Building a convivial society: autonomy, tools, scale, and capabilities - with L.M. Sacasas



Building a convivial society: autonomy, tools, scale, and capabilities - with L.M. Sacasas

In this wholehearted conversation, LM Sacasas talks about conviviality and the properties of convivial tools to empower — not de-skill — humans. We also touch on the necessity of limits, re-envisioning the good life, and why Ivan Illich’s ideas have such a big global following today.

Podcast Notes

What does it mean to create convivial organizations and platforms? Today we explore the relationship between technology and society with L.M. Sacasas — and what we can learn from the philosopher Ivan Illich (1926–2002). L.M. Sacasas is the associate director of the Christian Study Center of Gainesville, Florida and author of The Convivial Society, a newsletter about technology and society. Michael has written for The New Atlantis, The New Inquiry, Real Life Magazine, Mere Orthodoxy, Rhizomes, The American, and Second Nature Journal.

Ivan Illich was a philosopher, Roman Catholic priest, and critic of the institutions of modern Western culture, who addressed contemporary practices in education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development.

In this episode, we explore what we mean by conviviality, having tools to empower — not de-skill — humans, the necessity of limits, re-envisioning the good life, and how Ivan Illich has such a big global following in today’s society.

Key highlights of the conversation 

We discussed:

  • The meaning of conviviality and the influence of Ivan Illich on L. M. Sacasas’ work
  • The accuracy of Ivan Illich’s predictions on mental health, education and work
  • Examples of convivial tools
  • Identifying how to measure progress and where to aim better
  • Why the real world needs to embrace virtual reality


To find out more about Michael’s work:


Other references and mentions:


Find out more about the show and the research at Boundaryless at

Thanks for the ad-hoc music to Liosound / Walter Mobilio. Find his portfolio here:

Recorded on 20 January 2022.

🌐 Boundaryless Conversations Podcast is about exploring the future of organizing at scale by leveraging on technology, network effects, and shaping narratives. We explore how platforms can help us play with a world in turmoil, change, and transformation: a world that is at the same time more interconnected and interdependent than ever but also more conflictual and rivalrous.


Simone Cicero:
So, welcome, everybody. We are back at the Boundaryless Conversations Podcast. With me today is my usual co-host, Stina.

Stina Heikkila:
Hello, everybody.

Simone Cicero:
And we also have Michael Sacasas. Is it right, Michael, that’s how you say Sacasas?

LM Sacasas:
Perfect. Yes. It’s Spanish descent, actually. So, yes, Sacasas.

Simone Cicero:
Yeah. Because you know, we share some Latin roots, as I’m Italian.

LM Sacasas:
Yes, that’s right.

Simone Cicero:
And thank you so much for being with us. It’s great to have you because we have been reading a lot from your newsletter since, I think it was over the summer or maybe before, that I encountered your podcast conversation with Justin Murphy. And that was an enlightening conversation. For our listeners, essentially, we’re talking about some kind of introductory framing of Illich’s work through the lens of the exceptional author that is Justin Murphy. It prompted me to really, as I said in the previous conversation, to actually read Illich’s work.

And since then, I’ve been kind of juggling with this idea of what does it mean to create convivial organizations, convivial platforms? How does it look like a convivial business model, right? I’m also aware of the naivete of these questions. So, I’m sure that Michael you can help us to explore further today. So, before jumping into deeper explorations, I would like if you can just give us a little brief introduction and framing of why Illich’s work is so fundamental to your research on technology, and what pretty much conviviality means.

LM Sacasas:
Sure, I will do my best. So, part of what I appreciate about Illich, Illich is known as a vicious critic. I think that’s actually a line that appears in the blurb of one of his books, that he is a vicious critic of modernity. And his writing is certainly very, it has an urgency to it, and he is unsparingly critical of certain institutions, and of certain aspects of technological culture, which is true, all that is true. But there’s also something else in Illich, which is that he does have some vision for what an alternative might be. And so I think, very often one might encounter all sorts of valid and powerful critiques of technology or technological culture or modern institutions, but then to try to imagine how things might be different.

