Thursday, November 5, 2015


Another keen insight Ivan Illich brought to light is the concept of shadow-work. In this way he prefigured modern Feminism and stands as its antithesis and hated for it. Allow me to explain:

In our economy, the only thing measured is the production of wealth. That is, for all intents and purposes, work = money. My productivity in the national economy comes in terms of work that makes money. The eight hours spent in an office, the six hours at the retail store, the ten hours on the Construction site. What is not measured is the 'economy beneath the economy'. This includes all the work involved in washing clothes, preparing meals, cleaning one's living space etc. that is skipped over. No one would be able to work at the office if one had not put in the work in traveling there in the first place.

Ivan Illich's problem lay at the heart of how we even define the word 'economy'. In modern parlance, the word has to do with the exchange of wealth. But, as a parsing of the Greek would tell you, the word economy has to do with the functioning of the home. Economy has (should have!) a broader definition than merely the possession and use of wealth. It has to do with the daily rhythms and procedures of social life.

In the 1950's, Ivan Illich was cheered by supporters of Modern Feminists. Of course, they misunderstood him, and in his correction, they reviled him. When viewing things through the wealth-defined economy (hence-forth a capital-E Economy), women were (and still are) disadvantaged. Men were, seemingly justifiably, the wielders of power because they participated in the real economy. They were the ones that generated the wealth, and thus were full and active participants in the Economy. In revealing the shadow-economy, the work beneath the work, which includes everything from child-rearing, to cleaning, to home prep, proponents of Feminism had the discursive ammunition to attack the system.

Feminism desired access for women into the Economy. The shadow-economy was a form of slavery, and thus should be eradicated. Women were now called to actively participate in the Economy, and turn all the shadow-work now undone into a servile lower-rung in society, a place to be filled by maids and day-care. This was a way for the whole of society to be enveloped into the dominant power-structure, the Economy.

But here is where Illich and Feminism part ways. Illich had no desire to advocate for the Economy. Instead, he saw that it was itself a 'power and principality' that had grown idolatrous. His intent was not to eradicate the shadow-economy and "liberate" women. Instead, he saw the shadow-economy as a reality that attacked the power-monopoly the Economy possessed. Generating wealth is not all there is to the functioning of a home or a social order. Instead, he hoped that recognizing the shadow-work of women would subversively attack the pretensions of the Economy. Life would be fuller and richer without the Idol of Mammon ruling our lives.

For this he was vilified as a reactionary, a misogynist, and a patriarchist.  But that is because, frankly, Feminism does not reject the Idol, but only seeks to expand the franchise of its sacred ministry. Now, granted, the concerns of Feminism have changed with the times. As Jacques Ellul would put it, modern people have grown to distrusts the priests of Mammon, the bankers and stock-brokers, and now label them witch-doctors and warlocks. They are no longer the spiritual heads of the Nation. Gordon Gecko's "Greed is Good" is maligned and rejected.

Well, not exactly. Perhaps rhetorically, but Wealth still remains the democratic solvent. It remains the ghost in the machine that drives forward all the twenty-first century dreams of authenticity and life-experience. Advertisements that tell us to go live, to have a good time, to experience life, etc. are still founded upon the old bones of Mammon. Of course, the old factory tycoons have passed into oblivion. The giant firms are dinosaurs who are being cast down. But our modern heroes are the non-profits, the start-ups, the small businessmen. All of these revolve around wealth. A Zuckerberg in reality is not far from a Carnegie.

In the process, the Feminist attack has sunk the ship of the Old Boys Club. The work-force is, in many ways, now open to women and the shadow-economy has been absorbed, slowly and surely, into the Economy. One does not need to be rich to hire a cleaning service for your house. Day-cares are everywhere for people of every income bracket. Fast-Food (even healthy Fast-Food) has replaced the need to cook at home. Hell, there are apps for people to do your shopping and dry-cleaning.

The above instances of the Economy's absorption are not listed to make you feel bad if you in anyway have participated. This is not an attack or complaint on women in the work-place. Instead, this is a warning for Christians against partaking of the Ideology of the Economy.

The Church is where the power of Mammon is called into question. She is a place where measuring-money is to be rejected and slowly abolished. Even as I write this I reflect on my gut-instinct to think that whenever I am earning money is the time when I am actually doing something. In fact, most of my work is done without any monetary compensation. True wealth is not marked by Caesar's imprinted coins (or bills for that matter), but the presence of Sophia, Wisdom, the Spirit's good work of restoring Humanity to mankind.

Generally, the Stay-at-Home mom is a despised figure, a left-over, an antiquated and ignorant figure, who is still trapped in bondage to the old system. In homes where the Economy reigns, men will oppress women and the shadow-work is a kind of bondage. But that is because the reign of the Economy is bondage. Stay-at-Home moms are in fact a means to subvert and reject the rule of Mammon for the rule of Christ. Power is not defined by a democratic money, but by the presence of the Spirit.

In some ways, Feminism is God's scourge to attack the idolatrous ideology of the Economy. This should alarm Christians to turn back to the Almighty Father of Jesus Christ, and to seek all good and blessing from Him. I'm not saying money is evil, but it is merely a base tool, one which Christ easily acquired from the mouth of a fish. The love of money is the root of many evils, and one that cut us through the heart. We ought to use the wedge of shadow-work to attack all habits and practices that move us into participants in the Economy, instead of participants in ever-giving economy of the Triune God, forever thrice blessed.

To end, I will give examples of what this might mean:

-This might mean that Christians should work less, or work part-time, in money making endeavors in order to work elsewhere. It also might mean taking more time to rest.

-It means that perhaps Christians who have much should be willing to give more away. And not just in terms of almsgiving (though this too).Use your money to pay people to help in whatever work you're in. Create jobs.

-If you have a large home, open it to strangers. Be willing to have beds for whomever comes to you. And open up opportunities to meet new people. Open up opportunities to meet struggling people and invite them into your homes.

-Spend time in prayer and discern your commitment to the Economy, to Mammon. If you are weak, admit your weakness. Voluntarily take pay-cuts if you earn more than you need.

-If you have a stay-at-home wife or mom, praise her. If you know a stay-at-home wife or mom, praise her. If you are a stay-at-home wife or mom, rejoice.

Let thanksgiving, charity, and grace be weapons against the god of This Age.

1 comment:

  1. Great line: "Feminism does not reject the Idol, but only seeks to expand the franchise of its sacred ministry "