Ivan Illich

Disabling Professions




A powerful warning against the dominion of the so-called professionals that want to be and very often are in charge of our life, dictating what our needs and forms of behaviour should be.



One way to close an age is to give it a name that sticks. I propose that we name the mid-twentieth century The Age of Disabling Professions, an age when people had "problems", experts had "solutions" and scientists measured imponderables such as "abilities" and "needs". This age is now at an end, just as the age of energy splurges has ended. The illusions that made both ages possible are increasingly visible to common sense. But no public choice has yet been made. Social acceptance of the illusion of professional omniscience and omnipotence may result either in compulsory political creeds (with their accompanying versions of a new fascism), or in yet another historical emergence of neo-Promethean but essentially ephemeral follies. Informed choice requires that we examine the specific role of the professions in determining who got what from whom and why, in this age.

To see the present clearly, let us imagine the children who will soon play in the ruins of school buildings, air terminals and hospitals. In these concrete castles turned cathedrals, built to protect us against ignorance, discomfort, pain and death, the children of tomorrow will reenact in their play the delusions of our Age of Professions, as from ancient castles and cathedrals we reconstruct today the crusades of knights against sin and Turk in the Age of Faith. Children in their games will mingle the uniquack which now pollutes our language with archaisms inherited from robber barons and cowboys. I see them addressing each other as chairman and secretary rather than as chief and lord. Even now some adults have the grace to blush when they slip into managerial pidgin English with terms such as policy-making, social planning and problem-solving.

The Age of Professions will be remembered as the time when politics withered, when voters, guided by professors, entrusted to technocrats the power to legislate needs, renounced the authority to decide who needs what and suffered monopolistic oligarchies to determine the means by which these needs shall be met. It will be remembered as the age of schooling, when people for one-third of their lives had their learning needs prescribed and were trained how to accumulate further needs, and for the other two-thirds became clients of prestigious pushers who managed their habits. It will be remembered as the age when recreational travel meant a packaged gawk at strangers, and intimacy meant following the sexual rues laid down by Masters and Johnson and their kin; when formed opinion was a replay of last night's TV talk-show, and voting the approval of persuaders and salesmen for more of the same.

Future students will be as much confused by the supposed differences between capitalist and socialist professional institutions as today's students are by the claimed differences between late Reformation Christian sects. They will discover that the professional librarians, surgeons, or supermarket-designers in poor and/or socialist countries towards the end of each decade came to keep the same records, used the same tools, built the same spaces that their colleagues in rich countries had pioneered at the decade's beginning. Archeologists will label the ages of our lifespan not by potsherds but by professional fashions, reflected in the mod-trends of UN publications.

It would be pretentious to predict if this age, when needs were shaped by professional design, will be remembered with a smile or with a curse. I do, of course, hope that it will be remembered as the night when father went on a binge, dissipated the family fortune, and obligated the children to start anew. Sadly, and much more probably, it will be remembered as the age when a whole generation's frenzied pursuit of impoverishing wealth rendered all freedoms alienable and, after first turning politics into the organized gripes of weIfare-recipients, extinguished itself in a benign totalitarianism. I consider such a descent into techno-fascism as unavoidable unless the major thrust of social criticism begins to change from the support of a new or radical professionalism into the endorsement of a patronizing and sceptical attitude towards the experts — especially when they presume to diagnose and to prescribe. As technology is blamed for environmental degradation, the complaint may be turned into a demand that engineers ought to study biology. As long as hospital catastrophes are blamed on the rapacious doctor or the negligent nurse, the question of whether the patient can in principle benefit from hospitalization is never raised. If mere capitalist gain is blamed for an economics of inequality, industrial standardization and concentration — causing an unequal power structure — will be left uncriticized and unchanged.

Only if we understand the way in which dependence on commodities has legitimized wants, coined them urgent and exasperated needs while simultaneously destroying people's ability to fend for themselves, can the progress into a new dark age be avoided, an age in which masturbatory self-indulgence might be the safest assertion of independence. Only if our culture's market intensity is systematically exposed as the source of its deepest built-in frustrations will we stop the current perversion of research, ecological concern and the class struggle itself. Presently, these activities are principally in the service of an increased servitude of people to commodities.

