Ivan Illich


A worthy rant of a speech from the 60’s by Ivan Illich which is still pertinent to those trying to do ‘good’ in less developed countries. I am very conscious as a rich westerner living in a poor village that there is a moral quagmire in trying to “seduce the underdeveloped to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement”

Whilst I concur that

It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don’t even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as “good,” a “sacrifice” and “help.”

And that if you define yourself and your role through benign moral spectacles, you distance yourself from the people you live with, you alienate yourself. You elevate your humanity whilst pushing others into the gutter.

But I disagree that

The damage which volunteers do willy-nilly is too high a price for the belated insight that they shouldn’t have been volunteers in the first place.

I think that this price has to be paid so that the next leaders of the systems and institutions that enable volunteers to get out there in the first place have an understanding and insight into the inherent problems of ‘middle class benevolent help’, and can mitigate against the same mistakes being continually made over and over again.

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