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Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict


Larry J. Fisk



The world-wide attention to questions of order and the components essential to a civil society is not too surprising given the post-cold war fragmentation of states and the brutality of inter-communal turmoil. What may be unexpected is the equally extensive interest in the nature and place of disorder as such, albeit under such rubrics as chaos theory and the Gaia hypothesis. This paper acknowledges the scientific and mathematical significance of these latter developments. However, its central purpose is not to explicate those theories but to challenge the manner in which we perceive social realities and to suggest that our understanding of what constitutes order and disorder may prevent us from identifying patterns of conflict and constructing paths to its more peaceful resolution. We must acknowledge that some social scientists are utilizing the implications of the order-out-of-chaos theory, while others--the strange attractor branch--pay more attention to the chaos itself. (Haynes, 1990: 9-10) A brief consideration of the contents of the 1998 Eighth International Conference of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences clearly demonstrates the interest in psychotherapies sensitized to emergent behaviour or a more realistic view of public policy decision making freed from the constraints of linear, predictable models. (Eoyang et al, 1998; Hagberg, 1998; Goldstein, 1998; Regine & Lewis, 1998).

Social scientists generally, and political scientists and peace researchers in particular, may have much to learn from chaos theory and its implications. However, a starting place in appreciating what some natural scientists, computer gurus, mathematical geniuses and even stock market analysts have found most useful, is for social researchers like ourselves to reevaluate our attitudes and cultural perspectives on order and disorder.

The purpose of this discussion is to facilitate such a reexamination and perhaps crack open our certainties Most of us have considered and even faced circumstances and situations where forms of order have been rather oppressive. Whether one thinks of the orderly classroom, the rigor of an academic discipline or the civic order identified with a particular regime, the regulations and political culture associated with many conventional forms of order can engender bureaucratic rigidity, the myopic handling of minority positions and a sharpened impatience with the unconventional. If such characterizations of order do operate, even in the name of democracy and freedom, then we should not be surprised to find them begetting wider forms of misery, conflict and disorder.

There may well be a reverse side to this consideration of order as disorder, a side which is linked to our conventional certainties. We presume that order consists of some agreed upon procedures, values and directions. But, how is it that so much of what we call disorder is rooted in widely shared political ideologies and the hostilities engendered by religious differences which are the very foundations and certainties of a particular order in time and place? If we examine what we might accept as the building blocks of a desirable social order: corporate enterprise, rigorous education, scientific progress, personal idealism, caring for the less fortunate, liberal democratic processes and individual freedom, surely we need not be wary of the potential for disorder wrought by these certainties. Or should we be wary? What are the certitudes of such an order which may well engender conflict? Is there a realm of uncertainty and so-called disorder, some grasp of which may be essential to the nurturing of positive peace and a nobler order?

Reconsidering Order and Disorder

The textbook definitions of order stress the "norms, rules and laws" of a regime or group of people and "the institutions that make, interpret and enforce them". (Jacobsohn, 1998: 505; Magstadt & Schotten, 1996: 2) Inasmuch as they aid in the maintenance of security and authority for a particular community or "particular area of societal concern" we understand order as accepted structures, rules and practices. The social orders we most commonly refer to are governments or nation-states. We speak of the legitimacy of community rulers to the extent that we, the citizens of a given state or community, accept the institutions, regulations and processes of that governing body. Legitimacy is based on recognition that the ruling body is capable of demonstrating agreeable moral and political principles. Sovereignty--the authoritative claim to rule--is exercised most effectively through such a form of legitimacy or acceptance. Not all sovereign bodies are legitimate in the sense indicated above, but when they are, there is a high degree of efficacy for that state because of widespread agreement on principles and procedures. Such a consensus on fundamentals delivers not only confidence but certitude, and it is the subject of certitude to which we will return.

The definitions of order cited above speak both of an acceptance and an enforcement of structures, rules, and practices. Enforcement may be tenable inasmuch as it is an extension of legitimized sovereignty, but political order may be enforced without such legitimacy and its concomitant acceptance of rulings and procedures. In situations where enforcement does not match acceptance and legitimacy we may still speak of social and political order but it is here that we begin to identify the oppressive nature of such an order. To put it bluntly we have moved to enforcement rather than legitimacy. In such a situation the regulations and practices which constitute order are thrust upon a people, they are not acceptable to many or most of those who make up the community, or they are not in keeping with some larger moral, religious or political principles of the community. To some degree they belie freedom, promote injustices or threaten political, economic, or even cultural and spiritual well-being. We know well the regimes which have acted in this way, they have been totalitarian, authoritarian dictatorships, tribal rivalries and one party states. We need think only of the former Soviet Union, the Third Reich, China, or the colonially concocted order of countries like Nigeria, Zaire and Rwanda. These have been enforced orders of very different types, to be sure. But oppressive orders have also included liberal democratic bodies. In my own country, Canada, the political orders recently initiated in the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia, to take just two examples, imposed regional organizations and educational and health restructuring which was bitterly opposed by all participating units. Such encroachments illustrate the capacity of current democratic regimes to enforce an order, or at least major components of it, which is not widely accepted.