The return to an era that fosters participatory politics in which needs are defined by general consent is hampered by an obstacle that is both brittle and unexamined: the role that a new kind of professional elite plays in validating the worldwide religion that promotes impoverishing greed. It is therefore necessary that we clearly understand, 1) the nature of professional dominance, 2) the effects of professional establishment, 3) the characteristics of imputed needs and 4) the illusions which have enslaved us to professional management.



Let us first face the fact that the bodies of specialists that now dominate the creation, adjudication and implementation of needs are a new kind of cartel. They are more deeply entrenched than a Byzantine bureaucracy, more international than a world church, more stable than any labour union, endowed with wider competencies than any shaman, and equipped with a tighter hold over those they claim as victims than any mafia.

The new organized specialists must, though, be carefully distinguished from racketeers. Educators, for instance, now tell society what must be learned, and are in al position to write off as valueless what has been learned outside of school. By establishing this kind of monopoly that enables them to preclude you from shopping elsewhere and from making your own booze, they at first seem to fit the dictionary definition of gangsters. But gangsters, for their own profit, corner a basic necessity by controlling supplies. Today, doctors and social workers — as formerly only priests and jurists — gain legal power to create the need that, by law, they alone will be allowed to satisfy. Unlike yesterday's liberal professions that provided ethical backing for high-status hawkers, the new dominant professions claim control over human needs, tout court. They turn the modern state into a holding corporation of enterprises which facilitates the operation of their self-certified competencies: equal needs are laid on the citizen/client, only to be fulfilled in a zero-sum game.

Control over work is not a new development. Professionalism is one of many forms that the control over work has taken. In former times soldiers of fortune refused to fight until they got the licence to plunder. Lysistrata organized female chattel to enforce peace by refusing sex. Doctors in Cos conspired by oath to pass trade secrets only to their offspring. Guilds set the curriculum, prayers, tests, pilgrimages and hazings through which Hans Sachs had to pass before he was permitted to shoe his fellow burghers. In capitalist countries, unions attempt to control who shall work what hours for what minimum pay. All trade associations are attempts by those who sell their labour to determine how work shall be done, and by whom. Professions also do this, but they go further: they decide what shall be made, for whom and how their decrees shall be enforced. They claim special, incommunicable authority to determine not just the way things are to be made, but also the reason why their services are mandatory. Many professions are now so highly developed that they not only exercise tutelage over the citizen-became-client, but also determine the shape of his world-become-ward.

There is a further distinction between professional power and that of other occupations. Its authority springs from a different source: a guild, a union or a gang forces respect for its interest and rights by strike, blackmail or overt violence. A profession, like a priesthood, holds power by concession from an elite whose interests it props up. As a priesthood provides eternal salvation, so a profession claims legitimacy as the interpreter, protector and supplier of a special, this-worldly interest of the public at large. This kind of professional power exists only in societies in which elite membership itself is legitimized or acquired by professional status. Professional power is a specialized form of the privilege to prescribe. It is this power of prescription that gives control within the industrial state. The profession's power over the work its members do is therefore distinct and new both in scope and in origin.

Merchants sell you the goods they stock. Guildsmen guarantee quality. Some craftspeople tailor their product to your measure or fancy. Professionals tell you what you need and claim the power to prescribe. They not only recommend what is good, but actually ordain what is right. Neither income, long training, delicate tasks nor social standing is the mark of the professional. Rather, it is his authority to define a person as client, to determine that person's need and to hand the person a prescription. This professional authority comprises three roles: the sapiential authority to advise, instruct and direct; the moral authority that makes its acceptance not just useful but obligatory; and charismatic authority that allows the professional to appeal to some Supreme interest of his client that not only outranks conscience but sometimes even the raison d'état. For instance, the physician became the doctor when he left commerce in drugs to the pharmacist and kept prescription for himself. He became a health scientist when his cartel integrated these authorities in himself and began to deal with cases rather than with persons; he thus protects society's rather than the patient's interests. The authorities that, during the liberal age, had coalesced in the individual practitioner in his treatment of a client are now appropriated by the professional corporation. This entity carves out for itself a social mission. It is a fact that only during the last twenty-five years medicine has turned from a liberal into a dominant profession by obtaining this power to dictate what constitutes a health need for people in general. Health specialists, as a corporation have acquired the authority to determine what health care must be provided to society. It is no longer the individual professional who imputes a "need" to the individual client, but a corporate agency that imputes to entire classes of people their needs, and claims the mandate to test the whole population in order to identify all those who belong to the group of potential patients.

