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Ivan Illich (1926–2002)

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Born in Vienna in 1926, Ivan Illich grew up in Europe. He studied theology, philosophy, history, and natural science. During the 1950s he worked as a parish priest among Puerto Ricans in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York City and then served as rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. visa mer During the 1960s he founded centers for cross-cultural communication, first in Puerto Rico and then in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Since the late 1970s, he has divided his time among Mexico, the United States, and Germany. He is also a professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Penn State University. Illich's radical anarchist views first became widely known through a set of four books published during the early 1970s---Deschooling Society (1971), Tools for Conviviality (1973), Energy and Equity (1974), and Medical Nemesis (1976). Tools is the most general statement of Illich's principles; the other three expand on examples sketched in Today in order to critique what he calls "radical monopolies" in the technologies of education, energy consumption, and medical treatment. This critique applies equally to both the so-called developed and the developing nations but in different ways. Two subsequent collections of occasional pieces---Toward a History of Needs (1978) and Shadow Work (1981)---stress the distorting influence on society and culture of the economics of scarcity, or the presumption that economies function to remedy scarcities rather than to share goods. Toward a History of Needs also initiates a project in the history or archaeology of ideas that takes its first full-bodied shape in Gender (1982), an attempt to recover social experiences of female-male complementarity that have been obscured by the modern economic regime. H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness (1985) extends this project into a history of "stuff." ABC:The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind (1988) carries Illich's project forward into the area of literacy, as does his most recent book, In the Vineyard of the Text (1993). In the Mirror of the Past (1992) is a collection of occasional essays and talks from the 1980s, linking his concerns with economics, education, history, and the new ideological meaning of life. Illich himself is a polymath who speaks at least six languages fluently and who writes regularly in three of these (English, Spanish, and German); his books have been translated into more than 15 other languages. (Bowker Author Biography) visa färre
Foto taget av: Ivan Illich (4 septembre 1926 à Vienne en Autriche - 2 décembre 2002 à Brême en Allemagne)

Verk av Ivan Illich

Tools for Conviviality (1973) 568 exemplar
Den omänskliga sjukvården (1981) 487 exemplar
Celebration of Awareness (1656) 241 exemplar
Energi och jämlikhet (1973) 156 exemplar
Toward a History of Needs (1826) 103 exemplar
Shadow Work (1980) 97 exemplar
After Deschooling, What? (1973) 67 exemplar
Ivan Illich in Conversation (1992) — Interviewee — 59 exemplar
La perte des sens (2004) 13 exemplar
Oeuvres complètes : Volume 2 (2005) 10 exemplar
Œuvres complètes (2004) 7 exemplar
Golge Is (2013) 2 exemplar
ALTERNATIVAS. 1 exemplar
Libertar o futuro 1 exemplar
Alternatives to schooling (1972) 1 exemplar
Per una storia dei bisogni (1981) 1 exemplar
Amicus Mortis 1 exemplar
Tuketim Koleligi 1 exemplar
Išmokyklinti visuomenę (2019) 1 exemplar


