Biography[ edit ] Long ambassador, he represented Iran at the UN for twelve successive sessions of to He was Commissioner of the United Nations in Rwanda and Burundi in , for elections and the referendum that led these countries to independence. He also served on the University Council of the United Nations from to , and also resident representative of the United Nations in Mali. In , he created an Institute for Studies of Endogenous Development, inspired by the educational ideas of Paulo Freire , to begin a development project basis with the farmers of Lorestan. After his retirement in he taught at the University of California at Berkeley for six years, then, from , to Claremont Pitzer Colleges.
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Conversation between Ivan Illich and Majid Rahnema Majid Rahnema , once a Minister in the Iranian government in the late sixties, speaks with his friend Ivan Illich, in preparation for a book he is editing. In this intimate and tender exchange Ivan speaks of development, friendship and the dangers of social responsibility.
Ivan, I had thought earlier to include in this Reader your essay on Epimethean Man which, in my view, was the spark which kindled the fire of a real discussion of the nature of development.
In those days, I was also amongst the many who considered your attack on the new myth nothing more than a skilful provocation.
The text represents, nonetheless, a kind of classic which I thought had to be brought to the attention of the present generation concerned with the history of ideas. But, inasmuch as I was coming to see you, I felt it would be a more exceptional gift to readers if I could offer them your present views on the matter, especially since the Reader is intended to help them understand the Post Development Era.
Finally, when I arrived here, I thought that I could use this unique opportunity to question you on some special issues of particular interest to me personally. Thus, the few questions I am going to ask you are not just for the readers of the book. They are also very much to satisfy the curiosity of a friend who has affectionately followed the stream of your thoughts, and admired the "laser"-type quality which has often allowed you to pierce through many of the opacities of our times.
So, please consider them part of the ongoing conversations that have not only woven together our long and enduring friendship, but have also had a great influence on the helping of my own perception of modern reality. If I am correct, you have never been interested in the kind of actions in which missionaries, developmentalists or Marxist and other social intervenors generally take pride; namely, to extend care or assistance to those who are presumed to suffer or need help.
Unlike them, you seem to consider this attitude as both un-loving and unrealistic, arrogant and counterproductive.
On the other hand, you have always been concerned with the art of suffering and, in particular, in the history of different cultures as they lived with their sufferings. And you have deplored the fact that modernity has very negatively affected this art, while it has created new and perhaps more intolerable forms of suffering.
This position has led some of your critics to argue that you are interested more in the history of the arts of suffering than in actions aimed at reducing or eventually eliminating different forms of suffering. Hence, the following questions: To what extent do you believe that human solidarity implies that one must somehow respond to suffering, eventually with a view either to reduce it, or to transform it into an elevating exercise, that is, the opposite of its dehumanising forms?
And if so, could such be achieved in a meaningful and dignified manner? I began to question the goals of development more than the agencies, education more than schools, health more than hospitals. Majid, there is something unsettling about your inquisition. Here we are, seated on my futon with a steaming samovar in front of us, relaxing in my mansard in the Bremen house of Barbara Duden, you soon to depart to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Baba-ji, I also to teach one more class on the history of iconoclasm at the university.
Just last night, with my students who are also your readers, we celebrated your seventieth birthday. Thus I cannot very well reject your request. Further, I speak with pleasure, for your questions are a poignant reminder of a conversation that has been a true enquiry. I know this is so because I remember it as controversial and polemical in character.
Now we are both older; each of us had to advance along his own road to reach a level where we can find ourselves in agreement. You are correct in your belief that I had qualms about the notion of economic development early on. From my very first encounter with it, when I became vice-chancellor in charge of "development" at a university in Ponce, Puerto Rico, I had doubts. That was exactly forty years ago, twelve years before you were made Minister of Education, seventeen years before each of us overcame his timidity and we met in Teheran, where we sucked on an ablambu, a huge pomegranate, at our first meeting.
Intuition guided my initial rejection of development. I only learned to formulate true reasons gradually, principally over the stretch of time that coincides with our growing friendship. During more than a decade, my criticisms focussed on the procedures used in the attempt to reach goals that I did not then question. I objected to compulsory schooling as an inappropriate means to pursue universal education which I then approved Deschooling Society.
I rejected speedy transportation as a method to increase egalitarian access Energy and Equity. In the next step, I became both more radical and more realistic. In Medical Nemesis, my main concern was the destruction of the cultural matrix that supported an art of living characteristic of a time and place.
Later, I increasingly questioned the pursuit of an abstract and ever more remote ideal called health. Majid, it is only after those books to which you just referred, since the seventies, that my main objection against development focusses on its rituals. These generate, not just specific goals like "education" or "transportation", but a non-ethical state of mind.
Inevitably, this wild-goose chase transforms the good into a value; it frustrates present satis-faction in Latin, enough-ness so that one always longs for something better that lies in the "not yet". This morning, I conveyed to you the message of a younger friend who asked me to thank you for having left a deep mark on his life, since the first time he learned from you the need to constantly question his certainties. Is your counsel to live in the dark?
