The Captive Mind by
Winner of 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature
A selected bibliography
Chapter III Ketman
Officially, contradictions do not exist in the minds of the citizens in the people's democracies. Nobody dares to reveal them publicly. And yet the question of how to deal with them is posed in real life. More than others, the members of the intellectual elite are aware of this problem. They solve it by becoming actors.
It is hard to define the type of relationship that prevails between people in the East otherwise than as acting, with the exception that one does not perform on a theater stage but in the street, office, factory,l meeting hall, or even the room one lives in. such acting is a highly developed craft that places a premium upon mental alertness. Before it leaves the lips, every word must be evaluated as to its consequences. A smile that appears at the wrong moment, a glance that is not all it should be even occasion dangerous suspicions and accusations. Even one's gestures, tone of voice, or preference for certain kinds of neckties are interpreted as signs of one's political tendencies.
A visitor from the Imperium is shocked on coming to the West. In his contacts with others, beginning with p0orters or taxi drivers, he encounters no resistance. The people he meets are completely relaxed. They lack that internal concentration which betrays itself in a lowered head or in restlessly moving eyes. They say whatever words come to their tongues; they laugh aloud. Is it possible that human relations can be so direct?
Acting in daily life differs from acting in the theater in that everyone plays to everyone else, and everyone is fully aware that this is so. The fact that a man acts is not to his prejudice, is no proof of unorthodoxy. But he must act well, for his ability to enter into this role skillfully proves that he has built his characterization upon an adequate foundation. If he makes a passionate speech against the West, he demonstrates that he has at least 10 percent of the hatred he so loudly proclaims. If he condemns Western culture lukewarmly, then he must be attached to it in reality. Of course, all human behavior contains a significant amount of acting. A man reacts to his environment and is molded by it even in his gestures. Nevertheless, what we find in the people's democracies is a conscious mass play rather than automatic imitation. Conscious acting, if one practices it long enough, develops those traits which one uses most in one's role, just as a man who became a runner because he had good legs develops his legs even more in training. After long acquaintance with his role, a man grows into it so closely that he can no longer differentiate his true self from the self he simulates, so that even the most intimate of individuals speak to each other in Party slogans. To identify one's self with the role one is obliged to play brings relief and permits a relaxation of one's vigilance. Proper reflexes at the proper moment become truly automatic.....
What is Ketman? I found
its description in a book by Gobineau entitled Religions and Philosophies of
Central Asia. Gobineau spend many6 years in Persia (from 1855 to 1858 he was a
secretary in the French legation, from 1861 to 1863 he was French minister), and
we cannot deny his gift for keen observation, even though we need not
necessarily agree with the conclusions of this rather dangerous writer. The
similarities between Ketman and the customs cultivated in the countries of the
New Faith are so striking that I shall permit myself to quote at length.
The people of the Mussulman East believe that "He who is in possession of truth must not expose his person, his relatives or his reputation to the blindness, the folly, the perversity of those whom it has pleased God to place and maintain in error." One must, therefore, keep silent about one's true convictions if possible.
"Nevertheless," says Gobineau, "There are occasions when silence no longer suffices, when it may pass as an avowal. then one must not hesitate. Not only must one deny one's true opinion, but one is commanded to resort to all ruses in order to deceive one's adversary. One makes all the protestations of faith that can please him, one performs all the rites one recognizes to be the most vain, one falsifies one's own books, one exhausts all possible means of deceit. Thus one acquires the multiple satisfactions and merits of having place oneself and one's relative under cover, of not having exposed a venerable faith to the horrible contact of the infidel, and finally of having, in cheating the latter and confirming him in his error, imposed on him the shame and spiritual misery that he deserves.
"Ketman fills the man who practices it with pride. Thanks to it, a believer raises himself to a permanent state of superiority over the man he deceives, be he a minister of state or a powerful king; to him who uses Ketman, the other is a miserable blind man whom one shuts off from the true path whose existence he does not suspect; while you, tattered and dying of hunger, trembling externally at the feet of duped force, your eyes are filled with light, you walk in brightness before your enemies. It is an unintelligent being that you make sport of; it is a dangerous beast that you disarm. What a wealthy of pleasures!"
How far Ketman can go is demonstrated by the founder of one sect, Hadzhi-Sheikh-Ahmed. "Although he left behind many words of theology, he never 0penly advanced in his books, as even his most passionate disciples avow, anything which could place the reader on the path o the ideas attributed to him today. But everyone affirms he practiced Ketman and that in private he was extremely daring and precise in establishing order in the doctrines which bear his name today." We cannot wonder, therefore, that, as a certain Persian admitted in conversation with Gobineau, "There is not a single true Moslem in Persia."....
National Ketman is broadly diffused throughout the masses, and even the upper brackets of the Party in the various dependent states are not free of it. Because Tito, like Sadra, announced his heresy to all the world, millions of human beings in the people's democracies must employ exceedingly ingenious means of masking themselves. Instructive displays of condemnation of those who wished to follow the national road to socialism in individual Eastern capitals taught the public what kind of phrases an d reflexes can expose one to reproach for harboring this fatal tendency. The surest safeguard is to manifest loudly one's awe at Russia's ac hievements in every field of endeavor, to carry Russian books under one's arm, to hum Russian songs, to applaud Russian actors and musicians enthusiastically, etc. ...The chief characteristic of the people who practice this Ketman is an unbounded c contempt for Russia as a barbaric country.
