Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution

I’ve recently been reading some of the work of Eric Hobsbawm, focusing on the Industrial Revolution in Britain and its causes.

Now, there’s an idea which is widespread both among ardent defenders of capitalism and among many of its Marxist and Marxist-inspired critics, that the industrial revolution, and the worldwide technological transformation which it initiated, is intimately involved with capitalism – we have capitalism ‘to thank’ for it. Mostly this is presented as a good thing, and I would overall concur with that analysis, although the environmental consequences have not been brilliant.

What Hobsbawm argues, though, is that while the industrial revolution emerged along with the growth and strengthening of British capitalism, and while the two were certainly connected, capitalism was not actually a very ‘fertile’ ground for industrial revolution, because profit-oriented production tends to be actually quite conservative. He writes:

“It is often assumed that an economy of private enterprise has an automatic bias towards innovation, but this is not so. It has a bias only towards profit. It will revolutionise manufactures only if greater profits are to be made in this way than otherwise. But in pre-industrial societies this is hardly ever the case.

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Torture and Vivisection

A final post on torture. The fact which the use of psychology for torture brought home to me, but which I was already nominally aware of, is the ethical ambiguity of science.

That is, increase in scientific knowledge is not a straightforwardly good thing, because there is no unified ‘humanity’ to make use of that knowledge – there are a collection of self-interested cliques and groups with structurally opposed interests. Any piece of new knowledge can thus be put to both malign and benign purposes.

What this relates to is then the ways that we get that knowledge. For example, the research on learned helplessness and depression – how was that acquired? By torturing dogs and seeing what mental injuries resulted. I’m not throwing in ‘torture’ as an emotive word for rhetorical purposes here; it’s a perfectly accurate description. Pain was inflicted specifically so as to cause permanent mental harm – the experiments were successful because they fulfilled that goal.

Now it’s commonly argued that animal experiments are needed because the knowledge they give us is of such value. Well certainly, to those concentrations of power backing the experiments – for them, any new piece of knowledge is an unqualified good. But for everyone else, it has the ambiguity that comes from the fact that it can be used both to refine and improve procedures of therapy, and also to refine and improve procedures of torture.

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