Illich on contingency rivers-north-of-future-illich


Fukuyama on the "end of history" end-of-history

What we think of as the "inevitable march of history" was very much contingent & up in the air for those in the thick of it. It's only when the war is won, and the victors have written the history books, that we try to apply explanations after-the-fact as to why things turned out a certain way.

The standard account promoted by revolutionary elites is buttressed by the way in which the historical process itself "naturalizes" the world, erasing evidence of its contingency. Those who fought in "The Russian Revolution" discovered this fact about themselves only later, when the revolution was an accomplished fact. In the same way, none of the historical participants in, say, World War I or the Battle of the Bulge, not to mention the Reformation or the Renaissance, knew at the time that they were participating in anything that could be so summarily described. And because things do turn out in a certain way after all, with certain patterns or causes that are clear in retrospect, it is not surprising that the outcome should sometimes seem inevitable. Everyone forgets that it might all have turned out quite differently.36 In that forgetting, another step in naturalizing the revolutionary triumph has been taken.37

seeing-like-a-statech. 5

Social and historical analyses have, almost inevitably, the effect of diminishing the contingency of human affairs. A historical event or state of affairs simply is the way it is, often appearing determined and necessary when in fact it might easily have turned out to be otherwise. Even a probabilistic social science, however careful it may be about establishing ranges of outcomes, is apt to treat these probabilities, for the sake of analysis, as solid facts. When it comes to betting on the future, the contingency is obvious, but so is the capacity of human actors to influence this contingency and help to shape the future. And in those cases where the bettors thought that they knew the shape of the future by virtue of their grasp of historical laws of progress or scientific truth, whatever awareness they retained of the contingency seemed to dissolve before their faith.

seeing-like-a-statech. 9

Maybe relevant: everything-is-obvious


"Hard" (quantitative) sciences vs "soft" (qualitative) sciences

Dead, inert matter vs live, reactive beings


Where metis is contextual and particular, techne is universal

Plato / techne vs Socrates / metis vs Aristotle / ???

The spheres of human endeavor that are freest of contingency, guesswork, context, desire, and personal experience-and thus free of metis-hence came to be perceived as man's highest pursuits. They are the philosopher's work.


A recurrent theme of Western philosophy and science, including social science, has been the attempt to reformulate systems of knowledge in order to bracket uncertainty and thereby permit the kind of logical deductive rigor possessed by Euclidean geometry.


The aim of Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarians was, through their calculus of pleasure and pain (hedonism), to reduce the study of ethics to a pure natural science, to an examination of "every circumstance by which an individual can be influenced, being remarked and inventoried, nothing ... left to chance, caprice, or unguided discretion, everything being surveyed and set down in dimension, number, weight, and measure." 30


The discipline has incorporated calculable risk while exiling those topics where genuine uncertainty prevails (ecological dangers, shifts in taste).33 As Stephen Marglin shows, "the emphasis on self-interest, calculation, and maximization in economics" are classical examples of "self-evident postulates" and reflect "more an ideological commitment to the superiority of episteme than a serious attempt to unravel the complexities and mysteries of human motivation and behavior."34


Formulas of efficiency, production functions, and rational action are specifiable only when the ends sought are simple, sharply defined, and hence measurable.


Metis, with the premium it places on practical knowledge, experience, and stochastic reasoning, is of course not merely the now-superseded precursor of scientific knowledge. It is the mode of reasoning most appropriate to complex material and social tasks where the uncertainties are so daunting that we must trust our (experienced) intuition and feel our way.

seeing-like-a-statech. 9

(compare with "what it means to be human" in most-human-human as computers gradually took over everything free of contingency... and then some)


rivers-north-of-future-illich Illich, Ivan. 2005. The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich. House of Anansi Press. ↩︎ 1

end-of-history Fukuyama, Francis. 2012. The End of History and the Last Man. Penguin. ↩︎ 1

everything-is-obvious Watts, Duncan J. Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer. ↩︎ 1

most-human-human Christian, Brian. 2011. The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive. Doubleday. ↩︎ 1

seeing-like-a-state Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. ↩︎ 1 2 3