Here is the official abstract of my paper for SDSU’s Crisis Carnival conference. Enjoy.
“Outflanking the Bureaucratic Production of Urgency: Ivan Illich and Stanley Hauerwas on Crisis and the Cultivation of Patience”
Ours is a world fundamentally determined by the politics of panic. It seems that time itself has fallen prey to the capitalistic logic of scarcity, a scarcity carefully managed by politicians and bureaucratic experts for the cultivation of both wealth and power. Recent market woes have only served to fuel this pathological urgency, rendering the creative cessation of consumptive patterns economically perilous; the willful pause for reflexive contemplation socially subversive; and the life-giving power of “free time” implicitly bound to the therapeutic satisfaction of “needs” shaped by marketers and polling data. In these trying times, we have no time to wait; we have no time to think; we have no time “waste.” Or so we are told. As Slavoj Žižek wryly puts it, “It is as if authentic community is possible only in conditions of permanent threat, in a continuous state of emergency” (Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, p. 23).
In short, ours is a world in constant crisis.
As the philosopher and social critic, Ivan Illich points out, crisis now all but univocally denotes acceleration. It “evokes an ominous but tractable threat against which money, manpower, and management can be rallied” (Toward a History of Needs, p. 2). Writing over 30 years ago, Illich prophetically denounced what he considered the culturally perverse and socially debilitating effects of our “Epoch of Speed.” This rapid-fire commodification, professionalization, and eventual elimination of human flourishing results from a malformed perception of value, relationality, and freedom proffered by a host of modernized institutions – the school, the hospital, the prison, the corporation, the nation-state – all of which seem to require the formative power of crisis to legitimize their own place of prominence. For Illich, there is something monstrous, alienating about this frenetic cooption of time.
However, he maintains that crisis need not be fatalistically bound to this understanding. In the deeper sense of the word, crisis implies an instant of choice, a moment of decision when new possibilities and social formations are suddenly revealed. In a similar vein, theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues for a conception of time outside the narrowing logic of use and waste, strategic efficiency and managed results. Time, in his view, is a gratuitous excess that must be endured, even suffered. Faithfully abiding in time is both a practice and a skill.
In this paper, I will trace Illich’s critique of contemporary manifestations of crisis and then, following Stanley Hauerwas, suggest that an alternative perception of time capable of resisting the politics of panic is best rooted in the practice of patience.