The difference between craftsman, liberal professional and the new technocrat can be clarified by emphasizing the typical reaction towards people who neglect to take their respective advice. By not taking the craftsman's counsel, you were a fool. For not taking liberal counsel, you were a masochist. Now the heavy arm of the law may reach out when you escape from the care that your surgeon or shrink have decided for you.

From merchant-craftsman or learned adviser, the professional has mutated into a crusading and commandeering philanthropist. He knows how infants must be fed, which student is or is not to go for higher education, and what drugs people may or may not ingest. From a tutor who guided and watched over you while you memorized your lesson, the schoolmaster has mutated into an educator whose legal status entitles him to a moralizing crusade in which he pushes himself between you and anything you want to learn. Even the dog-catchers of Chicago have mutated into authoritative experts on canine control.

Professionals assert secret knowledge about human nature, knowledge which only they have the right to dispense. They claim a monopoly over the definition of deviance and the remedies needed. For example, lawyers hold that they alone have the competence, and the legal right to provide assistance in divorce. Gravediggers become members of a profession by calling themselves morticians, by obtaining college credentials, or by increasing the standing of their trade by electing one of themselves president of the Lion's Club. Morticians form a profession when they acquire the muscle to have the police stop your burial if you are not embalmed and boxed by them. In any area where a human need can be imagined these new professions, dominant, authoritative, monopolistic, legalized —and, at the same time, debilitating and effectively disabling the individual — have become exclusive experts of the public good.



The transformation of a liberal into a dominant profession is akin to the legal establishment of a state church. Physicians transmogrified into biocrats, teachers into gnosocrats, morticians into thanatocrats are much closer to state supported clergies than to trade associations. The professional as teacher of the currently accepted brand of scientific orthodoxy acts as theologian. As moral entrepreneur and as creator of the need for his services, he acts the role of priest. As crusading helper, he acts the part of the missioner and hunts down the underprivileged. As inquisitor, he outlaws the unorthodox: he imposes his solutions on the recalcitrant who refuses to recognize that he is a problem. This multifaceted investiture with the task of relieving a specific inconvenience of man's estate turns each profession into the analogue of an established cult.

The public acceptance of domineering professions is essentially a political event. Each new establishment of professional legitimacy means that the political tasks of law-making, judicial review and executive power lose some of their proper character and independence. Public affairs pass from the layperson's elected peers into the hands of a self-accrediting elite. When medicine recently outgrew its liberal restraints, it invaded legislation by establishing public norms. Physicians had always determined what constitutes disease; dominant medicine now determines what diseases society shall not tolerate. Medicine invaded the courts. Physicians had always diagnosed who is sick; dominant medicine, however, brands those who must be treated. Liberal practitioners prescribed a cure: dominant medicine has public power of correction; it decides what shall be done with or to the sick. In a democracy, the power to make laws, execute them and achieve public justice must derive from the citizens themselves. But the professionals have taken over citizen control over key powers now restricted, weakened and sometimes abolished by the rise of these church-like professions. Government by a congress that bases its decisions on expert opinions given by professions might be government for, but never by the people. This is not the place to investigate the intent with which political rule was thus weakened; it is sufficient to indicate this subversion and to pinpoint its effects.

Citizen liberties are grounded on the rule that hearsay is excluded from testimony on which public decisions are based. What people can see for themselves and interpret themselves is the common ground for binding rules. Opinions, beliefs, inferences or persuasions must not stand when in conflict with the eyewitness — ever. Expert elites became dominant professions only by reversing this rule. In the legislature and in the courts, the rule against hearsay evidence was suspended in favour of opinions profferred by members of self-accredited elites.

