Where’s Home, Anyway?


I like the idea that home is where you are, not where your stuff is. Most of my stuff is still on the other side of the planet, but this is my current home. After too much travel, I don’t long for my Rubbermaid containers of stuff, I long for my bed.

Ivan Illich, the social critic and very-smart-guy who wrote Deschooling Society, Energy and Equity and Medical Nemesis, spent the last years of his life traveling through Indochina and Latin America, talking to villagers. He’d had enough of big cities and important people. Of course, he spoke ten languages, so that made the task easier. He kept chewing on one bone and one bone only, and that to deliver a warning. Don’t trust experts.

More precisely, it wasn’t so much experts that he despised, but the institutions they fronted. Once our institutions developed beyond a certain scale, they became perverse, counterproductive to the beneficial ends for which they were originally conceived. The end result of this paradoxical counter-productivity was schools which make people dumb, complacent and unquestioning; hospitals which produce disease; prisons which make people violent; travel at high speed which creates traffic jams; and ‘aid and development’ agencies which create more and more ‘needy’ and ‘underconsuming’ people.

So he felt most at home in the “Underdeveloped” world.  He died of mouth cancer in 2002, choosing to deny himself medical care and even an expert diagnosis. In his last days he kept a little opium pipe with him, sucking on it more frequently as time went on. One side of his face  appeared normal, the other was increasingly consumed by a cancerous growth. He died one afternoon while taking a nap.

Here, in Northern Thailand, where village life is still the norm for many people, I can imagine myself as Illich’s less-erudite brother, looking for pearls of common wisdom hidden among the hype of mass-produced nonsense we call popular culture.

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