I found Illich valuable both for the critique, which is unique to him, I think, the way he approaches the problems with tools, by which he means both institutions and what we think of as technologies, he groups these together. But then also offering us something to work towards. So, he posits this notion of conviviality or the possibility of convivial tools as the alternative that he wants to commend to readers, to those who would hear him out, as opposed to industrial tools and industrial institutions. So, Illich, as your listeners will know, was writing in the 1960s, his high watermark, as far as how much people were paying attention to him in the public conversation was probably in the 1970s. And then he continued to write through the 80s and 90s, but with less public attention being drawn to his work.

So, in the 70s, where some of his classic books came out of the 70s, Medical Nemesis, which now is known as Limits to Medicine, Tools for Conviviality, De-schooling Society; these all rise in not quite as post industrial culture is starting to emerge. But as we sort of see, industrial society at its height in some regards. And so that’s the background. Conviviality encompasses, I think, a variety of different dimensions. On the one hand, I think it has to do with scale, what is the appropriate scale for a tool, for an institution, if it is meaningful to speak of a human scale, I think that that’s an aspect of conviviality.

So, in a convivial institution, say, or in a convivial organization, if you like, the human being is able to appear and to flourish, and to be acknowledged as such. In other words, there’s a scale appropriate to the human being. There’s an element I think, as well of, and I think this maybe is really critical of empowerment. So, Illich was not anti-technology. He didn’t even necessarily think that all industrial tools and technologies and systems were a problem. But he did believe that there were thresholds across which our tools institutions crossed, so that we’re not thinking about whether something is bad or good, but whether it can remain within a certain spectrum of use and size and scope and scale that did not become, what we would say, it didn’t become counterproductive and then eventually destructive.

So, one of the ways in which I think Illich saw that modern institutions and tools could become counterproductive, and then even possibly destructive was in the way that they disempowered, or he didn’t use this word, I use this word in talking about what his critique is that they deskilled human beings. The idea here is that we, the individual, would become, I should say here that Illich didn’t like the word individual, right, the person, the human being would become dependent upon the tool or the institution, rather than being empowered by it. So, I think it’s in either De-schooling or Tools for Conviviality that he talks about the need for tools to work with, rather than tools that do the work for you.

What that actually means, in practice, of course subject to discussion and conversation, but that fundamental distinction between being empowered to do work a person finds meaningful and rewarding and satisfying, as against simply being offered tools that will eliminate the human involvement, eliminate the necessity for a person to demonstrate a measure of skill or mastery. So, essentially, at the end of the progression in Illich’s view, the individual, the person becomes a consumer, fundamentally a consumer of goods and services unable to do for himself or herself much of anything, or for their community.

I think there’s two sides to this for Illich. On the one hand, it is about the person, about the person being empowered, having a measure of autonomy, I think conviviality also for Illich involved a measure of autonomy, and that the convivial tool is one which a person can pick up and exercise a measure of autonomy over in terms of how it’s used, the purposes to which it’s put. The American author Henry David Thoreau of the 19th century, talked about the fear that we would become tools of our tools. And so a convivial tool is a tool that resists that. It doesn’t allow for that, it doesn’t allow for the user to become a servant of the tool. And so there’s a measure of autonomy and independence that’s part of what I think Illich understands by conviviality.

But, and I think this is important, it’s an autonomy for the sake of interdependence and community. And so there can be, I think, a temptation to read aspects of religious work in the American sort of political context, a libertarian way, where he just wants people to be able to take care of themselves and fend for themselves and have autonomy for themselves. But actually, it’s always, I think, for Illich, paired with mutual interdependence within communities, larger communities, that then are able to sustain individuals and within which individuals can flourish. And so it’s not just about the person becoming more autonomous in their work, but then about that contributing to the health of a community in a society.

There are various dimensions then to the conviviality scale; measure of autonomy in the service of interdependence. And I would say together that, and maybe I’ll say this and pause, and can kind of dive a little deeper, perhaps. But the physical presence, the body, was very important for Illich, that people be present to one another. And that, of course, can take a variety of different shapes and forms depending on the institution we’re talking about, a tool or technology we’re talking about. But a convivial tool brought people together, rather than alienated them from one another, or even distanced them in some way or another.

