Rowling Tweets Havel Thread Contra Ideology the Week of ‘Secrets’ Opening

Rowling earlier this week posted a twelve part twitter thread which went out to her 14 million followers. It was a selection from Václav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless (1978), the first time I can remember her quoting one author at such length from her Twitter platform.

After the jump, a copy of the thread for you to read and three thoughts about the timing, about one possible origin of her exposure to Havel, and the profound irony of Rowling quoting him.

The Twitter Thread:

“The manager of a fruit and vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ Why does he do it?…Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? 1/12

Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean? 2/12

That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply… because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. 3/12

If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper ‘decoration’ in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. 4/12

…The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message… ‘I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me… I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.’ 5/12

…if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient’, he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. 6/12

The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation… To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign… 7/12

It must allow the greengrocer to say, ‘What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?’ Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience… It hides them behind the façade of something high… that something is ideology. 8/12

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. 9/12

…it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job… 10/12

… to the highest functionary… Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. 11/12

For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it.”12/X

Václav Havel, The Power of the Powerless, 1978

(1) The Timing: Not to belabor the obvious, but instead of tweeting in support of Secrets of Dumbledore, Rowling has been using her outsized platform first to celebrate her liquid lunch at the River Cafe with other women who have stood against transgender overreach and now to quote Havel on the pernicious power of ideology and poisonous product of submitting to its pressure. This last she did in response to a tweet contra the forces making ‘TWAW,’ ‘Trans Women Are Women,’ a mantra that must be chanted by professional women if they want to maintain their career standing.

The message of both these tweet threads is for Warner Brothers, the actors, actresses, producers, directors, and Wizarding World fandom mavens who have labeled and libeled her as a transphobe and bigot: “You are clueless, cowardly tools who are living within a lie.” The secondary message is “My stand on this issue is so much more important than your silly movie. a franchise which I will not lift one finger to promote.”

(2) Possible Source:  I first read this Havel passage on Rod Dreher’s American Conservative weblog in 2016. ‘The Green Grocer Window Sign’ is something of a touchstone there because it was the foundation of Dreher’s book The Benedict Option and his subsequent title, Live Not By Lies. Dreher is in Bethlehem and Jerusalem now for Orthodox Holy Week and writing about that pilgrimage on his weblog, Substack, and twitter feeds, but I’m sure he’ll be writing about Rowling quoting Havel as soon as he gets back. {Then again, maybe not — Dreher just announced his wife of 25 years has filed for divorce.}

I’m sure of that because, in addition to citing this passage in a variety of contexts for years (see here, here, and here), Dreher has written a piece about Rowling and the Green Grocer Havel passage already: ‘J. K. Rowling and Havel’s Green Grocer‘. He wrote there:

Let me remind you all that Rowling is a social liberal, a feminist, a backer of gay rights and a public supporter of the Labour Party. And now, she’s cancelled. I wonder if the NYT op-ed page will invite a column from a liberal feminist who agrees with Rowling. I hope so, but I doubt it. On the left today, pseudo-women are more important than actual women. I see Rowling as a kind of Havel’s Greengrocer figure: a person who refuses to go along to get along, no matter what comes — and in so doing, shows that one doesn’t have to surrender to tyranny. Here’s what I wrote about Havel’s greengrocer in The Benedict Option:

Havel, who died in 2011, preached what he called “antipolitical politics,” the essence of which he described as “living in truth.” His most famous and thorough statement of this was a long 1978 essay titled “The Power of the Powerless,” which electrified the Eastern European resistance movements when it first appeared. It is a remarkable document, one that bears careful study and reflection by orthodox Christians in the West today.

Consider, says Havel, the greengrocer living under Communism, who puts a sign in his shop window saying, “Workers of the World, Unite!” He does it not because he believes it, necessarily. He simply doesn’t want trouble. And if he doesn’t really believe it, he hides the humiliation of his coercion by telling himself, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Fear allows the official ideology to retain power—and eventually changes the greengrocer’s beliefs. Those who “live within a lie,” says Havel, collaborate with the system and compromise their full humanity.

Every act that contradicts the official ideology is a denial of the system. What if the greengrocer stops putting the sign up in his window? What if he refuses to go along to get along? “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth”— and it’s going to cost him plenty.

