Tools for Conviviality

Posted Mar 13, 2024

Tools for Conviviality


Society can be destroyed when further growth of mass production renders the milieu hostile, when it extinguishes the free use of the natural abilities of society’s members, when it isolates people from each other and locks them into a man-made shell, when it undermines the texture of community by promoting extreme social polarization and splintering specialization, or when cancerous acceleration enforces social change at a rate that rules out legal, cultural, and political precedents as formal guidelines to present behaviour. — p. 11

Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call “convivial”. — p. 12

“Austerity”, which says something about people, has also been degraded and has acquired a bitter taste, while for Aristotle or Aquinas it marked the foundation of friendship. […] In his third response he [Thomas Aquinas] defines “austerity” as a virtue which does not exclude all enjoyments, but only those which are distracting from or destructive of personal relatedness. — p. 13

The hypothesis on which the experiment was built must now be discarded. The hypothesis was that machines can replace slaves. The evidence shows that, used for this purpose, machines enslave men. Neither a dictatorial proletariat nor a leisured mass can escape the dominion of constantly expanding industrial tools. The crisis can be solved only if we learn to invert the present deep structure of tools; if we give people tools that guarantee their right to work with high, independent efficiency, thus simultaneously eliminating the need for either slaves or masters and enhancing each person’s range of freedom. — p. 23

As an alternative to technocratic disaster, I propose the vision of a convivial society. A convivial society would be the result of social arrangements that guarantee for each member the most ample and free access to the tools of the community and limit this freedom only in favour of another member’s equal freedom. — p. 25

New politics would aim principally to exclude the design of artifacts and rules that are obstacles to the exercise of this personal freedom. Such politics would limit the scope of tools as demanded by the protection of three values: survival, justice, and self-defined work. I take these values to be fundamental to any convivial society, however different one such society might be from another in practice, institutions, or rationale. — p. 26

People will rediscover the value of joyful sobriety and liberating austerity only if they relearn to depend on each other rather than on energy slaves. — p. 27

People who have climbed up the ladder of schooling know where they dropped out and how uneducated they are. Once they accept the authority of an agency to define and measure their level of knowledge, they easily go on to accept the authority of other agencies to define for them their level of appropriate health or mobility. It is difficult for them to identify the structural corruption of our major institutions. — p. 32

The commodity called “education” and the institution called “school” make each other necessary. The circle can be broken only by a widely shared insight that the institution has come to define the purpose. — p. 33

Time became like money: I now can have a few hours before lunch; how shall I spend time? . . . I am short of time so I can’t afford to spend that much time on a committee; it’s not worth the time! . . . It would be a waste of time; I’d rather save an hour. — p. 44

In capitalist countries how often you can cover great distances is determined by what you can pay. In socialist countries your velocity depends on the social importance the bureaucracy attaches to you. In both cases the particular speed at which you travel puts you into your class and company. Speed is one of the means by which an efficiency-orientated society is stratified. — p. 51

[…] it organizes society into many layers of failure, with each layer inhabited by dropouts schooled to believe that those who have consumed more education deserve more privilege because they are more valuable assets to society as a whole. A society constructed so that education by means of schools is a necessity for its functioning cannot be a just society. — p. 56

People get better education, better health, better transportation, better entertainment, and often better nourishment only if the experts’ goals are taken as the measurement of what “better” means. The possibility of a convivial society depends therefore on a new consensus about the destructiveness of imperialism on three levels: the pernicious spread of one nation beyond its boundaries; the omnipresent influence of multinational corporations; and the mushrooming of professional monopolies over production. — p. 57

The parallel increase in the cost of the defence of new levels of privilege through military, police, and insurance measures reflects the fact that in a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. — p. 60

When overefficient tools are applied to facilitate man’s relations with the physical environment, they can destroy the balance between man and nature. Overefficient tools corrupt the environment. But tools can also be made overefficient in quite a different way. They can upset the relationship between what people need to do by themselves and what they need to obtain ready-made. In this second dimension overefficient production results in radical monopoly. — p. 65

By “radical monopoly” I mean the dominance of one type of product rather than the dominance of one brand. I speak about radical monopoly when one industrial production process exercises an exclusive control over the satisfaction of a pressing need, and excludes nonindustrial activities from competition. — p. 66

Radical monopoly imposes compulsory consumption and thereby restricts personal autonomy. It constitutes a special kind of social control because it is enforced by means of the imposed consumption of a standard product that only large institutions can provide. — p. 67

The establishment of radical monopoly happens when people give up their native ability to do what they can for themselves and for each other, in exchange for something “better” that can be done for them only by a major tool. — p. 68

The city child is born into an environment made up of systems that have a different meaning for their designers for their clients. The inhabitant of the city is in touch with thousands of systems, but only peripherally with each. He knows how to operate the TV or the telephone, but their workings are hidden from him. Learning by primary experience is restricted to self-adjustment in the midst of packaged commodities. He feels less and less secure in doing his own thing. Cooking, courtesy and sex become subject matters in which instruction is required. The balance of learning deteriorates: it is skewed in favour of “education”. People know what they have been taught, but learn little from their own doing. People come to feel they need “education”. — p. 73

People need to learn to live within bounds. This cannot be taught. Survival depends on people learning fast what they cannot do. They must learn to abstain from unlimited progeny, consumption, and use. It is impossible to educate people for voluntary poverty or to manipulate them into self-control. It is impossible to teach joyful renunciation in a world totally structured for higher output and the illusion of declining costs. — p. 80

It is true that a man’s physical niche is threatened; but just as he evolved within one particular physiological environment, so he also evolved within a social, political and psychological environment which can also be irreversibly destroyed. Mankind may wither and disappear because he is deprived of basic structures of language, law, and myth, just as much as he can be smothered by smog. — p. 92

When maddening behaviour becomes the standard of a society, people learn to compete for the right to engage in it. Envy blinds people and makes them compete for addiction. — p. 94

The alternative to managerial fascism is a political process by which people decide how much of any scarce resource is the most any member of society can claim; a process in which they agree to keep limits relatively stationary over a long time, and by which they set a premium on the constant search for new ways to have an ever larger percentage of the population join in doing ever more with ever less. — p. 116