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Ivan Illich (1926 – 2002)


Austrian-born Christian anarchist, author, polymath, and polemicist.
Ivan Illich
The appropriation of the grassland by the lords was challenged, but the more fundamental transformation of grassland (or of roads) from commons to resource has happened, until recently, without being subjected to criticism. The appropriation of the environment by the few was clearly recognized as an intolerable abuse. By contrast, the even more degrading transformation of people into members of an industrial labour force and into consumers was taken, until recently, for granted. For almost a hundred years the majority of political parties has challenged the accumulation of environmental resources in private hands. However, the issue was argued in terms of the private utilization of these resources, not the distinction of commons. Thus anticapitalist politics so far have bolstered the legitimacy of transforming commons into resources.
Illich quotes
The other eminent moment of the celebration was, of course, the comestio, the communion in the flesh, the incorporation of the believer in the body of the Incarnate Word, but communio was theologically linked to the preceding con-spiratio. Conspiratio became the strongest, clearest and most unambiguously somatic expression for the entirely non-hierarchical creation of a fraternal spirit in preparation for the unifying meal. Through the act of eating, the fellow conspirators were transformed into a "we," a gathering which in Greek means ecclesia. Further, they believed that the "we" is also somebody's "I"; they were nourished by shading into the "I" of the Incarnate Word. The words and actions of the liturgy are not just mundane words and actions, but events occurring after the Word, that is, after the Incarnation. Peace as the commingling of soil and waters sounds cute to my ears; but peace as the result of conspiratio exacts a demanding, today almost unimaginable intimacy.
The practice of the osculum did not go unchallenged; documents reveal that the conspiratio created scandal early on. The rigorist African Church Father, Tertullian, felt that a decent matron should not be subjected to possible embarrassment by this rite. The practice continued, but not its name; the ceremony required a euphemism. From the later third century on, the osculum pacis was referred to simply as pax, and the gesture was often watered down to some slight touch to signify the mutual spiritual union of the persons present through the creation of a fraternal atmosphere. Today, the pax before communion, called "the kiss of peace," is still integral to the Roman, Slavonic, Greek and Syrian Mass, although it is often reduced to a perfunctory handshake.
Illich
Jesus was an anarchist savior. That's what the Gospels tell us.
Just before He started out on His public life, Jesus went to the desert. He fasted, and after 40 days he was hungry. At this point the diabolos, appeared to tempt Him. First he asked Him to turn stone into bread, then to prove himself in a magic flight, and finally the devil, diabolos, "divider," offered Him power. Listen carefully to the words of this last of the three temptations: (Luke 4,6:) "I give you all power and glory, because I have received them and I give them to those whom I choose. Adore me and the power will be yours." It is astonishing what the devil says: I have all power, it has been given to me, and I am the one to hand it on — submit, and it is yours. Jesus of course does not submit, and sends the devilcumpower to Hell. Not for a moment, however, does Jesus contradict the devil. He does not question that the devil holds all power, nor that this power has been given to him, nor that he, the devil, gives it to whom he pleases. This is a point which is easily overlooked. By his silence Jesus recognizes power that is established as "devil" and defines Himself as The Powerless. He who cannot accept this view on power cannot look at establishments through the spectacle of the Gospel. This is what clergy and churches often have difficulty doing. They are so strongly motivated by the image of church as a "helping institution" that they are constantly motivated to hold power, share in it or, at least, influence it.




Illich Ivan quotes
Traditionally the gaze was conceived as a way of fingering, of touching. The old Greeks spoke about looking as a way of sending out my psychopodia, my soul's limbs, to touch your face and establish a relationship between the two of us. This relationship was called vision. Then, after Galileo, the idea developed that the eyes are receptors into which light brings something from the outside, keeping you separate from me even when I look at you. People began to conceive of their eyes as some kind of camera obscura. In our age people conceive of their eyes and actually use them as if they were part of a machinery. They speak about interface. Anybody who says to me, "I want to have an interface with you," I say, "please go somewhere else, to a toilet or wherever you want, to a mirror." Anybody who says, "I want to communicate with you," I say, "Can't you talk? Can't you speak? Can't you recognize that there's a deep otherness between me and you, so deep that it would be offensive for me to be programmed in the same way you are."