But let us not confuse the public use of expert factual knowledge with a profession's corporate exercise of normative judgement. When a craftsman, such as a gunmaker, was called into court as an expert to reveal to the jury the secrets of his trade, he apprenticed on the spot the jury to his craft. He demonstrated visibly his limited and circumscribed expertise and enabled the jury to decide for themselves from which barrel the bullet might have come. Today, most experts play a different role. The dominant professional provides jury or legislature with his own and fellow-initiates’ global opinion, rather than with factual self-limiting evidence and specific skill. Armed with an aura of divine authority, he calls for a suspension of the hearsay rule and inevitably undermines the rule of law. Thus, one sees how democratic power is subverted by an unquestioned assumption of an all-em bracing professionalism.



Professions could not become dominant and disabling unless people were already experiencing as a lack that which the expert imputes to them as a need. When I learned to speak, problems existed only in mathematics or chess; solutions were saline or legal, and need was mainly used as a verb. The expressions, "I have a problem", or, "I have a need", both sounded silly. As I grew into my teens, and Hitler worked at solutions, the "social problem" also spread. "Problem" children of ever newer shades were discovered among the poor as social workers learned to brand their prey and to standardize their “needs". Need, used as a noun, became the fodder on which professions were fattened into dominance. Poverty was modernized. The poor became the "needy".

During the second half of my life, to be "needy" became respectable. Computable and imputable needs moved up the social ladder. It ceased to be a sign of poverty to have needs. Increased income opened new registers of need. Spock, Comfort and vulgarizers of Nader trained laymen to shop for solutions to problems that had been cooked up accordIng to professional recipes. Schooling qualified graduates to climb ever more rarefied heights and implant and cultivate ever newer strains of hybridized needs. Prescribed packages defined welfare and personal competence shrank. For example, In medicine, ever more “ills” become "illnesses" to be treated by doctors and people lost their will and ability to cope with indisposition, or even with discomfort. Now welfare equals prescribed remedies. In US supermarkets, about 1500 new products appear each year; more than 80% prove useless and unmarketable within a year. Increasingly, consumers are forced to seek guidance from professional consumer protectors to make their choice for them.

Further, the rapid turnover of products renders wants shallow and plastic. Paradoxically, then, high aggregate consumption resulting from engineered needs fosters growing consumer indifference to specific, potentially felt wants. Increasingly, needs are created by the advertising slogan, purchases made by prescription. One's action is not the result of personal experience in satisfaction and the ensuing adaptive consumer substitutes learned for felt needs. As people become experts in the art of learning to need, learning to identify wants from experience becomes a rare competence. As needs are broken down into ever smaller component parts, each managed by the appropriate specialist, the consumer experiences difficulty in integrating the separate offerings of his various tutors into a meaningful whole that could be desired with commitment and possessed with pleasure. The income managers, lifestyle counsellors, food fadist experts, sensitivity developers and others of this ilk clearly perceive the new possibilities for management, and move in to match commodities to the splintered needs and fractured self-confidence of the users.

Used as a noun, "need" is the individual offprint of a professional pattern; it is a plastic-foam replica of the cast with which professionals coin their staple; it is the advertized shape of the honeycomb out of which consumers are made. To be ignorant or unconvinced of one's own needs has become the unforgivable anti-social act. The good citizen is he who imputes stapled needs to himself with such conviction that he drowns out any desire for alternatives, much less the renunciation of need.

When I was born, before Stalin, Hitler and Roosevelt came to power, only the rich, hypochondriacs and members of elite groups spoke of their need for medical care when their temperature rose. It was a questionable and questioned need, since doctors could not do much more than great-grandmothers had done. The first mutation of needs came with sulfa and antibiotics. As the control of infections became a simple and effective routine, drugs went more and more on prescription. Assignment of the sick-role became a medical monopoly. The person who felt ill had to go to the clinic to be labelled with a disease-name and be legitimately declared a member of the minority of the so-called sick: people were excused from work, entitled to help, put under doctor's orders and enjoined to heal to become useful again. The second mutation of medical needs happened when the sick ceased to be a minority. By the late sixties one out of every two citizens in most western countries were active cases simultaneously in more than three therapeutic agencies. Each one's teeth, womb, blood pressure, psyche, or work-habits were observed, diagnosed, corrected. Multiple patient-relationship became a sign of desirable rather than deplorable health. To be an active client of several professionals provides you now with a well-defined place within the realm of service-consumers for the sake of whom our society functions. Under professional dominance the economy is organized for deviant majorities and their keepers.

