I read the books below 16 months ago, in October 2016. All three books were written 35-40 year ago and what unites them is that they contain or related to the radical thoughts of Ivan Illich and E. F. Schumacher. The asterisks (*) represent the number of quotes that can be found further down in this blog post. Here's the previous blog post
about books I have read.
*********** I've been interested in Ivan Illich's
radical thoughts for a long time but "Shadow work
" (1981) is the first full book of his that I have read. It's not so much a book as a collection of (five) essays that circle around a topic, work
, but with threads leading in many different directions all the time. This is primarily a book about work and the (ballooning) unpaid work that is necessary to perform in order to perform paid work in order to get a salary in order to survive in modern society. Like the daily commute that can easily take hours or spending time shopping and maintaining your business attire or your car or working on your CV or the time spent searching for a new job and so on. It's not about the things we do for ourselves because we want to do them, but (the time we spend on) the things we do to make ourselves employable. It it thus also a book about work in modern societies being the exact opposite of subsistence as well as a book about the flawed ideas behind the term "development" (as in "developing country"). And many other things. From the back cover:
"The essays gathered here deal with the rise of the shadow economy. I have coined this term to speak about transactions which are not in the monetized sector and yet do not exist in pre-industrailized society. With the rise of the shadow economy I observe the appearance of a kind of toil which is not rewarded by wages and yet contributes nothing to the household's independence from the market
It's a bit hard to read Illich. The book was written more than 35 years ago - at a specific time and place and by a specific person with a specific perspective. I suspect it wasn't that easy to understand all aspects of Illich's thoughts already back then and naturally even less so now. I also suspect the essay didn't so much come out of
thoughts that were in circulation in 1970's, but that it still fits 1970's thought much better than the now-predomininatly neoliberal thoughts and frames of references that are in circulations. It's also easy to see that an alternative way of life that is based on subsistence was much closer in time/at hand in 1981 for someone who had spent considerable time in the Global South (primarily Mexico and Latin America) and seen the backside of the effects that "international development" had on the poor of the world - dangling promises in front of them (of education, of a "good job", of affluence, of consumption) that was utterly impossible for them to attain (back then - as well as today).
While Illich is interesting or even intriguing, it feels like I'm missing some important clues to make the texts make sense. It feels like Illich assumes many things and that I just know the half of. It feels like some of what he wants to say eludes me and that I might have to read more books of his to "get" his ideas and to better understand the context in which he wrote his books as well as learn more about what he wanted to accomplish.
******************* Sajay Samuel
's edited book "Beyond economics and ecology: The radical thought of Ivan Illich
" was published in 2015, long after Illich's death in 2002. The book is primarily a collection of four of Illich's essay. What I didn't know at the time I bought this book is that two of the essays are republished from "Shadow work" which I read right before (see above)! Despite this, I have to say that the two remaining essays made buying this book worth the price and they are "Energy and equity" and "The social construction of energy".
"Energy and equity" was published in the newspaper Le Monde in 1973, just before the first oil crisis (which started in October 1973) and "The social construction of energy" was the opening talk to a seminar that was held in Mexico in 1983 on "The basic option within any future low-energy society". I wish I could have been there!
Both of these essays are choke-full of ideas that need to be digested.
Which takes time. Which means I should read them again - perhaps regularly. The quotes further below from "Energy and equity" are incredible provocative, insightful and interesting. I feel I need to know about the man who wrote these things even as I lament that he didn't spend more time writing specifically about energy instead of writing a bit about anything that caught his fancy. Take for example Illich's argument that increased speed creates inequality within societies. It is a very sophisticated argument and it contradicts the dominant rhetorics about the necessity of new motorways and high-speed trains. It is in fact the case that this particular essay of Illich's has made me so interested in the connections between speed, energy and equality that I have bought two books by the premier philosopher/historian/cultural theorist of speed, Paul Virilio
"Unchecked speed is expensive, and progressively fewer can afford it. Each increment in the velocity of a vehicle results in an increase in the cost of propulsion and track construction and most dramatically – in the space the vehicle devours while it is on the move. … a worldwide class structure of speed capitalists is created. … As societies put price tags on time, equity and vehicular speed correlated inversely
The book "Alternativa synsätt på morgondagens samhälle
" [Alternative perspectives on tomorrow's society - but the original English-language title is "The Schumacher lectures
"] [1980/1981] is edited by Satish Kumar
and it's a tribute to German-British heterodox economist E. F. Schumacher
. Schumacher is mostly known for his 1973 book "Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered
The book consists of eight talks/lectures that have made it into written form by well-known and sometimes (for me) less well-known academics and public intellectuals; Ivan Illich, Amory Lovins
, Fritjof Capra
, Edward de Bono
, R.D. Laing
, Leopold Kohr
, Hazel Henderson
and John Michell
. A sweet mix of philosophers, physicists, economists, historians, psychologists and psychiatrists. I have no idea where this book comes from but I guess I got it decades ago (perhaps as a gift?) or that I picked it up in a second-hand bookshop.
