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Propriety of the Erich Fromm Document Center. For personal use only. Citation or publication of mate- rial prohibited without express written permission of the copyright holder. Eigentum des Erich Fromm Dokumentationszentrums. Nutzung nur für persönliche Zwecke. Veröffentli- chungen – auch von Teilen – bedürfen der schriftlichen Erlaubnis des Rechteinhabers. page 1 of 8 Illich, I., 1971 The Dawn of Epimethean Man The Dawn of Epimethean Man Ivan Illich “The Dawn of Epimeth
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    Propriety of the Erich Fromm Document Center. For personal use only. Citation or publication of mate-rial prohibited without express written permission of the copyright holder. Eigentum des Erich Fromm Dokumentationszentrums. Nutzung nur für persönliche Zwecke. Veröffentli-chungen – auch von Teilen – bedürfen der schriftlichen Erlaubnis des Rechteinhabers. page 1  of 8 Illich I. 1971 The Dawn of Epimethean Man   The Dawn of Epimethean Man Ivan Illich “The Dawn of Epimethean Man, in: B. Landis and E. S. Tauber (Eds.): In the Name of Life: Essays in Honor of Erich Fromm  , New York (Holt, Rinehart and Winston) 1971, pp. 161-173. Founder of the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he now lives and works, Dr. Ivan   Illich is the author of Celebration of Awareness: A Call for Institu- tional Revolution and is widely known for his iconoclastic approach to both educational and reli-gious institutions. Our society is like the ultimate machine which I saw in a New York toy shop. This contraption is the opposite of old Pandora's box. It is a metal casket which snaps open when you touch a switch and reveals a mechanical hand. Chromed fingers reach out for the lid, pull it down, and lock the box from the inside. The srcinal Pan-Dora, the All-Giver, was an Earth goddess in prehistoric matriarchal Greece. She let all ills escape from her amphora, but she closed it before hope could slip out. The history of apollonian man begins with the decay of her myth and comes to an end in the self-sealing casket. It is the history of classical society, in which promethean citizens built institutions to corral the rampant ills. It is the story of declining hope and rising expectations. I want to focus on the ability of man to survive this promethean endeavor, this attempt to escape the punishment of Zeus. I will let the myth speak about the awakening of man from a stable, archaic culture to the precarious balance of historic drama. I will describe the unbalanced attitudes, opinions, and sensitivities which un-derlie contemporary controversy, and compare this new consciousness with both primitive and classical self-awareness. I will then outline the style in which we can hope to survive the threat of being smothered in the man-made pan-hygienic environment of a self-sealing box, and describe the self-chosen poverty we would have to live as Epimethean men. For forty years, Dr. Fromm has pointed toward Bachofen's insight into the most signifi-cant revolution which can be historically stud-ied: the [162] transition from matriarchy to pa-triarchy in preclassical Greece. This essay repre-sents the attempt of his pupil to meditate on the master's treatment of the Oedipus myth, and his attempt to suggest in mythical language that we might just now be going through a revolution no less profound. Archepandora was sent to Earth with ajar which contained all ills; of good things, it con-tained only hope. Primitive man lived in this world of hope. He relied on the munificence of nature, on the handouts of gods and on the in-stincts of his tribe to enable him to subsist. Clas-sical Greeks began to replace hope with expecta-tions. Their version of Pandora let her bring and release both evils and goods. They forgot that the All-Giver (the Pan-Bringer) was the keeper of hope. They remembered Pandora mainly for the ills she had unleashed. They had become moral and misogynous patriarchs who panicked at the thought of the first woman. They built a rational and authoritarian society. They planned and built institutions from which they expected relief from the rampant ills. They became con-scious of their power to fashion the world and make it produce services they also learned to expect. They wanted their own needs and the future demands of their children to be shaped by their artifacts. They became lawgivers, archi-tects, and authors, the makers of constitutions,    Propriety of the Erich Fromm Document Center. For personal use only. Citation or publication of mate-rial prohibited without express written permission of the copyright holder. Eigentum des Erich Fromm Dokumentationszentrums. Nutzung nur für persönliche Zwecke. Veröffentli-chungen – auch von Teilen – bedürfen der schriftlichen Erlaubnis des Rechteinhabers. page 2  of 8 