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I found this book thru mention in Christopher Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism” and I think it comes at things from a wonderfully contrarian perspective, just like that book does. This book exists in the Marxist tradition (although I don’t know if Illich considered himself one) of deconstructing a cultural monolith that is so omnipresent and ingrained that most people don’t even realize it’s there - in this case it’s compulsory schooling, though by the end of the book Ilich shows us the vast scope of his ideas. The central ideas of this book seem to me three fold:
- compulsory education is a transgression on freedom and dignity
- compulsory education destroys the essential desire to learn and educate oneself under their own volition
- compulsory education is boot camp for a society in which our main duty is to consume
From these criticisms of the educational system as it exists in effectively every corner of the Earth, he extends out into an extremely compelling and (to my ears) highly novel argument against the institutionalization of every aspect of modern life.
Ilich was clearly a highly accomplished and down to earth man who didn’t put much stock in impotent theory - this book is full of practical recommendations as to how to institute the decentralized, curriculum-free version of education he supports. This is some of the drier material in the book, but it’s also valuable to conceiving how such a radical overhaul of one of society’s most basic concepts - the school - might be carried out. And yet, such a vast topic requires much more fleshing out than it gets here, which is ok because this is a book about ideas, not an instruction manual. But as an “educator” myself who would be enthusiastic about putting Ilich’s ideas into practice, I still struggle to envision how education would look under his proposed system.
This book is prescient in so many ways. Illich absolutely predicted the internet in terms of its functionality, but he doesn’t say much about how such a system would be administered and maintained. Perhaps he thought the deschooling of society would occur before technology reached the point we are at now. But even in a world where you can learn almost anything by yourself simply by opening a web browser, the systematic coercion of our educational system, it’s monopoly on the criterium of success remains stalwart. Illich obviously wanted his readers to feel hopeful about the possibility of his educational webs idea (in fact the concept of “hope” is a central concept to the closing part of the book) and so focused on a rather utopian conception of what it would look like; I can’t imagine he would be so naive about that fact that under our current system such a “web” would immediately be monetized by the most craven of capitalist accumulators. This brings me to what I think is the biggest hole in his argument, a kind of educational chicken or the egg; is our fucked society a result of our educational system or is our fucked educational system a result of our society. Illich bucks the typical answer by saying it’s the former rather than the latter, but I’m not sure I feel convinced of that fact after reading this book. That’s not a major slight as there is only so much you can cover in a rather slim volume.
… (mer)
hdeanfreemanjr | 16 andra recensioner | Jan 29, 2024 |
Réédition au point seuil 2021, préface Hervé Kempf.
L’édition de 1977 au Seuil contient "le chômage créateur " en postface.
jmv55 | 4 andra recensioner | Apr 26, 2023 |
Theoretical Janus: Ideological Iatrogenesis: Oneirography of Wrong Dreams
"Beyond a certain level of industrial hubris, nemesis must set in, because progress, like the broom of the sorcerer’s apprentice, can no longer be turned off." – I. Illich
Illich has few reservations against wielding the portentous Greek mythos. He is eager to apply Nemesis, the mythical functionary of retribution against hubris, to further his argumentative ends. I would take similar license to personify Janus, the two-headed god of dualities and new beginnings, to describe a particular quality of aporetic argument. Janus is invoked when confused ideology (bad beginnings/“wrong dreams”) wields the spear of critical analysis such that every forward advance also threatens back toward itself. To date I have yet to encounter another work in which every accusation of “inhumanity” or “unfreedom” or “idealism” is uncritically reflected in the same text, often on the same page, paragraph or even the preceding sentence.
“Beyond a certain level of ideological aporia, Janus must set in, because argument, like the ouroboros, is gorged upon itself.” – J. Olipo
In this review I would like to discuss Ideological Iatrogenesis, the unspoken fourth term in Illich’s argumentative triptych, which implicates the first three: Clinical, Social, and Cultural Iatrogenesis.

What is Ivan Illich thinking? Perhaps it’s possible to extrapolate Illich’s perspective from the following emblematic statement, and to begin our analysis with a few questions regarding his use of terms such as “People”, “[Natural] Limits”, and “Minimal Bureaucratic Interference”:
"Healthy people are those who live in healthy homes on a healthy diet in an environment equally fit for birth, growth, work, healing, and dying; they are sustained by a culture that enhances the conscious acceptance of limits to population, of aging, of incomplete recovery and ever-imminent death. Healthy people need minimal bureaucratic interference to mate, give birth, share the human condition, and die."
Where do Illich’s “People” function as “Non-Persons”? Where do “subaltern groups” exist in his analysis, e.g. “women” “BIPOC”, “Gender and Sexual Minorities”, and most significantly “The Unhealthy” i.e. those disproportionately impacted by iatrogenesis, and who are conspicuously excluded from the term “healthy people”. Illich is not interested in extending the analysis of iatrogenesis to consider specific groups within the multitude other than “the rich” and “the poor”, which is striking in the setting of a discussion of healthcare disparities within the United States. Illich begs the question in both senses of the phrase. Even the inattentive reader must ask, “What about the Not-Healthy?” In the other sense, Illich is already past this discussion, building his analysis upon the assumption that such life is not worth living. For the disabled, congenitally malformed, old, and mentally ill, the answer is – and trust that I do not exaggerate – “Just let them die.”
On the Old: “A new myth about the social value of the old was developed. Primitive hunters, gatherers, and nomads had usually killed them, and peasants had put them into the back room, but now the patriarch appeared as a literary ideal. Wisdom was attributed to him just because of his age. It first became tolerable and then appropriate that the elderly should attend with solicitude to the rituals deemed necessary to keep up their tottering bodies.”

On the Young: “The engineering approach to the making of economically productive adults has made death in childhood a scandal, impairment through early disease a public embarrassment, unrepaired congenital malformation an intolerable sight, and the possibility of eugenic birth control a preferred theme for international congresses in the seventies.”"

