Vaclav Havel – “The Power of the Powerless”

Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless” shows the innate lack of power that humans possess. When we are born, we are in constant need of help- help to eat, to be cleaned, etc. As we get older, our lack of power oscillates into the way we perform in society. How do we live in a “system [that] has become so ossified”, filled with dissidents that “paralyze every [human’s] effort… to revolt” (Havel 1, 7)? In Havel’s case, this system living life operates to distort the citizens views. Because it is so “captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything… the past… the present… the future” (4). In Stanley Milgram’s experiment, he analyzes how programmed we are to behave, in situations that may dehumanize another person’s being. Similarly, Havel does the same, in reference to obedience, however he accentuates the role that the system plays in a post-totalitarian world.

The state has many ways of making people conform, even some ways that go unnoticed. The most hidden form is the use of slogans, subliminal messages. Havel speaks of the manager that faithfully puts the “Workers of the world, unite!” sign in his window that displays his onions and carrots (2). The sign may not display what he truly believes, yet  he is ordered to put it up in this areaHis actions are similar to what Milgram believes: “few people have the resources needed to resist authority” (Milgram 164).The message may be ignored hundreds of times, but “it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them” (5). At random spurts, they (greengrocers: those who shop at the store) may see the sign come across their memory, simply because they’re in constant approach of it. This is the obedience that the system thrives from.

How does one deviate from the system and become a true individual? What will happen when the “bridge of excuses between the system and the individual collapses” (2). Havel suggests that “living within the truth has more than a mere existential dimension, or a noetic dimension, or a moral dimension”, it is a threat to the post-totalitarian system, that dwells in lies (8). The appearance of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, showed the young musicians, from various walks of life, that “were “tired of being tired”… fed up with the stagnation [and] inactivity” created a stage of freedom for everyone to express themselves; ultimately helping others “realize that not standing up for the freedom of others… meant surrendering one’s own freedom” (9).

Milgram’s experiment didn’t necessarily follow the ways of Charter 77. Many of the “teachers” who participated in Milgram’s experiment would not be labeled as a part of the “dissident movement” (13). They allowed horrific things to happen because they were afraid to displease the person giving them orders. Living within the truth, allows one to break free from being “trapped in the world of appearances” (11).


Due Date for Fountain Project: The information that will be displayed on the website will be completed by next Wednesday, March 1, 2017. The completion of the website is tentative. Our group is waiting on responses from those who can help us achieve the making of a possible interactive map, as well as the other intricacies of the website.

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