At this critical moment, imputed needs move into a third mutation. They coalesce into what the experts call a "multidisciplinary problem" necessitating, therefore, a multiprofessional solution. First, the multiplication of commodities, each tending to tum into a requirement for modernized man, effectively trained the consumer to need on command. Next, the progressive fragmentation of needs into ever smaller and unconnected parts made the client dependent on professional judgement for the blending of his needs into a meaningful whole. The automobile industry provides a useful, though devious, example. By the end of the sixties, the advertised optional equipment making a basic Ford desirable had been multiplied immensely. But contrary to the customer’s expectations, this ”optional" flim-flam is in fact installed on the assembly line of the Detroit factory and the shopper in Plains is left with a choice between a few packaged samples that are shipped at random: he can either buy a convertible that he wanted but with the green seats he hates, or he can humour his girlfriend with leopard skin seats-at the cost of buying a paisley hard-top.

Finally, the client is trained to need a team-approach to receive what his guardians consider "satisfaction". Personal services which improve the consumer illustrate the point. Therapeutic affluence has exhausted the available life-time of those whom service-professionals diagnose as standing in need of even more services. The intensity of the service-economy has made the time needed for the consumption of pedagogical, medical and social treatments increasingly scarce. Time scarcity may soon turn into the major obstacle for the consumption of prescribed, and often publicly-financed, services. Signs of such scarcity become evident from one's early years. Already in kindergarten, the child is subjected to management by a team made up of such specialists as the allergist, speech pathologist, pediatrician, child psychologist, social worker, physical education instructor and teacher. By forming such a pedocratic team, many different professionals attempt to share the time which has become the major limiting factor in the imputation of further needs. For the adult, it is not the school, but the work-place where the packaging of services focusses. The personnel manager, labour educator, in-service trainer, insurance planner, consciousness-raiser find it more profitable to share the worker's time, rather than compete for it. A need-less citizen would be highly suspicious. People are told that they need their jobs, not so much for the money as for the services they get. The commons are extinguished and replaced by a new placenta built of funnels that deliver professional service. Life is paralyzed in permanent intensive care.



The disabling of the citizen through professional dominance is completed through the power of illusion. Religion finally becomes displaced, not by the state or the waning of the faith, but by professional establishments and client confidence. The professionals appropriate the special knowledge to define public issues in terms of problems. The acceptance of this claim legitimizes the docile recognition of imputed lacks on the part of the layman: his world turns into an echo-chamber of needs. This dominance is reflected in the skyline of the city. Professional buildings look down on the crowds that shuttle between them in a continual pilgrimage to the new cathedrals of insurance, health, education and welfare. Homes are transformed into hygienic apartments where one cannot be born, cannot be sick and cannot die decently. Not only are helpful neighbours a vanishing species but so are liberal doctors who make housecalls. Work places fit for apprenticeship turn into opaque mazes of corridors that permit access only to functionaries equipped with "identities". Professional environments are the last refuge for addicts to remedies.

The prevailing addiction to imputable needs on the part of the rich, and the paralyzIng fascination with needs on the part of the poor would indeed be irreversible if people actually fitted the calculus of needs. But this is not so. Beyond a certain level, medicine engenders helplessness and disease, education turns into the major generator of a dIsablIng division of labour; fast transportation systems turn urbanized people for 17% of their waking hours into passengers, and for an equal amount of time into members of the road gang that works to pay Ford, Esso and the highway department. Social services create helplessness and legal agencies injustice.

Our major institutions have acquired the uncanny power to subvert the very purposes for which they had been engineered and financed originally. Under the rule of our most prestigious professions, our institutional tools have as their principal product paradoxical counterproductivity — the systematic disabling of the citizenry. A city built around wheels becomes inappropriate for feet.

Why are there no rebellions against the drift into disabling service delivery systems? The chief explanation must be sought in the illusion-generating power that these same systems possess. Besides doing technical things to body and mInd, professionalism also is a powerful ritual which generates credence in the thing it does. Besides teaching Johnny to read, schools also teach him that learning from teachers is better. Besides providing locomotion, prestige, sexual licence and a sense of power packaged together, the automobile puts walking out of step. Besides providing help in seeking legal remedies, lawyers also convey the notion that they solve personal problems. Besides printing the news, papers also teach by their stories that doctors are curing cancer. An ever growing part of our major institutions’ functions is the cultivation and maintenance of five illusions which turn the citizen into a client to be saved by experts.

