Free at Last: Challenges Facing Those Who Are “Liberated”
The shift to an internal locus of control exists at not only an individual level, but also a societal level. There was no longer an external enemy for the Estonians. The Soviet Union (which many Estonians called “the Russian occupation”) no longer existed. The enemy, if there must be one, now existed inside the Estonian’s own country, inside their own community, or even inside their own head and heart. One of our interviewees noted that the “problems are now inside the heads of the people, not outside.” Another noted that “the favorite meal of Estonians has become fellow Estonians.” Estonians looked for an enemy and, it was “us”! How long, we must now ask, did this absence of an external enemy last? The new Russia soon began posing a threat once again to Estonian independence. The external enemy had re-emerged and attention could once again be directed away from internal enemies to a very real external threat. This becomes a legitimate reason to return to an external locus of control
Under the “spring” of new independence during the 1990s, Estonians had to look to their inner voice to determine right and wrong; they could no longer rest comfortably in a collective truth. Estonians (and other Eastern Europeans) must at that point make many choices. Which choices would be meaningful, and which would be trivial? How does one recognize the personal values that should inform difficult choices? Freedom demands higher levels of personal accountability. One is now accountable for his or her own actions. There is individual responsibility in the public sector. The definitions of right and wrong are no longer mediated by the state—or by the church.
Was a similar experience of freedom’s challenge to be found among patriots of the Arab Spring? Were they also confronted with the requirements of personal guidance and responsibility? Did they turn to their own religious leaders for this guidance (a return to external control) or did they seek to identify and act upon their own sense of what is true (internal locus of control)? Was the burden too great for those coming out a powerful blending of church and state (theocracies) in many Arab countries? At least there was a secular state (the Soviet Union) in Estonia that held the truth – and not a dominant church (though some social observers have considered the Soviet version of communism to be something of a religion—even a religion that resembles Islam in many ways).
Much as the Catholic church mediated between God and humanity prior to the Protestant Reformation, the Soviet state spared its citizens the task of making free and informed choices. The Reformation left humanity to face God directly, without the church providing any guidance or interpretation. Similarly, dissolution of the Soviet state left its citizens to find their own personal direction in life. Carl Jung (1938) suggested that Protestants have periodically substituted the authoritarian state (Nazism) for the church because they couldn’t face the awesome prospect of personal responsibility. The challenge might be even deeper. To what extent were Estonians or Arabs likely to substitute their own authoritarian structure as a way of avoiding what Jung (borrowing from Rudolph Otto) described as the “awe-fulness” of unmediated responsibility?