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In a world similar to Earth, how can I realistically prevent the industrial revolution from occurring as an event?

  • I need it to be held off for at least 200 years.
  • It has to be a cultural reason, not a magical one or an individual one.
  • The main point of this is to prevent creation of large scale factories.
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    $\begingroup$ Destroy the planet from orbit. Or, if that's not the answer you're looking for, can you please confine the question? Is this a single person acting to prevent the revolution? What resources are available? For how long afterward must it not occur? What do you consider as a marker for the event not occurring? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Nov 9 '15 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Is this set before the industrial revolution has started, or after it didn't happen? Meaning, unless you were a time traveler, you wouldn't really know that the industrial revolution was happening and what each of the events causing it meant until it was all to late. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Nov 9 '15 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ Trees are sacred, i.e. they must not be cut for fire wood, and coal, oil or gas is either scarce or not yet discovered. The industrial revolution was not a single event but a continuous process in many places involving many people, discoveries and inventions that partially depended on each other. $\endgroup$ – Crissov Nov 9 '15 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Crissov Please provide as an answer not a comment. $\endgroup$ – Toby Allen Nov 9 '15 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ You might look at all the reasons it didn't happen over the last 2000 years, with things like Hero's inventions not getting anywhere. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 10 '15 at 15:00

17 Answers 17

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It's a little-known fact that the Chinese almost arrived at an industrial revolution (as well as a global empire) in the 15th century. And then ... a dynasty came to an end. The new emperor and the Confucian bureaucracy on which he depended for power felt threatened by new inventions and foreign influences. So they banned them! It became a capital crime to build or operate any ocean-going ships of the sort that had reached India and Africa and probably discovered America.

And so China slumbered for the next few centuries while its "barbarians" advanced technologically, and was powerless when they in turn navigated around Africa and India.

This may not be unique. You could argue that the Eastern Roman empire (later the Byzantine empire) failed to progress beyond the technologies of Rome for similar reasons. The Ottoman empire which succeeded it, likewise. It may be that an Industrial revolution is a rarity in the realm of alternative histories, rather than a near-inevitability, and requires some very special social conditions that were present in Protestant Europe and lacking at all earlier opportunities.

The original Arab Caliphate was yet another once-vibrant civilisation whose rulers legislated it into stasis and decline.

So there's my answer backed by real world history. Fear of the destabilizing effects of the new. Fear of losing power, influence, and control.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't agree. The Chinese under the Song dynasty (AD 960-1127 ) almost arrived at an industrial revolution. But they were invaded consecutively by the Jurchens and then the Mongols, halting any progress they have made. The Ming dynasty that arrived after the Mongols and which was the ruling dynasty in the 15th century was insular and never came close to industrial revolution. But they were still more accepting of technology then the nomadic Manchu rulers that conquered China after the Ming dynasty. (Manchus are the guys with the pigtails). This might be controversial but nomads ruined China. $\endgroup$ – user22119 Nov 10 '15 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ Another example is the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan, from about 1600-1870. It banned gunpowder and all "modern" industrial technology. It's particularly interesting because, while the government of 19th-century China was rather dysfunctional, Japan was extremely well-ordered and able to industrialise very quickly when it became a national priority after 1870. (In the space of about 35 years, Japan went from fighting with swords to decisively winning a modern war with Russia.) $\endgroup$ – Royal Canadian Bandit Nov 10 '15 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like we hove some modern candidates having this fate coming, with overregulation in the name of public welfare and greater good. $\endgroup$ – Pavel Nov 10 '15 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Pavel Petrman agree. In fact I fear worse than that. In Vinge's "A fire upon the deep" there's back-story about the effects of omnipresent surveillance technology. It's (fictionally) well-known to be a civilization killer. That's where we're headed. I can't see it as anything other than a catastrophe in the making, and I fear for our children. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Nov 10 '15 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @nigel222 IMHO "A fire upon the deep" should be required reading for anyone doing serious worldbuilding :-) $\endgroup$ – Tonny Nov 11 '15 at 14:41
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We kind of had a movement like this with the Luddites. They lost.