We also recognize situations on the non-governmental level, within classrooms for example, where order is oppressive to its community; where students are presented with knowledge as a scarce commodity and prevented from being "considerers" of it and the world of which it is part; where excessive intellectualization and deep suspicion of engagement in the name of objectivity retards empathy, obligation and commitment to others. Student views of the order enforced by state-sponsored schools and universities--at least in journals about their previous educational experience--describe school and university structures which enforce rules and practices over which they have no say and which undermine, if not totally destroy, their freedom and creativity.

Almost by definition, therefore, order may coerce a people to abide by at least some regulations and practices which they find disagreeable, if not unjust and oppressive. There are of course many questions to be considered in such an assertion. Just how extensive is the disagreement in the community? What means were used by the governing body in enforcing the rules and practices? To what extent do these means reflect a deeper acceptance of legitimate principles in the community? What are the likely consequences to the community if these rules and procedures are not enforced? How appropriate are the principles by which both citizens and governing bodies make all of these judgements? It will come as no surprise to the reader that critical questions such as these can be added to endlessly and, in order to properly judge and contemplate transforming any given political order, these are vital considerations. However, they are the opposite side to the question I wish to explore. What is indicated thus far is simply the reminder that not all order is just, and in fact there would seem to be something in the very nature of order which is capable of perpetuating injustice.

Saying that order, almost by definition or nature, and certainly under particular circumstances, may engender injustice--and therefore a form of undesirable order or disorder--is far from saying that disorder is a means of providing a more just order. But it is this converse matter to which we will now attend.

When we speak of "disorder" we generally mean an absence of the regulations, structures and practices which engender security or a state of equilibrium. In most natural sciences disorder is understood as an implication of chaos, and in the physical and social sciences alike, it may be equated with anarchy. From an academic perspective disorder can be correlated with a degree of randomness, diversity and variability such as to make knowing difficult, if not impossible. There must be some control over the number and nature of variables if knowledge is to be grasped. It is the questioning of these perspectives which has brought chaos theory into prominence in mathematics and the natural sciences.

Peace researchers and political scientists identify disorder with the anarchy which ensues at times of war, economic and political crises, or other forms of widespread violence and corruption. Students of politics acknowledge the many illustrations of severe disorder in the contemporary world: the regional conflicts arising out of the ashes of the former Soviet Union; Bosnia and Kosovo; the brutal tribal rivalries in what some call the "stateless" disorders of Rwanda, Nigeria and the former Zaire; and the anarchy and violence of many urban cores and schools from New York City to Johannesburg, South Africa.

I suggest we have two common misunderstandings of disorder, one correlated with how we go about studying politics and the other connected with what we understand about politics itself when we do study it or engage in it. Let me explain each in turn.

Order and the Science of Political Study

About thirty-five years ago political science embodied a behavioral revolution enabling it to be understood as a burgeoning field sensitive in its ability to match the physical sciences in accuracy, rigor and results. The profession broke away from such traditional offices as political economy and civics and had become a full-fledged discipline complete with its own arenas of study, journals and academic departments. Behavioral and electoral studies were becoming the pride of the discipline. Basing its new directions on what it presumed the natural sciences were all about: objectivity, empiricism, observation, verification, the texts of three or four decades ago when considering empathy dismissed it by shrinking it to "a more efficient means of gathering evidence". Similarly, commitment was discounted as intrusion of one's values into political study. (Gibson, 1960, 7-9, 29-40) What many failed to recognize at the time was that the most advanced of the natural sciences--physics--was approaching nature in a manner and philosophy quite at odds with what the new discipline thought it was dutifully emulating.

There had been a major breakthrough in physics when Werner Heisenberg discovered that the more the physicist pressed for spatiotemporal order--the control of microphysical particles for purposes of observation for example--the more the results were elusive or inaccurate. Heisenberg argued that as one attempts to pinpoint subatomic particles in terms of position one interferes with their movement, and as one attempts to define precisely their velocity one interferes with position. There are no fully accurate, unobtrusive and neutral instruments of observation. There was for Heisenberg a basic principle of indeterminacy or uncertainty which he mused was applicable to all of nature. In a truly poetic image he described the scientist as a lonely wanderer on a secluded beach diligently studying the footprints of some unknown creature, only to discover belatedly they were one's own footsteps in the sand. This, for Heisenberg, was the true nature of science, the impossibility of separating ourselves as instruments of observation from what we study. (Heisenberg, 1958: 15, 24)

Building on Heisenberg's theory of indeterminacy of cause and effect physicist Niels Bohr developed the principle of complementarity which, reduced to its simplest terms, maintained that certain natural phenomena could not be fully understood by a single theory. Bohr came to this conclusion by considering the behavior of light. Sometimes light behaved in ways which only the quantum theory explained, that is, that light appeared to act as bundles or particles of energy. But on other occasions the behavior of light could only be explained by contemplating it as a wave. The implication was clear. A more complete understanding of light would be reached by applying either theory alternatively, that is, at different times and under different conditions. To push for too much explanation and order through one theory alone was to distort and fail to understand fully. (Bohr, 1963)

