By Josh Hart MSc, Director, Stop Smart Meters!
“Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches; and obedience
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame, A mechanized automaton.”
-Percy Shelley, Queen Mab (iii, 175-180)
We are very excited to announce that StopSmartMeters.org has been nominated for the 1st Annual 2014 Luddite Awards given out by a DC industry thinktank called the ITIF: “Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.”
We are number 5 on their unranked list, along with the NRA, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the states of New York, Virginia and Nevada!
The ITIF, which promotes “smart ideas for the innovation economy,” claims that smart meters are a big improvement, and they bemoan the fact that:
“Efforts to derail smart meter expansion…(have) been led by “Stop Smart Meters” (SSM), an organization committed to “advocacy, media outreach, and direct action network providing activism consultation and advice to dozens of local groups sprouting up who are fighting the wireless ‘smart’ meter assault” and to “defend your (old) analog meter.”
Why would we embrace a term like “Luddite” that is likely intended to ridicule and insult? In common usage, calling someone a “Luddite” has been used to imply irrational aversion to new technology, a kind of primitivism. But who were the original Luddites and what were they really fighting against?
Who were the Luddites?
We did a little research and it turns out that the original ”machine wreckers” who were most active in 1811-1812 in England, termed Luddites after their mythical leader King Ned Ludd, were not opposed to new technology because they were afraid of it—that is a stale industry narrative two centuries old.
From review of historical documents, a more accurate picture emerges. The Luddite rebellion appears to have been primarily a response to harm brought to communities through the undemocratic and destructive way in which new technology was deployed.
Nichols Fox, in her book Against the Machine: Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives, states:
“The Luddites…didn’t shun machines or technology out of hand. Instead, they ‘[favored] a thoughtful use of appropriate technologies that [did] not damage the relationships we hold dear,’ especially those with the natural world.”
The fact that rich and powerful corporate interests were forcing new technologies that drastically altered the lives of whole communities—damaging relationships held dear without even consulting people—this was as repugnant to people back then as it is today.
Peter Linebaugh writes in Ned Ludd and Queen Mab: Machine Breaking Romanticism, and the Several Commons of 1811-12:
“When we speak about the destruction of “community” we must remember that this entailed complex kin patterns, forms of mutuality, and customs held in common. There is a material basis to community; together they constitute a commons.”
That community, or “commons,” was threatened (as it still is today) by private corporate interests. The Luddite movement of the early 19th century rose in response to a particularly brutal period during which the upper classes privatized (enclosed) previously common lands for their own benefit. These actions are known as the enclosures.
Linebaugh discusses the period leading up to the Luddite rebellions:
“The world was being enclosed, life was being closed off, people shut in. In 1795 before he was silenced by government the English Jacobin, John Thelwall, referred to “the inclosing system” which he defined as “that system of enclosure by which the rich monopolize to themselves the estates, rights, and possessions of the poor.”
Is it possible, as author Mike Davis asserts, that the Luddites were not “rebels against the future” as critics portray them, “but among the avant-garde of a planetary resistance movement against capitalist enclosures in the long struggle for a different future”?
Luddites were active in cities like Leeds, Manchester, and Sheffield, eventually taking sledgehammers to the weaving frames, which to them were symbols—and actual means—of oppression. Many were hanged and imprisoned for these deeds.
In taking direct action and smashing machines, the Luddites were not vandals—they were simply using the only means available to them to defend an artisan tradition, a community based lifestyle where textiles were produced in small workshops by independent, skilled workers.
Contrast the lives the Luddites were defending with the lives of workers after the arrival of factories and machines. According to Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations:
“The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations.. generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”
For these reasons and others, the Luddite rebellion gained such a degree of popular support in England that “Lord Byron defending the Luddites, asked the legislators: ‘Can you commit a whole country to their own prisons?’”
By the same token, we would ask, “Can a utility disconnect an entire community for refusing smart meters—or opt out fees?”