Alternate history:
The first major steam boiler explodes in the middle of a major city, causing a great loss of life and killing an important and greatly beloved political and religious leader.

There is a great public outcry at the death of this leader, and the surviving inventors of the steam engine have to go into hiding to avoid being lynched.

In a normal government overreaction, the rulers decided to ban all research into steam and automation, with heavy fines for anyone caught dabbling with it, and other governments, fearing similar unrest follow suit.

Any new technology or idea that reminds people of this steam automation is stigmatized and smothered.

Existing companies, fearing what automation could do to their business models, actively work to strengthen the anti automation laws with larger fines, harsher penalties, and active legal punishment for inventors.

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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me vaguely of the Hindenburg disaster basically killing dirigibles for a while. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Nov 9 '15 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding dirigibles - they haven't "recovered" because they're not a workable technology. Question: what do you call a Zeppelin in a microburst? Answer: Scrap metal. Lighter-than-air craft are not able to control their altitude in all but the best possible conditions. They are limited in their ability to survive the unexpected altitude changes which can occur in less-than-ideal weather conditions (go up too fast, balloon go pop! - go down too fast, balloon go smash!). Dirigibles are, IMO, neat as all get-out - but they're too dang big and too dang clumsy to be workable. YMMV. $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Nov 10 '15 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ @BobJarvis Arguably, the same can be said of all aircraft in a microburst. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Nov 10 '15 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I still don't buy it. Among other things, The Jacquard Loom was probably not powered by steam, and similar precursors almost certainly weren't. Most, if not all, of the relevant machines had existed for ~50-100 years by the time steam power was put to use. The "automation" already existed, but it wanted a better power source (probably one reason was that they were running out of good spots along the rivers). $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 10 '15 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ @clockwork-muse: The biggest thing would be the backlash from the steam disaster, not necessarily that it was steam that caused it. The anti-steam turns to anti-automation turns to a halted (or at the very least incredibly stunted) industrial revolution, not because they don't have access to steam power, but because everyone is saying 'Don't use the new thing! look what the last new thing did!!'. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 11 '15 at 17:03
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Kolaru has made a very important observation: the Industrial Revolution was not inevitable, and it is much more likely for your story that the civilization will be agrarian and static rather than industrial and dynamic.

Consider that in the First century AD, Hero of Alexandria created simple steam and atmospheric engines (some of which were used as temple "props" to do things like automatically open doors to worshippers), and several books on the subject of these machines survived to the present. Romans could also build devices which we would recognize as clockwork, and the waterwheel and crank mechanism were known to them. Much of the basic technology existed, but it was not widely adopted or improved upon. Culturally, the Romans (and the Greeks before them) considered science to be a hobby, and technological devices were mostly considered rich men's playthings.

Flash forward to 1500 and the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta had developed a form of assembly line in the "Arsenal", had advanced accounting/book keeping and a high degree of literacy, and was quite open to outside influence as a major trading empire. They also had a relatively merit based public administration and government, but no industrial revolution was sparked there either.

The question as to why England was able to begin an industrial revolution when many other nations with similar circumstances could not or did not is still somewhat mysterious. Obviously a combination of science, technology, culture and even resources (England was facing "peak wood" as most of the native forests had been cut for firewood, charcoal making or ship building, so they turned to coal as an alternative energy source) was involved, but the exact mix isn't easy to determine, and there is little agreement as to why the process could become self sustaining in England when it didn't take off elsewhere.

So perhaps the focus of your story could be not how to suppress an industrial revolution, but rather how to start one....

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    $\begingroup$ I think coal is the answer - the industrial revolution was a Northern thing, (where the coal was), and the engines developed from a need for other business interests - typically moving wool from the producers to the textile manufacturers and then to the coast. The first steam engine was developed to pump water out of mines. One thing to note: the northern UK people were less interested in the 'niceties of society" being far removed from London. $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Nov 10 '15 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ This may well be the important factor, the establishment had money from land, the newcomers made it themselves by working. This created a social stigma that still exists today - the 'old money' in the southern capital considered themselves a better class than the 'new money' from the provincial upstarts. France had a different social structure where the landed gentries stable influence was more evenly spread, unlike the UK's north/south divide (which is based in turn partly on the Saxon/Viking split going back to the 6th century). $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Nov 10 '15 at 15:10
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Simple answer: religion.

