The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

This condition is even more prevalent today. We can look anywhere in the former Soviet countries to find that the big tycoons were former Soviet officials. The most glaring example, of course, is the Russian oligarchy. It was often troubling and enlightening for us to interview men and women who were former Communist party members. They described their new business enterprises or their new affiliations with American or Western European corporations. In most instances, they seemed to adjust easily to their new entrepreneurial or corporate roles, leading one to wonder how different Communist party membership was during the Soviet era from contemporary private enterprise and corporate membership. A corporate fast-tracker we interviewed had previously worked for an ad agency. She described a co-worker this way:

When it was a Communist regime, she believed that she was a fighter; she was running in front. And when the changes came, she just turned back and she started to talk about the business and advertising . . . because she found something else to believe in.

Perhaps American businesses attract many of the same type of ambitious men and women who were attracted to the Communist party in the Soviet Union. Do we find throughout the world those men and women who are willing to embrace a specific corporate culture (“drink the punch”) in an uncritical manner? To use the term coined by Eric Hoffer (1951), are they ready to become “true believers” in an alternative social system at a moment’s notice?

The Truth About Truth

We have arrived at a point where we can step back and look more broadly at the role played by epistemology in the experience of freedom. We are ready to look at the more fundamental way in which we arrive at and act upon our discovery of truth and reality. Specifically, we will examine truth and reality through the lens offered by William Perry (1970). He proposed that there are essentially four modes (or stages) of cognitive and ethical development. In brief, the first mode is dualism: a frame of reference that places everything into one of two categories: true or false, real or unreal. A second mode is multiplicity that leads one to question and not trust any categorization of reality into true or false categories: there is no truth and therefore there is no falsehood. There are only a variety of competing truths. The third mode identified by Perry is relativism: there are specific truths that can be verified within a specific context (this context containing criteria for determining the truth). Fourth, there is a commitment in relativism—a framework that brings one past relativism to the embracing of a specific set of truths based upon which one can make specific judgements and take specific actions (knowing full well that other sets of truths hold equal validity).
When, as Perry proposes, the simplistic truths of the dualistic frame of mind (that is, when clear-cut goods and bads, rights and wrongs) have been shattered, as they have been in Eastern Europe, then the next step is not to a thoughtful, ethically oriented relativism or commitment in relativism. Rather , there is turning to an expedient, often cynical multiplicity. Having abandoned all hope of finding a simple universal truth (the expectation of the dualist), the multiplist moves to another level of dualism. Namely, if there is no one truth, then there must be no truth, no ethical standards, no agreed-upon standards of conduct. Rather, there is only the standard of profit, of social status, of getting ahead of one’s fellow citizens. The Golden Rule becomes: “the person with the gold determines the rules.”


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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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