On the Suicidal: “I know of a woman who tried, unsuccessfully, to kill herself. She was brought to the hospital in a coma, with a bullet lodged in her spine. Using heroic measures the surgeon kept her alive, and he considers her case a success: she lives, but she is totally paralyzed; he no longer has to worry about her ever attempting suicide again."

On the Dialysis-Dependent: "The modern fear of unhygienic death makes life appear like a race towards a terminal scramble and has broken personal self-confidence in a unique way. It has fostered the belief that man today has lost the autonomy to recognize when his time has come and to take his death into his own hands."[…] "Complex bureaucracies sanctimoniously select for dialysis maintenance one in six or one in three of those Americans who are threatened by kidney failure. The patient-elect is conditioned to desire the scarce privilege of dying in exquisite torture."
Illich hovers between willful ignorance and partisan denial of the healthcare needs of women, most conspicuously regarding prenatal medical care and hospital delivery, and most anachronistically against women in the workforce.
"Although physicians did pioneer antisepsis, immunization, and dietary supplements, they were also involved in the switch to the bottle that transformed the traditional suckling into a modern baby and provided industry with working mothers who are clients for a factory-made formula."
This is one step removed from the modern left-misogynist meme phrasing "👏More👏Women👏 Factory👏Workers👏". The only mention of BIPOC is the following, which actually appears to subsume “race” entirely within the idea of “the poor” and then appears to conflate “poor” and “black”.
"While in gross infant mortality the United States ranks seventeenth among nations, infant mortality among the poor is much higher than among higher-income groups. In New York City, infant mortality among the black population is more than twice as high as for the population in general, and probably higher than in many underdeveloped areas such as Thailand and Jamaica."
Where do “[Natural] Limits” function as “[Arbitrary Socially-Determined] Limits”? To the question of “Who deserves care,” Illich answers indirectly via return to Hippocrates in brief:
“For the sick,” Hippocrates said, “the least is best.”
For Hippocrates, the Asclepian ideal of medicine is a return to Nature. Yet, in the particular context of the Greek polis in which this perspective arises, the concept of “Natural” medicine was, even at its moment of conception, socially determined. Throughout the work, Illich cites how “Traditional Cultures” approach medicine in ways that imply this is the “Natural” way such things should be handled. Although he heaps significant praise on “China’s program of Barefoot Doctors”, he remains vague regarding how these cultures specifically approach the social and cultural aspects of medicine and speaks mostly in generalities.
"Duty, love, fascination, routines, prayer, and compassion were some of the means that enabled pain to be borne with dignity. Traditional cultures made everyone responsible for his own performance under the impact of bodily harm or grief. "People knew that they had to heal on their own, to deal on their own with their migraine, their lameness, or their grief."


"Traditional cultures and technological civilization start from opposite assumptions. In every traditional culture the psychotherapy, belief systems, and drugs needed to withstand most pain are built into everyday behavior and reflect the conviction that reality is harsh and death inevitable." […] "The sufferings for which traditional cultures have evolved endurance sometimes generated unbearable anguish, tortured imprecations, and maddening blasphemies; they were also self-limiting."
Curiously, Illich appears to reify the un-reflected judgment of the worst, most alienated physicians who observe "undignified pain" in the patient with a not insignificant quantity of disgust. Here I am actually in agreement with Illich that the Natural state is already capable of bearing any pain. Even literally unbearable pain can be borne in the Natural state because it occurs behind closed doors as a private holocaust. Imagine the woman literally torn apart from the inside during delivery of a fetus in transverse lie. That Nature maintains this unimaginable depth within itself in an incommunicable state is the other interpretation of Alice Goodman’s libretto: If every scar / on this poor back / could only speak, / these walls would crack. Any appeal to nature in this setting is complicity with worse torture than Illich wants to prevent.