Create your religion in such a way that iron becomes the symbol/root/instrument of evil. Without iron, our modern world wouldn't exist as we know it. For one, we wouldn't have steel, cars, or even metal pickaxes. Maybe we would be using something else (wood?), but nothing is as prevalent, useful, and durable as iron.

Alternatively, do what I did for one region of a recent world: make stone sacrosanct. Defacing rock or stone -- including the cutting, painting, shaping, or mining of stone -- was outlawed by the theocratic society. Without the ability to mine the ground, you can't produce any metals.

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    $\begingroup$ This is exactly what I was thinking. The Dark Ages set back any type of industrial revolution because anything they couldn't explain by the Bible was of the Devil ... a lot of smart, industrious people lost their heads because of this ... and a lot more who were just a tad smarter didn't poke their heads out to be whacked off. $\endgroup$ – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Nov 10 '15 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ Downvoter: Care to explain? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 10 '15 at 2:34
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    $\begingroup$ The Dark Ages were dark because of instability and lack of literacy (due to anarchy), not so much religious issues. The religious institutions of the time actually kept learning alive. You're thinking of around ~1500ish when various religions started holding things back. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Alexander Nov 11 '15 at 1:58
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Though the industrial revolution tends to bring thoughts of big ironworks and steam engines, it started much earlier than that. Waterwheels were powering greater industrialization - canals and artificial waterways were created not only to facilitate transport, but to move water for power as well. In the late 18th century, leather belts transferred the power from the waterwheel to rows of equipment in the same sweatshop conditions we would see in the later half of the 19th century.

It isn't iron or steam which caused the industrial revolution, though it certainly helped power it to even greater feats, but it was the organization of production. The greater emphasis on larger groups of coordinated and specialized workers (and the development of the joint-stock company to fund it) boosted productivity at a much faster pace than ever known before. Fortunately for this topic, the industrial revolution having a cultural cause means cultural reasons for preventing it are as easy as retarding the shift which allowed it.

Inhibit the formation of capitalism and corporations, and you delay the industrial revolution. If the culture is committed to the ideals of every man being his own master - ever man works for himself - you destroy much of the gains from gathering together in specialized jobs. Additionally, if you prevent seeking diverse sources of funds for investing in new businesses, such that a man would only fund his enterprise from his own existing wealth or perhaps just from family, and there simply isn't an investment in growing productivity.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't discount transport. Distribution was, until the turn of the century (THIS century), the most difficult problem that existed. Producing 10,000 pairs of shoes is useless if you can only sell them to people in your village, or have to rely on expensive unreliable travelling merchants. Distribution is why things changed from individual craftsmen or small guilds to companies with factories. Companies distributed work, and products. No smaller orgs could do it. Until very recently, that is. $\endgroup$ – otakucode Nov 14 '15 at 17:26
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Note that industry revolution only emerged in Europe, thousands of years after being populated. Moreover, most of the world, at the time of industrial revolution, showed no sign of transforming toward industrial revolution.

This indicate that industrial revolution is not inherent to any human society. In fact a lot of human societies seem stable on the long run (e.g. tribal societies) and are likely not to tend to industrial revolution (nor to any other major changes).

With this in mind, it is more relevant to look at what is necessary for a industrial revolution to happen. Here is a non exhaustive list.

  1. Cities : since factories are permanent immobile structures, you need towns to place them. It can seem trivial, but it means that nomadic tribes will never ends up in launching a industrial revolution without settling.
  2. Surplus of food : you need something to eat for the workers who does not produce food. It made industrial revolution impossible in medieval Europe, because most people had to be farmers, simply to keep everyone alive (and even like that it regularly failed). Actually, the industrial revolution was preceded by an agricultural revolution which produced a lot of extra food.
  3. Good reason : you need to gain something, on short notice, by using machines. In the Roman Empire, there were plenty of slaves producing way enough goods for every free man, therefore there were no needs for machines. Indeed the Romans seemed to have the capability for an industrial revolution during hundreds of years, but did not tend to it. There were no need for it, because of slaves.
  4. Acceptance of change : Japan did not enter industrial era until the US army forced the country to open to the rest of the world.

