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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

The Power of the Powerless

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

We haven’t had a good, solid think piece around here for a while. I’m working on a small one that I hope to blog between now and the end of the year.

Then this morning, David Gross dropped this great one into my email box. This is long, but seriously worth reading (as is the essay on which it’s based). Gross does a contemporary riff on Vaclav Havel’s 1978 essay on dissidents (of which Havel was a notable example): “The Power of the Powerless.”

7 Responses to “The Power of the Powerless”

  1. jed Says:

    Well, that’s quite the piece. I particularly note his question re. the national antem, as it’s become (always has been) a sort of autonomous exercise. And I realize there are many who do not feel that way about it. The Pledge of Allegiance was just something we did in elementary school, without much thought. Nor did we give much thought to the one kid who didn’t recite it, due to the tenets of his religion. It was just a ritual. I don’t often run into it, but the last few times I’ve encountered the Star Spangled Banner that I can recall, I didn’t perform the proper obeisance, and nobody threatened to kick my ass. The latest time was at the gun show, and I haven’t any idea what prompted it, but the opening drum roll blared out through the address system at high volume, and I stuck my fingers in my ears and headed for the men’s room. The only comment I got was, “it’s pretty loud”.

    I do believe that here in the US, the analysis that “the virtuosity of the ritual” comes to be more important than actually being able to attach meaning to what you are doing or saying applies in most cases.

    Well, that’s a lot to read, and I don’t think I’ll finish it this evening, but it’s interesting to consider the ideology of DEMOCRACY! and how it is used to perpetuate the bureaucracy, and how our current situation parallels that described where people, in general, are willing to live comfortably within the lie. I have made the point in the past that affluence is a barrier to reform.

    I do disagree wth Havel’s view that the lie can never gain complete control over someone. We certainly have many examples from which to choose here.

  2. RickB Says:

    Thanks for the link. Lots of food for thought.
    I’ve always been annoyed by the outward signs people display to demonstrate complicity in their own subjugation:
    “Support Our Troops,” “Obama 2012,” and the U.S.A. battle flag flying on the BHM masthead.

  3. Pat Says:

    The inclusion of the legal system as part of the idealogy is an eye opener for freedom-loving people who wish to set up a “rule of law” to guide them. It’s very easy to slip into an _absolute_ law system if everyone doesn’t remain on guard. That’s why “less is more” (ZAP, for example) would work better than a law to cover every contingency.

  4. Paul Bonneau Says:

    I appreciate someone taking the effort to make Havel digestible for me, heh.

    I agree with most of the article, and definitely with the notion that the system is imposed not by our “betters” but by everyone who continues to mouth the platitudes. And I think Jed is right in that the “horizontal enforcement” by our fellows is actually quite a bit less onerous than we worry it might be. Being different is pretty much the norm in America after all (in other words, the norm is quite subdued), and people have come to accept that.

    One false note, at least for me, was this statement of Havel’s:
    [Thus an attitude that turns away from abstract political visions of the future toward concrete human beings and ways of defending them effectively in the here and now is quite naturally accompanied by an intensified antipathy to all forms of violence carried out in the name of a better future, and by a profound belief that a future secured by violence might actually be worse than what exists now; in other words, the future would be fatally stigmatized by the very means used to secure it.]

    First, the notion that a revolution in which violence plays a prominent part, must end in a system worse than the current one, is always made as a statement of faith and never proven. I’m doubtful when people indulge in that sort of thing.

    Second, there are different venues for everything. Just because a generalized or collective violence carried out in the name of a better future has obvious dangers, does not mean that all violence is ruled out. Defense is always permissible. And, being able to defend oneself, helps one’s courage to engage in other efforts that have nothing to do with violence.

  5. Terry Says:

    Found the link to this article on the Mental Militia forum, and subsequently linked to it on FB.

    Thanks, Claire.

  6. Paul Bonneau Says:

    I’m enjoying that website, glad you posted it. Here’s another good one about the “One Man Revolution”. I’m not entirely on board with him (he appears a tad pacifist for my taste at this point in my reading) but he certainly makes a person think.

  7. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit Says:

    “Havel says that the post-totalitarian system he has described may have evolved from the merger of traditional totalitarian dictatorship with the modern consumer society.”

    One huge component of “successful” slave ownership is simple, and found in the old adage of “bind not the mouths of the kine who tread the grain.” In other words, slaves who are comfortable frequently do not mind being slaves. A majority of humans do not particularly care to have freedom (and the responsibility that comes with it) if they can have a relatively comfortable and certain servitude instead.

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