He will lose his job and his position in society. His kids may not be allowed to go to the college they want to, or to any college at all. People will bully him or ostracize him. But by bearing witness to the truth, he has accomplished something potentially powerful:

He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.

Because they are public, the greengrocer’s deeds are inescapably political. He bears witness to the truth of his convictions by being willing to suffer for them. He becomes a threat to the system—but he has preserved his humanity. And that, says Havel, is a far more important accomplishment than whether this party or that politician holds power (a fact that became painfully clear during the debasing 2016 U.S. presidential campaign).

“A better system will not automatically ensure a better life,” Havel goes on. “In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.” (emphasis mine).

Of course in Vaclav Havel’s fable, the greengrocer is powerless. J.K. Rowling has a fortune estimated between $650 million and $1 billion. Nevertheless, as anybody who has paid attention to social media and the news media coverage since Rowling stood up for feminist Maya Forstater, whose opinion that males cannot become female was denounced by a British judge as unfit for democratic society, the woke tyrants will do what they can to inflict damage. Note well that the media coverage of the event has almost entirely been framed as a famous writer causing pain to her trans and trans-supportive fans. The encouragement Rowling’s stance has given to feminists and others who do not accept gender ideology has been ignored by the media. Naturally, because “bigots” are not to be allowed to think that anybody supports them.

Rowling could have encountered Havel’s Green Grocer piece anywhere, of course. He is not an obscure author and this is his most famous essay. But Dreher’s comments are typical of how Rowling’s resistance to the rip tide of transgenderism has been received by American conservative writers, namely, acknowledgment that, despite their differences, they share an enemy in the madness of Woke double-think.

(3) The Irony: Regular readers here know that #IStandWithJKRowling on this issue, but I have never made clear that Rowling’s heroic stand and now her quoting Havel is profoundly and bitterly ironic, even pathetically hypocritical.

She has been blacklisted or “cancelled” by the cognoscenti because she will not say “Not x is x,” the logical expression of TWAW, or apologize for refusing to live that lie or within it by keeping silent. She decries the injustice of her being labelled a TERF, the refusal of her critics to read and think seriously about her objections to the obfuscation of sex with gender-think, and the cowardice of others who will not stand with her. Rowling also has very carefully and consistently clarified that one of her bedrock concerns in the Trans Wars is that transgenderism makes same sex relationships, especially those between women, seem irrational. “Because one of those lesbians is really a transgender man crying to get out, right?”  

This distinction is to separate her stand from that of orthodox believers of the great religious traditions, namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all of whom hold — with every psychologist until about ten minutes ago — that transgenderism is a disorder of the mind and soul with spiritual consequences. Rowling wants nothing to do with this position at all because she holds that these orthodox believers are by definition all bigots and, to use her favorite word, “fundamentalists.” Remember what she said to Amini:

“You see, that is where I absolutely part company with people on that side of the fence, because that is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is, ‘I will not open my mind to look on your side of the argument at all. I won’t read it, I won’t look at it, I’m too frightened’. And that, to me, is fundamentalism, and that’s what’s dangerous about it, whether it be politically extreme, religiously extreme… In fact fundamentalists across all the major religions, if you put them in a room they’d have bags in common!” she laughs loudly, before sobering. “They hate all the same things, it’s such an ironic thing.

I agree, relating how religious fundamentalism can make life difficult for the moderate majority, that the only thing fundamentalists have in common is their inherent bigotry. “Well, yes. It’s historical. I think there was some sort of gay rights parade in Israel, I think it might have been last year, and of course extreme orthodox Jews were up in arms about it.” Rowling unsuccessfully tries to suppress laughter as she continues. “Meanwhile over in Palestine you have the most fundamentally religious people who were saying ‘While of course we detest Israel and it shouldn’t exist, we do wholeheartedly agree that homosexuals are completely beyond the line.’” The laughter hits a crescendo. “Yeah, at last, you’re talking! Unfortunately you do have to exterminate another section of society to have anything to talk about but…”

The “irony” here is not that “all the major religions… hate all the same things.” Speaking for traditional Orthodox Christians, we do not hate even our enemies, something forbidden us by dominical command, and we certainly do not hate those who suffer from psychological disease and mental illness, to include same sex attraction and gender disorder. Rowling’s accusation that orthodox Jews and Muslims “have to exterminate” sodomites and sexual perverts because of their beliefs is at least as libelous and unthinking as those who now call her a TERF and call for her murder in their twitter feeds.