You can see that the list is surely not complete, simply because it does not make clear why China or the Ottoman Empire, for example, did not enter the industrial revolution before Europe.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about the Ottoman Empire, but for China limits on available (usable) natural resources might have played a large role. Even today, most of China is not industrialized. Large portions of it are terribly mountainous and nearly impossible to even farm on. $\endgroup$ – otakucode Nov 14 '15 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ I think #3 might be the critical factor. It was not possible to own a person in England at that time, and so the only way to get cheap labour was to use animals or machines. I think that free or cheap labour might be the death knell of automation. $\endgroup$ – DrMcCleod Jan 29 '17 at 20:28
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Investigate Ordnung - real world reasons why Amish, and similar groups, shun advances?

Religion, tradition, fear, family, etc... tons of reasons why groups refuse this or that... apply those reasons to a more "global" scale.

Imagine trying to start an industrial revolution amoungst the Amish. Consider trying to change clothes worn... convince the elders to stop using horses to plow the fields... use a machine to weave cloth.

And a good quote about the values and whats important to them:

By giving up individuality and any thought of selfishness, they embrace God's
will by serving others and submitting to Him. To the Amish, Gelassenheit is
seen in all of the following aspects of Amish life:

Personality: reserved, modest, calm, quiet
Values: submission, obedience, humility, simplicity
Symbols: dress, horse, carriage, lantern
Structure: small, informal, local, decentralized
Ritual: baptism, confession, ordination, foot-washing.
— The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald Kraybill, Johns Hopkins UP, 1989, p.26.

Look at some of the reasons as too why the Amish won't use new items. Vanity. Connections to the outside world = loss of connection with the local community. Reasons to not visit your neighbor.

Technology

Modern technology is used selectively by the Amish for fear that it may weaken the family structure.[12] If any equipment does not maintain principles of Gelassenheit, it is banned. Anything which could promote sloth, luxury or vanity is strictly prohibited. Because 120-volt electricity connects to the outside world, it violates the Amish idea of separation from society. Owning an automobile could be a sign of status and it would promote vanity and competition between the church members; a direct violation of Gelassenheit's value of modesty. A telephone in the house would be a temptation to stay at home speaking to a friend rather than walking or taking a buggy ride to visit a neighbor.

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Lack of an educated work force.

Our modern free education system available in most parts of the developed world was really to provide a basic level of educated work force for the industrial revolution. Without a basic ability to read, write and add up your work force is much much less productive even in a factory.

Perhaps a cultural norm where only the highly affluent were allowed education and no popular movement for free education every got off the ground.

Perhaps religion prevented it (it did for quite a while here).

Perhaps most of the population is very dim and can't be educated to a sufficient level (Neanderthal)

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  • $\begingroup$ A "modern free education system" is indeed a very modern affair. Over most of history and throughout the industrial revolution was education more often than not for pay and not universal; although it was growing. For much of old-timey factory work you don't need to read or write, although it certainly helps as the work gets more complicated. 'Education' or rather knowledge is more of a requirement for the people inventing and running the factories. $\endgroup$ – Peter S. Nov 11 '15 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ If you make sure very few people get education, or are redirected into other pursuits than business, you could also derail the industrial revolution. An example from history is the drive of the educated Chinese to join the state bureaucracy. $\endgroup$ – Peter S. Nov 11 '15 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ ... I don't think this answer is largely relevant. Educating the workforce didn't happen until the Industrial Revolution was well underway (and even then didn't really happen until after several acts which largely limited child labour). It was the rich, educated upper class that began the industrial revolution as they looked for ways to apply their new scientific knowledge to increase their wealth. $\endgroup$ – Hannah Jan 30 '17 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe so but once underway an educated workforce was required to sustain it in the long term $\endgroup$ – Toby Allen Jan 30 '17 at 14:25
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They took our jobs!

A cultural reason for the industrial revolution not happening could simply be that people don't like industry. If the people of this world care more about items being handcrafted by a human and less about money, reproducibility, and large scale manufacturing, then it's plausible the industrial revolution will never occur there.

