The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

What, then, is one to believe about public pronouncements over the past 30 years? What is the new reality, and is it to be believed? As a psychologist in Prague pointed out in 1993, “We used to know what the rules were and the consequences of breaking them. Now we don’t know what the rules are, so there’s no way to know what the consequences are for breaking them. We don’t even know if we are breaking them.” In addition, images from the West were not (during the 1990s) and still are not all they were expected to be. The free market begets competition, not cooperation, especially in an environment of scarcity. Many Eastern Europeans believed that Soviet tales of homelessness and hunger in the West were part of the big lie. Finding out that such problems do indeed exist in the land of plenty y adds to the sense of losing one’s balance on shifting ground. The men and women of Hungary and Estonia look at the economic volatility and inequities in the West and wonder what price they must pay for freedom. They examine the alternative lifestyles, modes of production, and governance systems in the West and realize that their newfound freedom has led to the flooding of their own culture with disparate and often incompatible values, aspirations, and images of the successful life.

Conclusions: Living in Irony

In many ways the intermixing of hope and skepticism in Estonia (and elsewhere in the former Soviet satellites) during the early 1990s exemplifies the condition of irony portrayed by the philosopher, Richard Rorty (1989). Specifically, I propose that citizens of these post-Soviet societies are living under conditions of profound and pervasive contradictions. They are, in Rorty’s terms, ironists. According to Rorty (1989, p. xv) the ironist is the “sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her most central beliefs and desires.” By “contingency” Rorty is referring to the contextual and transitory nature of all belief systems—a stance that is aligned with Perry’s commitment in relativism: “[the ironist] is someone sufficiently historist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance.” (Rorty, 1989, p. xv)

These conditions of irony seem to apply to the life of Estonians. I am apparently not alone in this appraisal of Estonian culture. Theroux (2011, p. 86) offered a complimentary analysis when he turned to an observation offered by the noted psychologist, Erik Erickson:

. . . Erikson once offered the idea that “a nation’s identity is derived from the ways in which history has, as it were, counterpointed certain opposite potentialities; the ways in which it lifts this counterpoint to a unique style of civilization . . .

The contradictions faced by the Estonians were in Rorty’s terms not just those that can disintegrate a civilization (or society). Rather, they are contradictions that are accepted as being contingent (shifting with the times and conditions of the social system). These contradictions, in other words, are not a sign of a society’s weakness, but rather a sign of its capacity to absorb and embrace profound differences. Such a society is strong, with the potential agile capacity to adjust and adopt to rapidly changing and unpredictable conditions.

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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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