Illich's proscription against “modern medicine” produces ideological surplus in the form of artificial socially-determined limits extending beyond their original justification.
"Powerful medical drugs easily destroy the historically rooted pattern that fits each culture to its poisons; they usually cause more damage than profit to health, and ultimately establish a new attitude in which the body is perceived as a machine run by mechanical and manipulating switches."
Ignoring the nebulous terminology (what does “powerful” mean?) there is no basis for opposition to safe and effective medications in the frame of Clinical Iatrogenesis. Bizarrely, the antipathy for the “Unnatural” extends to birth control, an instance in which the Catholic ideology peaks through the Marxist cloth:
"Oral contraceptives, for instance, are prescribed “to prevent a normal occurrence in healthy persons."
Where does Illich’s “Minimal Bureaucratic Interference” function as “Domination”? In his dogged insistence that “modern healthcare” is bad (although still true in some aspects) he would paternalistically deny access to this system to those who want it. Non-Persons living in “Traditional Cultures” are invited to simply die with dignity.
"In many a village in Mexico I have seen what happens when social security arrives. For a generation people continue in their traditional beliefs; they know how to deal with death, dying, and grief. The new nurse and the doctor, thinking they know better, teach them about an evil pantheon of clinical deaths, each one of which can be banned, at a price. […] By their ministration they urge the peasants to an unending search for the good death of international description, a search that will keep them consumers forever."


"However, delivery of effective basic health services for the entire population is cheap enough to be bought for everyone, provided no one could get more, regardless of the social, economic, medical, or personal reasons advanced for special treatment. If priority were given to equity in poor countries and service limited to the basics of effective medicine, entire populations would be encouraged to share in the demedicalization of modern health care.”
Social security, socialized medicine, and organized labor unions are recurring villains in his narrative. In direct opposition to the stated principle of self-determination, Illich would dissolve these organizations, or at least deny the medical care desired by their members (even if it provided qualitative improvements in health). This dissonant note extends beyond the stated objective of this work and into the realm of ideology (according to which workers’ rights perpetuate the bad conscience of Capitalism precisely by making it tolerable) where it is opposed to the goal of improving individual-collective health this work ostensibly promotes.
"But the fundamental reason why these costly bureaucracies [socialized medicine] are health-denying lies not in their instrumental but in their symbolic function: they all stress delivery of repair and maintenance services for the human component of the megamachine, and criticism that proposes better and more equitable delivery only reinforces the social commitment to keep people at work in sickening jobs. "


"As a lawyer, the doctor exempts the patient from his normal duties and enables him to cash in on the insurance fund he was forced to build. As a priest, he becomes the patient’s accomplice in creating the myth that he is an innocent victim of biological mechanisms rather than a lazy, greedy, or envious deserter of a social struggle for control over the tools of production."


"In every society the classification of disease—the nosology—mirrors social organization. The sickness that society produces is baptized by the doctor with names that bureaucrats cherish. […] The more convincing the diagnosis, the more valuable the therapy appears to be, the easier it is to convince people that they need both, and the less likely they are to rebel against industrial growth.”
I would like to conclude this review with a discussion of Illich’s presentation of Clinical-Social-Cultural Iatrogenesis. In discussing Clinical Iatrogenesis, the first, and most striking section of this work, Illich demonstrates the power of supplementary statistics toward a material historical analysis. Herein Illich argues that modern medical care is not only too expensive, but also does not produce improved health outcomes by the numbers. Yet by extending beyond the orthodox ground of "incommensurability", the statistical ground on which he stakes his claim is moving beneath his feet. Perhaps an emblematic quotation from this section:
"Medicine just cannot do much for the illness associated with aging, and even less about the process and experience of aging itself. It cannot cure cardiovascular disease, most cancers, arthritis, advanced cirrhosis, not even the common cold."
Ironically, since the 1970’s we have new and highly-effective treatments for these diseases including, briefly, percutaneous coronary intervention, drug eluting stents, heart transplant, autologous bone marrow transplant, DMARDs, arthroplasty, and liver transplant. Effective treatment that quantifiably improves mortality and quality of life (in some circumstances) has been developed for each disease in this this “index damnatorum” except the common cold.

The above amounts to a "systemic critique" of the medical establishment which can be solved by adjusting the numbers a little bit (morbidity, mortality, out-of-pocket costs). One is reminded of the screaming discontent of a certain frictive element of the social media discourse for whom the ardent demand for complete destruction of the “Capitalist system” is merely the rephrased demand for a 25% raise in pre-tax income and matched 401k contribution.

Culturally, “End of Life Care” continues to be an issue (unresolved), however there is no indication this cannot be improved via the quantification of end of life outcomes vs stated desires and the incremental implementation of quality improvement projects directed at integrating palliative options into frank “goals of care” discussions with patients and family members. One improvement already evident toward this goal is the withdrawal of the physician from his prior paternalistic role via the implementation of “patient-centered care” schemata beginning in the late 1980s. This paternalism is precisely the force which proscribed avenues of “self-care” in the past, and which Illich would now like to wield toward his own ends by direct interdiction of medical decisions which protract painful/"Unnatural" life.

