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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Thu. 03/19/09 08:57:51 PM

Havel's Observations

Václav Havel, sometime Czech president, gave an address, May 24, 1993, upon receving The Onassis Prize For Man and Mankind:

.... Small city states, where all those who shared in the rights of citizenship could easily assemble in one square, and where nearly all citizens may have known one another, have given way to states with a population of dozens and sometimes hundreds of millions. Consequently contacts, including communication between members of the public and the politicians who represent them, have to go through a variety of instruments, be it a stratified system of representative democracy, the powerful megamachineries of large political parties or the communication system most characteristic of the present times, that is, the media.
Under these circumstances, many people hardly ever see a politician as a person anymore. Instead, a politician is a shadow they watch on television, not knowing whether he is speaking impromptu or reading a text written for him by anonymous advisers or experts from a screen hidden behind the cameras. Citizens no longer perceive their politician as a living human being, for they never have and will never see him that way. They see only his image, created for them by TV, radio and newspaper commentators. If they want to ask a politician a question they can usually do so only in writing, and receive a reply from a nameless member of his staff. If they decide to vote for him in an election they often cannot give their vote to him alone but have to vote for a political party as well, and with it, for a number of other politicians about whom they know nothing and for whom they do not care, on a list they could not influence because such lists are put together by party secretariats the voters neither know nor elect. Politics ceases to be a part of the citizens' immediate life and becomes something like a peculiar TV show, which could be comic or tragic, but which they can only watch....
I find it fantastic that today's civilization makes it possible for the whole world to witness important events, no matter where they happen, in the same instant. It is marvellous that people can communicate with each other immediately when they want to, and that they can meet at a few hours' notice. I also deem it immensely important that politics is under the scrutiny of a free and independent press.
The only thing that worries me is the depersonalization and dehumanization of politics that has come about with the progress of civilization. An ordinary human being, with a personal conscience, personally answering for something to somebody and personally and directly taking responsibility, seems to be receding farther and farther from the realm of politics. Politicians seem to turn into puppets that only look human and move in a giant, rather inhuman theatre; they appear to become merely cogs in a huge machine, objects of a major civilizational automatism which has gotten out of control and for which nobody is responsible....

(Thanks, Charles.)

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Thu. 03/19/09 08:57:51 PM
Categorized as International & Media & Political.


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