The Discounting of Use-Value

The first enslaving illusion is the idea that people are born to be consumers and that they can attain any of their goals by purchasing goods and services. This illusion is due to an educated blindness for the worth of use-values in the total economy. In none of the economic models serving as national guidelines is there a variable to account for nonmarketable use-values any more than there is a variable for nature's perennial contribution. Yet, there is no economy that would not collapse immediately if use-value production contracted beyond a point through, for example, home-making done for wages, or marital sex only at a fee. What people do or make but will not or cannot put up for sale is as immeasurable and as invaluable for the economy as the oxygen they breathe.

The illusion that economic models can ignore use-values springs from the assumption that those activities that we designate by intransitive verbs can be indefinitely substituted with institutionally defined staples referred to by nouns. Education replaces "I learn"; health care replaces "I heal”; transportation replaces "I move"; TV replaces "I play".

The confusion of personal and stapled values has spread through most domains. Under professional leadership, use-values are dissolved, rendered obsolete and finally deprived of their distinct nature. Ten years of running a farm can be thrown into a pedagogical mixer and be made equivalent to a high school certificate. Things picked up at random and hatched in the freedom of the street are added as "educational experience" to things funnelled into pupils heads. The knowledge accountants seem unaware that curriculum and experience, like oil and water, mix only as long as they are osterized by educational research. Gangs of crusading need-catchers could not continue to tax us, nor could they spend our resources on their tests, networks and other nostrums unless we are and remain paralyzed by our greedy beliefs.

The usefulness of staples, or packaged commodities, is intrinsically limited by two boundaries that must not be confused. First, queues will sooner or later stop the operation of any system that produces needs faster than the corresponding commodity, and second, dependence on commodities will sooner or later so determine needs, that the autonomous production of a functional analogue will be paralyzed. Congestion and paralysis are both results of escalation in any sector of production, albeit results of a very different kind. Congestion, which is a measure of the degree to which staples get into their own way, explains why mass transportation by private car in Manhattan would be useless; it does not explain why people work hard to buy and insure cars they cannot profitably use. Even less does congestion alone explain why people become so dependent on vehicles that they are paralyzed, and just cannot take to their feet.

People become prisoners to time-consuming acceleration, stupefying education and sick-making medicine because beyond a certain threshold of intensity dependence on a bill of industrial and professional goods destroys human potential, and does so in a specific way. Only up to a point can commodities replace what people make or do on their own. Only within limits can exchange-values satisfactorily replace use-values. Beyond this point, further production serves the interests of the professional producer — who has imputed the need to the consumer — and leaves the consumer befuddled and giddy, albeit more affluent. Needs satisfied rather than merely fed must be determined to a significant degree by the pleasure that is derived from personal autonomous action. There are boundaries beyond which commodities cannot be multiplied without disabling their consumer for this self-affirmation in action.

Humans, as distinguished from apes, make and use tools. Mankind is partitioned not into strains or races but into cultures, each distinguished by its set of tools. Traditionally, these tools are labour-intensive: most needs that people perceive at any time are determined by their acquaintance wIth a tool by which they can produce that which will satisfy their need. Man ceases to be one of his own kind when he can no longer shape his own needs by the more or less competent tools that his culture provides. Women or men, who have come to depend almost entirely on deliveries of standardized fragments produced by tools that are operated by anonymous others, cease to live human lives, and at best barely survive — even though they do so surrounded by glitter. Ultimately, they lose even the ability to discriminate between living and survival. Valued experience, free movement, dwelling arrangements, the sense of security and participation in community affairs each springs from two distinct sources: personal aliveness and engineered provisions. Packages alone inevitably frustrate the consumer when their delivery paralyzes him. The measure of well-being in a society is thus never like an equation by which these two modes of production are added; it is always like a balance that results when use-values and commodities fruitfully mesh in synergy. Only up to a point can heteronomous production of commodities enhance and complement the autonomous production of the corresponding personal purpose. Beyond this point, the synergy between the two modes of production, i.e. self-guided and other-directed, paradoxically turns against the purpose for which both use-value and commodity were intended.