The Truth About “Smart Grid”
The 21st century “smart grid,” characterized by monopoly coercion, increasing utility rates, tax diversion, damage to health and the environment, violations of privacy, structure fires and explosions, seizure and destruction of valuable public infrastructure, and (of course) deception about it all, has a great deal in common with these past abuses. And yet again, rich utility shareholders are reaping the benefits while the people pay a heavy price.
Of course we at Stop Smart Meters! don’t need an excuse to discuss the topic of smart meters and appropriate technology, but we are certainly grateful that ITIF has provided us with one. However, it would appear that an inaccurate portrayal of the Luddites is not the only thing that ITIF got wrong. For example, in their report they make a few questionable statements:
“Surprisingly, (Stop Smart Meters!) do not appear to oppose WiFi routers, despite the fact that they also give off radio-frequency energy. Perhaps they see WiFi as just too convenient and useful to oppose.”
If ITIF had spent any time reviewing our site and outreach materials, they would know that we discourage the use of any wireless technology when safer, wired alternatives exist. This is a thinly veiled attempt—a very common industry tactic—to paint their critics as hypocrites. They claim:
“According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, there is no scientific evidence that radio-frequency can cause cancer.”
The National Cancer Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH in 2011 found changes in brain glucose metabolism from radiofrequency cell phone radiation. ITIF conveniently “forgets” to mention that the World Health Organization—and an increasing number of professional bodies—say that radiation from smart meters (and cell phones and wi-fi routers) may cause cancer.
“To be sure, these technologies do gather personal information on the usage of utilities (as do analog meters)…”
Analog meters report the total amount of electricity consumed during a month, while smart meters report granular data that has been demonstrated to reveal intimate details of life within a home.
“And by automating meter reader jobs, (the smart grid) boosts overall national productivity and living standards.”
Since when does abolishing thousands of good jobs with benefits that are essential to ensuring the safety of electric and gas networks boost “overall productivity and living standards”?
Living standards for whom? Productivity toward what end?
Stop Smart Meters! and our thousands of supporters around the world are not opposed to new technologies.
What we are opposed to is dangerous, invasive technology being forced on communities and made ubiquitous without an independent review or even public consent.
Call us Luddites if you will (and please do!)…but in the United States in 2015, the utilities and the state Public Utilities Commissions who “regulate” them do not inspire us with confidence in their ability to vet new technology such as the smart grid. They just don’t.
One big reason? Former President of the California Public Utilities Commission Michael Peevey, who was responsible for smart meter proceedings at the PUC. This week his house was raided by law enforcement and computers and records seized in a state investigation into corruption. Agents also raided the home of Brian Cherry, one of the PG&E executives who spied on private e-mails from Stop Smart Meters! “insurgents” that were acquired by former PG&E Smart Meter Program Director William Devereaux using a false identity in 2010. (PG&E was later fined $390,000 by the CPUC though PUC’s own staff were also implicated in the scandal.)
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, felony corruption charges against Peevey related to the San Bruno explosion case are now likely. Last night, a whole slew of e-mails were released under court order that show backroom dealings and “stories” being manufactured by PUC executives to justify high smart meter “opt out” extortion fees.
Clearly there are benefits to many technologies. But history shows clearly enough the harm as well, with the public being reassured at various times over the past 100 years that nuclear fallout, asbestos, DDT, x-rays, thalidomide, and now cell phones and smart meters are all perfectly safe. The dead bodies and deteriorated communities that litter history are the result of arrogant corporate yes men & women who take their political and spiritual guidance from paychecks rather than independent scientific inquiry, their conscience, and their community at large.
The Unanticipated Effects of Technology
The machines and worldview the Luddites fought against in the early 19th century have turned out to contain grim consequences for our long term safety and security on this planet. 2014 was the warmest on record. We have been battling mosquitoes and trudging through mud in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in January, sunbathing with not a flake of snow in sight, likely because of coal-powered technologies invented more than 200 years ago that spread around the world. While Earth’s climate is being destabilized by a fossil fuel habit that our system can’t seem to kick, “smart meters” are now consuming a ton more energy—much of it from coal—exacerbating the very problem that industry claims the billions of our taxes were meant to address. Is it a surprise that more and more people are questioning (the blind use of) technology?