But, closing this parenthesis, I remembered you saying yesterday that Buddhists who use meditation or other "spiritual" exercises tend to focus more on their navels rather than realising the possible consequences of their belief in their oneness with the world. Now, coming back to your advice to David, how do you think one could be a candle in the dark and still develop, at a social level, the type of compassion and love of the world which permeates all your thinking?
I know that, for you, friendship is perceived as a way of reconciling the two, but is it possible to extend the grace of friendship to everyone? Friendship cannot be true unless it is open, inclusive convival - unless a third is fully welcome. Majid, your queries are like challenges, more stimuli than questions. Now you ask something which just fits the sense with which we concluded our first session. We must load it into lorries that we have to buy and maintain. The story is true of things, be they food, or ideas, or books.
But it does not apply to friends. Friendship cannot be true unless it is open, inclusive, convivial unless a third is fully welcome. The candle which burns in front of us also lights our pipe; a match would serve just as well. But a match would not let us see the continual reflection of a third one in both our pupils, would not remind us of this persistent presence. Now, back to your questions. I worry about minds, hearts and social rituals being infected by development, not only because it obliterates the unique beauty and goodness of the now, but also because it weakens the "we.
You use a different expression for saying, "You and I, we two," the Greek or Serbian dualis, and another for designating "those of us who sit around this table" to the exclusion of others; and yet another to refer to those with whom you and I live our daily lives together.
This refinement of the first person experience has been largely washed out wherever development has set in. The multiple we was traditionally characteristic of the human condition; the "first person plural" is a flower born out of sharing in the good of convivial life. It is the opposite of a statistical "we," the sense of being jointly enumerated and represented in a graphic column.
The new voluntaristic and empty we is the result of you and me, together with innumerable others, being made subject to the same technical management process "we driver", "we smokers,"we environmentalists". The I who experiences is replaced by an abstract point where many different statistical charts intersect.
Assure your friend that neither navel gazing nor flight from the city is appropriate; rather, only a risky presence to the Other, together with openness to an absent loved third, no matter how fleeting. And remember that there is no possibility of achieving this so long as the candle near our samovar stands for "everyone".
The most destructive effect of development is its tendency to distract my eye from your face with the phantom, humanity, that I ought to love. The most destructive effect of development is its tendency to distract my eye from your face with the phantom, humanity that I ought to love. I then believed, like most intellectuals of the so-called Third World, that development represented a justified claim of the victims of the colonial order.
It seemed to us to be a prerequisite for the full achievement of their independence. Thus, your attitude appeared to us as an outright provocation. Worse, what appears to me as the new AIDS syndrome soon developed to such an extent that even the grassroots seem now to have been coopted in the process. Under these circumstances, a Do you see any chance for the victims to realize a change of mind, or to find a meaningful alternative to their present state?
And if so, what would be the conditions for such a change? Social responsibility, we now know, is but the soft underbelly of a weird sense of power through which we think ourselves capable of making the world better. We thus distract ourselves from becoming fully present to those close enough to touch.
Majid, in Puerto Rico I resigned rather than expand the university at the cost of less support for public elementary schools. Later, I faced serious injury through my attempts to stop missionaries of development from invading Latin America. You asked that we reflect together on the roads we have both travelled. Now let us go one step farther. In a first stage, I took as my model the pamphleteers of the Enlightenment. During the fifties, I called on people to recognize the surreptitious injustices implicit in publicly financed professional organisations of teachers, social workers and physicians.
In my battles against invasion by volunteers, I appealed to reason. Celebration of Awareness expresses this attempt. In a second stage, my rhetoric was inspired by the stories of myth. I would like to have been a dramatist like Sartre or Beckett. Then I could have put a necktie on Sisyphus, and placed Prometheus in front of a computer as I put the death-denying physician in a white coat.
In my battle against delusional and therefore destructive goals, I tried to tell stories, like Energy and Equity or Shadow Work. In a third stage, I risked losing my audiences rather than write replays of dramas I had already offered to the public in the sixties. The performances of schooling, medicalization, human garaging and shipment by motorised transport were now produced on many stages.
You were then among those who urged me to do for law or social work what I had done for the institutions of education, transportation and health care. I refused. I refused to restrict my analysis to the unwanted technical and social consequences of education, health and productivity.
I thought I should look at these fantasies as at a frightful Greek ogre, a fateful destiny in the pursuit of which all but some of the rich or protectively credentialled have a high chance of being ground up by the rituals created to reach it.
Now you ask me how we can avoid blaming the victims of development. I do not think that we can, or that we should. The enterprise to transform la condition humaine has been crowned by success. Your task and mine can only be to explore how to trust and love and suffer in a milieu that drowns out our voices and makes our sparks invisible. Given who we are, two very privileged people who have been far too slow in recognizing the truth, we now ought to witness to what we have come to know.
Now back to the "victims" of development. They are not all of one kind. Or do you think of my former colleague at the University of Bremen?
The Post-Development Reader