At about this same time the social philosopher Dorothy Emmet supplied what I believe to be a fruitful analogy in social science to Bohr's physical science theory of complementarity. Emmet implied that social functions were the complements of social principles. In much the same way that a given personalized action may correlate with quite varied reasons for it, or purposes underlying it (sometimes with unintended consequences), so the functions of social bodies may grow out of, but fail to remain consistent with, the objectives by which they began. (Emmet, 1958; Berger and Luckman, 1971 ) The implication is that we cannot fully understand social realities without due regard to both intent or purpose in addition to observed behavior. Nor can we fully comprehend larger institutional realities without giving heed to both recognized social function as well as underlying principles. The direction of such thinking points to the value of complementary views providing more comprehensive knowledge and of uncertainty or indeterminacy as the underlying nature of both physical and social realities. All of these reflections would frustrate the hunger for accuracy and prediction which stimulated the domain of political study. Here was a rather young discipline seeking accuracy in a world of uncertainty, insisting on theoretical rigour in a world of complementary hypotheses. And here was an immature and energetic science of human study patterning itself on the vacated grounds of a more developed science which had moved forward.

Also at this time the psychologist Abraham Maslow published his somewhat confessional description of his discipline in The Psychology of Science (1966) where he described the predominant attributes of social science as pathological when taken to their logical extremes. These were the words most closely identified with scientific investigation--"prediction, control, rigor, certainty, exactness, preciseness, neatness, orderliness, lawfulness, quantification, proof, explanation, validation, reliability, rationality, organization, etc." More recently the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and his American counterpart Ira Shor lamented the description of rigor in modern education as a defense of memorization skills, courses taken, books and pages read. That rigor might be acknowledged in the context of group learning, student-initiated research and the prevalence of dialogue over lectures appears incomprehensible to many academics and even students. Yet the words by which a common dictionary describes rigor seem potentially as pathological as those Maslow used to describe science in general, that is, "demanding, harsh, stern, strict, tough, accurate, correct, exact and precise". Freire would likely have joined Maslow in surmising that the "merely cautious knower, avoiding everything that could produce anxiety (the wild, crazy, loose, uncontrolled, puzzling, guessing, fantastic, playful) is partially blind." The world that such a person is capable of knowing "is smaller than the world that the strong [person] can know." (Maslow, 1966: 30-2; Shor & Freire, 1987: 4-7, 75-96) The point is that the hunger for order in science is the very reason why it eludes us and that some degree of disorder and uncertainty is the only means by which the recognition or achievement of a larger order or healthier system is possible. In various quarters the physical sciences have outclassed the social sciences in recognizing the significance of disorder and its contribution to a much larger harmony. Witness the biological sciences and the recognition that diversity and randomness strengthen a system whereas identical elements weaken it. Some physical scientists have noted a variety of "evolutionary paths to stability" including that of ants.

The order of an ant colony seems to arise when population densities reach a critical level--below this level the movement of individual ants is chaotic. (B. Goodwin, Open University in Kump, 1996: 112)

Order out of randomness and diversity may be the gist of James Lovelock's Gaia theory, where current versions emphasize not so much self-regulation to the advantage of the adjusting organisms as much as a natural geophysical consequence of interaction between biological activity and the physical environment. (Lovelock, 1988 and 1991; Kump, 1996: 112-13).

Perhaps less well known is the critique of Gaia, which accents the untamed side of the formative rather than emphasizing balance and the stationary.

Most people prefer to look at Gaia from the conservative angle (Geostat) but they ignore the wild side of the 'Goddess' (Geopoiesis)...So in order to really understand the political and ethical aspects of this organizational fresco we must unveil the dark side of self-organization and descend to the level of energy to make the following statement: roughly, from time immemorial, and on every scale, 'islands of order' organize themselves through the backwash and eddies of their environment, bringing 'order out of disorder'. One can imagine the price which is paid in the process. (Beney, 1993: 183)

The difficulty with all conceptions of order even the higher order of Gaia, rooted as it is in a kind of chaos, is that its proponents seek stability and assurance of its continuance by unwittingly inflicting it upon those who do not share their conviction. In this case environmental sustainability is thrust upon industrially developing nations by those already industrialized.

Disorder was seen to contribute to more far-reaching organization in yet another recent scientific study. In this instance the physicists discovered that an increase in programmed variations and randomness in pendulum swings, with different pendulum lengths and each of 100 oscillators programmed to respond in different ways, did not result in "even more disorder and even more turbulent behaviour" as expected, but, surprisingly, resulted in "organized behaviour patterns". The American scientists described the situation as follows:

We have found that nature utilized disorder to create organization, and that there are situations where the lack of disorder will create disorganization.... We think many patterns we see in nature are aided by randomness and disorder. This will lead us to think about systems in dramatically different ways. (Braiman, 1995: 465-467)

The researchers found that a sizeable amount of disorder was necessary to bring about the enlarged organization although too much "overwhelmed" the system. One of the scientists said of the study that it

demonstrates the importance of considering how natural and artificial systems interact with other systems in real-world conditions that include noise and variability,... Real systems are never completely homogeneous and you can never work in an environment without noise,... It is important to move beyond the study of completely homogeneous systems. Scientists can be misled in important qualitative ways if they simply study ideal examples. (Braiman, 1995: 467)

The study has immediate relevance for improving electronic system performance and the treatment of epilepsy where in both cases restoring proper amounts of disorder is essential. The study may also have relevance for students of peace and politics as a reminder that it is important to move beyond ideal models, or archetypes and to reconsider the healthy role of social variables, diversity, randomness and even social disorder.