Simone Cicero:
So, in terms of following up to these initial framing that you gave, one key reflection that I was saving is, it’s about asking ourselves, so are we really evolving towards more convivial organizations? Because if I think about when I read Illich, of course, I said yes, some platforms in a way, they are empowering the participants. They’re giving them tools to create their own self-entrepreneurs, for example, right. So, that is a trait of conviviality that these platforms have. In a way they enable the consumer to become a producer, right? So, that’s one thing that I felt.

And while you were also speaking, I felt like you know, and then I’m dealing with a lot with self-management. For example, in the work we are doing with companies dealing with these kind of teams that become entrepreneurial and autonomous inside bigger organizations, they kind of break bureaucracy, overcome bureaucracy. So, again, this sounds very convivial to me. And then you ended up with this clear reference to the joyfulness and relatedness that is connected with this idea of conviviality in Illich that also embeds if you want this critique to technology, right? Because he says, yes, but do not cross this threshold, as you said. And this definitely connects with the idea of embodiment, right?

I was looking at my notes while you were speaking, and you ended up talking about the body. And I’ve wrote embodiment already, because a lot of the questions that we have when we think about how organizations can evolve in the future, connects with this idea of taking responsibility directly, right? So, building, organizing, instead of consuming, organizing, right? It has an inherent aspect of embodiment. For example, in recasting organizations from the hyper specialized capital, digital market, towards maybe producing fundamentals, like food, or energy or care, for example. So, my question would be, how do you feel? Are we really evolving towards there? Or are we still victims of this impossibility to think something different, that you always talk about, often talk about on the newsletter?

LM Sacasas:
That is a great question. And so part of me, I think, sometimes feels optimistic in that there are examples of certain trends or certain ways in which if we continue on the trajectory that Illich was outlining in the 70s in his critique, Illich was pretty clear that what laid before us then was on the one hand, social disintegration, environmental degradation, and immense psychic costs in what we today would call sort of mental well-being, mental health, for individuals and for communities. So, I think that in many respects, those three warnings are that threefold warning is being borne out. right. And I think, obviously, I’m observing these trends in the United States, which is the milieu that I’m most familiar with, circumstances will be different in different parts of the globe, of course.

So, acknowledging that, I would say that as I look around my own milieu and I think of, on the one hand, the question of environmental degradation, of social fracturing, and then also a kind of burgeoning mental health crisis, it seems to me that Illich was correct in predicting that this would be the outcome of the trajectory we’re on. So, I mentioned that because a part of what I think I see in part of what is hopeful, is that there’s a growing awareness that there’s this system that we have built for ourselves into modern industrialized societies, and even post industrial societies has a dimension to it which is fundamentally inhumane. We as human beings are integrated into a kind of techno economic machinery that doesn’t have our own interests in view, it doesn’t have our well being in view, it doesn’t have our human flourishing in view. Except insofar as we can be productive cogs in the techno economic machinery.

And so, to the degree that people are recognizing the costs, in terms of mental health in terms of rising levels of burnout, a generalized dissatisfaction with conditions of life, continual social fragmentation, there is a sense that something has gone astray. And certainly, of course, with the climate crisis, that something has gone astray and something needs to change, not just on the margins. It’s not going to be enough to sort of tweak this or that part of the system or the institution, or the society, but that something fundamental needs to give way and that we’re looking for alternative modes of being and relating and of living in the world. And so is there some progress towards conviviality?

I think I would say that there’s at least the awareness that there needs to be some alternative towards which we’re striving; for the sake of our own personal well-being, for the sake of our communities, for the sake of the globe, right? I do see certain ways in which individuals or small communities are kind of taking up this challenge, sometimes using digital tools to accomplish this. I’ve been connected recently with some relatively small, but energetic groups of people who are trying to imagine how we might strive towards a more convivial mode of life, a more convivial society at different registers. Whether it’s in terms of creativity, economic organization, community organization. And so I think there is a bit of energy in that direction, a lot of it’s stemming from an awareness that something fundamental needs to change.

But then, of course, the trajectories that we’re trying to turn around are long-standing, and are deeply embedded in the existing structures of society, and even our habits of mind and our assumptions about what we ought to be doing and who we are and what people are for. And so my sense is that change will be, if it is to be meaningful and sustainable, it will take a long time to get there. So, I’m both sort of modestly hopeful, but also, I think, trying not to be naive about that, and recognizing that there would be a lot of work that would need to be done.

