“They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share [...] so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” – 1 Timothy 6:18-19
Now that we have established the importance of wisdom, ethics, and a living faith in love as the way to an economics of permanence that is the foundation for collective peace, we can turn our attention to how exactly we are to manage more beautiful homes together using dialectic methods and convivial technologies to augment our ability to tend and care and wait well upon each other.
Dialogue, as John Vervaeke says, is privileged in disclosing the real because it shows us that we are in contact with a reality that is structured with perspectives other than our own. It is in intimate contact with other perspectives that we can craft meaningful connections, connections which mean we can wisely fall in love with reality again and return home together.Returns¶
We can begin this last leg of our timeless journey, our eternal return, by asking what the verdict “economic” or “uneconomic” actually means. Remember that Illich made the point–when describing how “body count” is the measure of success in war, or “gross profit” the measure of success in business– that “growth conceived as open-ended consumption can never lead to maturity.” Schumacher beats the same drum, asking “what sort of meaning does the method of economics actually produce?” To which the conclusion is currently obvious:
“Something is uneconomic when it fails to earn an adequate profit in terms of money. The method of economics does not, and cannot, produce any other meaning [...] The judgement of economics is an extremely fragmentary judgement; out of the large number of aspects which in real life have to be seen and judged together before a decision can be taken, economics supplies only one–whether a thing yields a monetary profit to those who undertake it [...] It is inherent in the methodology of economics to ignore man’s dependence on the natural world.”
Even the attempt to include some externalities in our accounting is an ethically misguided cover up, for it obscures the fact that tools like cost benefit analyses are really procedures for reducing the higher to the lower and giving the priceless a price. This pretence that everything may be given a price implies that money is the highest of all values when, in truth, money is everything which isn’t valuable (because it is an abstract representation of that which is actually valuable).
Schumacher gives an even more detailed economic argument about the nature of “goods” as a means of extending the claims he made about our lack of accounting for the difference between irreplaceable natural capital and income generated by human methods. He makes the point that there are “primary goods” (natural resources) which humans do not create, and that these exist in two essentially different categories: non-renewable and renewable; and that there are “secondary goods” (made by humans) which also fall into two essentially different categories: manufactures and services. His claim is that we cannot disregard the differences between these four kinds of good without losing touch with reality.
However, “the market knows nothing of these distinctions. It provides a price tag for all goods and thereby enables us to pretend that they are all of equal significance.” Kernel fellow Matt Stephenson and some friends have created a practical theory that proposes “degrees of fungibility” which differentiate goods “according to both their underlying attributes and the perceived value and/or usefulness of those attributes to a value assessor.” Goods on the more fungible end of the spectrum can be usefully represented in markets; goods that are less fungible are perhaps reduced by representation in terms of pure price. Nevertheless, all such considerations still only apply to secondary goods–and this is Schumacher’s major point.
As Brennan Mulligan describes it: “commoditizing the priceless so that it can be accounted for by economic means, while well intentioned, is out of touch with reality because it misses something essential about those things that are priceless: i.e. that they are convivial, open, shared, and inseparable from the people and systems which constitute them.”
Again, Schumacher is not against the market per se–just as Illich is not against learning–he is simply making the point that confusing the ends (peaceful, wise relationship) with the means (a unified framework for fair trade) destroys our power to choose the ends we really favour.
This focus on the ends we really favour leads him to perhaps the most famous chapter of the book on “Buddhist Economics” (though he, like Illich, ended life as a devout Catholic). Given that Maria Popova has already provided an excellent summary of that chapter, we will only note here how he extends the idea we ended the previous essay with, because Buddhism provides a meaningful philosophy of work (though it is not alone in this matter: all streams of the perennial tradition do).
“To strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.”
We have already seen the many ways in which Schumacher and Illich’s insights are essentially the same; now it is time to weave them fully together. Schumacher makes the point that the task of education, “first and foremost, is the transmission of ideas of value, of what to do with our lives.” We cannot surrender these ideas of value to institutions which would treat them as anomalies to be cured. “Education cannot help us as long as it accords no place to metaphysics”, which is to say that, if we have not examined our fundamental convictions with others, we are not really educated and cannot be of real value to society. Schumacher offers us his core insight in this way:
“All subjects, no matter how specialised, are connected with a centre; they are like rays emanating from a sun. The centre is constituted by our most basic convictions, by those ideas which really have power to move us. In other words, the centre consists of metaphysics and ethics, of ideas that–whether we like it or not–transcend the world of facts. Because they transcend the world of facts, they cannot be proved or disproved by ordinary scientific method. But that does not mean that they are purely ‘subjective’ or ‘relative’ or mere arbitrary conventions. They must be true to reality, although they transcend the world of facts–an apparent paradox to our positivistic thinkers.”