The Ketman of Revolutionary Purity is a rare variety, more common in the large cities of Russia than in the people's democracies. It is based on a belief in the "sacred fire of the revolutionary epoch of Lenin" which burns in such a poet as Mayakovsk8i. Mayakovski's suicide in 1930 marked the end of an era distinguished by the flowering of literature, the theater, and music. the "Sacred fire" wad dampened, collectivization was introduced mercilessly, millions of Soviet citizens perished in slave labor camps, a ruthless policy toward non-Russian nations was established. Literature became flat and colorless under the influence of imposed theories; Russian painting was destroyed; Russian theater, then the foremost in the world, was deprived o freedom to experiment; science was subjected to directives from Party chiefs. A man who reasons thus hates Him with all his heart, holding Him responsible for the terrible lot of the Russian people for for the hatred they inspire in other nations. ...
Aesthetic Ketman is born of the disparity between man's longings and the sense-satisfactions the new Faith offers. A man of taste cannot approve the results of official pressure in the realm of culture no matter how much he applauds the latest verses, how many flattering reviews he writes of current art expositions, nor how studiously he pretends that the gloomy new buildings coincide with his personal preferences in architecture. He changes completely within the four walls o fhi home. The one finds (if he is a well-situated intellectual) reproductions of works of art officially condemned as bourgeois, records of modern music, and a rich collection of ancient authors in various languages. This luxury of splendid isolation is pardoned him so long as his creative works is effective propaganda. To protect his position and his apartment (which was by the grace of the State), the intellectual is prepared to make any sacrifice or compromise; for the value of privacy in a society that affords little if any isolation is greater than the saying "my home is my castle" can lead one to surmise. Two-way television screens installed in private homes to observed the behavior of citizens in seclusion belong as yet to the fut8ure. hence, by listening to foreign radio stations and reading good books he profits from a moment of relaxation; that is , of course, if he is alone, for as soon as guests arrive the play begins anew. ...
Professional Ketman is reasoned thus: since I find myself in circumstances over which I have no control, and since I have but one life and that is fleeting, I should strive to do mjy best. I am like a crustacean attached to a crag on the bottom of the sea. Over me storms rage and huge ships sail; but my entire effort is concentrated upon clinging to the rock, for otherwise I will be carried off by the wates and perish, leaving no trace behind. If I am a scientist I attend congresses at which I deliver reports strictly adhering to the Party line. But in the laboratory I pursue my research according to scientific methods, and in tht alone lies the aim of life. If my work is successful, it matters little how it will be presented and toward whose glory. Discoveries mjade in the name of a disinterested search for truth are lasting, whereas the shrieks of politicians pass., I must do all they demand, they may use my name as they wish, as long as I have access to a laboratory and money for the purchase of scientific instruments....
Sceptical ketman is widely disseminated throughout intellectual circles. One argues that humanity does not know how to handle its knowledge or how to resolve the problems of production and division of goods. ...Since this Ketman is based on a total lack of belief in the Method, it helps one conform externally to the obligatory line by allowing for complete cynicism and therefore for elasticity in adjusting oneself to changing tactics....
Metaphysical Ketman occurs generally in countries with a Catholic past. Most examples of it within the Imperium are found in Poland. This Ketman depends upon a suspended belief in a metaphysical principle of the world. A man attached to this Ketman regards the epoch in which he lives as anti-metaphysical, and hence as one in which no metaphysical faith can emerge. Humanity is learning to think in rationalistic and materialistic categories; it is burdened with immediate problems and entangled in a class war. Oher-worldly religions are crumbling, living through a period of crisis and, what is worse, serving to defend the obsolete order. this does not man that mankind will not return to a better and purified religion in the future. Perhaps the New Faith is an indispensable purgatory; perhaps God's purpose is being accomplished through the barbarians, i.e. the center, who are forcing the masses to awaken out of their lethargy. The spiritual fare these masses receive from the new Faith is inferior and insufficient.... Certain practicing Catholics serve even in the security police, and suspend their Catholicism in executing their inhumane work....
Ethical Ketman results from opposition to the eethics of the New Faith, which is based on the principle that good and evil are definable solely in terms of service or harm to the itnerests of the Revolution....The higher one stands in the Party hierarchy, the more attentively is one's private life supervised. Love of money, drunkenness, or a confused love-life disqualify a Party member from holding important offices. ...The general ethical ideal of the New Faith is puritanidal. If it were feasible to lodge all the citizens in cells and release them only for owork or for political meetings, tht would undoubtedly be most desirable. But alas, one must make concessions to human nature. Procreation is possible only as a result of sexual relations between men and women, and one must take this inconvenience into account.
here's a link to a more recent article about Milosz and Ketman.