Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Apparently, the images swirling around the cave are much more complicated and diverse than are conveyed in our original description of Plato’s cave. Does the cacophony of sounds and images move us to a state of denial and isolation? Do we try to close our eyes and cover our ears? A contemporary psychological observer, Ken Gergen (2001) writes about a saturated self, suggesting that we are inundated with some many different images that it is hard to sustain a coherent sense of self. Are we led by this saturation of self to be more vulnerable to a single, authoritarian voice and interpretation of reality? Are we more likely to seek escape from freedom if we are afflicted by what Gergen described as our collective mental disease–multiphrenia (rather than schizophrenia)?

Leaving the Cave

What happens when one of the cave dwellers is unchained and leaves the cave? Do they simply enter another cave, or do they discover that the world is something more than the shadows they have always assumed were reality? Do they find that the world outside the cave is even more blinding and that it is filled with many contradictory belief systems? Let’s imagine that this single prisoner (that we will call the protagonist) is freed from the chains and is forced to turn and see the fire. Our protagonist would not believe it if they were told that what they saw before was not real.

Our freed prisoner is likely to struggle when first realizing that the images and echoes are not what is real in the cave. Would our protagonist be anger about their previous life in chains seeing and hearing only an indirect view of reality—or would they wish to return to the safety of the chains? If they are angry, where should the anger be directed? If they want to return to the chains, will this desire for escape from freedom be accompanied by a send of personal shame?

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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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