I have, for some reason, not picked out any interesting quotes from the book and since it's been more than a year since I read it, I will instead settle for quoting the text from the cover:
"The English economist E.F. Schumacher was one of the first to realize the dangers of a high-tech society and the increasingly powerful exploitation of Earth's resources. He fought for the small scale and for decentralization and he coined the term "economics as if people mattered". After his death in 1979, the Schumacher society was formed to further develop his thoughts. This book contains eight contributions compiled by the association's chairman, Satish Kumar, and they are written in Dr. Schumacher's spirit. They all take as their starting point a holistic view of society where nature, society and the economy are adapted to each other."
On development (as in "developing country"):
"On January 10, 1949 … President Truman announced his Point Four Program. Until then, we used ’development’ to refer to species, real estate and moves in chess – only thereafter to people, countries and economic strategies. Since then, we have been flooded by development theories whose concepts are now curiosities for collectors – ’growth’, ’catching up’, ’modernization’, ’imperialism’, ’dualism’, ’dependency’, ’basic needs’, ’transfer of technology’, ’world system’, ’autochthonous industrialization’ and ’temporary unlinking’. … Fundamentally, the concept implies the replacement of widespread, unquestioned competence at subsistence activities by the use and consumption of commodities; the monopoly of wage labor over all other kinds of work; redefinition of needs in terms of goods and services mass-produced according to expert design; finally, the rearrangement of the environment in such fashion that space, time, materials and design favor production and consumption while they degrade … activities that satisfy needs directly.”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.15.
On exploring alternatives to modern society:
"In Germany alone, France or Italy, thousands of groups experiment, each differently, with alternatives to an industrial existence. Increasingly, more of these people come from blue-collar homes. For most of them, there is no dignity left in earning one’s livelihood by a wage. They try to ”unplug themselves from consumption” … In the USA, at least four million people live in the core of tiny and highly differentiated communities of this kind, with at least seven times as many individually sharing their values – women seek alternatives to gynecology; parents alternatives to schools; home-builders alternatives to the flush toilet; neighborhoods alternatives to commuting; people alternatives to the shopping center.”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.16.
On the outsider in Western thought:
"The perception of the outsider as someone who must be helped has taken on successive forms [in Western thought]. In late antiquity, the barbarian mutated into the pagan. … In the early Middle Ages … the Muslim appeared [and] The pagan mutated into the infidel. … The image of the wild man who threatens the civilizing function of the humanist replaced the image of the infidel who threatens the faith. … To impute needs to the wild man, one had to make him over into the native … the construct of distinctly native needs was necessary both to justify colonialism and to administer colonies. … the natives’ limited needs for goods and services thwarted growth and progress. They had to metamorphose into underdeveloped people, the sixth and present stage of the West’s view of the outsider.”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.19.
On development as the flawed goal of the global South:
"decolonization was also a process of conversion: the worldwide acceptance of the Western self-image of *homo economicus* in his most extreme form … Scarcely twenty years were enough to make two billion people define themselves as underdeveloped [but] Development based on high per capital energy quanta and intense professional care is the most pernicious of the West’s missionary efforts – a project guided by an ecologically unfeasible conception of human control over nature.”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.19-20.
On learning language through living vs through formal schooling:
"The switch from the vernacular to an officially taught mother tongue is perhaps the most significant – and, therefore, least researched – event in the coming of a commodity-intense society. The radical change from the vernacular to taught language foreshadows the switch from breast to bottle, from subsistence to welfare, from production for use to production for market”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.44.
