Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Don't Worry. Be Scottish"

We don't need to wait for it. Let's start living in truth now - right now. Let's live 'as if"

Last Sunday, when Neal Ascherson quoted these words of Vaclav Havel in an outstanding piece he wrote for the Herald,  ( I happened to be getting drunk on a train to Kosice with Bretislav Rychlik who is interviewing the survivors of the Czech Underground before it's too late in a massive new documentary series for Czech TV.

"Don't worry" chanted Bretislav, amused at my anxious talk of the referendum campaign. "Be Scottish."

I'm not sure entirely what he meant by this, but in celebration of the coincidence, may I offer the following.

"No one ever made a better world in any way but by living as if it were already here.  No one ever became free or equal without behaving as if they were already free and equal."

What a generation of young Czech dissidents did after hope was snuffed out in 1968 was to bloody mindedly ignore the fact.  They continued to live as if they were free.  They formed bands, published poems, dreamed dreams.  And drank borowice as if there were no tomorrow.  As if there were only today. Like that whole generation, from Paris to San Francisco to Brno to Kosice, they were addicts of the present tense.  In circumstances of definitive un-freedom, they refused to be anything other than their cantankerous and sometimes hilarious selves. Their resistance to a bogus collectivism was to sustain their individuality under impossible circumstances. They dared the authorities to crush them.  They appealed across the barrier of the iron curtain to their own generation "on the other side".  It was an international conspiracy of hipsters, who loved the same music and the same culture that detonated under the two versions of the same cultural conservatism that had established itself after the war.

And while on "our side" the insistence on the individual was assimilated into consumerism as easilty as the Yippies Jerry Rubin found himself a job with Ronald Reagan, in Czechoslovakia the hippies remained the resistance as their world turned very unfriendly.  They were imprisoned, conscripted for hard labour. They had their families broken up and their children taken away.   Some broke, but many, many didn't.  The shame, as David Bowie put it, was on the other side.  And they were the heroes. The long haired , rude, awkward squad, dismissed with contempt by an edifice of self satisfied corruption disguised as the future, unexpectedly found themselves on the winning side.

They had acted for twenty years, "as if". And now here it was.

When they won, of course, when the world turned their way and they found themselves celebrated, they found themselves deep frozen, many of them, in their own history.  Their insistence on not changing, on remaining themselves made the freedom they had won for everybody else inaccessible to them.  You meet them now, these greying hippies, and they are still living in a self defined protective bubble. They are, some of them, the worse for drink.  (I spent one day on the train, and I was pretty near dead) .  They are entitled, still, to behave "badly" by the standards of the new instrumentalist culture.  Not to show up for stuff.  There is a trading, perhaps on their historical status which is now indulged rather than crushed by the "powers that be"

Which is probably a little debilitating.  Who knows.

In the meantime, if Neal Ascherson thinks we can draw inspiration from them, if he thinks that this present moment in Scotland is one in which we can act as if it were a better world, as if we were already equal, as if we were already in charge of our own future, then who am I to demur.

The sun is shining.  Don't worry.  Be Scottish.

No comments:

Post a Comment