Illich Ivan
I want to just go back to a great rabbinical and also, as you see, monastic, Christian development beyond what the Greeks like Plato or Cicero already knew about friendship. That it is from your eye that I find myself. There's a little thing there. They called it pupilla, a "puppet" of myself which I can see in your eye. The black thing in your eye.
Pupil, puppet, person, eye. It is not my mirror. It is you making me the gift of that which Ivan is for you. That's the one who says "I" here. I'm purposely not saying, this is my person, this is my individuality, this is my ego. No. I'm saying this is the one who answers you here, whom you have given to him.
Ivan Illich quotes
The two of us haven't seen each other for a year now, and when we saw each other we bowed in front of each other. This very idea of bowing — you don't bow in front of a screen. It's made impossible, or very difficult, for people who constantly see non-persons on the screen.
Ivan Illich
The enclosure of the commons inaugurates a new ecological order: Enclosure did not just physically transfer the control over grasslands from the peasants to the lord. Enclosure marked a radical change in the attitudes of society towards the environment. Before, in any juridical system, most of the environment had been considered as commons from which most people could draw most of their sustenance without needing to take recourse to the market. After enclosure, the environment became primarily a resource at the service of "enterprises" which, by organizing wage-labor, transformed nature into the goods and services on which the satisfaction of basic needs by consumers depends. This transformation is in the blind spot of political economy.
Illich Ivan quotes
Churches also have their problems with a Jesus whose only economics are jokes. A savior undermines the foundations of any social doctrine of the Church. But that is what He does, whenever He is faced with money matters. According to Mark 12:13 there was a group of Herodians who wanted to catch Him in His own words. They ask "Must we pay tribute to Caesar?" You know His answer: "Give me a coin – tell me whose profile is on it!." Of course they answer "Caesar's."
The drachma is a weight of silver marked with Caesar's effigy.
A Roman coin was no impersonal silver dollar; there was none of that "trust in God" or adornment with a presidential portrait. A denarius was a piece of precious metal branded, as it were, like a heifer, with the sign of the personal owner. Not the Treasury, but Caesar coins and owns the currency. Only if this characteristic of Roman currency is understood, one grasps the analogy between the answer to the devil who tempted Him with power and to the Herodians who tempt Him with money. His response is clear: abandon all that which has been branded by Caesar; but then, enjoy the knowledge that everything, everything else is God's, and therefore is to be used by you.
The message is so simple: Jesus jokes about Caesar. He shrugs off his control. And not only at that one instance… Remember the occasion at the Lake of Capharnaum, when Peter is asked to pay a twopenny tax. Jesus sends him to throw a line into the lake and pick the coin he needs from the mouth of the first fish that bites. Oriental stories up to the time of Thousand Nights and One Night are full of beggars who catch the fish that has swallowed a piece of gold. His gesture is that of a clown; it shows that this miracle is not meant to prove him omnipotent but indifferent to matters of money. Who wants power submits to the Devil and who wants denarri submits to the Caesar.
Illich
In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.
Illich Ivan
People need new tools to work with rather than new tools that work for them.
Ivan Illich
During the late sixties I had a chance to give a dozen addresses to people who were concerned with education and schooling. I asked myself, since when are people born needy? In need, for instance, of education? Since when do we have to learn the language we speak by being taught by somebody? I wanted to find out where the idea came from that all over the world people have to be assembled in specific groups of not less than fifteen, otherwise it's not a class, not more than forty, otherwise they are underprivileged, for yearly, not less than 800 hours, otherwise they don't get enough, not more than 1,100 hours, otherwise it's considered a prison, for four-year periods by somebody else who has undergone this for a longer time. How did it come about that such a crazy process like schooling would become necessary? Then I realized that it was something like engineering people, that our society doesn't only produce artifact things, but artifact people. And that it doesn't do that by the content of the curriculum, but by getting them through this ritual which makes them believe that learning happens as a result of being taught; that learning can be divided into separate tasks; that learning can be measured and pieces can be added one to the other; that learning provides value for the objects which then sell in the market.
And it's true. The more expensive the schooling of a person, the more money he will make in the course of his life. This in spite of the certainty, from a social science point of view, that there's absolutely no relationship between the curriculum content and what people actually do satisfactorily for themselves or society in life.