Simone Cicero:
I was thinking too, maybe jumping in to bring into the conversation very early another quick, important point of Illich’s work, and then maybe Stina you can build on that. When you talk about this, Michael, I’m thinking about the — I was thinking like maybe Illich is just a Cassandra, right? He’s just telling us that’s not going to work, humans are ruining everything. Industrialism is destroying everything, you know. And I was looking into that from the perspective of complexity, like from the perspective of, I mean, this is a complex system, right, human society, and it just goes through collapse. It’s normal and it’s a transitional state and it can happen in complex systems. It’s not that equilibrium stands forever.

And so I was thinking from this perspective, and I was thinking, okay, then what does it mean, from the perspective of a person, right, from the perspective of a person as an actor in society. And in terms of how we build organizations, and what kind of products and systems do we build? I was thinking that most likely in this process, something has to give, right, we have to let something go in the transition, in the new way of organizing that we can envision. And this may be seen as connected with localism, or shorter supply chains, or no more consumer societies and so on, and definitely connects with the idea of austerity as well, that Illich has, right.

So, even I think in terms of how we approach the medicine, like that basically decided to avoid care at some point, right. And it was always critical, versus — I could not imagine what he would say about our mass vaccination programs, right. And so maybe you can also connect it a little bit in terms of this idea of austerity and how, maybe connects with how we organize and how we relate to each other? And then Stina, I will leave it to you, I promise.

LM Sacasas:
Yeah, that’s a wonderful question. I will say there is an interesting community of people, a global community of people connected around the work of Ivan Illich, which includes many people who knew him well in this life, who were students of his, colleagues at his. And, in fact, Sanjay Sunwell, has just launched a website called Thinking After Ilitch, and there’s a journal that is a part of that website. And their first issue just took up this question of a kind of intramural debate among some of the Illich’s heirs, some of Illich’s intellectual heirs about the COVID response, right, the governmental COVID response. And there are some that would say that this is certainly something Ilitch would be absolutely critical of, kind of in the frame of bio politics. But there’s disagreement on the scale.

So, I’ll say this, this is my own way of thinking about this. In this, I want to be clear, I don’t want to, in this, claim to be speaking for Illich, or for any other readers of Illich, right. But this is how I’ve thought about this, and maybe it might be a helpful segue and to come back then to the question of austerity, I think is important. So, in the United States, we have all of a sudden, the federal government has just launched this program to send rapid tests out to everyone who requests them by mail. And this is a very recent development. You know, as I’m sure your listeners know, the response to the United States has been very mixed, it varies state by state. It’s been a culture war issue, every COVID mitigation policy has sort of become a culture war issue, which in the United States can be very counterproductive.

But the difference here was interesting because there were some, I think, of Michael Mena, in particular, who’s been outspoken as an epidemiologist on the importance of rapid tests. And why it took so long for the government here to support the deployment of, an approval of rapid test. I think this has been different in the UK. I suspect it’s been different in the European Union as well. But in the US, it was very long delayed. And part of the reason, there’s an article that appeared, I think, in Vanity Fair about this, part of the reason or the reasoning was that some people in the FDA, and some medical professionals did not trust individuals to use the test correctly, and then to act responsibly given the knowledge that the tests might give them, right.

And so I thought this is an entry point here for Illich’s critique, right? The medical establishment, it’s a very large abstract thing, has many agencies and components, individual doctors… But if we think of the institution of modern medicine along the lines of people not trusting individuals to make good judgments about their health, to not be responsible users of tools that would empower them to make decisions about whether to go out or quarantine or whatever, then that I think becomes a very good illustration of what Illich was critical of.

And I imagined all of a sudden, a very different COVID scenario, right in the United States, wishful thinking, of course, but where instead of trying to manage, and I think this was also what Ilitch is so critical of, right, the impulse to manage into control, right. Instead of trying to manage people, institutions empowered them by giving them what I think are essentially convivial tools, right? A good high quality mask can be understood as a convivial tool in the sense that it is subject to people’s use, it is understandable, it operates at a human scale, rapid tests are very easy to use.