We are fortunate in that we have an advantage over the Luddites of the past. It’s not necessary to take a sledgehammer to a smart meter (though I know we’ve all been tempted!) or risk being hanged for your principles. Simply get together with your community, send your utility notices of non-consent and have the diabolical machines removed and replaced with an analog if they refuse. It’s really quite simple. And 100% legal. Sure the outlaw utilities may try to disconnect your electricity (as they have done to us) but maybe we don’t need them after all, anyway.
Smart meters do have one convenient attribute–they can no longer cause fires, violate privacy, or damage your health if you simply deprive them of their power supply.
Of Analog and Digital
On a personal level, I find it quite ironic and amusing that I am publicly being labeled a Luddite. I grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley using Apple computers from age 4. My dad loved technology and taught me all the latest games and software. I had an electronic organizer—really a precursor to a smart phone—when I was 12. It was called the Wizard and I loved it. I kept it with me always. Likewise my cell phone that I used until early 2010 when I began to realize the health effects.
While I condemn Apple’s human rights and chemical exposure record in China, promotion of iPads and phones to children (and adults) without warnings of the health risks, and other corporate misdeeds, I have to admit I do love my Macbook! It has allowed me to communicate via ethernet cable (with wi-fi and bluetooth switched off of course!) to other activists around the world, to document smart grid abuses by officials, edit video and network via social media.
That doesn’t mean that everything must become digital as proponents of the “Internet of Things” proclaim. There are some things in life where digital will never compete with the quality and authenticity of analog—and more people are realizing it.
We love our LP player and would never trade it in for an iPod. There is a place for both. Our analog landline telephone has the quality and reliability (and freedom from the stupid grid) that digital VOIP and wireless simply cannot attain. Analog electric meters are built to last from metal and glass and reliable as hell. Same cannot be said for industry’s new offering, made of plastic so your private data can be transmitted through, but which unfortunately has the slightly inconvenient problem of melting and combusting when it gets hot.
ITIF and its Discontents
There are a couple of interesting things about reading through the ITIF’s awards nominations. First, the sense of isolation and frustration with a growing movement of people who are increasingly skeptical of false technological solutions (for very good reason!). Second is the acknowledgement that the same mindset of blindly forcing hazardous and ill thought out technology has infected food production, firearms, health care, publishing, transportation, tourism, and communications. Reasonable precautionary responses to such changes are slapped with the Luddite label, in order to marginalize them. That’s what organizations like the ITIF are for…
To try to marginalize us so they can continue to force their technocratic agenda.
We’re the opposite. We stand for values like community, privacy, safety and choice. We stand for appropriate technology that benefits people and communities.
It’s not just smart meters we want to stop—it’s an entire worldview that says “we know better than you, and you will live the way we want you to—in a way that maximizes productivity—whether you like it or not.”
ITIF—and the interests they represent—argue that we should all just trust the corporate/ government complex to introduce new technologies that impact our lives without any public oversight or independent review—or really any discussion at all. After all, what would the public add to the discussion, on account of us being ignorant and all?
That literally is their attitude.
They want to separate the business of technological “advancement” from political debate—to be able to decide for us—even what goes on and in our homes. If we raise our voices in protest, as so many of us have done, we are called names and ridiculed.
Luddites. Tin foil hat lunatics, conspiracy theorists.
We here at Stop Smart Meters! have seen too many people injured by inappropriate and untested smart grid technology to be fooled by smart meter industry name-calling, propaganda and lies. Too many homes burned down, surveilled, radiated. The problems have grown so obvious and the public is becoming more aware every day that the system is either ignorant and uninformed or terribly ill, corrupt and psychotic.
Either way: the system—and its smart meters—must go.
While we think the other nominees are also worthy of this prestigious award, we urge you to vote Stop Smart Meters! in the Great Battle of the Luddites!
Please spread the word by typewritten telegram, pony express, smoke signals, carrier pigeon, or—we suppose—the internet if you must
We’ll tweet it from our keyboards and trumpet on our website:
Appropriate Technology Now!
We are Luddites and Proud!
Stop Smart Meters!