Illich I. 1971 The Dawn of Epimethean Man   cities, and works of art to serve as examples for their offspring. Where primitive man had relied on mythical participation in sacred rites to initi-ate individuals to the lore of the society, the Greeks recognized as true men only the citizens who let themselves be fitted by paideia into the institutions their elders had planned. The myth tells us about the transition from a world in which dreams were interpreted to a world in which oracles were made. From im-memorial time, the Earth Goddess had been worshiped on the slope of Mount Parnassus. There, in Delphi, was the center and navel of the Earth, and there slept Gaia, the sister of Chaos and Eros. Her son Python the dragon guarded her moonlit and dewy dreams, until Apollo the Sun God, the architect of Troy, rose from the east, slew the dragon, and became the owner of Gaia's cave. His priests took over her temple. They employed a local maiden, sat her on a tripod over Earth's smoking navel and made her drowsy with fumes. They then rhymed her ecstatic utterances into hexameters of self-fulfilling prophecies. From all over the Peloponnesus men brought their problems to Apollo's sanctuary. The oracle was consulted on social options, such as measures to be taken to stop a plague or a famine, to choose the right constitution for Sparta or the propitious site for cities which later became Byzantium and Chal-cedon. The never-missing arrow [163] became Apollo's symbol. Everything about him became reasonable and useful. In the Republic, describing the ideal state, Plato already excludes popular music. 1  Only the harp and Apollo's lyre would be permitted in towns because their harmony alone creates the strain of necessity and the strain of freedom, the strain of the unfortunate and the strain of the fortunate, the strain of courage and the strain of temperance which befit the citizen. City dwell-ers panicked before Pan's flute and its power to awaken the instincts. Only the shepherds may play [Pan's] pipes and they only in the country. Apollonian man assumed responsibility for the laws under which he wanted to live and for 1  Plato was conscious that as the mode of music changes the fundamental laws of the state always change with them and if amusement becomes law-less the youth themselves become lawless. the casting of the environment into his own im-age. Primitive initiation into mythical life was transformed into the education (paideia) of the citizen who would feel at home on the forum. The world of the primitive was opaque, factual, and necessary. By stealing the fire from the gods, Prometheus turned facts into prob-lems, called necessity into question and defied fate. Classical man crisscrossed the environment with channels, roads, and bridges, and even cre-ated man-made environments in the form of cit-ies and cathedrals. He was aware that he could defy fate-nature-environment, but only at his risk. Only contemporary man attempts to create the world in his image, to build a totally man-made environment, and then discovers that he can do so only on the condition of constantly remaking man to fit it. We now must face the fact that man himself is at stake in his transition from Apollo to spaceman. Only those who have grasped this can grow beyond the processes launched by Prometheus, and the stage of Apollo, into the epoch of epimethean men. That man can gamble on the survival of mankind to satisfy his fancy became manifest in the special supplement which The New York Times published for the first day of this decade. Every article bespeaks the perplexity of inhabi-tants in a totally man-made world. Life today in New York produces a very peculiar vision of what is and what can be, and without this vi-sion, life in New York is impossible. A child on the streets of New York never touches anything which has not been scientifically developed, en-gineered, planned, and sold to someone. Even the trees are there because the Parks Department decided to put them there. The jokes [164] he hears on television have been programed at a high cost. The refuse with which the child plays in the streets of Harlem is made of broken pack-ages planned for somebody else. Even desires and fears are institutionally shaped. Power and violence are organized and managed: it is the gangs versus the police. Learning itself is denned as a consumption of subject matter, which is the result of a researched, planned, and promoted program. Whatever good there is, is the product of some specialized institution and it would therefore be foolish to demand something which some institution cannot produce. The    Propriety of the Erich Fromm Document Center. For personal use only. Citation or publication of mate-rial prohibited without express written permission of the copyright holder. Eigentum des Erich Fromm