Order and the Activity of Politics

Russell Jacoby has published a chastening article which may well serve as a bridge between this discussion about political study as a science and just how we understand and approach politics more generally. In a piece entitled "America's Professoriate: Politicized, Yet Apolitical" (1996: B1-B2) Jacoby argues that we have made everything political: art, literature, personal and familial relationships, education and, Jacoby argues, "when everything is political, nothing assumes more significance than anything else". The traditional realm of politics which may have included political parties, trade unions and local school boards has been replaced by literature critiques, studies of feminism, deconstruction and critical pedagogies.

Jacoby cites a study by Jeffrey Isaac (1995) which indicates that only two of 384 articles written in the five leading American political theory journals from 1989 to 1993 dealt with the most significant political circumstances of our day, the fall of the Soviet empire and the end of the cold war. It is incomprehensible that a John Locke, Edmund Burke, Alexis deTocqueville, Karl Marx, or more recently Hannah Arendt could have ignored such events.

Jacoby decries our professorial "suspicion of engagement" as one of the reasons for the general disenchantment with traditional politics. There are likely many reasons for this apprehension. The academic distrust of political immersion may have to do with the middle class comforts associated with successful professional life and the avoidance of discomforting political obligations. It may be a shared public cynicism of life in the public realm, governments and parties. It may be a fixation with the current passion for political correctness and the academic plaudits accompanying research focussed on the personal as political. It may be an extension of value-free social science and objectivity, keeping real-life politics at arms length and maintaining one's credibility. And it may be the lingering fear--arguably misplaced (Fisk, 1996)--that politics breeds partisanship, irrationality, and in turn, violence. But surely one related reason for misgivings about involvement is the perception of the chaotic nature of the political world. The flight from such bedlam is seen to protect prestigious objectivity and a status as knowledgeable observers and experts. For many, to be engaged politically would be as if entrapped by the snares of political disorder, violence and uncertainty. Both Jacoby and Isaac speak of the unwillingness of academics to tackle the disorderly world of tangible politics. Jacoby confesses that

...the main drift of today's politicization seems clear: It pumps up academic study and contretemps into major political battles, while avoiding important political contests as irrelevant or hopeless. Academics think they can ignore local and national politics in good conscience; they 'give' at the office. So, yes, professors are both politicized and apolitical--and society is the poorer for it. (Jacoby, 1996: B-2)

And Isaac concludes that significant forms of both democratic citizenship and authoritarian reaction, common to the American, French and 1989 revolutions are overlooked by this neglect.

The failure of political theory to address these possibilities represents a missed opportunity for important intellectual work, and indeed belies the field's claim to do serious political theory. It also constitutes a serious ethical abdication. For current events present serious choices regarding moral responsibility, political membership, and constitutional foundations, choices that political theory might truly help to illuminate. The nondecisions of political theorists in this matter--the decisions to attend to other things--do have ethical consequences. Political theory fiddles while the fire of freedom spreads, and perhaps the world burns. (Isaac, 1995: 649)

It is possible that the more our elemental worldview incorporates an appreciation of how the incompleteness and disorderliness of politics shapes intelligent awareness, and the more we are willing to be molded by principles like complementarity and indeterminacy, paradox and uncertainty, the more likely we are to be found engaged in the distinctive and consequential political affairs of our day.

Jacoby's reflections indicate that in general university professors have a preoccupation with something other than everyday politics. We are immersed in such arenas as "the personal as political", deconstructionism, literary criticism or political correctness. There is a kind of certainty and unhealthy confidence, a sense of control and orderly study associated with such research. Engagement in politics is, by comparison and perhaps by nature, unpredictable, perplexing, often bizarre, unbounded, and unmanageable. In general all of us know that we learn some of life's greatest lessons in moments of great challenge, adversity and responsibility. Yet it appears difficult to redefine a professional role and its cardinal attributes like objectivity to reflect larger understandings about life. Objectivity could be reassessed as a quality which grows out of empathy and the virtues associated with commitment and responsibility. In so doing what is known about life in general might be realized in the political realm as well, that is, more may be learned about politics, its nature and appropriate action through the very turbulence of politics itself.

Paulo Freire and the Sectarian Nature of Order

Turning to the larger question of how we confront politics generally it must be asked whether that encounter is jaundiced by how concepts like order and disorder are understood. Many or most of us have read some of the work of the late Paulo Freire (1921-1997). There are a few exceptional pages in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970: 21-24) which set out three major approaches to political thinking and future planning in politics. These pages are uniquely instructive for this examination of order and disorder. Allow me to recapitulate the arguments and apply them to this context.

In circumstances of political oppression and the need for social transformation Freire argues that there are two sectarian positions which are commonly held by political actors, one of the right and one of the left. There are those who would make of the future political world a continuation of the past. The future order must be shaped by established practices and thus remain an extension of what we already know and experience. The political order we know is the order we should replicate in the future. This preservation of the status quo constitutes a sectarianism of the right.