On ’new’ as good or as something to be suspicions of:
"As a historian, I am very suspicious of anything which pretends to be totally new. If I cannot find precedents for an idea, I immediately suspect that it is a foolish one.”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.79.
On shadow work:
”I call this complement to wage labor ’shadow work’. It comprises most housework women do in their homes and apartments, the activities connected with shopping, most of the homework of students cramming for exams, the toil expended commuting to and from the job. It includes the stress of forced consumption, the tedious and regimented surrender to therapists, compliance with bureaucrats, the preparations for work to which one is compelled … In traditional cultures the shadow work is as marginal as wage labor, often difficult to identify. In industrial societies, it is assumed as routine.
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.100.
On wage labor as a sign of failure:
"What today stands for work, namely, wage labor, was a badge of misery all through the Middle Ages. … In September of 1330 a rich cloth merchant died in Florence and left his property to be distributed among the destitute. The Guild of Or San Michele was to administer the estate. The 17,000 beneficiaries were selected and locked into the available churches at midnight. As they were let out, each received his inheritance. Now, how were these ’destitute’ selected? We know, because we have access to the welfare notes of Or San Michele Guild in proto-industrial Florence. From it, we know the categories of the destitute: orphan, widow, victim of a recent act of God, heads of family totally dependent on wage work, or those compelled to pay rent for the roof over their bed. ... The need to provide for all the necessities of life by wage work was a sign of utter impotence … The need to live by wage labor was the sign for the down and out”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.102.
On the workhouse teaching the vagrants the value of work:
"The pioneering policies and equipment in Dutch Calvinist or North German workhouses … were organized and equipped for the cure of laziness and for the development of the will to do work as assigned. These workhouses were designed and built to transform useless beggars into useful workers. As such, they were … Set up to receive beggars caught by the police [and] softened them up for treatment by a few days of no food and a carefully planned ration of daily lashes. Then, treatment with work at the treadmill or at the rasp followed until the transformation of the inmate into a useful worker was diagnosed. One even finds provisions for intensive care. People resistant to work were thrown into a constantly flooding pit, where they could survive only by frantically pumping all day long”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.105-106.
On scarcity in commodity-intensive societies:
"Economics always implies the assumption of scarcity. What is not scarce cannot be subjected to economic control. This is as true of goods and services, as it is of work. The assumption of scarcity has penetrated all modern institutions. Education is built on the assumption that desirable knowledge is scarce. Medicin assumes the same about health, transportations about time, and unions about work. … The identification of that which is desirable with that which is scarce has deeply shaped our thinking, our feeling, our perception of reality itself. … Being thus immersed in it, we have become blind to the paradox that scarcity increases in a society with the rise of the GNP.”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.123.
On historical studies of the poor:
"The attitude that people have towards the weak, hungry, sick, homeless, landless, mad, imprisoned, enslaved, fugitive, orphaned, exiled, crippled, beggars, ascetics, streetvendors, soldiers, foundlings and others who were relatively deprived has changed throughout history. For every epoch, specific attitudes to each of these categories are in a unique constellation. Economic history, when it studies poverty, tends to neglect these attitudes. Economic history tends to focus on measurements of average and median calories intake, group-specific mortality rates, the polarisation in the use of resources, etc….”
Illich, I. (1981). Shadow Work, p.136.
On Ivan Illich:
"[Ivan] Illich was a radical because he went to the root of things. He questioned the very premises of modern life and traced its many institutional excesses to developments in the early and Medieval Church. In his writings, he strove to open up cracks in the certitudes of our modern worldview. He questioned speed, schools, hospitals, technology, economic growth and unlimited energy – even if derived from the wind or the sun.”
Brown, J. (2015). Preface. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.9.
On the historical enclosure of the commons:
"Historians have marked the transition from agrarian to industrial society by that phenomenon called the enclosure of the commons, seen vividly in Great Britain but elsewhere as well. The commons referred to the fields, fens, wastelands and woods to which access was free to all for pasturing livestock, planting crops, foraging for fuel wood, and gleaning leftover grain. Well into the eighteenth century, commoners comprised a substantial proportion of the British population and derived the greater portion of their sustenance from the commons instad of the market. From the mid-seventeenth century, but particularly over the hundred years until 1850, thousands of Enclosure Acts legalized enclosures that forced commoners to become landless peasants with no independent means of subsistence. Now fully dependent on paid work, they became the working class.”