“Education can help us only if it produces ‘whole humans'. The truly educated person is not one who knows a bit of everything, not even one who knows all the details of all subjects (if such a thing were possible): the ‘whole human’, in fact, may have little detailed knowledge of facts and theories, they may treasure the Encyclopedia Britannica because ‘she knows and they don’t’, but they will be truly in touch with the centre. They will be in no doubt about their basic convictions, about their view on the meaning and purpose of their life. They may not be able to explain these matters in words, but the conduct of their life will show a certain sureness of touch which stems from their inner clarity.”
Wisdom is wholeness drawn from (educare) the conduct of each of our personal lives. It is about systematically overcoming self-deception and enhancing connectedness. However, this does not mean it is subjective, though it transcends the world of facts and therefore cannot be fully judged by another. It is what John Vervaeke calls in the video linked above “transjective”: which refers to the “fittedness” of object and subject such that meaningful knowledge and action are possible. This means we may indeed be held accountable for how we think and live, though this is only just when done through the process of dialogic reason. As the perennial tradition tells us: it is your own soul who will ask you on judgement day, “Why?”Emerging Life¶
What Illich calls “drill instruction”–those skills which can be taught–are, in Schumacher’s language, made up of “convergent problems”. In some sense, these are humankind’s most useful invention precisely because they do not really exist: they are created by processes of abstraction and–once they have been solved–may be written down and passed on to others, who can apply the solution without needing to reproduce the mental effort necessary to find it. Solutions to convergent problems–like how to optimise the production of paper clips–are incredibly efficient, though that efficiency may be used in constructive or destructive ways depending on the depth of awareness and the quality of the convictions of those who apply them.
However, the above question, “Why?” is not a convergent problem. Schumacher quotes G. N. M. Tyrell, who calls these “divergent” problems in order to distinguish them from the logically solvable, convergent kind. Schumacher then writes:
“It is easy enough to see that all through our lives we are faced with the task of reconciling opposites which, in logical thought, cannot be reconciled. The typical problems of life are insoluble on the level of being on which we normally find ourselves. How can one reconcile the demands of freedom and discipline in education? Countless mothers and teachers, in fact, do it, but no-one can write down a solution. They do it by bringing into the situation a force that belongs to a higher level where opposites are transcended–the power of love.”
Technology powered by love and used with conviction is a different kind of technology altogether, it is ‘technology with a human face’ which does not aim for mass production, but production by the masses, in the same way that Illich points out that education for all is education by all. Production by the masses mobilises the priceless resources possessed by every human being: their clever brains and skilful hands.
“The system of mass production is inherently violent, ecologically damaging, self-defeating in terms of non-renewable resources, and stultifying of the human person. The technology of production by the masses, making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, is conducive to decentralisation, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve with the human person rather than making them the servant of machines.”
Schumacher calls it “intermediate technology”, Illich calls it convivial. Choose whichever you like, but note the shared characteristics: relatability, creativity, common use, open access, simplicity, resilience. Schumacher also introduces the term “home-comer” which matches beautifully with Illich’s notion of “Epimethean”: those who have the depth of conviction and “courage to say ‘no’ to the fashions and fascinations of the age and to question the presuppositions of a civilisation which appears destined to conquer the whole world.” Drawing on the beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Schumacher translates them into modern idiom:
- We are poor, not demigods.
- We have plenty to be sorrowful about, and are not emerging into a golden age.
- We need a gentle approach, a non-violent spirit, and small is beautiful.
- We must concern ourselves with justice and see right prevail.
- All this, and only this, can enable us to become peacemakers.
This is the ground truth school does not advertise: there is no golden age, nor has there ever been. However, this means we live in a time where it is possible to serve others, to wait well upon them until that moment you see fully the truth that you wait only upon your Self. Growth and progress are not, in themselves, problematic ideas, it’s simply that they beg the question: growth into what, and progress to where? If it is not simultaneously into more intimate relationship with the world and more knowing relationship with yourself, it is not the sort of value we seek to transmit in Kernel.
“I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of humans, and that also means: to the actual size of humankind. We are small and, therefore, small is beautiful [...] No doubt: to redirect technology so that it serves us instead of destroying us requires primarily an effort of the imagination and an abandonment of fear.”
