The Convivial Society: Vol. 4, No. 12
I tried to make clear in the essay with reference to the three classes of agents we encounter, that the blame, such as it is, lay chiefly with the system that demanded conformity rather than the person who labored within it, but there’s a further point, which I failed to make.
The most important imperative is the one I give myself. I must actively resist conformity to depersonalizing patterns in these situations for the sake of the other even as I may desire that they do so for my sake. And perhaps it is even the case that the greater responsibility lies with me, less entangled as I was in the particular context I described.
This latest installment struck me as cutting particularly deep. Very nice.
"What these institutions have chiefly taught us, Illich argued, is that we are, in ourselves, inadequate to the task of living together as human beings in the world. That we cannot get on without the products and services that they alone can supply. Such institutions are not interested in equipping or empowering us, only in confirming us in an indefinite state of dependence in a consumerist mode. The professions associated with such institutions Illich called 'disabling professions'."
Forgive my playing the broken record: I'd like to reiterate that John McKnight's book, The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits, contains concrete, documented cases that manifest the pattern you and Illich have trained your eyes on. (It's no coincidence: McKnight wrote the book after being interviewed by David Cayley for the latter's radio program, Ideas. Cayley emphasized to McKnight the relevance of Illich.) The cases explained in McKnight's book not only supply an articulation of the pattern, spelling out its meaning in concrete contexts, but confirm the existence of the pattern as well. You're not peddling hypotheses that merely "seem plausible."
McKnight describes the pattern — or, perhaps, one aspect of the pattern — in terms of "professionalization": the transformation of The Citizen, who contributes his gifts in a convivial community, into The Client, who is in perpetual, passive need of ministration from The Professional, who always knows better because he is credentialed and outfitted with "techniques" for producing The Product that The Client needs.
I mention this in case you ever write a book or are confronted with a more skeptical audience. And in case any of your readers might be interested.
Beautiful, L.M. Thank you for these offerings.
The idea of a self-fellating generalised AI colonising the machine at the boundaries of the human is a strangely plausible (and highly appealing) utopian scenario.
Another brilliant piece . thank you for this insights..
Illich is a deep well to return to.
My guess is that AI takes us deeper into the mistake about knowledge. I am tempted by complex metaphors, but two images spring to mind. The first is an image from the human / human interface in in the early days of the pandemic in what we call Intensive Care in Britain. (The ER room?) The Institution could not cope with an unpredictable airborne pathogen, and the concept of a trained machine was found wanting.
The second image is very different. I remember a photo of a tall lass legging across the dry edge of a savannah somewhere to Church on a Sunday, carrying her 'best' shoes. She wouldn't miss it for the world.
NB. Useful ref. to the paper on Ceremony, by the way.
Many thanks for this provocation -- or is it an injunction? In any event I predict it will keep me preoccupied all day this Sunday, as I repeatedly confront my own lifelong failure to honor it.
Yes I find that a very helpful reminder of the unquantifiable value of simply encountering another fully embodied and caring human being when in whatever kind of problematic situation; someone willing to listen and to spend some time thinking it through with you in all its complexity. I work as a child psychotherapist and so do this for a living. Sadly over the past ten years it has become increasingly difficult to be allowed to do this work within the NHS which funded my training, as the NHS is turning / has already turned into a gigantic machine where decisions are now exclusively made based on spreadsheets rather than human encounters. So I now work independently, trying to aim for a sizeable proportion of my work being commissioned by Social Care, so as to still offer something sideways to public services, free to the troubled people involved. When I ask young people what they value about coming to see me they often tell me variations of: ‘You’re a bit weird, in a good way. You look me in the eyes and listen to me and help me make sense of stuff, you’re not just looking at a computer screen ticking boxes like most other people.’ Let’s all prevail in being a bit weird in a good way, whatever situations we might find ourselves in!
I've been mulling over your provocation for a few days now. Many thoughts, but for now, a question: what is the difference between giving Caesar's coin back to him, and burning a pinch of incense to him? ("I'm not really worshiping him; I'm just doing what's expected/mandated of me by Roman society."
The trouble with the techno-economic system--the Machine if you will--is that in the name of efficiency, there is no part of life that it does not want to control. Caesar, on the other hand, would generally leave you alone if you paid your taxes (crushing though they may have been) and didn't stir up trouble.
I just realized something: the Machine does not currently lay claim to everything, though its inherent logic indicates that it will eventually. It is akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy: if we hope for or resign ourselves to it, then it will happen, but if we reject its premises, then it is no longer inevitable. (This reminds me of your quotes of Ellul(?) on technological determinism.)
However, to reject the premises of the Machine, we have to reject its values: maximum efficiency, productivity, and material wealth/prosperity, and I'm not sure we're willing to make that deal. Who wants to be poorer?
Our music exhibits this pattern too:
An ecosystem trains us to like repetition (electronic) and produces producers who produce other genres too (autotune pop/rap).
A beautiful human voice, an orchestra... notice how it is precisely the skillful vagaries in a live performance what mesmerizes us with the triumph of the human over the tool.