It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Illich, Energy, and Workfare

In March, a British publication called OpenDemocracy ran articles by two writers -- Aaron Peters and Tony Curzon Price -- concerning the idea of workfare, a scheme that calls for individuals to work at wage-less jobs in return for government social benefits. Evidently, workfare is being discussed across Europe right now in light of various nations' adoption of austerity measures, which have thrown millions of people out of work.

Peters and Price are specifically concerned with the prospects for work in a world that depends increasingly on automation and thus will have fewer and fewer paid jobs to provide. How can the government create jobs? Might nuclear power provide low-cost energy that would help spur industrial growth? And so forth.

Responding to this debate, a third writer, Neil Comley, published a piece that deftly uses Ivan Illich's "Energy & Equity" essay to argue a radical alternative:

The choice as I see it seems to be stark (though not a miserable one). Do we wish to live in a society where we are all autonomously free and equal, where we have choices as to how we wish to live, albeit with democratic control on high energy consumption and technological innovation, less automated labour, and fewer material goods in general? Or would we rather live in an unequal, unfree – and ultimately inhuman society where choice is regimented, limited and prescribed and where a minority have ever more - and innovative - material goods, personal services and leisure opportunities, predicated ultimately on automated labour and cheap energy; a world in which some provide cheap labour, and those are not even that fortunate are propped up by workfare?

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.