On the other hand the sectarianism of the left takes a predetermined plan and tailors the future to fit those blueprints. This equally ideological position is a sectarianism of thought and planning in the same way that the former, sectarianism of the right, is an ideology of action or inaction. But both are rooted in certainties, the first about the venerability of the existing order, the second about the sanctity of a foreordained design. The sectarianism of the right is illustrated by a brutal elite seeking to maintain its control of a regime (Freire had in mind the former military dictatorship in Brazil) but it may also be buttressed by oppressed peasants whose fatalism--my subordinate position is decreed by God and rebellion is a sin--helps uphold the status quo. The left sectarian position can be witnessed when insurrectionists perpetuate violence as they succeed one set of oppressors by another except that their portrait of order is an oppressive blueprint instead of the perpetuation of an existing prison.

In dialectical opposition to these postures Freire posits the truly revolutionary stance which grows out of a problem-posing or liberatory pedagogy. In this third situation students or peasants are "considerers" of the political and economic world around them; they are "readers of the world" or partners in transforming a world which is incomplete and can be refashioned in part by their activity. Such students or peasants cease to be mere "readers of the word" in which the teacher-elite-expert pours knowledge about the world into them as empty vessels. When the world order is in the making fatalism is set aside in favour of a world which "mediates" between teachers-as-students, (or leaders-as-followers) and students-as-teachers (followers-as-leaders). The political world is unfinished, it can be remade by all participants and each one learns from that incomplete world and from one another. The design is not predetermined, nor is it a completed past, the world is still un-ordered, its builders uncertain as to its eventual shape but moved by their interdependence, mutual trust and faith in the possibilities of the future.

The value of Freire's pedagogy in our consideration of order and disorder is that the ingredients which make it work are humility, dialogue and critical thinking, all of which grow out of the absence of a clearly defined order and an unwillingness to contrive one. In fact, the recognition of one's own dehumanization in the existing order is the key to Freire's pedagogy.

Freire claims that the paramount problem of a pedagogy of liberation is the question "How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation"? (1970: 33) In making this the central theme of his most significant work he is acknowledging that oppression and disorder are pervasive and that only by a conscientization or critical awareness of one's own perverted consciousness in the context of this disorder--assisted by others who may not share all aspects of it like the teacher-as-student--is liberation possible. Oppression, dehumanization and disorder are the unfortunate realities which must be encountered, not denied by the glamorization of the existing order by right sectarianism, nor masked by new forms of disorder and injustice projected by leftist insurgents.

Freire's pedagogy is dialogical, problem-posing; it is built upon the rock of uncertainty, and "untested feasibilities". We may engage in tentative activities aimed at moving beyond where we are stuck by what he calls "limit-acts" in "limit-situations", provisional undertakings in recognition of the invariable lack of a fixed order. Our provisional act within one confined situation may lift us beyond that limiting situation only to confront another but this is how progress and justice will continue to be enhanced for as long as we do not mistake any given "limit-situation" as the final state of security and order.

Ivan Illich and the Convivial Nature of Disorder

In 1970 Paulo Freire was just one of a prestigious group of "thoughtful critics of education" gathered together in Cuernavaca, Mexico by Ivan Illich (1926--) "to address the futility of schooling". (Illich. 1996; vii) Illich began to use the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca not only to develop ideas about his interest in desestablishing schools but to discourage first world writers, thi9nker,s students and missionaries from "polluting the social imagination" of third world

countries by their intent to do good and bring western institutions and order to impoverished peoples. He told a group of American Peace Corps and other young people at this time: "Come to look, come to climb our mountains, enjoy our flowers, come to study. But do not come to help". (Illich, 1969: 320)

Illich's views of society and its political order differed noticeably from his Brazilian friend. Freire's experience had been in the development of learning circles amongst common peasants and he had painstakingly developed an alternative pedagogy which was so politically explosive as to cause the Brazilian regime to imprison him, threaten him with his life, and eventually banish him from the country. Illich, on the other hand, would eventually come to appreciate that all formal schooling was an instrument of control and belatedly that all learning exercised in the context of scarcity made of education and knowledge a scarce commodity, controlled by others and not freely available to all.

In his most recent comments (1996: vii-x) on his best known work Deschooling Society (1970) Illich has made it clear that he was and is not arguing for an elimination of schools but for a new balance to oppose "learning needs" and "lifelong learning". Illich has argued in the past that schools as a process make learning a commodity and, therefore, make it scarce: by placing it in the hands of "certified experts"; by forcing its participants to file through years of ritualization; by engendering a "hidden curriculum" that only what is taught in school is truly worth learning; and by justifying a "schooled elite" which allows the vast majority of "third world" students to experience drop-out and self-defined failure. Today, however, Illich focuses on the end or goal of education, and not just the process of schooling. All education, whether in schools, on t.v., or as proliferated amongst other agencies "when it takes place under the assumption of scarcity in the means which produce it" is socially controlled learning. He concludes:

If the means for learning (in general) are abundant, rather than scarce, then education never arises--one does not need to make special arrangements for "learning." If, on the other hand, the means for learning are in scarce supply, or are assumed to be scarce, then educational arrangements crop up to "ensure" that certain important knowledge, ideas, skills, attitudes, etc., are "transmitted." Education then becomes an economic commodity, which one consumes, or, to use common language, which one "gets." Scarcity emerges both from our perceptions, which are massaged by education professionals who are in the business of imputing educational needs, and from actual societal arrangements that make access to tools and to skilled, knowledgable people hard to come by--that is, scarce. (1996: ix)

Illich speaks of "tools" in a generic sense. A tool may as readily be an institution like the school, a commonly employed agent like the telephone, the Internet, or an instrument like the tape-recorder or out-board motor. Illich differentiates between "manipulative" and "convivial" tools. The former are controlled by a few in a top-down manner and monopolize access to particular goods and services demanding a cost in terms of money, skills and entry and thus restricting their use. The school and the superhighway serve as prime examples. He employs the term "convivial" to indicate a tool which may readily be used by all at little or no cost for purposes and at a time defined by the user, for example a hammer or the telephone.

In his book Tools for Conviviality (1973) Illich describes a multiple balance between the two types of tools. This multiple balance exists at the environmental level where biological degradation in the forms of overpopulation, excessive affluence and faulty technology increase with little counter-thrust by agents of thrift and sustenance; and at the level of work where radical monopolies dominate not only the brand of transport (Hyundai versus General Motors) but the mode of transportation (high-speed highway travel versus pathways by cart and bicycle). Failure to grasp the profound imbalance at these two levels is facilitated by a third imbalance in the area of learning: the overprogramming of a schooled society where licensed education outweighs in prestige, time, resources and certified practitioners all convivial forms of unlicensed and spontaneous learning. This overprogramming is also indicative of the fourth imbalance, a polarization between rich and poor based on an "institutionalization of values", or institutionally designated values, goods and services for needs defined by the service-producing agencies themselves. These corporately delineated needs or values replace any convivially determined wants and instigate "a modernization of poverty" as ever larger numbers of people remain not only physically impoverished but psychologically impotent in their institutional dependency.

Illich continues his delicate "mobile-like" portrait of the multiple balance by pointing to the asymmetry between present goals, practices and values--what he calls an "enforced obsolescence"--and its contempt for tradition and grounding. He concludes with an index of frustration which grows out of all the previous imbalances, where processes extinguish rights and where the functions listed above: biological, ", meaning, freedom and roots--insofar as [one] can still enjoy them--are reduced to concessions, which optimize the logic of tools". The individual is "reduced", he says, "to an indefinitely malleable resource of a corporate state." (Illich, 1973: 83-4)

The picture of multiple balance which he portrays is an outgrowth of perceived order. A watershed of desirable and constructive output for energy invested is reached say along the lines of medical research and the control of diseases caused by squalor at the turn of the twentieth century. The second watershed occurs when the time and energy invested in the same process produces a decline in desired output. More time, money, and procedures invested in the health professions result in less care, undermined self-knowledge, an increase in unhealthy life styles, doctor-induced illnesses, panic avoidance of pain and denial of death, prodigal services for the rich and less palliative assistance for the poor. It is as if there is no recognition of limits and that humans might yet do what God could not--save others by our own benevolent institutions. (Illich, 1970: 73) After the second watershed, and by means of the institutionalization of values, services are provided with confidence in the effectiveness and general acceptability of those dominant institutions. This is our perceived good order. What is to warn us of its destructive potential when it is here that our certainty best resides, in schools, health services, and economic and political institutions of long standing?

In a visit to Nova Scotia, Canada in 1976 Ivan Illich referred to himself as "a well-disciplined Christian anarchist". His thinking is a "disciplined" appreciation of the destructiveness of what we now call order and his preference for spontaneous, convivial and anarchistic activity is a necessary corollary to that oppressive system. What will help us to name this system for what it is? Disorder, after all, is akin to the very spontaneity and conviviality which Illich advocates.

In the balance which Illich has attempted to achieve in his own life he has often moved in and out of a medieval setting and time space, only to return "crab-like" to reconsider modern concepts and institutions in the light of that medieval perspective. He has described the carrying of modern-day concepts, what we take for granted, into a discussion with Hugh of St. Victor in c1120. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation writer and producer David Cayley asked Illich why he was working on a book about Hugh and the history of reading.

...I would like to get a certain number of people to think about what tools do to our perception rather than what we can do with them, to look at how tools shape our mind, how their use shapes our perception of reality, rather than how we shape reality by applying or using them. In other words, I'm interested in the symbolic fallout of tools, and how this fallout is reflected in the sacramental tool structure of the world. (Cayley, 1992: 224)

Illich presents 20th century concepts to Hugh and imagines how the perceptive 12th century thinker would respond. Such an exchange of views allows Illich to return to 20th century (or 21st century) order with a new sense of scepticism and wonder.

If therefore, I tell you that today I am concerned with a commentary on that twelfth-century text, my main purpose in doing so is to point out that we have come to live in a society where the most important effect which our major tool systems have is to shape our view of reality and to generate in us a set of certainties. (Cayley, 1992: 111)

Returning from the twelfth century his and our certainties are shaken, our sacred outlines of order erased. The place of schools is reconfigured in light of its limited history, and perceptions of needs and values reframed to appreciate a more convivial, less corporately defined milieu.