Dokumentationszentrums. Nutzung nur für persönliche Zwecke. Veröffentli-chungen – auch von Teilen – bedürfen der schriftlichen Erlaubnis des Rechteinhabers. page 3  of 8 Illich I. 1971 The Dawn of Epimethean Man   child of the city cannot expect anything which lies outside the possible development of institu-tional process. Even his fantasy is prompted to produce science fiction. He can derive the poetic surprise of the unplanned only from the encoun-ter with dirt, blunder, or failure: the orange peel in the gutter, the puddle in the street, the breakdown of order, program, or machine, are the only takeoffs for creative fancy. Goofing off becomes the only poetry at hand. Since there is nothing desirable which has not been planned, it soon becomes a verity for the city child that we will always be able to de-sign an institution for our every want. He takes for granted the power of process to create value. Whether the goal is meeting a mate, inte-grating a neighborhood, or acquiring reading skills, it will be defined in such a way that its achievement can be engineered. The man who knows that nothing which is in demand is out of production soon expects that nothing which is produced can be out of demand. If a moon ve-hicle can be designed, so can the demand to go to the moon. Not to go where one can go would be a subversive act. It would unmask as folly the assumption that every satisfied demand entails the discovery of an even greater unsatis-fied one. Such insight would stop progress. Not to produce what is possible would expose the law of rising expectations as a euphemism for a growing frustration gap, which is the motor of a society built on the coproduction of services and increased demand. The Greeks replaced hope with expecta-tions. They framed a civilized context for a hu-man perspective. The modern city replaces the classical city with a world of ever-rising expecta-tions, and thereby forever rules out all satisfac-tion. The state of mind of the modern city dweller appears in the mythical tradition only under the image of hell: Sisyphus, who for a while had chained Thanatos (death), must roll a heavy stone up the hill to the pinnacle of hell, and the stone always slips from his grip just when he is about to reach the top. Tantalus, who was invited by the gods to share their meal, and on that occasion stole their secret of how to prepare [165] allhealing Ambrosia, suf-fers eternal hunger and thirst standing in a river of receding waters, overshadowed by fruit trees with receding branches. A world of ever-rising demands is not just evil—it can be spoken of only as hell. Man has developed the frustrating omnipo-tence to be unable to demand anything because he also cannot visualize anything which an insti-tution cannot do for him. Surrounded by om-nipotent tools, man is reduced to a tool of his tools. Each of the institutions meant to exorcise one of the primeval evils has become a fail-safe self-sealing coffin for man. Man is trapped in the boxes he makes to contain the ills Pandora al-lowed to escape. The blackout of reality in the smog produced by our tools has enveloped us quite suddenly. Just as the rise of Apollo, of civi-lization and critical thought, happened sud-denly, like a sunrise, so—quite suddenly—we find ourselves in the darkness of our own trap.  When I grew up in the thirties, the world was still permeated by the common sense of Apollo. I shared with my contemporaries certain notions of reality which lay beyond the reach of the scientist, engineer, or educator. We believed that there were some things not made by man, some things which could never be wished away.  Whatever expectations we formulated, they were still rooted in the earth. Progress had not yet overtaken development—we still expected the engineer to increase our satisfactions while reducing our wants. We had not yet fallen vic-tims to the new dogma that all men were insa-tiable consumers—and had a right to equal madness. This has changed for those born after Hi-roshima, those born right into the coffin. Reality itself has become dependent on human decision. The same president who ordered the ineffective invasion of Cambodia could equally well order the effective use of the atom. The Hiroshima switch has become the navel of the Earth, which could be cut by man himself. This new omphalmos is a constant reminder that our in-stitutions not only create their own ends, but also have the power to put an end to them-selves and to us. The absurdity of modern insti-tutions is evident in the case of the military. Modern weapons can defend freedom, civiliza-tion, and life only by annihilating them. Security in military language means the ability to do away with the Earth.    