So, I’m going out on a little bit of a limb here. And I think that there are definitely some readers of Illich that would take issue with what I’m saying. But I think that the point here is that there’s a way of conceiving our tools and institutions in a way that empowers members of society, individuals, persons, to be responsible users of these tools, to be empowered. And then there’s a way of conceiving that these institutions as simply managing and controlling individuals that cannot be trusted to do the right thing; that cannot be given responsibilities. And that fosters, I think, its own kind of backlash. So, it creates, I think, a vicious cycle of lack of social trust amongst institutional leaders and lay people, or the people who are ostensibly trying to be, you know, going to be served by these institutions. That’s one dimension of that.

But I think your comment about austerity is important because Illich did think that there would be costs, right. You cannot just go on consuming without limits, draining the Earth’s resources without limits, and expect that things will be different, or that things will change or improve. Right? So, I think he did envision the necessity of limits. This is heretical thinking, at least in the American context, that there ought to be any limits, that we ought to place limits on production, limits on consumption. And yet, I think this is also part of what maybe, in some pockets of society we are rediscovering is that we are as human beings, we may function better within a certain set of limits, that the limits are the conditions for our flourishing, rather than our flourishing lying only in the transgression of these limits.

I think what Illich was trying to offer was not a kind of technocratic 2008 financial crisis vision of austerity. Rather, it was an austerity that recognized that what is going to be most rewarding, most satisfying for a person is not endless consumption, but maybe deep meaningful relationships with a local community with friends, with another person rather than with a device that just channels endless entertainment to us. You know, there are many ways we can iterate these conditions. But that austerity, yes, meant the accepting of limits. But I think for Illich, at the end of that, there would be a much more rewarding and satisfying human experience that we would discover that would be good for individuals, good for the environment, good for society.

Stina Heikkila:
When listening to you about those questions that you mentioned around austerity, and the idea that something’s going to give, and there are limits to perhaps the lifestyles and how we have been, let’s say, shaping our economy and society over the past decades. And some other people might argue that we have seen a lot of progress in society, and that it’s not necessarily the case that this progress will stall, and that we can find our way, sort of out of the mess that we have created somehow. So, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts about that.

LM Sacasas:
Yeah, certainly. And I would say, yeah, undoubtedly, society is a highly complex reality, right? And so even if we just limit it to technology, or even to institutions, highly complex, which is to say, then that you’re going to have, inevitably a mix of improvements of progress. I think, always, in these cases, it’s important to sort of clarify progress by what measure, progress according to what criteria. And depending on the measures you’re looking at, depending on the criteria that you use, I think it would certainly be easy. And it would, I think Ilitch himself might agree that there has been progress along a variety of different vectors.

And I want to be clear about this, because Illich was not, he was very explicit, he did not believe that there was any golden age to return to. Right? And I think when certain people hear a critique of aspects of modern society or modern technology, what they immediately hear is somebody who wants to go back to some past, you know, that they want to undo modernity. Illich was very clear that this was not even feasible, right? It wasn’t even thinkable. There is no going back. And it wouldn’t even necessarily be desirable if it were possible, right. And I think of Wendell Berry, I don’t know how familiar your listeners would be with the American.

Simone Cicero:
I’ve been quoting him too often on this podcast.

LM Sacasas:
Okay, fantastic. Right. So, yeah, Wendell Berry is a kindred spirit here, I think. And they knew each other, both of them. And they both have this similar realization that the recovery of certain kinds of limits, the re-envisioning of what the good life amounts to, and what a just society looks like, not only for the individual, but for the individual, as one member of a larger community that includes all other living creatures in the land that is their home, right? That there is a way of imagining what that will look like, how that can look like in the future. And it’s not a matter of necessarily going back and undoing the gains that we have seen in the modern context.

The answer is yes, of course, there’s been progress in any number of areas that we can think of whether socially or politically or in terms of equity in society. But there are obviously ways I think, in which we can be doing things better, right? And there are obviously ways I think, in which we might argue that the prosperity for some has come at the cost, a great cost for others, right, so there is an inequality and outcomes, whether that’s the global south relative to the global north, or the cost that we have been incurred when we think of the environment and climate change, that we can’t appropriately quite yet judge and measure, although it is fairly clear that the balance is not tipping in our direction.