The fundamental reason for counterproductivity must be sought in the specific environmental impact that results from every form of mass production. Medicine makes culture unhealthy; education tends to obscure the environment; vehicles wedge highways between the points they ought to bridge. Each of these institutions, beyond a critical point of its growth, thus exercises a radical monopoly.

A commercial monopoly merely corners the market for one brand of penicillin, whisky or car. An industry-wide cartel corners all mass transportation in favour of tyres. A radical monopoly goes further: it deprives the environment of those features that people need in a specific area to subsist outside the market economy. An industry-wide cartel favours one industrial technology over another. A radical monopoly paralyzes autonomous action in favour of professional deliveries. The more completely vehicles dislocate people, the more traffic managers will be needed, and the more powerless people win be to walk home. This radical monopoly would accompany high-speed traffic even if motors were powered by sunshine and vehicles were spun of air. The longer each person is in the grip of education, the less time and inclination he has for browsing and surprise. At some point in every domain, the amount of goods delivered so degrade the environment for action that the possible synergy between use-values and commodities turns negative. Paradoxical counterproductivity sets in.

Technological Progress

The second enslaving illusion conceptualizes technological progress as a kind of engineering product licencing more professional domination. This delusion says that tools, in order to become more efficient in the pursuit of a specific purpose, inevitably become more complex and inscrutable. Therefore, they necessarily require special operators who are highly trained and who alone can be securely trusted. Actually, just the opposite is true, and ought to occur. As techniques multiply and become more specific, their use often requires less complex judgements and skills. They no longer require that trust on the part of the client on which the autonomy of the liberal professional, and even that of the craftsman, was built. From a social point of view, we ought to reserve the designation "technical progress" to instances in which new tools expand the capacity and the effectiveness of a wider range of people, especially when new tools permit more autonomous production of use-values.

There is nothing inevitable about the expanding professional monopoly over new technology. The great inventions of the last hundred years, such as new metals, ball-bearings, some building materials, circuitry, some tests and remedies, are capable of increasing both the power of the autonomous and of the heteronomous modes of production. There is no simple "technological imperative". In fact, however, most new technology is not being incorporated into convivial equipment, but into institutional packages and complexes. The professionals rather consistently use industrial production to establish a radical monopoly by means of technology's clear effectiveness. Counterproductivity due to the paralysis of use-value production is fostered by this notion of technological progress.

Jeans, but only from Cardin

The third disabling myth expects that effective tools for lay-use must fIrst be certified by professional tests. The people who take this stance see that counterproductivity cannot be stopped except by redressing the balance between heteronomous-industrial and autonomous-community production. They also understand that community assessment must replace the current expert assessment of equipment and products. But many proponents of soft technology stay hooked on professional service because they assume that appropriate technology in the hands of the layman will compete with industry only when present tools have been redesigned for the man in the street. They wait for the ultimate bicycle, the supreme windmill, the safe pill, the perfect solar panel. Such people remain entranced by the professional dream that good things will be forever replaced by better things. They are snobs for whom the tool with which everyman will beat the multinationals must of necessity come out of research and design rituals as solemn as those that synthesize the alleged miracles at Dupont and La Roche.

The Scrambling of Liberties and Rights

The fourth disabling illusion looks to experts for limits to growth. Entire populations socialized to need what they are told they need will now be told what they do not need. The same multinational agents that for a generation imposed an international standard on bookkeeping, deodorants and energy consumption on rich and poor alike, now sponsor the Club of Rome. Obediently, UNESCO gets into the act and trains experts in the regionalization of imputed needs. For their own imputed good, the rich are thus programmed to pay for more costly professional dominance at home and provide the poor with imputed needs of a cheaper and tighter brand. The brightest of the new professionals clearly see that growing scarcity pushes controls over needs ever upward. The central planning of output-optimal decentralization has become the most prestigious job of 1977. But what is not yet recognized is that this new illusionary salvation by professionally decreed limits confuses liberties and rights.

In each of seven UN-defined world regions a new clergy is trained to preach the appropriate style of austerity drafted by the new need-designers. Consciousness-raisers roam through local communities inciting people to meet the decentralized production goals that have been assigned to them. Milking the family goat was a liberty until more ruthless planning made it a duty to contribute the milk yield to the GNP.

