The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony
It would seem that Estonia abandoned its primary reliance on the extraction of natural resources (farming and fishing), as it joined Western Europe in creating the new 21st Century economy; however, this doesn’t provide the full picture. Estonia continues to live in both an old, almost Medieval world (as evidence in the continuing preservation of the old town in Tallinn) and in the new digital world. Several years ago, I co-authored with Ken Pawlak a book about the six cultures that exist in American higher education (Bergquist and Pawlak, 2008). Two of these six cultures seem quite appropriate in describing what is occurring in Estonia (and many other societies in our contemporary world). These two cultures are what we label the virtual culture and the tangible culture. While these two cultures stand in opposition to one another, they also need one another. The virtual culture is represented in Estonian reliance on digital communication devices, while the tangible culture is represented by the preservation of Old Tallinn and (I would suggest) the strong emphasis in Estonia on national identity as witnessed in its music, the pride it takes in its long-standing universities, and its retention of the Estonian language (that is understood by very few people outside Estonian). I wonder if this dual emphasis on tradition (tangible culture) and innovation (virtual culture) may play a major role in the interplay of hope and skepticism about freedom in Estonia (and many other 21st Century countries). This interplay might be embedded in and helps to create the ironic condition that I introduce later in this essay.
Freedom of Choice
Accompanying the new freedom of the entrepreneurial spirit, is the freedom of choice:
I hope my children know more than me so they can choose because the freedom for me is the possibility of choice.
I can make choices. And sometimes I make wrong choices, and then I have to correct them. And that’s a normal life.
Exercising the right to make choices is not always easy, as one young man told us:
Now everything depends on their daily choices, daily decisions, and that’s a fear for them. They never learned to make decisions. They are used to having the same kind of car, the same kind of bread, the same on the TV, and now everything is turned upside down and they can choose between twelve channels and they have to walk in a shop and choose a car, and maybe they make a wrong decision and they buy an old bad car for much money. Everything depends on them from now on, and that’s a responsibility they are not used to.