The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future
Multiple Visions of the Future
A clear, straightforward and bleak image of the future is portrayed in Christopher Lasch’s narcissistic and in images conveyed by authors and moviemakers who couple existential despair with the end of the world as we know it. By contrast, Kenneth Gergen (1991, pp. 6-7) suggests that the challenge is not one of confronting a single, distressing future, but is rather one of confronting multiple images of the future (and images of the present day as well). Gergen proposes that contemporary men and women are saturated with many partial and superficial images of self and the future:
Social saturation furnishes us with a multiplicity of incoherent and unrelated languages of self. For everything we “know to be true” about ourselves, other voices within respond with doubt and even derision. This fragmentation of self-conceptions corresponds to a multiplicity of incoherent and disconnected relationships. These relationships pull us in myriad directions, inviting us to play such a variety of roles that the very concept of an “authentic self’ with knowable characteristics recedes from view. The fully saturated self becomes no self at all. Each reality of self gives way to reflective questioning, irony and ultimately the playful probing of yet another reality. The center fails to hold.
A single coherent image of the future is difficult to achieve because in our emerging postmodern world it is not clear whether such an image is even needed, whether it is desirable, or whether it is possible. In arguing for a clear, coherent, and compelling image of the future, do we mean to imply that there need be only one image in any one society? Such would be impossible in a postmodern world without being based on an intolerable fanaticism—perhaps a “friendly fascism” (Gross, 1980) that would appeal to the present-day version of the 1950s “authoritarian personality” identified by Adorno and his associates (1964) or Eric Hoffer’s (1951) “true believers”. Hopefully, the 21st Century replicas of these long-standing escapes from freedom will not prevail. Responsible citizens will reflect on and appreciate not only their own personal values, beliefs, and actions, but also those of people embracing diverse values and belief who wish to take quite different actions.
What might a society look like in which multiple images of the future are embraced? Ogilvy (1979, p. 59) offers the image of a multidimensional person living in a multidimensional society. This person lives in true freedom when he or she is able to resist “deterministic forces of socialization”—what we have described as the pervasive illusions of freedom. He or she is able to discuss and debate this resistance with other people in this society so that the resistance does not become “blind and senseless rebellion.” Under these conditions, according to Ogilvy (1979, p. 59) “a multiplicity of well-founded interpretive schemes giving objective support to several interpretations of social interactions” are available to this individual and society. Perhaps this is the way in which true freedom is engaged.