And so it’s not about denying where genuine progress has happened, but it’s I think about identifying where we can aim for something better and what that looks like. And whether that just means more consump– Does that mean more consumption? Does that mean the unrelenting commercialization of all aspects of human experience? Does that mean a further alienation of the human being from his and her habitat on this planet? Right? Does it mean a further enclosure of the individual within the walls of his own home, where he is alienated from his neighbors, her neighbors? And I don’t think that it needs to be that way. And I think acknowledging that does not entail then rejecting what may be some of the obvious gains that none of us would want to have undone.

Stina Heikkila:
That made me think when you were talking about your installment that you did on Notes on the Metaverse, one of your newsletters. And this seems to me like, somehow related to what you say that we — how do we reconcile, what we need to find back and that is very rooted and embedded in landscape and in place where we are, and the temptation to sort of create a better world separate from what we might see as sometimes problematic, and sort of, we get disenfranchised from in some way.

LM Sacasas:
A couple of days ago, I think there was a review of David Chalmers new book, in The Guardian. The review is in The Guardian, David Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and the book is called Reality Plus. And the headline of the article begins with a quote from Chalmers, “Virtual reality is genuine reality so embrace it,” says the philosopher. And then he goes on to talk about how there may be a future in which the experience of virtual reality is as rewarding as an experience of, I would say non-virtual reality. And that maybe for many people that don’t enjoy a certain amount of privilege or resources in this life, that the virtual reality would actually be an improvement upon their condition.

I think it pays some lip service in this article to the fact that okay, maybe that’s not the best way of thinking about it, because then it certainly creates the temptation, right, to treat virtual reality as an escape, and as a way of neglecting the existing inequalities and injustices and offering this sort of escape via virtual reality from lived conditions that. On the one hand, I think there’s this presumption, right, that these tools will become so sophisticated, that they will actually be something more than what is currently being offered to us, which is a kind of an updated clunky version of Second Life. There’s a bit of hype there that needs to be treated with a great deal of skepticism.

But the very idea that in theory, if we grant that these virtual worlds are possible, that we should be encouraged to embrace it. Because living in this disconnected way from non-virtual reality would be an improvement for some, I think, just shouts to me a disconnect from reality, an actual profound disconnect from reality in the sense of what human beings need and what they want, and where they might find flourishing and how we might address genuine inequalities and injustices in our present society. Somewhere he says that maybe it’ll be a problem, I guess, people will eventually need to eat and drink and maybe come out for a little sun. As if you know, this were —

Simone Cicero:

LM Sacasas:
Annoyances, right. Yeah. Right.

Simone Cicero:
So, I was — before this question from Stina that was very on point, because especially the metaverse if you want to represent like the sublimation of these super specialized, mono-cultural techno-driven dream of society, essentially. And on the other hand, you were talking about doing good instead before, right. And I was thinking about when it comes to doing good, and for example, the idea of progress, right, we attach some positive traits on it, to be able to judge how positive something is, I think we need to be grounded into something and likely this is grounded in our culture.

And for Wendell Berry culture is basically is agriculture and agriculture is land. And basically this means that the good, the progress needs to be a plural idea, right? And it entails that people participate in building it, right? Because it cannot be built for them to consume, I guess. And this is tremendously resonant with the work of Illich and your research on technology. So, to some extent, I would love to know what you think about entrepreneurship, for example, right, so that kind of stuff. So, the accountability of having this responsibility to make your convivial world, essentially.

LM Sacasas:
As I try to imagine for myself, right, so at one level, it’s becomes just a very personal thing. I write about this stuff and obviously, I try to think about it, all right, what does this look like for me? What does this look like for my family, for my community? I think one of the questions I would be asking myself, right, if I understand myself, as a consumer, first and foremost, and let me say this, because you mentioned sort of the moral dimension, all of these questions end up being sort of fundamentally ethical questions, in the sense that they involve some judgment about what is good, about what is right, what is just, and then more broadly, just this ancient question of, what is the good life?

Let me say, put it this way. It doesn’t have to have one, only one iteration or one model, right? It can be a plurality of answers, but does it have certain common conditions? And perhaps more profoundly, Wendell Berry titles, one of his collection of essays, What Are People For? And I think that’s a wonderful summation of the issue at stake here. What are people for? Are we merely fleshy sites of consumption, where our role in society and our happiness as creatures is just a matter of endless consumption of goods and services? I think if I put it that way, I want to say most people would say, no, something is lacking in that. Right?

