Monday, January 3, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter V

Letter V

The strategy of living "as if".

Now you ask me, to what purpose is such a life to be devoted? In a way, you miss my point, since I believe (and I hope I argued) that such a life is worth living on its own account.

Vaclav Havel [...] realized that "resistance" in its original insurgent and militant sense was impossible in the Central Europe of the day. He therefore proposed living "as if" he were a citizen of a free society, "as if" lying and cowardice were not mandatory patriotic duties, "as if" his government had actually signed (which it actually had) the various treaties and agreements that enshrine universal human rights. He called this tactic "The Power of the Powerless" because, even when disagreement can be almost forbidden, a state that insists on actually compelling assent can be relatively easily made to look stupid.

The "as if" idea could be very well applied to several distinct situations in life.

More examples of the "as if" pose:

Professor E. P. Thompson [...] proposed that we live "as if" a free independent Europe already existed.
Oscar Wilde [...] decided to live "as if" moral hypocrisy were not regnant. In the Deep South in the early 1960's, Rosa Parks [...] decided to act "as if" a hardworking black woman could sit down on a bus at the end of the day's labor. In Moscow in the 1970's, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resolved to write "as if" an individual scholar could investigate the history of his own country, and publish his findings.

I remember seeing on the recent December 1st, that Google made a special logo to celebrate Rosa Parks. I knew about her on that day.

Some final remarks:

On every day of those years, the "as if" pose had to be kept up, until its cumulative effect could be felt.

All I can recommend, therefore (apart from the study of these and other good examples) is that you try to cultivate some of this attitude. In an average day, you may well be confronted with some species of bullying or bigotry, or some ill-phrased appeal the the general will, or some petty abuse of authority.
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