Mary Kaldor (1997: 24) as well as Michael Ignatieff (1998: 9-33) reiterate the effect of one dominant contemporary tool--television. The pictures on t.v. portray atrocities world-wide but they don't ensure that they are felt. The network-dominated confusion of fact and fiction, local and global, results in a manipulative tool "through which sensibility is numbed".

This desensitization is thoughtfully examined by Illich when he treats the concept of care, as predominant as it is, as a "mask of love". The pressure to care for others, even those whom you have not seen may be a means of avoiding self-giving. Illich explains in the context of starving children in the African Sahel:

my immediate reaction is I will do everything I can to eliminate from my heart any sense of care for them. I want to experience horror. I want to really taste this reality about which you report to me. I do not want to escape my sense of helplessness into a pretence that I care and that I do or have done all that which is possible to me. I want to live with the inescapable horror of these children, these persons in my heart. (Illich, 1989: 12)

The affirmation of the notion of caring for others restrains Illich's appropriate action in three significant ways.

Thinking that I care impedes me first from remembering what love would be; second, trains me not to be in that sense loving with the person who is waiting outside this door; third, stops me from taking the next week off to go to demonstrate in front of some industry which I with my intelligence could identify in New York, chain myself to the entrance door so that there's one little step more made against their shares being bought, by which some ecological disaster in the Sahel is supported. (Illich, 1989: 12)

For Illich the conventional compulsion to care is one further example of how our certainties prescribe our truncated behavior. A conditioned rationality avoids what is profoundly upsetting and disorderly and in so doing undermines compassion and misguides our political potential. Illich's trips back to visit Hugh of St. Victor are his way of discovering his and our own certainties, and through that exercise some enlarged capacity for both matters of the heart and of appropriate political activity.

Jiddu Krishnamurti: Disorder as the Creator of Order

Ivan Illich's odyssey in time as a means of confronting certainties is oddly akin to the reflections of the idiosyncratic Eastern thinker Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) educator, lecturer, and world-renowned spiritual leader. Intelligence, for Krishnamurti, is the capacity to face our own conditioning and to develop an awareness of its process. Education constitutes the encouragement of this intelligent awareness in others. (Krishnamurti, 1953: 14) Without decrying civic order Krishnamurti disavows all forms of authority, not only religious and political doctrines and ideologies but all structures, practices and internalized or self-appropriated forms of spiritual guidance. Authority, even when voluntarily internalized cannot overcome our cultural and social conditioning because truth is not preordained or set. Truth lies in what we do not know and not in what is already known and accepted. We cannot know what we are, only what we are not. Truth is a product of life and openness, facing the present without having misshapen it by doctrinal and authoritative encirclements or the enclosures of ambitions, intentions, plans and ideals. In order to integrate with what is in the present one has to be open to its potential and not disciplined to tailor it to fit one's previous experience and thinking. Idealism is one of the most common ways of resisting what is, since the ideals of the "what should be" displace the "what is".

There is no escape from the conditioned and limited ego. No set of ideals, no commitment to non-violence, no psychological analysis, justification or condemnation of past failures separates the one analyzing, justifying or condemning from the one being judged. They are both one and the same person. And just as the neurotic person is incapable of improving her or his health in and by one's own thinking (for neurotic thinking defines neurosis) so judging or analyzing one's behavior cannot bring about an end to one's particular conditioning. Similarly, idealism enlarges internal conflict by piling the demand for ideal behavior on to the already existing inability to perceive what is.

Krishnamurti argues that we are our conditioning. But it is possible for truth, insight and our unconditioned religious minds to accept imperturbably our deficient and quite chaotic selves which cannot be separated from the incompleteness and disorder about us. In such a choiceless awareness or acceptance, akin to Freire's conscientization and Illich's meeting with Hugh of St. Victor, is to be found the only source of constructive political action, free from all neurotic or perverted and oppressed consciousness. We are the disorder which we project outside of ourselves and in other times and places. We are the socially conditioned about which we complain.

We are that culture, we are that society. Merely to revolt against it is to revolt against ourselves. If you rebel against yourself, not knowing what you are, your rebellion is utterly wasted. But to be aware, without condemnation, of what you are--such awareness brings about action which is entirely different from the action of a reformer or a revolutionary. (Lutyens, 1973: 113)

One striking illustration of the limitations and power of our conditioning, even of our grasp of disorder and its associated anarchy, violence and corruption, can be observed in the Clausewitzian view of war. The view that war constitutes a continuation of political dealings is based on the assumptions of state interests, rational calculations with "ordered diplomacy, legally binding treaties...military discipline, obedience of subordinates to lawful superiors" and war defined in narrow forms with recognized conventions including a beginning and end. The insightful military historian John Keegan (1994: 1-10) has illustrated the inability of the equally great expert on war, Karl von Clausewitz, to accept endemic wars--the kind of warfare we see today in the Balkans or the former Soviet Transcaucasia which Keegan describes as