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There are some good answers, but let me add my two cent ...

  • A work ethic that demands and celebrates the production of the individual piece by a master artisan. Make it shameful to rely on parts from an assistant. Even more shameful to set up production lines. The artisan has to sign his work and stand by it.
  • A legal system to cripple companies, corporations, and banking. Perhaps a precedent to hold all investors equally liable for everything the company does. And creditors are counted as silent investors.
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    $\begingroup$ Except that was the point of an apprentice. You gave someone tasks that were lower skill that they could complete, so you didn't have to do everything yourself. Oh, the master still was responsible for "his" work, but there's no way, especially in resource-limited societies, to get a master to do all the work. For one thing, there wouldn't be a population base large enough to support such a scheme. And how are you expecting to get new masters? Your apprentices would have no experience, because they don't get to work on anything. $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 10 '15 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Clockwork-Muse, that's what I was suggesting to change here. The master trains a few apprentices and he does a few masterworks, but the culture doesn't allow the apprentices to help the master. And it doesn't allow the master to do much work on the apprentice's pieces, at least not those for public display and sale. Each work of craft gets signed by one artisan, who proclaims "this is mine, done by myself." This is slightly inefficient before the industrial revolution, and totally impossible afterwards. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 10 '15 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I get that. But trains apprentices how, and with what materials? There might not be enough resources available for apprentices to learn-by-doing on their own work, and it would make it incredibly more difficult for projects of any size. And what about projects that actually need multiple people to do the work? Say, building a house - would I have to do the entire thing myself? Would I be able to buy nails and things from others, I do I have to make those too? Heck, would I have to chop my own trees, or make my own bricks? $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 10 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Clockwork-Muse, the question was how to slow industrial development. You can't complain when it does. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 11 '15 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ ...That's not what I'm actually complaining about. What I'm getting at is that the master/apprentice system is several millennia old (having existed in some form or another since the dawn of civilization), and this would largely remove the reason for its existence. More than just holding back industrial development, you'd probably have to start it early enough to hold back all of civilization (apprenticeship helps drive specialization), and you couldn't do any large-scale projects. Society probably gets stuck in small communities of early agrarianism. $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 11 '15 at 8:18
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That's easy. A culture which does not value the advantages that an Industrial Revolution would bring more than it dislikes the disadvantages/costs of an Industrial Revolution. Consider how the Industrial Revolution (IR) played out in western civilization. Pay diverged widely from the actual value of the work being done because society saw people using machines as 'not doing real work' and not being as deserving of compensation in scale with the value they created through their use of machines. This had tremendous consequences that are still affecting us to this day.

For instance, factory owners refused to pay adolescent workers a wage which would make them able to raise a family. This was new. This was catastrophic. The lower class was put into a position such that if their adolescent children had a baby (which was how it worked for tens of thousands of years), people would literally starve to death, either the baby or someone else in the family. This invented, for the first time ever, a practical need for families to treat adolescents as second-class people and to try to suppress their sexuality (since they had no widely available effective birth control).

That required a monumental amount of change in society. Sexuality wasn't just something you could start telling adolescents to ignore. They grew up with their life suffused with sexuality from the day they were born. Only the high upper class had separate bedrooms, everyone else slept, and screwed, in common rooms. Since there was no danger of children procreating, and no significant near-universal danger of adolescents procreating leading to starvation or privation, sex was seen as just a bodily function, and not something one hid from family or friends. So not only did adolescents need controlled, but children, for the first time ever, had to be separated from sex.

So, as a matter of self-preservation, most all of society set about trying to destroy sex. Home architecture changed, with bedrooms separating children and adults being introduced. The church, with the help of the opportunistic medical profession, started teaching about the moral and physical lethality of masturbation. The only thing in the Bible that could be loosely interpreted as having something to do with masturbation was the story of Onan, and that was always taught as "see what happens if you disobey an order from God", but it was re-framed as "see what happens if you spill the seed" and then generalized to cover all forms of masturbation for everybody. Then the doctors piled on and assured everyone it would make you go blind, grow hair on your palms, turn you insane, then kill you.