Ivan Illich quotes
The latent function of schooling, that is, the hidden curriculum, which forms individuals into needy people who know that they have now satisfied a little bit of their needs for education, is much more important... The idea that people are born with needs, that needs can be translated into rights, that these rights can be translated into entitlements, is a development of the modem world and it's reasonable, it's acceptable, it's obvious only for people who have had some of their educational needs awakened or created, then satisfied, and then learned that they have less than others. Schooling, which we engage in and which supposedly creates equal opportunities, has become the unique, never-before-attempted way of dividing the whole society into classes. Everybody knows at which level of his twelve or sixteen years of schooling he has dropped out, and in addition knows what price tag is attached to the higher schooling he has gotten. It's a history of degrading the majority of people.
Ivan Illich
Machines which ape people are tending to encroach on every aspect of people's lives, and that such machines force people to behave like machines. The new electronic devices do indeed have the power to force people to "communicate" with them and with each other on the terms of the machine. Whatever structurally does not fit the logic of machines is effectively filtered from a culture dominated by their use.
The machine-like behaviour of people chained to electronics constitutes a degradation of their well-being and of their dignity which, for most people in the long run, becomes intolerable. Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.
Illich quotes
Inevitably modern technology has polarized society. It has polluted the environment. It has disabled very simple native abilities and made people dependent on objects... Like an automobile which makes the world inaccessible, when actually in Latin "automobile" means "using your feet to get somewhere." The automobile makes it unthinkable. I was recently told, "You're a liar!" when I said to somebody I walked down the spine of the Andes. Every Spaniard in the sixteenth, seventeenth century did that. The idea that somebody could just walk! He can jog perhaps in the morning, but he can't walk anywhere! The world has become inaccessible because we drive there.
Illich Ivan
Here is the right word. Hospitality was a condition consequent on a good society in politics, politaea, and by now might be the starting point of politaea, of politics. But this is difficult because hospitality requires a threshold over which I can lead you — and TV, internet, newspaper, the idea of communication, abolished the walls and therefore also the friendship, the possibility of leading somebody over the door. Hospitality requires a table around which you can sit and if people get tired they can sleep. You have to belong to a subculture to say, we have a few mattresses here. It's still considered highly improper to conceive of this as the ideal moments in a day or a year. Hospitality is deeply threatened by the idea of personality, of scholastic status. I do think that if I had to choose one word to which hope can be tied it is hospitality. A practice of hospitality— recovering threshold, table, patience, listening, and from there generating seedbeds for virtue and friendship on the one hand — on the other hand radiating out for possible community, for rebirth of community.
Illich Ivan quotes
Homo economicus was surreptitiously taken as the emblem and analogue for all living beings. A mechanistic anthropomorphism has gained currency. Bacteria are imagined to mimic "economic" behavior and to engage in internecine competition for the scarce oxygen available in their environment. A cosmic struggle among ever more complex forms of life has become the anthropic foundational myth of the scientific age.
Ivan Illich
One of the world's great thinkers, a polymath whose output covered vast terrains. He worked in 10 languages; he was a jet-age ascetic with few possessions; he explored Asia and South America on foot; and his obligations to his many collaborators led to a constant criss-crossing of the globe in the last two decades. … His critique of modernity was founded on a deep understanding of the birth of institutions in the 13th century, a critical period in church history which enlightened all of his work, whether about gender, reading or materiality. He was far more significant as an archaeologist of ideas, someone who helped us to see the present in a truer and richer perspective, than as an ideologue.
Ivan Illich quotes
I will clarify a distinction that I consider fundamental to political ecology. I shall distinguish the environment as commons from the environment as resource. On our ability to make this particular distinction depends not only the construction of a sound theoretical ecology, but also — and more importantly — effective ecological jurisprudence.
Ivan Illich
The issue which I propose for discussion should therefore be clear: how to counter the encroachment of new, electronic devices and systems upon commons that are more subtle and more intimate to our being than either grassland or roads — commons that are at least as valuable as silence. Silence, according to western and eastern tradition alike, is necessary for the emergence of persons. It is taken from us by machines that ape people. We could easily be made increasingly dependent on machines for speaking and for thinking, as we are already dependent on machines for moving.
Illich Ivan
Electronic management as a political issue can be approached in several ways. I propose, at the beginning of this public consultation, to approach the issue as one of political ecology. Ecology, during the last ten years, has acquired a new meaning. It is still the name for a branch of professional biology, but the term now increasingly serves as the label under which a broad, politically organized general public analyzes and influences technical decisions


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