The synergy between autonomous and heteronomous production is reflected in society's balance of liberties versus rights. Liberties protect use-values as rights protect the access to commodities. And just as commodities can extinguish the possibility of producing use-values, and tum into impoverishing wealth, so the professional definition of rights can extinguish liberties and establish a tyranny that smothers people underneath their rights.

Certified Self-Helpers

The fifth enslaving illusion is this year’s radical chic. As the prophets of the sixties drooled about development on the doorsteps of affluence these myth makers mouth about the self-help of professionalized clients.

I have seen ads of bathroom cabinets that open their locks only to a duly certified self-medicator. In the U.S. alone, about 2700 books have appeared since 1965 that teach you how to be your own patient, so you only need see the doctor when it is worthwhile for him. Some books recommend that after due training and examination graduates in self-medication should be empowered to buy aspirin and dispense it to their children. Others suggest that professionalized patients shall receive preferential rates in hospitals and that they should benefit from lower insurance premiums. Only women with a licence to practice home birth should have their children outside hospitals since such professional mothers can, if needed, be sued by themselves for malpractice on themselves. I have seen a "radical" proposal that such a license to give birth could be obtained under feminist rather than medical auspices.

The professional dream of rooting each hierarchy of needs in the grassroots goes under the banner of self-help. At present it is promoted by the new tribe of experts in self-help who have replaced the international development experts of the sixties. The professionalization of laymen is their aim. U.S. experts in building who last autumn invaded Mexico serve as an example for the new crusade. About two years ago, an M.I.T. professor of architecture came to Mexico for a vacation. A Mexican friend of mine took him beyond the Airport where, during the last twelve years, a new city had grown up. From a few huts, it mushroomed into a community three times the size of Cambridge. My friend, also an architect, wanted to show the thousands of examples of peasant ingenuity with patterns, structures and uses of refuse not in and therefore not derivable from textbooks. He should not have been surprised that his colleague took several hundred rolls of pictures of these brilliant inventions that make this two-million-person slum work. The pictures were analyzed in Cambridge; and by the end of the year, new-baked U.S. specialists in community architecture were busy teaching the people of Ciudad Netzahualcoyotl their problems, needs and solutions.



Some already live, and others are capable of moving, beyond the Age of Disabling Professions and its glittering shopping centres for goods and services. The days of politicians who promise more inclusive packages of welfare are numbered; soon, they will receive the same reception formerly accorded priest-ridden electoral slates and the verbiage of Marxist epigones. Professional cartels are now as brittle as the French clergy in the age of Voltaire; soon, the still inchoate post-professional ethos will reveal the iron cage of their nakedness. The professional peddlers of health, education, welfare and peace of mind required almost twenty-five years to establish their control over who ought to get what and why. For a long time, yet, they might also be able to control who shall get what, and at what cost, acting like gangsters. But unbeknownst to them, their credibility fades fast. A post-professional ethos takes shape in the spirit of those who begin to see the emperor's true physiognomy.

Thousands of individuals and groups now challenge professional dominance over themselves and the socio-technical conditions in which they live. They do so by the questions they ask and the style of life which they consciously create. In the social wasteland that sprawls between the unionized dullness of Middle America and the smug spirituality of orthodox protest, I continually bump into these people and tribes. True, they are still a disparate lot, only seeing through the smog, darkly. But they begin to recognize what they must abandon to live. Further, groups continue to amaze themselves because of their tolerance for the quite different style in which the tribe squatting on the next plot chooses to live.

These non-ideological minorities may turn into a political force. The Age of Disabling Professions may very well close when these silent minorities can clarify the philosophical and legal character of what in common they do not want. The advantages of self-chosen joyful austerity evidenced by these people will acquire political form and weight only when combined with a general theory that places freedom within publicly chosen limits above claims for ever more costly packages of "rights". But the post-professional society cannot be summed up, nor, by its very essence, can its design characteristics be predicted or predicated. We are incapable of imagining what free men can do when equipped with modern tools respectfully constrained. The Post-Professional Ethos will hopefully result in a social panorama more colourful and diverse than all the cultures of past and present taken together.


[Home] [Top]