The return of subsistence knowledges


[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
 
In Medical Nemesis, first published in French in 1975, Ivan Illich wrote:
 
The acute problems of manpower, money, access, and control that beset hospitals everywhere can be interpreted as symptoms of a new crisis in the concept of disease. This is a true crisis because it admits of two opposite solutions, both of which make present hospitals obsolete. The first solution is a further sickening medicalization of health care, expanding the clinical control of the medical profession over the ambulatory population. The second is a critical, scientifically sound demedicalization of the concept of disease[i]
 
     Much of this analysis of the crisis affecting clinical medicine at the middle of the 1970s could be applied to the examination of the "economic crisis" now facing the world. What societies need now is, in the first place, to reexamine the destructive effects of a globalized system of economic domination on the livelihood of human beings; it is then the search of  entirely new organic links with the reality that the Greeks designated by the verb oikodomeo, meaning "I manage my and my family’s own livelihood." It is from that verb that the Western world has derived the words economy and economics, giving them a meaning diametrically contrary to the verb’s meaning.
 
     The author of Medical Nemesis also wrote:
 
Medical epistemology is far more important for the healthy solution of this crisis than either medical biology or medical technology. Such an epistemology will have to clarify the logical status and the social nature of diagnosis and therapy [...][ii]
 
     Analogically, an epistemology based on the history of economic ideas seems to us far more important than all the micro- and macro-economics presently proposed as a rapid "solution" of the crisis. To quote a thought attributed to Albert Einstein, "one cannot solve the problems with those who have created them."
 
Be fearful of fear
 
     To search for the true causes of the present crisis requires therefore warding oneself from the panic fear foisted by economic experts wanting people to believe that the "solution" requires more measures from their domain of expertise. The path to the truth about the economy is rather an invitation to touch the ground, that is to ask radical questions about all the "received ideas".  It is also to painfully and sometimes joyfully recover the perception of concrete things: not only how hard it can become to make a living, but also of the soil and of the other elements and of the ever open possibility of conviviality. It means cleansing one’s vision of fashionable mirages and, perhaps, of an excess of abstractions, in order to remember and to rediscover how, for millennia, the poor have actually been able to defy misery and destitution by obtaining directly from nature and their human surroundings most of what they needed for their livelihood. Not in solitude, but in solidarity.  Not in competing with one another for increasing productivity and personal profit, but intensifying their human and convivial bounds with others with a view to redefining their livi

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