...ancient in origin and seem to have as their object that "territorial displacement" familiar to anthropologists from their study of "primitive war". Such conflicts by their nature defy efforts at mediation from outside, since they are fed by passions and rancour that do not yield to rational measures of persuasion or control; they are apolitical, to a degree for which Clausewitz made little allowance. (Keegan, 1994: 58)

In the Clausewitzian order, where war is a continuation of policy, the recognition of the nature of non-state or endemic war, as indicated above, is discouraged just because it is seen as primitive, endemic and chaotic. Mary Kaldor supports Keegan's views and argues that "the disintegration of states is central to an understanding of the new wars". (1997: 14) Contemporary warfare in Kosovo and Chechyna, Bosnia and Rwanda is post- not pre-Clausewitzian. It is incorrect to judge pre-Clausewitzian war as lacking in culturally-defined needs and goals. Examining ethnicity is often viewed as a romanticized or mysticized endeavor by social scientists who fear "primordial interpretation" and the pitfalls of racism and reductionism. (Carment & James, 1997: 253) The "new wars" follow after the ordered nature of national conflicts and ideological Cold War disputes and are based on labels not nations, on fear, corruption, famine, rape, dispersion of populations and the contrived desecration of "whatever has social meaning" and not on "rational" state policy. Distinctions between military activities and violent crime, public and private, internal and external, state and non-state are often non-existent just because of the disintegration of states. The danger is, as Kaldor points out, "If war is still perceived in Clausewitzian terms then the new warfare is incomprehensible except in terms of "anarchy" or "primitivism". Even the "fault lines" explanations of "orderly" or predictable confrontations between civilizations (India versus Pakistan, the West versus the rest) made popular by Samuel Huntington (1993) and reviewed in current texts (Sens & Stoett, 1998: 371-373) ignores the root hatred fomented by leaders. These are all examples of an incapacity to confront what we characterize as disorder.

The order which Clausewitz himself assumes is one which also masks the disorderliness and horror of its own perspective. Clausewitz ascribed the burning of Moscow in 1812 to "a result of the disorder" and the pillaging habits of the Cossacks. He was unable to accept the fact that rather than accidental the burning had been a deliberate scorching policy designed to deny Napoleon the prize of victory. Similarly, Clausewitz could describe to his wife scenes of brutality which caused him "shuddering horror" committed by Cossacks "riding down stragglers at the point of a lance, selling prisoners to the peasants for cash and stripping the unsaleable ones to the bare skin for the sake of their rags"--in general a position of brutality for the weak and cowardice towards the brave. (Keegan, 1994: 8-9; Parkinson, 1970: 194) Yet Clausewitz could not identify as butchery the slaughter of disciplined troops standing obdurately and mute-like for hours in lines under point-blank artillery fire, swimming in their own and colleagues' blood, where on one night alone a Napoleon physician performed 200 amputations. Of these inabilities Keegan concludes:

...we are hardened to what we know, and we rationalize and even justify cruelties practised by us and our like while retaining the capacity to be outraged, even disgusted by practices equally cruel, which, under the hands of strangers, take different form. (Keegan, 1994: 9)

Keegan's portrayal of the cultural limitations of Clausewitz is a sobering reminder of the value of Krishnamurti's view on conditioning as a result of what is known. Clausewitz categorized war on the basis of his regimental experience and overlooked its peculiar brutality and irrational cultural conditioning. The First World War and its anarchic trench war-fare led to evidence of gross disorder beyond the political frame that Clausewitz had hypothesized. Krishnamurti's thinking provides a framework within which we may recognize our inability to grasp what is foreign and unknown and, therefore, pre-judged to be chaotic, disorderly and beyond meaning. Such judgments discourage us from a deeper examination of what is labelled not simply unknown, but chaotic or disorderly as well. In addition, Krishnamurti's thinking helps us recognize our incapacity to accept our own conditioning replete with its restricted, disordered and often violent nature, even though it may be attested to in the name of ideals and certainties.


For Krishnamurti as well as Freire and Illich the true political revolution is about overcoming the external certainties of a disordered society in favour of an ordered mind which " not the design of thought, the design of obedience to a principle, to authority, or to some form of imagined goodness" (Krishnamurti) (Lutyens, 1973: 300). It is about those "running the risks the struggle to build the future" rather than "closing themselves into 'circles of certainty' from which they cannot escape" (Freire, 1970: 23). And it is about differentiating the older from the new "....certainties by which we can talk to each other without ever mentioning them--because they lie, so to speak, beyond the horizon of our attention". (Illich) (Cayley, 1992: 124).

What these three positions have in common is a conviction that injustice, violence and disorder exist not just in Kosovo, Chechyna or Nigeria, but throughout North America, Western Europe, Asia and all corners of the world. In so saying they would not repress our sensitivity to those apparently more violent orders. Rather, they would call us back to understanding the violent potential for order within our own lives and a reinterpretation of what constitutes order around us. They would have us grasp the disorderly nature of what we now call order, they would have us use our knowledge of the disorder which lies within us and without to act politically without perpetuating injustice and violence, and they would have us educate and research in the knowledge that we cannot isolate disorder from our own potential for intelligence and compassion.

Larry J. Fisk


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