Words of Tomorrow
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Words of Tomorrow

Vaclav Havel’s 3 Simple Steps How to Be an Apolitical Human Being

If you like this guy, make sure you’re not doing it wrong


Lately, it would seem that Americans honor this Czech humanist hero much more than Czech people, who would apparently rather forget he ever existed five minutes after he was out of office. But it doesn’t really matter what anybody proclaims, or how big busts get installed where. In reality, in some ways much more so than the contemporary Czech Republic, the USA is creepily becoming the perfect antithesis of Havel’s philosophy.

So, all you freedom loving Americans, if you don’t want to become obedient drones of a socialist state, you should really check out what Havel had to deal with, what he had said and done, and especially, what kind of system he had fought against, and how. It may surprise you, but the communist regime in Czechoslovakia had genuine popular support and people in charge of it or defending it generally thought of themselves as the good guys. Make sure you won’t become your own worst enemy — learn from the man.

1) Never Join the Party

Havel absolutely hated the idea of partisanship. The only group he ever truly stood as the political leader of was the Civic Forum, a movement more than 50% of population strong, uniting pretty much everyone who wasn’t a communist. Predictably, this movement fragmented quickly after the initial landslide victory into political parties of traditional left-center-right orientations. But for a brief, perfect moment in history, it worked, ending swiftly nearly five decades of totalitarian dystopia. Peacefully.

Think about it for a second. An artist, a pacifist, a humanist, not representing any race, nationality, class, denomination or even political ideology, not promising any riches to anybody, unites almost everyone on a platform of simply saying no to power, and the power backs down. It doesn’t sound terribly realistic, does it? And yet, it happened. How the hell did that work? Not easy to explain to people with no direct or even second-hand experience with decades of inhuman oppression and political insanity. But you need to start at least by realizing that it did work — idealism can be effective, non-partisan platform can rally a majority.

Perhaps one of the reasons why it did work so well was that joining or not joining *the* party evolved over the course of the communist regime into a perfect test of character — a true deal with the devil. The party was of course the Communist Party, but you can imagine it to be any establishment party, any political hegemon. Like the Republicans, or the Democrats. Why? What does it say about you, if you join a party only to make a career? Only if you think it “has a chance to win”? What do you express then, what do you win? Or even more ominously, who or what gets expressed, does win?

Unless you start a party of your own, or join a party you sincerely agree with 100%, partisanship only serves to compromise your character and cloud the truth. If a party of dishonest people wins the elections, then it is lies that rule the country. Partisanship also logically necessitates a losing side, which is its another inherent evil. Unless you consider the losers of elections less than people, why should they have any less say in what laws get passed, especially the laws that directly affect them? Majority dictating policy, now that’s textbook socialism.

Put succinctly, partisanship breeds dishonesty and oppression, and that is why you should never join a party, especially not *the* party.

2) Say What You Mean

Now probably more than ever in history, especially in America, the politics seem to get more and more conflated with populism. If election results are to be believed, democracy turned into infotainment favors those who say whatever the people want to hear, rather than that which they honestly believe. Needless to say, Havel was elected president multiple times on precisely the opposite — absolute honesty. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that honesty is something with which invariably comes a political price to pay. Not if you’re like Havel.

Havel had certainly infuriated many people, but all they could really do about it was grind their teeth and spit bile, making themselves look rabid. Once you become a genuine moral authority, all of a sudden, the tables turn — any opposition to you can happen only at a political price. It is of course not easy to accomplish in the first place, you need to prove your character over and over, against all adversity. You must also completely accept the very real possibility of losing. Once again, you’re not doing it to win, but because it’s right. Fortunately for idealists, in the real political world, there does come a point when sustained integrity becomes really admirable, and turns into legitimate form of political capital.

I believe it starts to work right about when people start believing that you mean what you’re saying. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to preach any particular form of morality here. Everyone is of course fully entitled to choose more pragmatic political strategies, to believe that politics are a good thing, or that they’re a necessary evil. What I’m trying to illustrate is that being an apolitical humanist is a choice too, a valid lifestyle, a functional strategy, even for politicians. After all, politics are philosophically speaking based on the notion that people can affect the world they live in by exercising their will — why not try and will a more honest society into being?

By being consistently honest, you become proof that honest people exist, and through that, an inspiration to others, who didn’t think it can be done.

3) Learn to Forgive, but Not to Forget

Are you interested in learning how a cycle of violence gets broken? Look at Havel’s example once more. After the majority of the country simply said thanks, but no thanks to the communist elites, there would have been nothing easier for that majority than to start exacting vengeance on the tyrants. Given that at that point in time, several million people were still fully supporting the communist establishment, a bloody civil war would have become inevitable. Hundreds of thousands would end up dead and the country torn apart in ruins, at best. Balkanized in a perpetual conflict at worst.

It was no accident that it hadn’t come to that, and it was caused not merely by the general disdain of Czech people for violence. The faltering regime had very real crimes to answer for, and it can be argued that even violence would have been a completely just punishment. Certainly imprisonment and confiscation of wealth. But you know what, if you remember the Czechoslovakian history, that does sound strangely familiar. Oh I know what it reminds me of — that’s precisely what communists had done, when they got into power, to the previous political elites. They had done all of the above, in fact. It took 48 years to stop what followed.

Havel expressed it by a simple phrase — “We are not like them”. That was his message to the masses, and the masses followed his lead. There was public resentment later, and there were villains that got away scot-free. But the more important question to ask is how many innocents were spared future injustice and violence — probably many. Being apolitical means breaking free from the chains of your nation’s past, and there’s no violence that can be committed in the name of it. Forgiveness is one of the fundamental human virtues, and Havel’s example shows why it is so essential to a healthy development of any human society.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the crimes of the past, it means remembering not to repeat them. Through forgiveness, you will ensure not becoming that which you are fighting against.

There are many more cultural learnings of Havel to offer, but I’m afraid I have already written too much. If you are one of the few netizens with any attention span left, thank you. Maybe there’s hope, after all, for us humans.

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A home for weird ideas, future visions, and mad ramblings. Open for submissions from anyone with something to say about where we’re headed or the nature of time or history. If you want to get added as an author, contact me via my Twitter handle @Nartimar.

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Martin Rezny

Martin Rezny

An independent Czech thinker, speaker, writer, and creator.

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