Samuel, S. (2015). After Illich: An introduction. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.16.
On professions as a conspiracy against the common man:
"However, Illich argued, the enclosure of the commons was but one chapter in a longer history of the war against subsistence. Indeed, it may not even be industrial products that best exemplify the separation of people from their ability to subsist. Instead, he suggested, ’the service economy’ offers a more prototypical example for the separation of what economists call ’production’ from ’consumption’. … In the guise of experts, professionals discriminate against people by imputing a lack, an inability, or a need. They then mask such discrimination by justifying it as doing a service, promoted by their care. This expertly managed belief that humans are beings in need of services from certified professionals has deep roots beginning in the eighth century. … it was then that priests became pastors by defining their ”own services as needs of human nature” and by linking salvation to the obligatory consumption of such services”
Samuel, S. (2015). After Illich: An introduction. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.17-18.
On the destructive power of packaged goods:
"Too many cars on the road spark ’road rage,’ and too much education produces incurious teens. Both are examples of a frustrating subversion that Illich named technical counterproductivity. Speedy cars push bicycles and pedestrians off the streets just as too many emails and television shows overwhelm face-to-face conversations. … Just as consumers of too many passenger-miles believe they can move only when they are sitting on a moving seat, so the buyers of too many student credits believe they can learn only what they are taught. The self-perception of both expresses the cultural counterproductivity that result from the repeated use of packaged goods.”
Samuel, S. (2015). After Illich: An introduction. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.22.
On technologies embodiment of values:
"In this essay I argue that under some circumstances, a technology incorporates the values of the society for which it was invented to such a degree that these values become dominant in every society which applies that technology. The material structure of production devices can thus irremediably incorporate class prejudice. High-energy technology, at least as applied to traffic, provides a clear example.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.71.
On a ceiling on energy use for the most affluent:
"At this moment … Well-being can be identified with high amounts of per capita energy use, with high efficiency of energy transformation, or with the least possible use of mechanical energy by the most powerful members of society. … The possibility of a third option is barely noticed. While people have begun to accept ecological limits on maximum per capita energy use as a condition for physical survival, they do not yet think about the use of minimum feasible power as the foundation of any of various social orders that would be both modern and desirable. Yet only a ceiling on energy use can lead to social relations that are characterized by high levels of equity. The one option that is at present neglected is the only choice within the reach of all nations. … Participatory democracy postulated low-energy technology.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.74.
On social limits to energy consumption:
"What is generally overlooked is that equity and energy can grow concurrently only to a point. Below a threshold of per capita wattage, motors improve the conditions for social progress. Above this threshold, energy grows at the expense of equity. Further energy affluence then means decreased distribution of control over that energy. The widespread belief that clean and abundant energy is the panacea for social ills is due to a political fallacy, according to which equity and energy consumption can be indefinitely correlated, at least under some ideal political conditions. Laboring under this illusion, we tend to discount any social limit on the growth of energy consumption.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology
On the range between ’not enough’ and using ’too much’ energy:
"A people can be just as dangerously overpowered by the wattage of its tools as by the caloric content of its foods, but it is much harder to confess to a national overindulgence in wattage than to a sickening diet. The per capita wattage that is critical for social well-being lies within an order of magnitude which is far above the horsepower known to four-fifths of humanity and far below the power commanded by any Volkswagen driver. … the rich [need to avoid] a threshold in energy consumption beyond which technical processes begin to dictate social relations. Calories are both biologically and socially healthy only as long as they stay within the narrow range that separates enough from too much.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology
On ’dissolving’ the energy crisis:
"The energy crisis cannot be overwhelmed by more energy inputs. It can only be dissolved, along with the illusion that well-being depends on the number of energy slaves a man has at his command. For this purpose, it is necessary to identify the thresholds beyond which energy corrupts … First , the need for limits on the per capita use of energy must be theoretically recognized as a social imperative.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology
On the uneven distribution of transportation benefits:
"The United States puts between 25 and 45 per cent of its total energy … into vehicles: to make them, run them, and clear a right of way for them when the roll, when they fly, and when they park. … Poor countries spend less energy per person, but the percentage of total energy devoted to traffic in Mexico or in Peru is probably grater than in the United States, and it benefits a smaller percentage of the population.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.78.
