How the powerless can fight deception

How the powerless can fight deception
"By breaking the rules of the game,
he has… exposed it as a mere game."

Vaclav Havel, a dissident who spent five years in Communist prisons, was a playwright who became president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. In 1978, he wrote an essay called "The Power of the Powerless" where he imagines a greengrocer in a totalitarian regime having to place a sign in his window saying "Workers of the world, unite!" He places it there because everyone else does it, and it’s what he’s expected to do, and it’s what he must do so he’s not excluded in society. But what if… what if something in the greengrocer snaps? What if he changes his behavior?

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…

By his simple acts, the greengrocer fights against the deceptions of the state. But he has to pay a price for his defiance, and the system must "punish him for his rebellion" because this is how revolutions begin:

The greengrocer has not committed a simple, individual offense, isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious. By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety…

 Excerpts from Havel’s essay: Vaclav Havel "The Power of the Powerless"(1978), Hanover>>
– Vaclav Havel, Wikipedia>>

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