Control over one's life is primarily about a sense of life stability. It means that I know who I am and where I belong, how to take care of my needs and the needs of those closest to me, and I am subjectively confident that I understand the world around me. The events of the last 4 years and the major social changes that have been taking place in the background have deeply disturbed this feeling, which is reflected in the feeling of loss of control over life among a growing number of Slovaks.
World Values Survey Q57: Some people feel they have complete freedom of choice and control over their lives, while other people feel that what they do has no real effect on what happens to them. Please use this scale where 1 means "none at all" and 10 means "a great deal" to indicate how much freedom of choice and control you feel you have over the way your life turns out.
|Jan/Feb 2022*||August 2022*|
|1 = None at all||,4||2,2|
|10 = A great deal||11,8||10,8|
|Sum on scale 1-5:||21,9||29,0**|
Control over life is primarily about a sense of life stability. It means that I know who I am and where I belong, how to take care of my needs and the needs of those closest to me, and I am subjectively confident that I understand the world around me. A declining sense of control over one's life is a negative social signal that tends to increase during periods of crisis.
In the period 2020-2023, we have seen three strong crises manifested as fear for individual health (Covid-19), fear of impending military danger (the war in Ukraine), and a growing experience of price rises (skyrocketing food and energy prices leading to an overall cost-of-living crisis and 15% inflation for 2022).
The given acute crises were accompanied by longer-term social changes, such as long-term low social cohesion, weak collective identity of Slovaks (manifested e.g. in the lack of social consensus on whether Slovakia belongs to the West, the East or elsewhere), a significant value shift in Central European societies (weakening of traditional values such as family or religious identity, strengthening of values of self-determination), and massive technological changes that have a high impact on our lives, but society has not yet managed to understand their potential impact (the impact of social networks, extensive digitalization of various areas of life).
For many people, these upheavals have caused a decline in so-called 'ontological certainty'.
Ontological certainty is a stable mental state and a general feeling of security resulting from the reliability of persons, events and things in our environment. The basis of this sense of security is the permanence of one's own identity and the stability of the social environment (belonging to a community, healthy relationships, etc.) and the material environment (a roof over one's head, a regular income, a sense of security, etc.). If the 'stability of the environment' breaks down, insecurity rises.
The feeling of ontological insecurity is an emotional, not a cognitive phenomenon. Thus, efforts of rational reassurance or persuasion have very limited effect. Imagine someone who has lost the roof over his head, or who sees that times are changing and his job provides him with less and less income and social prestige, and does not know what to do to change this. Such a person is looking for certainty, not for an analysis that will explain the state of the real estate market or retraining processes and labour market developments.
In practice, this means that efforts to intervene at the level of public policies are also limited, and until the person begins to regain the feeling that someone cares about him (which is subjectively more important than whether his actual situation begins to improve), the uncertainty he experiences persists or grows.
Resistance to change and sensitivity to certainty can be divided into two categories - innate and situational.
Sensitivity to the risk of radical change and a character trait known as "neuroticism" (Big 5 Personality Trait) is formed mainly in childhood and is influenced by a number of factors - including the value tree of the environment in which a person grows up. People who are more sensitive to potential risks in their lives naturally transfer their perceptions into their political and ideological views. They therefore react to periods of crisis and hard-to-understand change with increased caution and a reluctance to what they perceive as irresponsible social experiments. This is why they are often willing to support populist solutions that offer them a miraculous return to a 'time of certainty'. There is also an opposite extreme, based largely on the character trait of 'openness to experience', whereby almost utopian hopes are placed on any change and a section of society tends to accelerate it.
Globalised and fast-changing times are thus causing an increase in uncertainty and are in various ways undermining traditions, social norms and routines. The efforts of different segments of society to control and direct, slow down and speed up change are the result of both innate impulses and learned patterns of behaviour and ideological beliefs, each group usually convinced that it is doing so for the good of the whole community.
At the level of the individual, ontological certainty is established by reassurance of the reliability and honesty of other people with whom we come into contact; by adherence to habits and daily routines at various levels (routines are the small certainties and rituals that give structure to our day). The strongest effect is a stable sense of home - both material (a roof over our heads) and good relationships in the immediate family and deep relationships with our closest friends.
At the level of the state, improved services to the citizen (investments in efficiency are worthwhile) help, as does, for example, competent behaviour and communication by elites and state leadership; expressions of trust in elites and state leadership by socially respected authorities also have a calming and stabilising effect.
It follows that the sense of loss of control over life is deeply personal and is rarely the result of external historical events alone - it is usually combined with personal life dissatisfaction and the quality of personal relationships.
The solution is thus a combination of public policies, a childhood lived in confidence in the primary care-giver, mental health (healthy routines) and understanding and coming to terms with the times one lives in. In other words, the solution is complex, holistic and will require the cooperation of the whole of society and the state apparatus. The solution is an interdisciplinary conundrum, but one with which all modern societies in the world struggle. The motivation for conducting this struggle, rather than reacting only intuitively, is that some societies are significantly more successful than others.
* January and February 2022 collection was part of the 7th wave of the World Value Survey (representative survey, 1,200 respondents); August collection was part of the omnibus collected by FOCUS (representative survey, 1,000 respondents). The DEKK Institute's intention was to examine shifts in some indicators following the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation troops, which had a significant impact on the social atmosphere. August was chosen as the invasion was fresh in the memory, but emotions were not as turbulent and the situation as opaque as in the first weeks.
** The DEKK Institute, meanwhile, uses measurements from the World Value Survey. The difference from the summer of 2022 is 7%, so not insignificant. We will repeat the measurement again in the summer of 2023, which will help answer the question of whether the increase in question is more of an emotional surge reflecting the events of the spring and summer of 2022 (a combination of crises ranging from the invasion of Ukraine to energy shortage concerns in the winter of 2022/2023 to the rise in the cost of living), or a new longer-term sentiment.
World Value Survey, Wave 2, 1990
World Value Survey, Wave 3, 1998
World Value Survey, Wave 7, 2022