On 15 mph as the speed limit in an equal society:
"Once some public utility went faster than 15 mph, equity declined and the scarcity of both time and space increased. … When the ratio of their respective power outputs passed beyond a certain value, mechanical transformers of mineral fuels excluded people from the use of their metabolic energy and forced them to become captive consumers of conveyance.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.79.
On captive trippers and reckless travelers:
"More energy fed into the transportation system means that more people move faster over a greater range in the course of every day. Everybody’s daily radius expands at the expense of being able to drop in on an an acquaintance or walk through the park on the way to work. Extremes of privilege are created at the cost of universal enslavement. An elite packs unlimited distance into a lifetime of pampered travel, while the majority spends a bigger slice of their existence on unwanted trips. The few mount their magic carpets to travel between distant points that their ephemeral presence renders both scarce and seductive, while the many are compelled to trip farther and faster and to spend more time preparing for and recovering from their trips. … The captive tripper and the reckless traveler become equally dependent on transport.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.80-81.
On slow cars:
"The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.81-82.
On why ordinary trains are better than high-speed trains:
"Unchecked speed is expensive, and progressively fewer can afford it. Each increment in the velocity of a vehicle results in an increase in the cost of propulsion and track construction and most dramatically – in the space the vehicle devours while it is on the move. … a worldwide class structure of speed capitalists is created. … As societies put price tags on time, equity and vehicular speed correlated inversely.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.84.
On motor-created inequality:
"Beyond a certain speed, motorized vehicles create remoteness which they alone can shrink. They create distances for all and shrink them for only a few. A new dirt road through the wilderness brings the city within view, but not within reach, of most Brazilian subsistence farmers. The new expressway expands Chicago, but it sucks those who are well-wheeled away from a downtown that decays into a ghetto.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.85
On speed and the societal time budget:
"It should not be overlooked that top speeds for a few exact a different price than high speeds for all. Social classification by levels of speed enforces a net transfer of power: the poor work and pay to get left behind. But if the middle classes of a speed society may be tempted to ignore discrimination, they should not neglect the rising marginal disutilities of transportation and their own loss of leisure. High speeds for all mean that everybody has less time for himself as the whole society spends a growing slice of its time budget on moving people.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.87.
On earning money to get to work to earn money to get to work:
"After industry had reached [a] threshold of a per capita output, transport made of man a new kind of waif: a being constantly absent from a destination he cannot reach on his own but must attain within the day. By now, people work a substantial part of every day to earn the money without which they could not even get to work.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology.
On (motor) transport vs (pedestrian) transit:
"Transport stands for the capital-intensive mode of traffic, and transit indicates the labor-intensive mode. Transport is the product of an industry whose clients are passengers. It is an industrial commodity and therefore scarce by definition. Improvements of transport always takes place under conditions of scarcity that become more severe as the speed – and with it the cost – of the service increases. Conflict about insufficient transport tends to take the form of a zero-sum game where one wins only if another loses. … Transit is not the product of an industry but the independent enterprise of transients. … The ability to engage in transit is native to man and more or less equally distributed among healthy people of the same age. The exercise of this ability can be restricted by depriving some class of people of the right to take a straight route, or because a population lacks shoes or pavements. Conflict about unsatisfactory transit conditions tends to take, therefore, the form of a non-zero-sum game in which everyone comes out ahead – not only the people who get the right to walk through a formerly walled property, but also those who live along the road.”
Illich, I. (2015). Energy and Equity. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.89-90.
On Illich’s prediction about the possible nightmare future of computing and digitization (formulated 45 years ago!):
"progress came to mean the replacement of feet by motorized wheels, the replacement of the kitchen garden by frozen foods, the replacement of adobe by cement, the replacement of the trench by the WC. … In many places you cannot move any longer without wheels, you cannot eat without a refrigerator, you choke unless you turn on the air conditioner. … If the computer has an effect on the environment analogous to that of the car, soon you will not be able to do without it: no mail, no tax return, no voting, no purchase without it. An entirely new kind of poverty is on the horizon: the under-informed. While in the sixties poverty could be measured by the low level of wattage, it will soon be measured by low access to or use of the computer […] and half the population will teach the other half how to use the computer. … We are straight on our way towards … a world that worships work but has nothing for people to do.”
Illich, I. (2015). The social construction of energy. In Samuel (ed). Beyond Economics and Ecology, p.117-118.