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Beyond Economics and Ecology: The Radical Thought of Ivan Illich Format Kindle
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|Longueur : 240 pages||Langue : Anglais|
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So this book is worth reading just for the introduction by someone who uses language normally. The preface by Jerry Brown is also encouraging (& I think he is right to bring up the internet which has, in my opinion, a remarkable resemblance to Illich's 'learning webs' proposed in 'Deschooling Society' (1971) as an alternative to compulsory schooling even though he later apparently distanced himself from the idea that worthwhile learning necessarily needs special institutional help even of this kind, in typically startling contrary fashion (Deschooling Our Lives.1998)). This book assembles into a novel & meaningful sequence works from the 70's and 80's. Later work from Shadow Work comes first, basically about how most of our servitude to/propping up of, industrialism is unpaid today. This essay is more historical, & I think more depressive and defeatist than the sweeping heroic confidence of the 70's "Energy & Equity" which comes next, where he recommends planet earth adopts a drastically reduced speed limit in the name of equity, very much in keeping with the optimism of the times, not unlike Captain Kirk preaching to some planet (which always adopted his advice). The last essay, from 1983, does still have (as far as I'm aware his last) grandiose 60's style optomistic society-wide recommendations "let science & artificial intelligence manage production & distriibution of those few basic commodities we all need-&which there can be enough for all. And let most people live as much of their life as they chose, unplugged from work watts and bits" (121). Contrast this with the contemporary pessimistic & fatalism of the Transition movement " use fossil fuels now to try to prepare for a post industrial/petroleum world because most or us are too stupid or addicted to stop mindlessly squandering it as quickly and pointlessly as possible".
For me Illich has meant many things, perhaps most importantly, realistic and exhaustive (perhaps lateral and radical), cost/benefit analysis. We keep trying to get huge benefits with little cost (by trying to get machines, institutions, nature or other people to do things for us) and end up much worse off than when we started (real costs). Driving seems easier but really slows us down and monopolizes public space & erases the future.. with school we can sit back and let the school system educate our children but it keeps them away from learning practical autonomy & naturally learning subsistence by enthusiastically observing older people and imitating their work in play (the pre-industrial norm), "social" media seems to make socializing easier but it's a hot house for trivial narcissism... you may not agree but you get the idea, it's the type of analysis that counts. (I infer from Illich instead that an honest days work is the wisest, happiest and ultimately most practical & sustainable path. Rather than trying to use other people, organisms or inventions to do everything for us, work WITH them on a more or less equal footing, share tasks with them, don't try to turn them into slaves, parents or servants, expect to get more or less what you give, not to profit wildly).
Somewhere he said there is implicit doom in any disproportionate attempt to improve the human condition. This is where I hesitate with (what I'm inclined to see as )the grandiosity of his proposals. They seem like an attempt to make a massive improvement/benefit, transforming society, with comparatively little effort/ cost (simply writing a book) paradoxically as hubristic as the grandiose industries he rightly criticized.
I feel frustrated after reading Illich because the changes he suggests are too big for me to do anything about. I'd rather go along with the more attainable example of Wendell Berry (farmer, author, activist, heavily influenced by Illich)) getting a bit of land & trying to farm convivially, more humble, but doesn't annoy people like preaching & telling people what they need to do. Perhaps in some ways Illich, with his society wide recommendations is better left to politicians , like Brown, but I doubt even he'd attempt many of them at the moment.
To end on a positive note, one recent scientific development which I think makes Illich-esque ideals more feasible comes not from some innovation in alternative technology but from the science of self-control. Most industrial power is psychological, it seems easier, more reliably and intensely pleasurable to be addicted to industrial outputs than to do things for ourselves, no different to substance addiction. I've found the great strides in understanding self-control lead by experimental psychologist Roy Baumeister (see Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest Human Strength 2011 Baumeister & Tieney) remarkably useful in minding my own business in a convivial autonomous way, mainly getting off my intellectualizing butt, doing some physical work and enjoying it.
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