The In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of th­ese ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Three hun­dred years ago, be­fore the age of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, the world was a very dif­fer­ent place in which fam­i­lies, nu­clear, ex­tended or com­mu­nal, played a de­ci­sive role. Most peo­ple worked in the fam­ily busi­ness, more of­ten a farm or small plot of land than any­thing else. Trades­men taught their sons in the fam­ily work­shop, and if they had no place of their own, they worked with their neigh­bours; moth­ers trained their daugh­ters in the mys­ter­ies of run­ning a home and keep­ing the fam­ily to­gether. Gen­er­a­tions ex­isted side by side; young­sters did not dis­ap­pear and desert their sib­lings and par­ents.

There was no Min­istry of Education. Fam­i­lies took care of the rudi­men­tary el­e­ments of teach­ing and learn­ing. Few doc­tors worked in hospi­tals and there was no health sys­tem to speak of, no wel­fare sys­tem ei­ther. If peo­ple fell upon hard times, then the fam­ily stepped in; there were no in­sur­ance com­pa­nies to soften the blow when tragedy struck. When peo­ple grew old and in­firm, the fam­ily ral­lied around in many cases. Chil­dren and grand­chil­dren were their pen­sion funds.

There was a fine line be­tween sup­port­ive roles and in­tru­sion. When young­sters' thoughts turned to ro­mance and mat­ri­mony, the fam­ily had its say; if con­flict with neigh­bours arose, then the com­mu­nity got in­volved. If a build­ing was to be erected, then it was all shoul­ders to the wheel, and the re­ward at the end of the day was a meal, a few drinks and maybe even a dance or two. Barter was com­merce in those days, not the laws of sup­ply and de­mand of to­day's free mar­ket place. You scratched my back and I re­turned the favour when you needed it. Of course, there were mar­kets where you could buy spices, per­haps tools, and rare cloths; and of course there were lawyers and other par­a­sites for hire as al­ways.

The State as such sel­dom in­ter­vened in the lives of the peo­ple who oc­cu­pied it. Even tax­a­tion was left, in many cases, to lo­cal in­sti­tu­tions. In China, the Ming Em­pire that lasted from 1368 to 1644, or­ga­nized its peo­ple us­ing a sys­tem named Bao­jia; ten fam­i­lies made a jia and ten jia com­posed a bao. Col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity formed the ba­sis of the sys­tem. If one mem­ber of a bao com­mit­ted a crime, then any other mem­ber of the same bao could be pun­ished for it. The el­ders of each com­mu­nity de­ter­mined how much each fam­ily could pay in taxes and dues. In re­al­ity, the sys­tem was a con­glom­er­a­tion of pro­tec­tion rack­ets.

Three hun­dred years ago, for those who fell ill, had no work or were des­ti­tute out­side the fam­ily or com­mu­nity, there was no po­lice force to pro­tect them, no health sys­tem to take care of them, no wel­fare sys­tem to feed them, and no school to ed­u­cate and train them. At best, they might find a po­si­tion akin to that of a slave or ser­vant in an­other fam­ily. For many, the best al­ter­na­tive was the army, the navy, or the brothel.

The com­ing of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion pro­vided fast and ef­fi­cient means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Iso­la­tion and in­su­lar ex­is­tences be­came a thing of the past, at least to a great ex­tent. The tra­di­tional bonds of fam­ily and com­mu­nity were not seen as strengths but as con­straints. Peo­ple wanted to break free.

The In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion be­came the birth­place of the In­di­vid­ual Rev­o­lu­tion. In­di­vid­u­al­ity and selfish­ness flour­ished. It was ev­ery man for him­self. In many coun­tries, but not uni­ver­sally, women have be­come rec­og­nized as in­di­vid­u­als with the same rights as any other per­son. They en­joy eco­nomic and le­gal rights in­de­pen­dently of their fam­ily and com­mu­nity. They are sex­u­ally eman­ci­pated and can form and dis­solve re­la­tion­ships with or from whom­so­ever they wish.

This lib­er­a­tion has come with a cost. Un­fet­tered ex­pan­sion has re­sulted in en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. Many be­moan the loss of the fam­ily. As in­di­vid­u­als we are ex­ploited by the mar­ket place. The State not only pro­tects us – in a fash­ion – it also im­poses rules and reg­u­la­tions, fines, penal­ties and obli­ga­tions upon us. Men still ex­ploit women.

Global warm­ing is not the only ac­cel­er­ated change to af­fect the world and its in­hab­i­tants since the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. For eons, mil­lions of years, hu­mankind and its so­ci­eties evolved into small units, call them fam­i­lies or com­mu­ni­ties if you like, and yet the 250 years since the be­gin­ning of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion have seen the col­lapse of the very sys­tem that took so long to de­velop and evolve. The so­cial mech­a­nisms of the First World sel­dom func­tion, or even ex­ist in de­vel­op­ing na­tions, yet th­ese coun­tries have adopted most if not all of the du­bi­ous ben­e­fits of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion. It's like fly­ing high on a trapeze with­out a safety net: beau­ti­ful and ex­cit­ing when it works, but deadly to be­hold when it fails.

The de­vel­op­ing na­tions call for cli­mate jus­tice while they en­joy the fruits of global in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment with­out par­tic­i­pat­ing in, or shar­ing the costs of their pro­duc­tion.

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