The Frame Breakers, Or: The Luddites Were Probably Right

The Luddites were probably right. It’s best to destroy all machinery. If only they had carried out their work to its full effect before it was too late for society to turn back. The movement started, according to the lore, with the destruction of two knitting frames by Ned Ludd—the man who would become the namesake for the uprising whether he wanted to or not. And plus, his name wasn’t even Ned Ludd, they say. Instead, it’s been speculated that it was Edward Ludlam…but no one seemed to consult him when wielding some aspect of his moniker for their “revolution.” Of course, theirs was not a match for the Industrial one. For when the wheels of a machine start turning, there is never any stopping it. Alas, the whole concept of a “machine” was too new for anyone to grasp that fact just yet. 

Mabel Crossham, the nineteen-year-old girl who saw “Ned” (or whatever the hell his name really was) being whipped for going too slowly about his business, was the one that spurred him to break the stocking frames in rebellion. She kept whispering to him, “Just break that shit! Fucking break it and show them what happens when they try to whip you for not being ‘fast enough’! The bloody nerve! You think they could go any faster?” Ned knew they couldn’t. Yet he had no idea that, as time wore on, well past the moment of his death, the same struggle would continue over and over again. In modern times, as one knows, it would mutate into the form of the corporation continuously and escalatingly axing any actual human being as only a robot—literally—can keep up with the pace desired (indicated by workers of a certain Scarlet A-letter company detailing their woes about having to piss in bottles so as not to waste time on a bathroom break that might take away from meeting their quotas). 

Ned was amenable to letting the revolt gather steam in his name primarily because he had to admit he had long been lusting after Mabel. She would sit right near him weaving in that delectable dress that completely covered all parts of her skin and he would go a bit mad. Indeed, this was likely the reason behind his slowness. But if getting whipped was what it took to garner her attention, then it had all been worth the physical pain. Yet now, he was enduring a different sort of pain altogether: listening to her yammer on and on at meetings about how everyone needed to act now, to destroy every piece of machinery they could get their hands on before it was too late. In some respects, it was almost as though the Luddites were a precursor to Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem. An “organization” (content to wreak total disorganization) designed to cause confusion and, ultimately, to destroy corporate America entirely—and yes, corporate America is basically the contemporary equivalent of what the Industrial Revolution did to those whose jobs relied on an “analog manner.” 

Those who once depended on stocking frames for their livelihood would now turn against them in protest, smashing any of the mechanisms that they could get their hands on (the way women still, to this day, try to smash the patriarchy). The “frame breakers”—that’s how they would come to be known when they weren’t being referred to as Luddites and invoking that name as a sort of mythical “captain” for their cause (hence wielding “Captain Ludd” or even “King Ludd” as the moniker of the leader who proverbially “sent them” to destroy)—had gained momentum. All thanks to placing their faith in a single man’s supposed “manifesto.” Again, in this respect, Tyler Durden seems to have ripped off a lot from Ned (so in this case, “I am Ned’s complete lack of surprise”—for everything is a copy of a copy of a copy…especially after copy machines were invented). 

Ned, too, decided to go with Mabel’s flow on really fucking with The Machine. It wasn’t just about breaking any that they could come into contact with, but also building up the lore surrounding “King Ludd,” who Mabel was sure to tell everyone lived in Sherwood Forest just like Robin Hood. Similar outlaws rallying for the rights of the poor (a.k.a. the working stiff), Mabel knew that little detail would spread well beyond Nottingham. And it seemed only right that Nottingham was the birthplace of this “insurrection” (which was really just the people holding on to their power before the machines took it all away). After all, it was the town (well, nearby Calverton, if you want to get specific) where William Lee invented the accursed stocking frame that now represented all the Luddites despised. And so, in retaliation for being abandoned and betrayed by the very society that was supposed to provide for them rather than rip away their already minimal amount of agency and financial clout, the Luddites were determined to bring down what their government was billing as a product of “modern civilization.” Well, it wasn’t civilized at all. To oust people from their jobs like that because they couldn’t work like machines—or even really operate machinery as efficiently as a machine itself. To essentially to be told that, if you were human, you were useless. Just another germinal sign of how the economy would forever take precedence over human life. Yet, the vicious circle was that humans were made to be dependent upon the economy thriving, so trying to fuck it up would still only result in fucking themselves in the end.

It wasn’t about “hating” machinery, at first. Like all things that drive revolt, it was a matter of class division. With the lower working classes suffering more and more every day, only to be told what they were doing—in essence, killing themselves—still wasn’t good enough for the fat cat at the top. The insult of it all was what drove people like Mabel. Even though she was one of the few who hadn’t lost her modest good looks to toiling away in abominable conditions each day. And yes, she was aware of the power her “charms” held over someone like Ned, which is why it was no secret that she was not some “virginal maiden.” Ned didn’t care though—he still wanted her. All the more perhaps precisely because of her lack of virtue. 

Not so for the proverbial employer, who only wanted the pristineness of a “device.” The employer cared more about their machines’ harm than that of the reallive people they semi-paid. Shit, the fuckers even passed a law after enough incidents in the late 1700s called the Protection of Stocking Frames, etc. Act of 1788. Yes, we wouldn’t want your precious machine to be harmed, would we? sneered Mabel as she thought of what havoc they could wreak next while Ned proceeded to eat her out on top of a crate in the alley outside of the factory. She might have enjoyed it, too…if it wasn’t so sodding freezing. 

The overt preferential treatment of machines over humans incensed the Luddites all the more as time passed, prompting them to ramp up their attacks even in the face of severe punishments and fines from the government. Pigs barely disguised. They were more capitalistic than the merchants and textile manufacturers themselves. Lord Byron seemed to know it, but even he couldn’t protect the Luddites from their eventual subjugation. Or, at the very least, not being as obvious with their rebellion. For it only led to violent suppression, and they needed to keep their kind alive so as to pass the message down to future generations. Not that those generations wouldn’t learn the cold, hard truth on their own. It would be even more unignorable. Mercifully, Mabel would never contribute to perpetuating her gene pool. Not that she probably wouldn’t have had a child (incidentally, she was pregnant with the spawn of a man other than Ned) if she had lived long enough. But after being beaten to death for her latest participation in the movement, she was not to subject any of her potential progeny to the same endless war. 

It is a tale as old as the printing press. This notion of technology becoming more and more advanced and then, by and by, further replacing humans altogether. But the Industrial Revolution that sparked the Luddite movement was the first of its kind to really foreshadow what was to come. And what is still to come. Alas, even summoning the “power” of “Captain Ludd” in the present once again cannot change the continual eradication of humanity. 

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