Families started trading children because they feared they would not be able to beat their own children savagely enough to control them ('save' them). Art had to be censored or, mostly, destroyed, with the Victorians famously destroying so much historical artwork that to this day people think prudery pre-dated the IR (Pompeii shows us different, however, preserved where they couldn't get at it - penis-shaped door-knockers, vagina windchimes, pornographic frescoes in the public buildings, sex toy shops in the merchants area, erotic statuary on the street and all). Schooling had to be extended, as many factory owners simply didn't want younger workers, and the machinery made everyone so productive that fewer jobs were needed to meet the same demand, so 'high school' came about, along with the very beginning of treating adolescents like large children.

And that's just a small part of how it affected sex! (I used that because it's the area I'm most knowledgeable about) Society also changed massively by switching from expecting every product to be a unique thing, most often personalized, and available in a large variety, to a much smaller range of items being available in larger numbers and all mostly cookie-cutter identical. A cultural reverence toward artistry and craftsmanship could hold back an IR for a long while.

Every social change has costs and disadvantages alongside any benefits it provides. You can only choose to accept or reject both as a package. Obviously, it's not really "choice" and whenever I say "society" did something, I do not mean to imply some grand conspiracy or even widespread conscious action. That's just how the actions of as large and heterogenous a group as 'society' is spoken of (when I talk about these changes, people often misunderstand and think I'm talking about some kind of Illuminati guiding civilization... I'm just talking about cause and effect. Pressures are put on a group of people, individually they work with what they have and try to solve their personal problems, and on the large scale, "a society makes a choice").

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Well, the Amish would be culturally opposed to the industrial revolution. Maybe it's a religious/spiritual philosophy decision like the Amish.

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    $\begingroup$ The Amish aren't opposed to using machinery, but the machinery they use is (often) limited to the horse-or-human powered variety. The level of technology they're allowed varies, and it depends very much on the bishop of each congregation, as well as their standing in the Amish community. I knew an Amishman who owned and used a bulldozer and had rubber tires on his wagons - but he was the local barn-builder and architect so the bishop turned a blind eye. Some places allow bicycles, some don't. So as with many sweeping generalizations...you can't make sweeping generalizations. :-) $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Nov 10 '15 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ WTF. I know who the Armish are. 100% of them live in agrarian societies and 0% of them are factory building tycoons. So how exactly do you expect them to have a self contained industrial revolution? $\endgroup$ – Lorry Laurence mcLarry Nov 10 '15 at 21:31
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Religion is kind of the eternal handbrake on the Choo-Choo Train of Progress:

"Brethren, we are gathered here today to try this poor, unfortunate creature for heresy. Yea, though our duty is plain, yet it is right that the charges be read out and the evidence presented, that all may see with open eyes how this sad wretch has been led astray by the Evil One. The Evil One, I say before you now, has put thoughts of folly and wickedness into this man's head - has caused him to stray from the Safe Path onto the Way of Sin and Degradation - has caused him to take up with the Foul Beasts of Naughtiness - has caused him to produce the evil Press That Prints Upon The Page - and who, sadly, has left us no choice but to cleanse him in the Fires of Righteousness. Brother Arthur - wilt thou please anoint the accused with the Sauce of Barbecue? And does the Sauce of Barbecue stick to his flesh? It DOES?!? BRETHREN! The Sauce of Barbecue sticketh to the flesh of the accused, indicating that he is guilty, Guilty, GUILTY!!! QUICKLY - LASH HIM TO THE SPIT OF REMONSTRANCE AND LAY HIM ABOVE THE COALS OF PENITENCE!! PUMP UP!! PUMP UP THE COALS THAT HIS SKIN MAY CRISP AND HIS FLESH MAY COOK SLOWLY - AND ALL THE WHILE KEEP BASTING!!!"