Propriety of the Erich Fromm Document Center. For personal use only. Citation or publication of mate-rial prohibited without express written permission of the copyright holder. Eigentum des Erich Fromm Dokumentationszentrums. Nutzung nur für persönliche Zwecke. Veröffentli-chungen – auch von Teilen – bedürfen der schriftlichen Erlaubnis des Rechteinhabers. page 4  of 8 Illich I. 1971 The Dawn of Epimethean Man   The absurdity underlying the nonmilitary institutions is no less manifest. There is no switch in them to activate their destructive power, but neither do they need a switch. Their grip is al-ready fastened to the lid of the world. They cre-ate needs faster than they can create satisfaction, and in the process of trying to meet the needs they generate, they consume the [166] Earth. This is true for agriculture and manufacturing, and no less for medicine and education. Modern agriculture poisons and exhausts the soil. The green revolution can, by means of new seeds, triple the output of an acre—but only with an even greater proportional increase of fertilizers, insecticides, water, and power. Manufacturing of these, as of all other goods, pollutes the oceans and the atmosphere and degrades irre-placeable resources. If combustion continues to increase at present rates we will soon consume the oxygen of the atmosphere faster than it can be replaced. We can then calculate the day when we will wither like mice locked into a jar with a burning candle. We have no reason to believe that fission or fusion can replace com-bustion without equal or higher hazards. Medi-cine men replace midwives and promise to make man into something else: genetically planned, pharmacologically sweetened, and ca-pable of more protracted sickness. The contem-porary ideal is a pan-hygienic world: a world in which all contacts between men, and between men and their world, are the result of foresight and manipulation. School has become the planned process which tools man for a planned world, the principal tool to trap man in man's trap. It is supposed to shape each man to an adequate level for playing a part in this world game. Inexorably we cultivate, treat, produce, and school the world out of existence. The military institution is evidently absurd. The absurdity of nonmilitary institutions is more difficult to face. It is even more frightening, pre-cisely because it operates inexorably. We know which switch must stay open to avoid an atomic holocaust. No switch detains an ecological Ar-mageddon. One important reason for our perplexity is a lack of insight into the sudden emergence of a new style of social reality. It may help us to un-derstand this reality if we compare it in a num-ber of specific aspects with the respective worlds of primitive man and apollonian man. Primitive man found himself in a world in which he lived in hope and trembling. His cul-ture provided a stable balance, unchangeable within the horizon of one—or even several— generations. Apollonian man rendered this bal-ance unstable; he discovered that he could in-crease his chance for survival, and he could in-crease his ability to develop into fuller manhood by creating institutions which would meet his new expectations on a new level of balance. For him the instability of culture became a valuable asset. Contemporary man has gone one step fur-ther. He objects in principle to the existence of a balanced world. Such a world for him would be worthless. He wants to build and manage insti-tutions which can increase output [167] indefi-nitely, which can coproduce goods and ever ris-ing expectations, and which can insure all men of the world the status of consumers with equal rights. Primitive man satisfied his hunger in a fac-tual manner; he expressed his creativity in tradi-tional forms. He cultivated—but did not con-ceive of the world as a project. Apollonian man learned to develop new appetites and the right to the satisfaction of new needs. For him society was itself the result of an endeavor which could reach its maturity only by acquiring and satisfy-ing new civilized needs. Contemporary man be-lieves in the constant progress of man in the world, and in the progress of the world itself. Progress swallows development, because con-tinued improvement denies the possibility that any process leads to maturity. According to the contemporary world view, man can always profit from and therefore always and at all cost should seek further schooling, further medical service, further acquisitive power. Society can always profit from further expansion or im-provement of a chance for some of its members. Contemporary man replaces the idea of civilized life, with equal rights, to make ever new de-mands for consumption which generate ever more ravenous needs. For his sustenance, primitive man inescapa-bly depended on the handouts or the caprice of gods, and on the instinct of the members of his tribe, and on the munificence of nature. He
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