Which is what makes Rowling’s quoting Havel so richly ironic and hypocritical. For decades she has defamed all traditional people of faith as “fundamentalists,” unthinking bigots whose lives are filled with hate for anything other; let’s call them SERFs for “Sin Exclusionary Radical Faithful.” These believers do not celebrate sexual perversion or confusion because the revelation from God of each tradition teaches and the experience of millenia demonstrates that such behaviors are toxic for the spiritual life of individuals and communities. Rowling on this point has been the person placing the sign in the window, the unthinking ideologue demanding SERFs conform to her ‘spiritual not religious’ Christianity in line with the spirit of the World rather than contra mundum et in Christo.

Now, though, that she finds herself arguing the same position as traditional believers, the despised “fundamentalist” SERFs, that “Not X is X” is a lie and the truth is sacred and not a point for compromise whatever the cost, she positions herself with lesbians rather than Christians to set herself apart from her irreconcilable ‘other.’ Rowling may not want to “exterminate” that “section of society” made up of traditional believers — especially if they are Muslims! — but she sure doesn’t want anyone, even those now calling her a “bigot” and “transphobe,” to confuse her with those she has been calling “bigots” and “homophobes” shamelessly and in magna voce for decades.

I’m glad that she chose the Green Grocer piece for this long tweet thread; most of her 14 million followers have never heard of him, I’d wager, or thought of the possibility that they were living a lie or within the unexamined lies of our times. I suggest, though, that she should spend some time in reflection on her history of slandering SERFs with the epithets now being hurled at her and consider the possibility that she is the one who has been saying with respect to traditional, orthodox faith, ‘I will not open my mind to look on your side of the argument at all. I won’t read it, I won’t look at it, I’m too frightened.’ She is a secular “fundamentalist” on that point and owes an apology or a nod of fellowship to those she has reflexively and odiously called “bigots” for believing about gay people what she does about transgender men and women.

Dreher said in an interview once that, though Havel was a dedicated atheist, his writing on the Green Grocer points to a greater worldview than Marxist materialism and anything goes sexuality. I’ll close this note with his thoughts:

One of the lessons I got from talking to people in these different countries [that suffered under the Communist yoke] is that really the only way to have survived totalitarianism and keeping your integrity is to believe in something higher, something greater than yourself. Now it is the case in Czechoslovakia,Václav Havel and his circle were all atheists. Václav Benda and his wife Camilla – they’re also in my book – were the only Christians in Havel’s inner circle but in most of the other countries the dissidents were often believing Christians and they were able to withstand all the state through at them because they believed that there was an ultimate reality beyond the material world and faith in that ultimate reality is what got them through.

This one professor I spoke to in Warsaw had a really good analogy or simile to describe this. He described human existence as like a kite. He said a kite can go very high in the air if it is connected by a string to someone on the earth but if you cut the string the kite, however high it is, will spiral to the ground. He said that’s how it is for us and God. If humanity is connected to the transcendent, to God, the ground of transcendence, we can achieve great things. But if that line is cut then we make a mess of it.

I think he was talking about that in connection to the phenomenon you just brought up about how this belief in God, not only in God in general but in the Christian God and in transcendent values, which is also something that Václav Havel and these others believed in, if not God, they believed that some things were true and that communism itself was a massive lie, a system built on lies about ultimate truth.

Rowling believes that transgender overreach and the horrific damage being done to young people with puberty blockers, etc., can be stopped by not accepting the specific lies without any reference to “transcendent values” and “ultimate truth.” She has said that people can lead perfectly moral lives without believing in God. Good luck with your effort against transgender activism, Mrs. Murray, and best wishes to all those you know who live as de facto atheists. For those “fundamentalists” and “bigots” you have verbally abused all these years, I say honestly I’m sorry that you are now enduring what you have dished out on SERFs all this time. It gets easier, but it’s never any fun.