Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom
What about the cave in which Estonians live? Do they find it hard to consider alternative perspectives and frameworks? Can they see beyond the shadows on the walls of their own cave? I would suggest that the Estonians are not alone. Today, most of us live in a world that is becoming increasingly complex, unpredictable, turbulent—and contradictory (Bergquist, 2019). Turning back to Plato’s allegory, we live with an expanded cast of characters in the cave. First, there is something or someone standing near the fire in the cave. Part of the fire’s glow is blocked, thus limiting the shadow-images cast on the wall. The blocking feature can be a cultural or personal narrative (one of Gross’ myths) that we absorb during our daily personal and collective lives.
Narratives and perspectives block out some of the light coming from the fire in the cave. Not only don’t we actually see reality, there is something that determines which parts of objective reality get projected onto the wall. Those holding the partition that blocks out some of the fire’s light have themselves grown up in the cave–but may hold a quite different agenda from other cave dwellers. What is the partition to be found in our own cave? How are members of Estonian society and our own society (including ourselves) blocked from seeing the full light of the fire inside our cave?
There is yet another character in our contemporary cave. This is the interpreter, reporter or analyst. We don’t actually have enough time in our busy lives to look directly at the wall to see the shadows that are projected from the fire (which we assume is the “real” world). The cave has grown very large and we often can’t even see the walls of the cave and the shadows. We wait for the interpreter to tell us what is being projected on the wall, what is important to attend to and what the implications of these selected images are for us in our lives.
We are thus removed three steps from reality. We believe that the shadows on Plato’s cave wall are “reality.” We don’t recognize that someone or something is standing between us and the fire and selectively determining which aspects of reality get projected onto the wall. Finally, someone else is situated inside the cave offering us a description and analysis. This is at the heart of the new way in which we are subject to authoritarian rule—we dwell in a cave that Gross has labeled “friendly fascism.”