“Clinical Iatrogenesis” remains a significant concern in modern medical practice, however there is no indication that incremental quality improvements within the current “evil” scheme could not eventually overcome the institutional inertia which perpetuates the worst abuses. Yet Illich would not be satisfied with this approach even if its success were guaranteed. As we have already demonstrated, Illich’s position overlies the ground of revolutionary Marxist-Catholic ideology which often strikes backward against his stated desire to improve clinical-social-cultural outcomes. Materially improving illness, wages, and working conditions, ostensibly the policy goals of this piece, are sequentially discarded as window dressing when push comes to shove. For Illich, any individual instance of such improvement can be shown to be harmful to the extent that it puts off the Revolution of the Proletariat. Consequently, lest the reader not be seduced by the notion of hard-fought incremental progressive improvements, Illich presents a bombastic vision of the apocalypse – a vision which becomes increasingly difficult to entertain:
"With rising levels of induced insensitivity to pain, the capacity to experience the simple joys and pleasures of life has equally declined. Increasingly stronger stimuli are needed to provide people in an anesthetic society with any sense of being alive. Drugs, violence, and horror turn into increasingly powerful stimuli that can still elicit an experience of self. Widespread anesthesia increases the demand for excitation by noise, speed, violence—no matter how destructive."


"Now an increasing portion of all pain is man-made, a side-effect of strategies for industrial expansion. Pain has ceased to be conceived as a “natural” or “metaphysical” evil. It is a social curse, and to stop the “masses” from cursing society when they are pain-stricken, the industrial system delivers them medical pain-killers. Pain thus turns into a demand for more drugs, hospitals, medical services, and other outputs of corporate, impersonal care and into political support for further corporate growth no matter what its human, social, or economic cost. Pain has become a political issue which gives rise to a snowballing demand on the part of anesthesia consumers for artificially induced insensibility, unawareness, and even unconsciousness."


"Famine will increase until the trend towards capital-intensive food production by the poor for the rich has been replaced by a new kind of labor-intensive, regional, rural autonomy."
I concede that Illich is correct in his premise that there is something deeply wrong with modern medicine in the United States. Since the 1970's the cost of care has continued to rise at an astounding rate. Some of the most expensive therapies are also some of the least effective. End-of-life in the ICU remains an exquisite form of torture. Yet, while one face of the work appears to point toward these problems, the other strikes back in dangerous aporia against those most in need of protection. I must conclude this is someone who should never, under any circumstances, be given control of our medical apparatus.
… (mer)
Joe.Olipo | 4 andra recensioner | Nov 26, 2022 |
Kritika e Illich-it u orientua veçanërisht kundrejt teknologjisë dhe disa institucioneve themelore të modernitetit: arsimi, mjekësia, procesi i prodhimit masiv. Sipas autorit, arsimimi masiv dhe mjekësia moderne kanë sjellë përfitime të dyshimta, madje të rreme, për njerëzimin; këto zhvillime kanë manipuluar, duke i institucionalizuar, aspekte themelore të jetës, e si përfundim kanë sjellë bjerrjen e vetëmjaftueshmërisë, lirisë dhe dinjitetit njerëzor.

veprën "Shoqëria pa shkollë", Illich i paraqet shkollat si vende ku mbretëron dhe përtërihet konsumerizmi dhe bindja ndaj autoritetit, dhe ku mësimi i vërtetë zëvendësohet nga një garë me pengesa nëpër një hierarki institucionale që, në vend të dijes, shpërndan kredenciale boshe. Në vend të shkollimit të detyruar, Illich propozon një model mësimor që transmeton dije dhe aftësi nëpërmjet rrjeteve të marrëdhënieve informale dhe vullnetare.

Illich ishte po aq kritik edhe ndaj mjekësisë moderne, të cilën e akuzonte, ndër shumë gjëra të tjera, për shtimin, në vend se pakësimin, e vuajtjeve. Në përputhje me pikëpamjet e tij, në vitet e fundit të jetës Illich nuk pranoi të kurohej për një tumor që, si përfundim, i shkaktoi vdekjen.
… (mer)
BibliotekaFeniks | 16 andra recensioner | Aug 7, 2022 |



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Associerade författare

Harley Shaiken Contributor
A.J. Emous Translator
渡辺 京二 Translator
渡辺 梨佐 Translator
Erich Fromm Introduction
Helmut Lindemann Translator
Hervé Kempf Foreword
John McKnight Contributor
Jonathan Caplan Contributor
Ian Lister Introduction



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