Blog | Lukáš Pokorný

Czech Mentality – Part I (sketch of a theory?)

I was wondering what would be the Czech society like, had it a face, were it a real person.

             Considering its development in the past four decades, it would be a neurotic, I concluded for myself. Not dissimilar from a child subjected to deprivation of basic needs, our society has been changed a lot by the oppresive nature of the past regime and has developed „personal traits“ that bear resemblance with those characterizing a neurotic individual: it is, above all, an intricate system of defense measures that help the concerned individual to cope with fear and pressure he has to endure. While coming to terms with the pressure, he will understand how to dissociate to the critical situation and will explore diverse ways of neutralizing its dangerousness. He becomes detached but aware of the threat. As a compensation of the loss suffered in the realm of enjoyments of the real life he focuses on his inner world where he is living free and at ease. Because of this he has the ability of ‘seeing differently’ – he is familiar with the relativity of one’s concepts and thoughts and has access to deeper layers of his own personality (the most fitting personal descriptors: shyness, fear of the „Unknown“, distrust and suspicion versus an intensive inner life, strong inter-personal bonds, „mind games“, imaginative ways of handling problems).

            Even though the neurotic person finds himself in a critical life situation, he has the potential of turning his illness into a force towards personal freedom and complexity. The only factor that impedes this is his system of defence measures. Measures that help him to survive in a world of absurd reality and that substitute the role of a „self“. To „wake up“ again means destroying the system – this does not happen based on a volitive act though, much more is needed to facilitate this groundbreaking experience: emotional shock, psychedelic episode or a near-death experience. 


            I think this is what happened in 1989 in the then Czechoslovakia: a change of consciousness followed by an ongoing self-reflection with all the mistakes and drawbacks but also with all the achievements we have witnessed so far (indispensable parts of the post-trauma healing process). I have always thought about this in terms of Havel´s idea of „total manipulation experience“ spelled out in an interview with Václav Bělohradský in Mezisvěty a mezi světy (Bělohradský, 1997). What Havel says is that the totalitarian-regime experience makes the concerned society attain a different existential point of view – put simply, makes it different. Havel does not, however, elaborate the subject futher. Therefore, I am asking myself: what are the consequences of this?

            Neurosis is a painful thing: there are many ways how to cope with the pain – I already mentioned the most common one, defence system. There are, however, many more ways to deal with the hardship. I am convinced that the very special „czech alcoholism“ was one of these and that it had a role of an instant therapeutical tool. The question here is: where such „thirst“ for escape and oblivion came from?


            While searching for the answer I came across a concept of THYMOS that Francis Fukuyama re-discovers in his book „The End of History and the Last Man“ (1992). This Grecian term refers to a major force behind all human endeavours. It is, generally speaking, a drive for recognition-winning and self assertion that makes the world revolve…I imagined working and living environment in which you are continuously bullied, restricted in your rights, threatened for your opinions and where your thirst for doing things cannot be satisfied. THYMOS (or Freudian principle of contented life: „Arbeiten und Lieben“) is suppressed, there is nothing to be proud of, nothing to look forward; there is no recognition, no joy. Mere surviving, not life: experience of a profound personal failure.


            Considering the fact, that the majority of persons affected by above described alcoholism were men, the consequences of such personal failure are more then disturbing. I think that among the most acute is the distortion of the „male model“ in the Czech society.


            V. Bělohradský in his essay „Pohlaví rozumu“ (Sex of the Intellect) talks about how shocked he was when he discovered to what extent women in the Czech Republic voluntarily assume the roles that would be totally unacceptable for their feminist friends from, let´s say, Germany or Italy. I think this refers, once again, to the above described (non)functioning of THYMOS – for women, that showed no such extreme tendency towards alcoholism, it was easier to accept the resignation in the professional area, i.e. to to work as secretaries, kindergarten teachers or cleaning ladies. This „loss“ was then compensated in family life – there they were the „managers“. The generation that went through this „soft“ education under the baton of their mothers, is the main agent of the behavioural pattern changes we are going to see in the near future (and are seeing nowadays). The denominators of such individuals´ lives are different: searching as a life mission, alternative ways of living, drug and non-drug mind experiments, personality crisis and ensuing reverence of the Being or „more conscious existence“. I believe in the female princip. 

        When I think about neurosis and regimes of all kinds, I very often recall Havel´s remark on socialism as a „convex (protuberant) mirror“ of the capitalist West, as a caricature of it. Therefore, to be enabled to see one´s face in such a distorted way which, in real terms, means to be enabled to be a part of an absurd drama (totalitarian regime), is an invaluable experience. It plays an indispensable role in the simple capitalistic concept of existence: it gives the participant the possibility to find a way out of a similar absurd scenes that he is, once again, part of.  

            Put simply, Havel´s „total manipulation experience“ equips one better for a situation that he described in his essay „Moc bezmocných“ (Power of the Poweless):



           „The planetary crisis of the human condition permeates the western world equally as it does with our world, only that it assumes different social and political forms….It could be even said that the more space there is in it (in the western society) for real life purposes in comparison with our world (of communist regime), the better is the critical condition concealed from the eyes of a man and the more is he immersed in it.“ 




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