But the point is, is that the issues we’re talking about, I think, force us to ask that question, and then to judge progress based upon the answers to that question. And of course, the difficulty here is that there are, there may be many competing visions of what the answers to those questions may be, and then differential degrees of power with regards to who is able to implement or to live out their own visions of what the good life may be. Obviously, some have a much greater power not only to live out their own understandings of those questions, but also to impose their answer in some ways on others, because of their role in society. So, acknowledging all of those complications, right.

To come back to this question of consumption, are there ways in which we can take greater responsibility over the production of the things that we need for ourselves, right? This can be a small thing. You know, Berry would not say that everybody needs to be a farmer. In fact, I’ve heard him say this, right? He doesn’t say everybody needs to be a farmer. But are there ways of valuing the local farmer in the local ecosystem, through the way that we relate to food, the way we think about food, that are better for the community than what we presently do in the current sort of agricultural model that dominates in modern societies? And what limits would that place on us? What would be the costs of that, but then what would be the rewards? And then taking the question of even food in a slightly different way, do we — This was early in 2020, when everybody sort of was quarantined and found themselves at home, and people rediscovered baking, right, and baking was this, breaking bread was a big thing for like a month. And I thought that was interesting at the time.

And I don’t, obviously, want to make too much of this, but the fact that some people discovered that there was a measure of joy and satisfaction in doing that, that in small ways not everybody is equipped or necessarily needs to go out and found a company, right, or be an entrepreneur in the ways that we think of entrepreneurship or the culture of venture capital, right? But there are ways of, I wish I had maybe a better word for this, to be entrepreneurial in a more personal and localized way, which is to reimagine what we can make for ourselves, what we can do for ourselves, and not necessarily for profit either.

This is a different, you know, another aspect of Illich’s thinking, especially in the last few decades of his life, which is kind of carving out what he called these vernacular spheres, spheres that were not subject to market pressures and market demands and the logic of the market. But are there ways that I can carve about new practices, new ways of thinking about what I need, what my family needs, in order to re-calibrate the pace of my life, my relationship to work, my relationships with community? There are, I think, a lot of different ways of bringing this, if you like the sort of entrepreneurial mindset to bear on this question of reimagining what a more convivial life might look like, for myself and for my community. Does that make sense?

Simone Cicero:
I mean, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, to me, I was thinking that there is this crazy kind of interaction between this idea of ethics and the kind of abductive nature that ethics has, if you know what I mean, in terms of what’s right, in terms of respecting, for example, another being, right, something like that. And our needs that are related to essentially being open to building, the cost of building that kind of systems, right, that are much more, as you said for example, local versus this globalized systems that harm the environment because it’s just not ethical to do that, essentially.

And at the same time, I think, you know that in Italy we have this happy degrowth movement. I don’t know if it’s an international movement, but they’re not just degrowth to their happy degrowth. That’s very interesting, because I was thinking, are we naive if we talk about these things and we imagine that we can do these things? And I must say, probably, if we do not do that, yes, we are naive. That’s the kind of feeling that I’m left there.

Stina Heikkila:
I’m thinking about this, like, in practical terms, we were exploring when we wrote our white paper on the new foundations of platforms and ecosystems, a project in a borough of London, which is very interesting, called Participatory city. And essentially, they’re experimenting with collaborative product making, let’s say, around something that the founder of this initiative Tessy Britton calls economy of essentials. So, essentially bringing people together to create pottery, clothes, and sharing food, I mean, those typical things. And it sounds to me like that could be somewhat like a practical expression of the things that we’re talking about. And is that so? Are we going to become more active in producing the things we need without necessarily having to revert to some notion of the golden age of whatever, like you mentioned before, it’s not necessarily the idea. But is that something that you have been pondering? Also, what is this really like practical expression of all this?

Simone Cicero:
If I can just click one thing before handing it to you, Michael. But this very idea that you can have something like participatory city in the centre of London, to think about this as a transformative thing, or as something that is on par of what it’s going to entailed to reimagine our relationship with technology?

