The Industrial Revolution: Truth and Consequences

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences,” reads the opening lines of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski’s notorious manifesto, “have been a disaster for the human race.”  Kaczynski, who recently died in prison, blamed that period of history not just for “severe damage to the natural world,” but for destabilizing society, making life unfulfilling and inflicting indignity and psychological suffering on humankind.

Perhaps not entirely in fairness, I fancy I detect a similar tone in Peter Bach’s recent “Letter from London” in CounterPunch. UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, Bach tells us, “genuinely reckons AI and its associated technology is capable of leading this country to an economic transformation that could ‘surpass the Industrial Revolution in speed and breadth.’ Bach finds it “difficult to be entirely enthusiastic about what in essence is a constant identification of AI as first and foremost a money-making machine.”

Personally, I’m a fan of the Industrial Revolution.

That revolution was far from flawless or harmless. For example, in England it was initially powered by the “Enclosure Movement,” which dispossessed farmers of their in-common land holdings, forcing them into the cities and to factory employment, while in America, Eli Whitney’s “gin” processed cotton so quickly that plantation owners turned to large-scale slave labor to feed it.

On the other hand, I’m the grandson of a sharecropper who got his own dirt farm during the Great Depression,  his first tractor and his first truck well into his career … and his first indoor toilet in the 1970s, a celebrated event in my family.

I’m unsurprised that my mother, who was born in a log cabin and hauled the household’s water half a mile from the nearest stream until the family could afford a well, married a mechanically inclined 8th-grade dropout who moved the two of them to the city and went into factory work (as two of their three sons, including me, later did also).

Monetary profit motive was the EFFICIENT cause of the Industrial Revolution, but its FINAL cause was making lives better.  The profit (at least when political games weren’t afoot, as they often were) lay in offering consumers cheaper, higher-quality, and more plentiful food, clothing, etc.

One offsetting factor for any perceived indignity, psychological suffering, or lack of fulfillment is that we each have more time to search for solutions to those problems. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, average life expectancy was about 35 years. Now it’s about 80 years.

While exploding population and its attendant demand created by the Industrial Revolution did indeed inflict damage on the natural world — deforestation, air pollution from burning wood and fossil fuels, etc. — continued industrial advances already point us toward ways of halting and undoing that damage, and our rapidly evolving AIs will no doubt have suggestions to offer on that front.

I can appreciate the down sides of the Industrial Revolution, but also realize that my life is better than that of a medieval peasant who owns one shirt and mostly drinks weak beer because the water is full of disease.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


The Rosenberg Case is Closed. Time to Open the Books.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Public domain.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Public domain.

The case, many say, is long closed.

It’s been 70 years since the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on charges of spying for the Soviet Union.

It’s been 28 years since the public release of decrypted Soviet cables revealing that Julius Rosenberg was indeed guilty, and at least strongly implying that Ethel Rosenberg knowingly participated in his espionage work — not just typing documents to hand over to his handlers, but even actively recruiting her own brother into the operation.

But we still don’t know the whole truth, and not everyone who’s interested in the truth has forever to wait around for it.

Michael and Robert Meeropol are, respectively, 80 and 76 years old.

They were, respectively, ten and six years old when their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, went to their graves as convicted spies.

“Though we grew up believing in our parents’ innocence,” the brothers say in a June 16 statement, “as adults we adjusted our views as we learned more about the case. … the truth was more important than our beliefs.” The Soviet decrypts convinced them of their father’s guilt. But “we would like to know the full truth about our mother’s case before we die.”

The National Archives informs the Meeropol brothers that it possesses half a million pages of still-classified information that could be relevant to a Freedom of Information Act request they filed in pursuit of that truth. The NSA admits to  possessing still more such information. “We were told that it will take years just to review the documents, let alone declassify them and make them public.”

It’s already BEEN years. Seventy years since the Rosenbergs’ executions, 72 years since their convictions, 73 years since their arrests, and for that matter more than 30 years since the Soviet Union disappeared into history’s dustbin.

The kind of information involved — on, per Wikipedia, “American radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and nuclear weapon designs” — has all almost certainly long since become widely known, or obsolete, or both.

Similarly, any information pertaining to US intelligence “sources and methods” has been superseded by new sources and new methods.

Why does the US government continue to keep these particular secrets?

The only answer that fits is “because they can.”

And not just in this case. The US government has continued to hide information on the JFK assassination case,  “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” aka UFOs,  and heaven only knows what other things, for decades on end, without penalty and absent any accountability, throwing out the phrase “national security” as a trump card any time they’re pushed on such matters.

We really need to fix that. All of it. ASAP.

And we should start by getting two old men some answers about their mom before they follow her into eternity.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Government “Of the People?” Which People?

US Constitution Preamble

It’s flattering when readers respond to my columns with their own thoughts, agree with me or not.  To those who have done so, or will do so in the future, thank you. I really do mean that. I read and enjoy what you have to say, even when I don’t publicly respond.

Back in April, Jeff Justis of Oxford, Mississippi, wrote to the Oxford Eagle, taking issue with my opposition to state-funded media like NPR and PBS. I’ve singled out his letter for a public response, because he correctly points out my overall position and raises arguments I find worthy of engagement.

I apparently associate, Mr. Justis observes, “with a group of Americans that distrusts anything associated with or funded by the government.”

Mr. Justis has me dead to rights, although the “group” he alludes to is not necessarily a formal organization of people who agree on everything, or even most things.

Why should I  be more trusting of government?  “Government is, after all,” Mr. Justis writes, “Of the People and should not be considered an adversary.”

His solution to the problem of bad government is “to elect representatives who reflect the principles expressed in our Constitution.”

I disagree with the claim that the US government is “Of the People.”

The US Constitution was ratified 235 years ago, by a tiny fraction of one percent of the people living in the United States  (which itself was about one percent of the current population). And even at its adoption, that Constitution denied the vote to, among others, women and the enslaved.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1789, “no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. … Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.” Nineteen years was how long Jefferson calculated, given life expectancy at the time, it would take half of the adults who ratified a constitution to have died.

Even assuming a “majority rule” principle, which I find unjustifiable, very few politicians are elected by majorities of their supposed constituents. The more usual number is 20-25%. Many people choose not to vote. Others aren’t allowed to. Still others vote for losing candidates. Why should any of those people be bound to laws passed by “representatives” they didn’t choose, just because a tiny, long-dead group so decreed centuries ago?

And I go farther than Jefferson in rejecting even “majority rule”: Anything less than unanimous consent of the governed  makes government an act of force, and not of right.

And that force is deadly. According to the late Dr. Rudolph Rummel, “democide” — murder by government — was the leading cause of death in the 20th century, accounting for more than 200 million killings.

I don’t trust people who arrogate to themselves the power to run my life and credibly threaten to kill me should I disobey. Nor do I apologize for that distrust.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.