Living Outside the Lie, In the Midst of the Pod People.
Posted January 10, 2022
Edmund R. Folsom
In October 1978, Czechoslovakia existed under totalitarian rule, as a client state of the Soviet Union. Vaclav Havel was known in the West as a “dissident” of that system. Why does any of that matter now? Check out the following excerpts from Havel’s October 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” as he describes the social mechanisms by which this system, which he calls post-totalitarian, coopted its citizenry into its perpetuation. Imagine the greengrocer’s sign as a cloth COVID mask or another contemporary sign of solidarity with and within the system. Havel was imprisoned in 1979, and for most of the next 5 years, for giving expression to his political thought crimes. He was later elected President of Czechoslovakia after the police state fell, and later still became the first president of the Czech Republic.
“The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals?
Why in fact did our greengrocer have to put his loyalty on display in the shop window?
The greengrocer had to put the slogan in his window…not in the hope that someone might read it or be persuaded by it, but to contribute, along with thousands of other slogans, to the panorama that everyone is very much aware of. This panorama, of course, has a subliminal meaning as well: it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation, alienate themselves from society, break the rules of the game, and risk the loss of their peace and tranquility and security.
The woman who ignored the greengrocer’s slogan may well have hung a similar slogan just an hour before in the corridor of the office where she works… [T]heir slogans are mutually dependent: both were displayed with some awareness of the general panorama and, we might say, under its diktat. In reality, by exhibiting their slogans, each compels the other to accept the rules of the game and to confirm thereby the power that requires the slogans in the first place. Quite simply, each helps the other to be obedient. Both are objects in a system of control, but at the same time they are its subjects as well. They are both victims of the system and its instruments… [T]hey may create through their involvement a general norm and, thus, bring pressure to bear on their fellow citizens… learn to be comfortable with their involvement, to identify with it as though it were something natural and inevitable and, ultimately, so they may—with no external urging—come to treat any non-involvement as an abnormality, as arrogance, as an attack on themselves, as a form of dropping out of society. By pulling everyone into its power structure, the post-totalitarian system makes everyone an instrument of a mutual totality, the auto-totality of society.
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.
The bill is not long in coming. He will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse. His pay will be reduced. His hopes for a holiday in Bulgaria will evaporate. His children’s access to higher education will be threatened. His superiors will harass him and his fellow workers will wonder about him. Most of those who apply these sanctions, however, will not do so from any authentic inner conviction but simply under pressure from conditions, the same conditions that once pressured the greengrocer to display the official slogans. They will persecute the greengrocer either because it is expected of them, or to demonstrate their loyalty, or simply as part of the general panorama, to which belongs an awareness that this is how situations of this sort are dealt with, that this, in fact, is how things are always done, particularly if one is not to become suspect oneself. The executors, therefore, behave essentially like everyone else, to a greater or lesser degree: as components of the post-totalitarian system, as agents of its automatism, as petty instruments of the social auto-totality.”
And then there’s this contemporary American bit, written recently by someone using the pseudonym “Sundance.”
“Once a collective group creates an alternate reality of itself, in this case a totalitarian reality based on government needing to create an irrational illusion of fear that becomes part of the accepted national identity, how can anyone call attention to the outcomes without finding themselves in front of the board of inquisition who organizes the collective?
Put another way… if the pod under your bed malfunctioned, but the pods under all the other beds in the city worked, what happens when you awaken and realize you are not one of them, but you must engage in the world of them while looking for others -like yourself- whose pods hopefully malfunctioned? That is the current challenge for anyone trying to communicate on contrary evidence and yet avoid the ire from the collective board of COVID compliance who have successfully brainwashed the audience.”
If we are to not, ourselves, enter and dwell interminably within the realm of the post-totalitarian, we have to live outside the lie. And on the other side of the madness, we must not forget what the authorities did to us this time, and how.
Have you at times (perversely) enjoyed the madness? Has it given meaning to your life, made you feel a part of Team Righteous, shunning and punishing the dangerously unenlightened, at times gloating over their deaths as just deserts? Have you accepted the idea of State as Lord and Savior?
This, also, from Havel, describing what those living outside the lie in the socialist Soviet client state of Czechoslovakia must not do:
“They do not assume a messianic role; they are not a social avant-garde or elite that alone knows best, and whose task it is to ‘raise the consciousness’ of the ‘unconscious’ masses (that arrogant self-projection is, once again, intrinsic to an essentially different way of thinking, the kind that feels it has a patent on some ideal project and therefore that it has the right to impose it on society).”
Do you at times (or constantly) sense that you and your political team are illuminating the one true path, and that the unbelievers somehow, for some unexplained reason, just CANNOT SEEM TO SEE WHAT YOU CAN SEE?! Must you therefore force them onto the one true path, for their own good and the good of all? Are you collaborating with the tyrants, wittingly or unwittingly?