I suppose it’s a casualty of the job. There I was slated to summarize the life of this extraordinary individual when suddenly he was knocked off the grid. I pitched; my editor caught. I rounded up interviews, gathered research materials, read till my eyeballs ached and my brains tingled. And then, yesterday, I was told that no, The Globe will not be running a full obituary of David Noble.
So, here I am complaining a bit about that but mostly wanting to give space to this man while he still lives in my thoughts and while a few of his tomes share space on my literal desktop. Books, this man loved books. He wasn’t as fond of technology though and that was what he wrote about.
“The catastrophe of the second industrial revolution already rivals that of the first, only without the resistance.” [Progress Without People, Between the Lines, 1995] He says people now work longer hours, under worsening conditions, with greater anxiety and stress, less skills, less security, less power, less benefits, and less pay.
Those who are still working, says Noble, are the lucky ones.
“Where have all the jobs gone? Ask the printers, postal workers, bank tellers, telephone operators, office workers, grocery clerks, airline reservation agents, warehouse workers, autoworkers, steelworkers, dock workers–if you can find them.”
David Noble was a modern Luddite and wrote in defence of Luddism. Luddites followed their mythical leader, Ned Lud, during the first industrial revolution. They busted machines. Between 1811 and 1812, for example, manufacturing workers destroyed over one thousand mills in Nottingham, England.
‘Machine breaking’ was subsequently made a capital crime by the Frame Breaking Act legislation which was opposed by Lord Byron, one of the few prominent defenders of the Luddites – and 17 men were executed after an 1813 trial in York. Many others were transported as prisoners to Australia. At one time, there were more British troops fighting the Luddites than Napoleon I on the Iberian peninsula. I learned this in Wikipedia and the irony doesn’t escape me.
David Noble bemoaned the besmirching of Luddites that goes on today. He says the term “Luddite” became an epithet, a convenient device for disparaging and isolating the occasional opponent to progress.
“For to be called a Luddite meant that you were not really serious. It meant that you believed you could stop progress. It meant that you were crazy.”
Please, since he will be absent from the Globe & Mail obituaries page, read about David Noble’s life and work. It will astound you and his loss will be present for a long time to come.