Thursday, August 04, 2022

Paradoxical counterproductivity

Ivan lllich plays a small role in my book The Wisdom of  Our Hands, as I mentioned in my chapter on Tools, the need that we place emphasis on tools that offer what Illich called "conviviality." There's an excellent article about Illich in the summer edition of American Affairs:

Illich’s examination of schooling helped lead him to a broader thesis he called “paradoxical counterproductivity.” This was a dynamic that took hold “whenever the use of an institution paradoxically takes away from society those things the institution was designed to provide.” It is not simply that school fails to impart knowledge; it also degrades and cor­rupts knowledge by enclosing it within the system of self-perpetuating rituals and perverse incentives other social critics have designated “credentialism.” Anyone who has taught will be familiar with the type of student who hasn’t the slightest interest in the subject matter but an intense concern with how to get an A. Whatever their other faults, such students are proceeding from a realistic view of the institution they are operating within, which has replaced learning with artificial signs of it.

Illich was controversial on the right due to his being identified as a socialist, and criticized on the left due to some easy to make misunderstandings having to do with a book he wrote on gender. While women were necessarily asserting their equality in the workplace, Illich was responding to the degradation of both men and women as tools of the economy, for surely we are each so much more. In the commonly held view, we are tools to be bought and sold to profit those who have the most money. But we are more than that, and Illich was attempting to point that out. The article mentioned above suggests Illich's work may reaching its "hour of legibility." I hope that is the case.

The point of course is that there are those things we do for money, and those things that we do for joy, and we're extremely lucky when they overlap and intersect, and we're even luckier when we are able to assist others in finding that same concurrence. Unfortunately, in our current economy, it's not often the case. All seem slaves to the wage one way or another, and despite attempts to bring change, for most women and men it's become worse.

I'm getting ready for classes with the Central Indiana Woodworkers on August, 17, 18 and 19. I'll share information about signing up later in the week. The image above illustrates the dignity of work and is from Otto Salomon's Educational Sloyd suggesting the value of woodworking for all students.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise.

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