The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future

The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future

The Future of the Future

While Polak believes that revolutionary Futures can be realized, he also notes that without this realization, a society is likely to fall into disrepair—displaying the characteristics of dystopias such as I have previously identified in this essay. Polak writes about the inevitable decline of civilizations that do not have a defining image of their own future. In The Image of the Future, he extensively documents the demise of societies in which no defining purpose animated a commitment of energy, dedication, and resources toward some shared future.

Here is a summary of his often-disturbing proposition (Polak, 1973, p. 19):

The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society’s image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture does not long survive. The secret of Greek culture, which came to its second flowering in the Renaissance, lies in the imperishable harmony of its image of the future. The endurance of Jewish culture, reborn today in Israel, lies in its fervently held image of the future, which has survived diaspora and pogrom alike. The prognosis of the dying Christian culture—if it can be said to be dying—lies in its dying image of the future.

It is at this point that Polak (1973, p. 19) offers his provocative challenge:

The primary question then is not how to explain the rise and fall. of cultures, but how to explain the succession of shifting images of the future. How do virile and forceful images of the future arise, and what causes them to decline and gradually fade away? Furthermore, how do the successive waves of optimism and pessimism regarding the images fit into the total cultural framework and its accompanying dynamics?

In alignment with Polak, I propose that the future of any society resides in large part in its collective image of its own future. Furthermore, true freedom is inevitably interwoven with the presence or absence of a compelling image of the future. The loss of true freedom typically accompanies and contributes to the decline of a civilization in large part because its citizens see no need to fight for their freedom. There is nothing that they particularly wish to do with it other than escape from it. This escape can take several different forms. Members of a collapsing society can rely on authority or become saturated in consumption. Escape can also take place through widespread substance abuse—be it alcohol, opiate, gambling or pornography (take your pick). Alternatively, the escape can take place through the creation of a future that is nothing but an illusion. With reliance on (and even worship of) an illusory Future, members of a collapsing society do not have to acknowledge the absence of a truly viable Future nor mourn the loss of a once compelling and guiding Future.


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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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