Wednesday, 24 January 2007

More Illich

[From 'The Shadow Which The Future Throws']

Illich: The 'information revolution'... has injected new life into what would otherwise have been the exhausted logic of industrial development. This encourages expectations that, through his tools, man can escape the limits of his condition.

The social and mental construct called digital information, based on either/or, yes/no, zero/one, black/white, cannot lead us to the condition of post-scarcity. Basing the future on either/or disembedded decision-making cannot escape scarcity. This mode of thinking creates scarcity, by its very definition. Digital decision-making is not language; it is not culture; it can never recover the commons for us. Rather, it is the very creation of the most fluid market ever devised, that of information.

On the other hand, subsistence assumes culturally-bounded growth, that is, a context of commonly defined needs balanced against the limits of nature. Such a social awareness rests upon the historical knowledge of the human condition as precarious.

Gardels: Well, then, given the information revolution, can you entertain any optimism concerning the social embedding of alternatives to development/growth?

Illich: I first distinguish between the attitudes of hope and expectation in front of a "not yet." Expectation is based on a belief in instruments and the naive acceptance of socially constructed certitudes. Hope is based on historically-rooted experience, what Jean Paul Sartre called the "unsquashableness" of the phenomenological.

Giving up all optimism and pessimism, one is free to be courageous; one places no trust in tools and instruments; one comes to a hope based on human beings.

Now, I do see unsquashable signs of hope in the lifestyle of some drop-outs, for example, former professors who learn from subsistence peasants, articulated alliances among green committees, searchers for new options, transnational networks. But my practical phantasy is still unable to envisage how, short of a devastating catastrophe, the assumption on which the new alliances rest could emerge as a general common sense. One reason, I suspect, is that too many of these admirably courageous dissidents remain wedded to ideas like needs, education, health care and
so on.

[More here]

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