Wednesday, 04 January 2012

Foretelling the crash It’s nearly ten years since the death of Ivan Illich. A few years ago I found his work was out of print, which maybe helps to explain how come we’re in such a mess. We need to make more of his wisdom. Looking for something else the other day, I found myself re-reading sections of Tools for conviviality. I'm sure I'm not the first to point this out, but this bit strikes me as grimly prophetic: Almost overnight people will lose confidence not only in the major institutions but also in the miracle of prescriptions of the would-be crisis managers. The ability of the present institutions to define values such as education, health, welfare, transportation, or news will suddenly be extinguished because it will be recognized as an illusion. This crisis may be triggered by an unforeseen event, as the Great Depression was touched off by the Wall Street Crash. Some fortuitous coincidence will render publicly obvious the structural contradictions between stated purposes and effective results in our major institutions... People who invoke the spectre of a hopelessly growth-oriented majority seem incapable of envisaging political behaviour in a crash. Business ceases to be as usual when the populace loses confidence in industrial productivity, and not just in paper currency… Governments think they can deal with the breakdown of utilities, the disruption of the educational system, intolerable transportation, the chaos of the judicial process, the violent disaffection of the young. Each is dealt with as a separate phenomenon, each is explained by a different report… Tools for conviviality, 1973, chapter 5.

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