Jul 152013

If there’s one article worth reading this summer it’s Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”. Its an “expansive political essay written in October 1978 by the Czech dramatist, political dissident and later politician, Václav Havel.”

Havel describes the nature of the ‘post-totalitarian’ regime, and how it’s ideology is maintained as ‘appearance’.

It’s well worth reading again today, but instead of thinking of a failing communist dictatorship, think about how ‘spin’ and ‘reputation’ are managed by companies and public bodies these days, as a way of controlling dissent and alternative thinking:
“In a classical dictatorship, to a far greater extent than in the post-totalitarian system, the will of the ruler is carried out directly, in an unregulated fashion. A dictatorship has no reason to hide its foundations, nor to conceal the real workings of power, and therefore it need not encumber itself to any great extent with a legal code. The post-totalitarian system, on the other hand, is utterly obsessed with the need to bind everything in a single order: life in such a state is thoroughly permeated by a dense network of regulations, proclamations, directives, norms, orders, and rules. (It is not called a bureaucratic system without good reason.) A large proportion of those norms function as direct instruments of the complex manipulation of life that is intrinsic to the post-totalitarian system.Individuals are reduced to little more than tiny cogs in an enormous mechanism and their significance is limited to their function in this mechanism.”

Reading this essay has got me thinking about how community media is an attempt to develop an alternative to the mainstream commercial or public service ideologies that dominate and permeate Western culture. This second culture, a parallel culture, that Havel describes, is in itself a dissident act and one that calls into question the game that is being played by the dominant forces and groups in society.

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