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    $\begingroup$ Religion can be, but isn't intrinsically against "progress" and whatever that entails. At least some of the adherents of Discordianism would support technological developments, after all. (Side note: historically, your example falls a bit flat, as the first movable-type printed book in Europe was the Gutenberg Bible, a religious text) $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 10 '15 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have the link right now, but there's a good case to be made for exactly the opposite: that for all that certain parties have tried to establish the appearance of tension between religion (particularly Christianity!) and science, the Scientific Method and all the progress it brought were a uniquely Christian artifact and could not have come about in the absence of a Christian worldview. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Nov 10 '15 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ Many of the early "Natural Philosophers" who pioneered science were devoutly religious men. Even Galileo felt he was helping the church with his discoveries (until they told him otherwise....) $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Nov 11 '15 at 5:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Thucydides: Galileo's story is probably the most misunderstood of the bunch. (The linked series of articles isn't even really about Galileo's work, but because of the huge place he holds in the contemporary ethos, the author felt compelled to devote quite a large amount of space to explaining what really happened and how it fits into the bigger picture.) $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Nov 11 '15 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler: Uhh... the church single-handedly created the Dark Ages and retarded progress by centuries. And when science did leak in, it came from ancient Greece, the Islamic world, etc. I think you've got your history a bit off.. yes early Enlightenment scholars had to claim their work was consistent with the church. Otherwise they were murdered right away. But it was always a fight. 'The world runs on physical laws' and 'the world is the expression of Gods will' are inherently at odds (and rejection of the 2nd is what the Enlightenment was). $\endgroup$ – otakucode Nov 14 '15 at 17:05
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It's not how to stop the Industrial Revolution, it's how did it start in the first place?

When you have plenty of people to do the work, why bother building machines? But in the mid-14th century, the plague wiped out 60% of the European population. There were no longer enough people to get the jobs done. So the investment in technology took place.

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    $\begingroup$ Problem - the Industrial Revolution didn't really get moving until the mid 18th century (although some setup happened in the century or so prior). It's not like people had the machines just sitting in their basements! Note that one of the other drivers of the IR was the resulting population boom (food got cheaper), and England (where the IR is usually considered to have started) was less effected by the plague than other areas. Also, the modern trend in automation tends to result in more people being hired, so you can expand your business. $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 10 '15 at 14:34
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The easiest way is to restrict the abundance of energy supply.

The Industrial revolution required massive amounts of cheap energy to work. Some say that it was because the coal fields in the north of England were practically lying on the ground that the steam engines were built. You couldn't get as much power from burning wood or from horses pulling wheels as you could by simply picking coal up off the ground and throwing it into a furnace, and those early steam engines were very inefficient so you needed a lot of energy.

There were power sources such as waterwheels already in existence, but they are particularly static in nature, and only available in certain locations. Also windmills provide reasonable amounts of power but again, aren't the easiest of things to use. Nobody would have a railway locomotive powered by water or wind. You have to have coal.

So - get rid of the coal. No power = only small scale industrialisation in limited locations.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually, one of the reasons for "peak wood" in England was the making of charcoal to provide a high energy source for smelting and other metal work. Once the forests had been cut back sufficiently, it could take decades before they regrew, beyond the average lifetime of an person in thiose days. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Nov 11 '15 at 5:46
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Ignorance!

According to my history teacher, the industrial revolution happened in Britain because "in Italy there are volcanoes. In Britain no, so they had coal and could start the industrial revolution"

Give your people teachers like that and they'll never see the industrial revolution. If you want to limit the impact you could make the situation improve over time (e.g. bad teachers get extinct).

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To answer this, You need to understand the factors that caused the industrial revolution.

  • First of all, you need a demand for energy greater then that which trees can produce
  • Secondly, you need an abundance of a source of energy (like a fossil fuel) that can easily be collected and moved about
  • thirdly, there should be a society of free thinkers, who can mingle and share ideas without regulation (so scientific thinking or the drive to improve should be encouraged and not regulated)
  • also, a government that can encourage trade and entrepreneurship is necessary as, for an industrial revolution to happen; trade routes need to be protected, maintained and expanded on, and there also should be a growing demand for cheap goods (as well as an increase in consumerisation)

Now, The first two needs are slightly less important then the bottom two (when delaying an industrial revolution). A society that doesn't encourage improvement of ideas or the free unregulated exchange of information along with a government that discourages the above should easily delay an industrial revolution until such a time the above factors are available.

note: the above factors were all taken from the BBC documentery "Why the industrial revolution happened here"

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