The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel


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The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel was written in 1978. The author then spent four-and-half years in prison in Czechoslovakia. After getting out of prison Havel eventually became the president (1989 – 1992) of the country that imprisoned him.

The title of the book is what first struck me as we are in situation where very powerful people and governments are attempting to control those of us who individually, at least on the surface, have very little power: no political power, no corporate power, no powerful voice in the media and no powerful bank accounts. How can regular people fight against people and entities that possess such power?

Havel may have an answer, if not a definitive one, at least some ideas to consider and think about. He asked the same question that I think about: “Can they [dissidents] actually change anything?” Are the globalists so entrenched in our societies (in governments, corporations and the media) that resistance is futile? Or at best, a long shot? I hope not. For Havel the way to cause change is not solely through traditional political institutions even if they are on our side.

The answer, according to Havel, is within each individual. Havel writes about the system, what he calls “post-totalitarianism.”

Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics.

Individuals in this system, in order to get along, don’t have to believe the lies, “however, they must live within a lie.” We see this everyday with masks. People wear the lie even though many of them know it does nothing, even though they see their leaders bare-faced at social events and restaurants. By wearing masks

…individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.

The wearing of masks lets everyone know that you are being a good citizen, that the state will have no trouble with you, that it is free to leave you alone as long as you do what’s expected. This, in turn, contributes to the state’s power and stability. However, the regime’s stability is precarious.

This pillar [ideology], however, is built on a very unstable foundation. It is built on lies. It works only as long as people are willing to live within the lie.

In the first part of the book Havel writes about a greengrocer who puts up a sign in his shop window that says: “Workers of the World, Unite!” not because he believes the slogan or even gives it a second thought, but because it is what is expected of him and to not do so would cause him problems. He lives within the lie. In chapter seven Havel writes:

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

This makes me think about those who did not wear a mask when it was mandated that they should. Early on, I wore the mask, I’m ashamed to admit. Later, when I suppose you could say something “snapped”, I stopped. It was liberating. Literally. I was nervous at first, but it didn’t take long until I really didn’t care, in some ways hoped that someone would confront me. Havel writes:

If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living the truth. This is why it must be suppressed more severely than anything else.

After copying and pasting the quote above, I received an alert on my phone that the The Babylon Bee was just locked out of its Twitter account (for naming Rachel Levine ‘Man of the Year’). The Bee is the worst kind of truth for regimes: satire. Nothing exposes the lies like satire and regimes hate being laughed at, hate being the butt of a joke.

Living the truth does not mean one will not face consequences. There is always risk when one decides to live outside the lie. Think about the Canadian truckers, some who went to jail and others who had their bank accounts frozen. The truckers were not professional, full-time political activists. They were people who saw the lies and wanted to do something about it. Havel writes:

One thing, however, seems clear: the attempt at political reform was not the cause of society’s reawakening, but rather the final outcome of that reawakening. [emphasis mine]

It does appear that millions of us around the globe are experiencing a “reawakening.” The lies that we are seeing, that have been exposed like never before, have caused millions of us to get involved in ways we never were before, whether it be moms at school board meetings, truck drivers demanding rights for all of us, people refusing to wear masks, political involvement in the election process or meme warriors, people who have never been involved in any political way before have spontaneously chosen truth over lies.

If I’m reading Havel correctly he would not call this a political movement, but individuals living within the truth. I’ve heard people say (Edward Dowd and Dr. Naomi Wolf come to mind) about what they are doing, that they felt as if they had to do it, that it would be morally irresponsible not to take the path they are currently on. Havel writes:

Living within the truth, as humanity’s revolt against an enforced position, is, on the contrary, an attempt to regain control over one’s own sense of responsibility. In other words, it is clearly a moral act, not only because one must pay so dearly for it, but principally because it is not self-serving: the risk may bring rewards in the form of a general amelioration in the situation, or it may not. In this regard, as I stated previously, it is an all-or-nothing gamble, and it is difficult to imagine a reasonable person embarking on such a course merely because he reckons that sacrifice today will bring rewards tomorrow, be it only in the form of general gratitude.

The state does not understand this. It expects revolt to mirror it own methods, but the beauty of living within truth is it manifests itself in unexpected ways and from unexpected places. Think again about all the truckers fighting mandates and moms fighting school boards, no one planned for this. Havel expands on this idea later in the book:

…you do not become a “dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. [emphasis mine]

Think of the doctors who have chosen this path: Dr. Robert Malone, Dr. Pierre Kory, Dr. Peter McCullough and a lot more I am not naming. They have become enemies of society by living within the truth, by confronting the lie. As Havel says, the lie cannot tolerate the truth. It is not necessary that you have the notoriety of these doctors or any notoriety at all. The important thing is to live within the truth, your truth and by doing so you confront and undermine the lies of the state, of the regime. Maybe it’s not wearing a mask, maybe it’s a conversation at the grocery store or with a relative, maybe it’s a painting or poem, but whatever it is, you wrest control from the state and regain it for yourself.

Above all, any existential revolution should provide hope of a moral reconstitution of society, which means a radical renewal of the relationship of human beings to what I have called the “human order,” which no political order can replace.

No matter the consequences, you reject the lies and live within the truth.

This is the power of the powerless.

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