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What Vaclav Havel Didn't Bargain For: Central Europe's Loss Of Interest In Ideas - The Economy, Stupid | thesmartset.com - 2011-09-13 |

"The artistic and literary scene that flourished paradoxically under censorship and repression has died off. ... The people of Central Europe traded in ideas for groceries and for not being beaten to death by the police.
 

Source: www.artsjournal.com, via ArtsJournal: Daily Arts News


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quotation by oAnth:



[...]


Twenty years after the Velvet Revolution, Havel gave a public speech in which he assessed the current state of the free Czech Republic. “On the one hand everything is getting better — a new generation of mobile phones is being released every week,” he said. “But in order to make use of them, you need to follow new instructions. So you end up reading instruction manuals instead of books and in your free time you watch TV where handsome tanned guys scream from advertisements about how happy they are to have new swimming trunks... The new consumer society is accomplished by a growing number of people who do not create anything of value.”

The artistic and literary scene that flourished paradoxically under censorship and repression has died off. The public intellectual is, for the most part, no longer invited to the most important parties. Anna Porter writes, “Now that everyone can publish what they want, what is the role of the intellectuals?” and she can’t find an answer. It’s no longer the police state that’s attacking the intelligentsia — it’s disinterest and boredom. It’s distraction. It’s a trade off. And it’s one that we should be able to acknowledge and be allowed to mourn. When the historian Timothy Garton Ash visited Poland in the 1980s, he admitted to an envy for the environment there. “Here is a place where people care, passionately, about ideas.” The people of Central Europe traded in ideas for groceries and for not being beaten to death by the police. No one could possibly blame them, but at the same time, Havel and the other leaders had no sense of the true cost of democracy.

[...]

As F. S. Michaels writes in Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything, “When you’re inside a master story at a particular time in history, you tend to accept its definition of reality. You unconsciously believe and act on certain things, and disbelieve and fail to act on other things... Over time, the monoculture evolves into a nearly invisible foundation that structures and shapes our lives, giving us our sense of how the world works.”

[...]


Michaels’s book has its faults. Her summations of how the world once work — meant to both show how much we’ve devoted to this economic story today and remind us that things can be different — are tinged with the hue that colors Ostalgie: the backward-looking amnesia that infects those Central Europeans who have decided things were so much better under communism, or, if you’re in the right country, under the Habsburgs. “Back in the 1950s, the relationship between employees and their companies involved commitment and reciprocity; workers were committed to the job in return for wages and promotions, and the company was committed to its workers in return for their hard work and loyalty.” Well, maybe. But admittance to the wider workforce was restricted at best. Such a point is like looking back on the days of incredibly low unemployment in communist Poland... without mentioning that if anyone protested for safer working conditions, the police might just shoot him in the head. Every monoculture will have its downsides, and trading one for another will always lead to unexpected deficits. But maybe if we acknowledge that the economic story looks like it’s coming to an unhappy ending of environmental degradation, widespread poverty, and hunger as resources become scarce, we can see what we might get in return.

Leaving the economic monoculture, particularly now that it’s a worldwide system, is not going to be any less of a dramatic act than Havel’s Velvet Revolution. Michaels makes a strong case that this story is stripping us of our environment, our creativity, and our personal happiness. We are, for the most part, bogged down in the daily struggle for survival, too worried about losing our fragile position within a corporation to envision an entirely different way of being. It’s going to take another Havel, someone who can see the world for what it is and find a better story to tell.

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oAnth:

 

The problem with thatkind of books is quite obviously, that they describe rather well the status quo, but don't give sufficient answers by lack of an adequate analysis of the socio-economic impact into the cultural and academic sphere, which is causing the observed depletion.

 


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