Not Post-Industrial

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Our modern economy is only post-industrial, Henry Dampier argues, because we outlawed and then offshored anything dirty, without actually eliminating it:

In America, the educated classes tended to strip workers of dignity except as victims exploited by cruel capitalists, in need of rescue by the intellectuals. The intellectuals then proceeded to make the means by which those laborers eked out independence and property illegal in the name of ‘rescuing’ them. Dignity came to be conferred by education and having the right intellectual-opinions rather than by acting out the ethic of work, saving, and religious duty.

In the name of equality, actually being a good person according to the past measuring-stick of virtue no longer mattered. You could have dignity and still be worthless or a malefactor by the old rubric, so long as you had the right opinions or were a member of one of the ever-proliferating victim groups.

In this the democratic revolutions just created a new class of ‘enlightened’ masters deigned to continually liberate the ever-propagating new classes of ‘slaves.’ First it was the actual bonded slaves, then it was the laborers, then it was the women, then the blacks, then the colonized, then the homosexuals, and now the bigamists and barnyard-lovers.

The value is not in the actual liberation, but in the sense of meaning and motivation created by each new ‘liberation.’ Since actual equality is impossible, what changes are the stories about equality and the pretensions to it.

Yet despite all the pretensions to historical progress, many things continue as they have before, with perceptions changing much more than the underlying reality. Because it’s not possible for men to be women and women to be men, you can’t actually change one into the other — but you can demand that everyone pretend as if it’s possible. It’s quite the same with the ‘post-industrial economy’ and the ‘information age’ — it hasn’t been possible to abolish factories, but it has been possible to pretend as if it’s been mostly accomplished.


  1. Felix says:


    Nice post.

    “Good manufacturing jobs” and “sweatshop labor” seem to refer to the same thing these days. The former applies to “us” in the sparkling, mellow past; the latter applies to relatively poor people a long way away. But the jobs and pay are the same.

    Notice the misleading category of “manufacturing”, though. Perhaps someone can explain how building a web site is not “manufacturing.”

  2. David Foster says:


    I think the analogy to web site development in a manufacturing company would be the design engineering function. The web analogy to manufacturing per se is data center operations.

  3. Felix says:


    Hmmmm. That doesn’t seem quite right. Yep, part of building a web site is design. Consider a web site built by two separate groups, one tasked with “design”, the other with implementation. If so, the implementers seem like manufacturers to me. But then, the designers also seem to be “manufacturing” a design. Call it an internal product.

    Anyway, I cringe when people say that “we don’t make things any more.” Like if you work for Ford you make things but if you work for Microsoft you’re a “service”.

    Perhaps data center operations might be more analogous to those keeping a factory running. Things like floor cleaning, electrical work on lighting, building and equipment/tool repair. Those sorts of innumerable jobs.

  4. David Foster says:

    The reason I analogize data center operations with manufacturing is *replication*….except for certain one-of-a-kind products, manufacturing is all about taking the original design and multiplying it dozens, thousands, or millions of times. Similarly, it is data center operations…installing and running large numbers of servers, load balancing, etc…that “replicates” access to the website to large numbers of people.

  5. Felix says:

    Ah, interesting distinction.

    I always thought of manufacturing as being of two general types: “Production” and “craftmanship”. The former is what you’d call “manufacturing,” probably.

    What I use to distinguish the two isn’t the numbers of things manufactured, but the way the work is organized. In the former, the work object tends to move between workers, with each worker doing one thing to each object. Think, assembly line. In the latter, “craftmanship”, the work object stays with the worker as he applies multiple tools to the work object.

    We seem to prefer to do things in a “craftsman” way. Think of how mindless, tedious, soul-crushing “production” work seems.

    Both types of manufacturing have their place. In low quantities, craftsmanship beats production. In high quantities, production beats craftsmanship for learning-curve reasons.

    Consider how most of web site replication is automated. It’s done by servers, routers and various “user agent” machines. From that point of view, those who replicate large, custom web sites are craftsman – as their work result is as much one large, redundantly organized web site as a lot of instances of one site.

    Anyway, it’s fun and interesting to fool around with these categories, concepts and words.

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