Posted by: Richard Chennault | September 22, 2005

Tools for Conviviality

The casual readers will find this discussion highly esoteric. Read at your own risk.

This discussion is baed on the work of Ivan Illch and the Tools of Conviviality
Hi Richard,

I began reading the Illich piece. I like his vision, but not sure we can get there. I especially like the following quote on page 13. “A postindustrial society must and can be so constructed that no one person’s ability to express him- or herself in work will require as a condition the enforced labor or the enforced learning or the enforced consumption of another.” If you really like this philosophy, why do you revel in your job as the ‘enforcer’ of what the ASM folks are allowed to learn and labor with?


Read further. The developer represents a classic example of enforced education that has resulted in the professionalism of the developer thereby making the resource a scarcity. This scarcity has hyper-inflated the perceived worth of the developer and therefore other become economic slaves to the developer. The developer enforces their view of development on other participants in the solution delivery process therefore denying the liberty of other contributes to be able participate.

My view of ASM is that each role needs to be understood and balanced against the needs of the greater society. It is therefore reasonable to construct a societal framework that enables each contributor to contribute to his/her own energy capabilities without being overly enslaved by the over production of energies of others. Because of the perceived wealth and ‘power’ of the developer the developer has become more destructive than productive. All research indicates that a developer unconstrained will increase cost across the board for software delivery.

But to answer your question, “why do you revel in your job as the ‘enforcer’?” I don’t. I however am the management structure that has been given authority to ensure the energies of the people do not enslave others. Why do I exist? Because the specialization (professionalism) of roles has created to much energy production by the individual and thus extra energy is created and therefore unless it is contained that energy becomes destructive.

Back to your first point. About how to get from here to there. Ivan points out that a culture bred in a society that believe technology and education is the ultimate solution will find it nearly impossible to conceive of a post-industrial society that is not dependent on education and technology.


Richard D. Chennault


Specialization of labor has made us all dependent upon others to perform work that we do not have the skills to perform ourselves. This dependence has always and will always exist. Even in cavemen times, the men hunted and the women gathered. I agree that software developers, if left uncontrolled, will likely play rather than work. But this is a problem that their management can address via project plans, performance evals, etc. The application development community has very little in terms of forced education or restricted membership. Unlike other professions, there is no required education (like physicians and lawyers) or union membership (like pilots, air traffic controllers, etc) that would artificially inflates the value of those in the profession. Many application developers have entered the profession from other lines of study and work. The tools of the trade are easily learned, assuming the practitioner has the intellectual ability and motivation to learn. I believe you are applying Illich’s philosophy to a rather powerless group. Application developers are the tradesman of the information age, the bricklayers of application systems. What you are doing is trying to make them lay bricks in a more uniform fashion, and you are trying to make them do it without the tools of their own choosing. You are trying to remove the ‘artistry’ from their labor and turning them into mere robots. While I believe management may perceive some value in your endeavors, I don’t believe this is what Illich had in mind as his post industrial vision.


You’ve reinforced one of the base principles that Ivan articulates. Which is it is difficult to conceive of a post-modern society without the recognition of roles and classification. For the sake of argument however, I’ll continue to take a contrarian position to your assertions. First let us continue on the foundation of the caveman. Division of labor is a convenient crucible to hang tools of conviviality on for postulating that the theory is not workable. If one looks deeper into the division of labor along the lines of ‘hunter & gather’ one must apply the conviviality principles to this pre-modern society. First I’ll assume you’ve progressed far enough in the paper to understand the energy equation mentioned heretofore.
The women in the caveman society were able to harness their energy output by applying that energy to the task the best suited their physical capabilities. The men, who were physically more adapted to a hunting life style, pursued those task that best aligned with their physical energy output. This division opens a few questions. First did the ‘management’ of the caveman society decide that the best way to harness the overall energy output of the society was best achieved through labor division? Did that division enslave segments of the caveman society? While the question may beyond the intellectual capabilities of caveman management (and perhaps modern management) it does beg another question. Is the existence of division of labor throughout human history an indication that the concept of tools of conviviality an unattainable objective? First we must investigate division of labor in cultures through two focal points; one historical period and two per culture (generalization and macro level inspection leads to stereotypes and oversimplification).
It is probable that the caveman divided labor as a means to ensure the ongoing freedom/survival of society rather than an organized social construct. Furthermore this division was a ‘natural’ segmentation of society based on human evolution. Let us turn the roles upside down for the purpose of illustration. Let us postulate that a man was a gatherer. His base energy consumption requirements would produce a level of energy un-harnessed by the task of gathering. This then would lead to the enslavement of other in the caveman society. Other cavemen/women would be forced into creating, consuming and producing more energy in order to balance the un-harnessed energy of the gatherer caveman man. That scenario would of course be contrary to the natural use of energy within the caveman society. Of course there are exceptions to the caveman man gather scenario (i.e. old, crippled, metro-sexual) but in general the construct works. Division of labor then can not therefore be seen as counter to the tools of conviviality but indeed a workable management mechanism that ensures individuals are able to create and produced based on their energy capabilities. Without the division the continued existence of caveman would be questionable. It is when that division is skewed to a point that others are enforced to perform roles in order to bring balance or simply exist within the ‘new society’ created by the concentration of power does it become destructive to society.
Now let us turn our attention to our dear developer friends. You postulate that there is no ‘enforced’ program for the software developer. And while this may be true in the open source community this is certainly not the case in the ‘real’ world of business. The process to which an individual must go through in order to obtain a job in a business is based on litmus criteria agreed to be management and HR. Therefore software developers often must have a computer science degree (certification) from a school (forced knowledge) just to open the door. The chances are further enhanced by the software developer holding certification in certain technologies. There are wonderful exceptions to the rule (myself for one) but those exceptions only help demonstrate as a means of contrast to illustrate the level of professionalism the software developer must obtain in order to be considered. Therefore the software developer is no less insidious and destructive to a culture based on tools of conviviality than that of the physician or teacher.
Finally to your last point and illustration of brick layers; yes I am attempting to make the bricklayers used uniform methods in order to construct a safe and sound building. If the brick layer does not use uniform methods in construction solution then the building falls and people die. Same with the developer; if they do not use uniform methods and tools the solution fails. This is axiom based on decades of research all driving towards the inexorable conclusion that anarchy based software development leads to the enslavement of others and therefore is destructive to a society based on tools of conviviality. Instead the developer would understand his application of energy is only constrained in ways that ensure his production does not enslave others. Currently developers only perceive that their production is of the up most value and that all others must work to support their production. Follow that model and fail.
The trick therefore is to introduce a means by which the developer is still free to produce in ways that do not overly restrict their creativity. My plan is to establish a base line and then allow those individuals that are able to produce beyond the base line go outside of the box. Of course they must do this while at the same time not enslaving others.

Richard D. Chennault


  1. Do what now?


  2. Thank you for this terrifying peek at your nine to five. I think I’ll go shoot myself in the head now.

    You do have a point, software development is not an art. Developers should adapt tools and processes to ensure that best practices and network standard conventions are adhered to.

    Software is about people. Or, it should be.

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