas Pynchon described as “bands of men, organized, masked, anonymous, whose object was to destroy machinery used mostly in the textile industry. They swore allegiance not to any British king but to their own King Ludd” adding for some incomprehensible reason a second “d” to Ned’s last name. Pynchon adds: “It isn’t clear whether they called themselves Luddites, although they were so termed by both friends and enemies.” As observers have pointed out ever since, the Luddites had what the late British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow termed an irrational fear and hatred of science and technology. They were the “counter-revolutionaries” of the Industrial Revolution, who angrily detested modern inventions they had “never tried, wanted or been able to understand.”
The Luddites have been immortalized in song and verse since their first appearance, not long ago by the late British writer and poet Robert Calvert:
They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.
It’s safe to say that the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from a BP drilling rig is not only treading on a lot of futures but stamping — hard, very hard — on a lot of dreams. The futures of shrimpers and fishermen and resort owners and restaurants and waiters and waitresses and a very, very long list of others (not counting birds and sea life itself) are being both tread on as well as stamped on.
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took one look at the television screen and promptly took a political hammer to the idea of drilling off the coast of his state. “Why risk?” he asked in the spirit of Ned Lud.
Not to be outdone, President Obama, who had shakily joined the drill-baby-drill crowd on its furthest perimeter is now reconsidering.
But the real question here is whether or not Americans will succumb to the Luddite world view. Or clean up the mess, understand that risk is a part of everyday life, and that in fact nothing in this world is either risk free or fail safe.
So let’s look around a bit at the everyday life in which we all now exist.
As good a place to start as any is with the brothers Wright.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?