The link embedded in ‘different kinds of technology’ in the previous section ends with the point that “technologies must be designed according to methods that take human value and experience seriously enough to be constrained by their limits—such as sanity, dignity, and justice.” The question is how to develop valuable and simple axioms that can assist us design in a way which is aware that technology is value-loaded. It comes with values built in and it is value-altering: technologies change and augment existing value systems.
“Any third-rate engineer or researcher can increase complexity; but it takes a certain flair of real insight to make things simple again. And this insight does not come easily to people who have allowed themselves to become alienated from real, productive work and from the self-balancing system of nature, which never fails to recognise measure and limitation. Any activity which fails to recognise a self-limiting principle is self-defeating.”
It is with this same insight that we finished the Kernel Learn Track: the language of the good is also a language of self-imposed limits, which seeks perfect expression only as a means towards realising a convivial life lived together in the golden mean. This golden mean, or middle path, is akin to the program of least complexity, because it requires no additional symbol, only a kind of rhythmic harmony; a balance of the whole. Schumacher arrived here fifty years before us:
“The whole crux of economic life–and indeed of life in general–is that it constantly requires the living reconciliation of opposites which, in strict logic, are irreconcilable. In macroeconomics it is necessary always to have both planning and freedom–not by way of a weak and lifeless compromise, but by a free recognition of the legitimacy of and need for both. Equally in microeconomics: on the one hand it is essential that there should be full managerial responsibility and authority; yet it is equally essential that there should be a democratic and free participation of the workers in management decisions [...] A generous and magnanimous intellectual effort–the opposite of nagging, malevolent criticism–can enable society to find a middle way that reconciles the opposites without degrading them both.”
This wisely balanced whole, resonating with multiple rhythms, neither grades nor degrades us and the opposites we must each reconcile in the act of living this one wild and precious life we are given. It is beautiful and good to know this.
And yet, we can ask yet another better question (there are infinitely many of them) to further illuminate wholeness: “Can education take us beyond reconciliation and into truth?” By some calculations, it takes the value created by thirty years of rural work to keep one person in university for a single year. If you take a five year course, that means you consume one hundred and fifty years of labour. Schumacher asks, “Who has the right to consume such vast quantities of value?”
Is education that which creates a ‘passport to privilege’ or does it serve the people, both in content and in the way it directs the attention of the educated? The first creates a ‘trade union of the privileged’, intent on protecting their privilege. The latter takes us back–via intermediate, convivial technologies–to the people who, directly or indirectly, have paid for it and to whom we are honour bound to return the favour. Some exemplary principles in line with Schumacher’s belief may be found here. Schumacher makes the point that:
“The life, work, and happiness of all societies depend on certain ‘psychological structures’ which are infinitely precious and highly vulnerable. Social cohesion, co-operation, mutual respect, and above all self-respect, courage in the face of adversity, and the ability to bear hardship–all this and much else disintegrates” when we do not honour our fellows and are thus not in contact with, actually touching, that centre which is the measure of how whole human beings freely conduct themselves.
This really is the last crux we will shoulder in trying to relate our educational philosophy (which comes to us from the Greek philo-sophia, meaning ‘love of wisdom’). Humankind does have a certain freedom of choice, but we are bound by truth. As Schumacher says, “Only in service of truth is perfect freedom.” When we are asked to ‘free our imagination from bondage to the existing system’, we would do well to reflect on whether those who ask this of us are able to point to what is real and true.
We are not called to discover truth that has not been discovered before. We are only called to live truly. Schumacher finds his solace in the Four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Justice relates to truth, fortitude to goodness, temperance to beauty, and prudence is the mother of them all. Prudence does not mean a small, mean, and calculating attitude to life.
“Prudence means that realisation of the good presupposes knowledge of reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is. The pre-eminence of prudence means that so-called ‘good intentions’ and so-called ‘meaning well’ by no means suffice. Realisation of the good pre-supposes that our actions are appropriate to the real situation, that is to the concrete realities which form the ‘environment’ of a concrete human action; and that we therefore take this concrete reality seriously, with clear-eyes [...] Prudence implies a transformation of the knowledge of truth into decisions corresponding to reality.”
Realisation is the key word in all this. It means both coming into awareness (realise as in recognise), and connecting to reality in the manifestly right way (realise as in to make real). Realise who you really are! It is always happening together at the same time, in no time: emanation and emergence, transcendence and immanence, the One and these many-folded worlds.