LM Sacasas:
I’m very curious as to what shape these possibilities might take. This is a great example that you gave, Stina, about this group in London, right, that are experimenting with alternative modes of production distribution. You mentioned that happy degrowth. I think of another sort of loosely connected online community with real-world manifestations, that kind of calls — refer to themselves as Doomer Optimists or Optimistic Doomers.

Simone Cicero:
Yeah, yeah, we put ourselves — I think I put myself inside that movement. I also wrote one of the manifestos.

LM Sacasas:
Oh, wow, okay. Well, yeah, I think there’s something exciting about that, and there’s something hopeful about that. And I totally get this idea that you look at sort of the scale of the problems that we are facing, then you look at a little tiny community in the centre of London, or a smattering of people trying to figure out how to produce for themselves against some essentials of life in various contexts, or these various groups that are experimenting with these new modes of life. And it’s easy to sort of think this is a little naive, right? This seems like a totally disproportionate response to the scale of the problems we’re facing. You know, I like what you said, Simone. I think I put a similar — I think it’s naive not to imagine that it has to begin that way, because I’m not sure necessarily what the alternative would be.

And so then we’re talking about timescales at which we might see meaningful change, a turning of the ship as it were. I suspect that yeah, there are a lot of things historically that have begun in very modest ways. But if they prove their worth, if they answer to some genuine human needs, if fortune comes and visits them as well, they grow into larger movements, and have the potential to be transformative and sustainable over time. And so I’m definitely much more interested than I was even a couple of years ago in finding and considering these groups.

And I understand my own limits on this. I need others to imagine these possibilities. I am perfectly ready to admit that. My own thinking and work and writing has been focused on sort of identifying what are the issues, what are the problems, what’s going wrong? And I’m glad to see others experiment and try to find the workable life-giving solutions to this. And I’m certainly very curious in locating those communities, learning from them, and I’m encouraged by their work.

Simone Cicero:
Yeah, I mean, at least they are doing it. I mean, Michael, it’s been a crazy conversation, and we want to give you just maybe a final reflection, if you want to close, and then tell us a bit more about where we can find — I mean, the people that listen to the podcast, where they can find your work and support your work, your research. So, again, thanks for the great conversation. Maybe you can help us close it.

LM Sacasas:
Yeah, certainly. No, I thank you. It’s a pleasure to have these conversations. I always feel a bit inadequate to the task, especially when it comes to sort of imagining alternatives and better futures, and grappling with the scale of the problems that we face. But I do think Illich gives us at least one model to look to that we can build upon. I’ve been heartened by the degree to which Illich’s work seems to be spreading and growing, a little bit of revival of interest in Illich’s work. And I certainly encourage listeners to check it out.

I think we are, to some degree, going to have to kind of fight for what we have understood as the human, the embodied and fleshed communal human being. And it’s a place of the human in a society that, in large measure, has ignored the limits that are implicit in the human condition. And I think we’re going to increasingly be faced with more and more radical challenges to that question of preserving the human amidst our society. But in that, maybe in that challenge, suddenly find the encouragement to reappreciate or rediscover the possibilities of the human condition and the possibilities of flourishing within its limits, and the beauty of it and the goodness of it. So, that’s my parting shot, I guess, as it were.

And I write about a lot of the stuff in a newsletter called The Convivial Society, obviously with a nod to Illich’s tools for conviviality, but also the nod to Shaka Zulu, another thinker who’s been very important for me. So, if listeners want to check that out, The Convivial Society, it’s on Substack. Everything I write is public. And I like to say I don’t want any customers. But if somebody wants to support and become a patron of the work, that’s always appreciated. But all the work is free, and there’s no pay wallet.

Stina Heikkila:
And I have to say that you really convinced me with reading out your newsletters. I found that a really engaging way of sharing this in an accessible format, depending on where you are in your day and how you want to consume it.

LM Sacasas:
Oh, thank you. Yeah, good. I’m glad. I know I sometimes don’t have the bandwidth to do that. But I try to do that as much as possible. Yeah. Thank you. I’m glad to hear that.

Simone Cicero:
So, I mean, it was amazing. So, thank you so much again, Michael.

LM Sacasas:
It was a pleasure. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on.

Simone Cicero:
Thank you, Stina.

Simone Cicero:
Listeners, please, today, tonight, put down your phone, enjoy the company of your family and catch up soon.