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DAVID F. NOBLE Printer Friendly Page

The Luddite from York University
By Steven Plaut
October 24, 2005

 


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  • Professor of Social and Political Thought at York University in Toronto, Canada
  • Marxist "critical historian"
  • Opposes most forms of technology, which he views as an evil plot by the “capitalist class” to oppress workers
  • Maintains that the presence of Jews on the York University board affects the “political conduct of York’s administration” in important ways
  • Detests Jews and Judaism



Born in July 1945, David F. Noble is a tenured professor of "social and political thought" in the Faculty of Arts at York University in Toronto. Notably, he is the only professor in that department. Embracing a philosophy that is a hybrid of Marxism and Luddism, Noble is best known for his unwavering opposition to all forms of technology.

A self-described "critical historian," Noble has published books titled Progress Without People: In Defense of Luddism, and Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation. Both advance the idea that modern technology is, at its essence, an evil plot by the "capitalist class" to force down the wages of workers. Concluding that the best way to protect workers is to suppress technology altogether, Noble dismisses all anti-Luddists as "technophiles" and "technozealots."

Noble impugns medieval Christianity for having lacked the good sense to prevent scientists from laying the groundwork for subsequent technological advances. He is vexed by the fact that some Christian thinkers believed that machines and innovations could be used to improve the condition of mankind and might even be part of a divine plan. He takes up this theme in his book, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention.

In another Noble book, Forces of Production, the author laments that technology is often shaped by the military, corporations, universities, and other "mighty institutions." He claims that "capitalists" are plotting to impose their views coercively upon students via institutions of higher education.

In 1983 Noble co-founded (with Al Meyerhoff and Ralph Nader) the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, to try "to bring extra-academic pressure to bear upon university administrations who were selling out their colleagues and the public in the pursuit of corporate partnerships."

Condemning the "industrial-educational complex," Noble wrote a political article in The Progressive titled "Academic Atrocities," exploring how 20th-century weapons of mass destruction have been researched and developed largely in university laboratories. He is especially troubled by universities that set up for-profit enterprises designed to make money from the patented technologies they develop. He would prefer to see all university research and technology funded by the government.

Noble is also a bitter foe of "distance-learning." Complaining that universities were becoming "digital diploma mills," he inserted into the student handbook at York a warning against the dangers of online education.

Long before he arrived at York, Noble had been turned down for tenure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Noam Chomsky was one of his main supporters. MIT lawyer Robert Sullivan explained that the denial of Noble's tenure was due not only to the Institute's assessment that his scholarly work was substandard, but also to the fact that he was considered untrustworthy by some of his peers.

In response, Noble filed a $1.5 million lawsuit that was eventually dismissed in a pre-trial settlement. When Noble then illegally published various classified documents that had been released to him under the terms of this settlement -- including confidential letters of evaluation used in the tenure proceedings -- MIT filed suit against him for contempt and ultimately fired him.

Next, Noble was hired by the Smithsonian Institution to organize an exhibit there. He insisted on the inclusion, in that exhibit, of sledgehammers like those that had been used by the legendary followers of Ned Ludd to smash the power-looms that supposedly were taking away the livelihood of English hand-weavers in the nineteenth century. Noble called the exhibit "Automation Madness: Boys and Their Toys." In response, the Smithsonian fired him.

Noble next taught at Drexel University in Philadelphia, which granted him tenure. His subsequent effort to secure an appointment as a humanities professor at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University was blocked by administrators because he had criticized "online education and the corporatization of academia."

At York University, Noble has been characterized as "anti-science" and "anti-intellectual" by the university president himself. In part, this stemmed from the fact that Noble opposed York's establishment (on its campus) of the International Space University, which he called "a finishing school for space cadets."

Though he was born Jewish, Noble, who is tied to local pro-Palestinian groups in the Toronto area, detests Jews and Judaism. With a long history of excoriating Israel and Zionism, he has alleged that the board of the York University Foundation, his school's fundraising arm, is biased by "the presence and influence of staunch pro-Israel lobbyists, activists and fundraising agencies" that allegedly "silenc[e] ... pro-Palestinian voices" on York's campus.

At a York campus event in late November 2004, Noble distributed flyers alleging that pro-Israel, pro-Zionist lobbyists and activists wielded so much influence over the York University Foundation, that they were collectively akin to a "tail" with the capacity to "wag the dog." When the university subsequently issued a press release charging that Noble's flyers had "target[ed] Jewish members of the York community," Noble filed a $10 million libel suit against York. Specifically, he claimed that the university had damaged his reputation, discriminated against him, and violated his academic freedom.

Noble once led a high-visibility campaign to oppose York University’s policy of not holding classes on Yom Kippur, Christmas, or Good Friday. In Noble's estimation, this practice was "discriminatory and illegal" because classes were not cancelled for every holiday of every other conceivable religious persuasion. To drive the point home, Noble announced that he would thenceforth cancel all his classes on any religious holiday of any sort, including those of Bahais, Zoroastrians, and Wiccans.

Admired by many academic leftists, Noble receives a large number of invitations to speak on college campuses.


This profile is adapted from the article "The Luddite from York University," written by Steven Plaut and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on October 24, 2005.

 

 

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