Dreams, Dreaming and Civics 101

Civil codes have existed since the dawn of civilization. The law can be seen as a system of rules that regulates civil interaction and is enforced by a series of institutions. In modern Western governments, a tripartite political apparatus has been generally implemented. The executive is the centre of the political and legal authority of governments, the legislature has the power to create, amend and ratify laws and the judiciary or judges mediate disputes and determine truth, thereby dispensing justice. The workings of legal institutions can be seen in the landmark decisions of history.

The trials in antiquity of Socrates (view documentary video) and of Christ (see Pilate's dream from the film Jesus Christ Superstar) have influenced the social and literary plotting of Western history and still resonate into the present. The trial of Galileo, the Salem Witch trials, the Nuremberg trials, the Rosenberg trial all were spoken with ideological overtones. Billed as "the trial of the century", the televised O.J. Simpson trial (see Court verdict) was a compelling dramatic staging of the legal adversarial process. Of interest is that the evidence presented at the very beginning of the trial was a dream that OJ had which he confided to a friend. The dream was about OJ killing Nicole Simpson. The facts and intensions of the parties are established as legal plot devices in order to establish the truth. The truth is that the Courts not the electorate decided the 2000 US Presidential election (view Al Gore's concession speech). The decision was devisive in the courtroom of public opinion.

For Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History, a leader is a person who has a position of civic authority, and commands respect from a community of like-minded followers. Throughout history we find recorded the dreams of those who wisely or unwisely have changed the world. Plato's metaphors of the Philosopher Kings and the Ship of State hold true of Eygyptian Pharaohs, Judaic Kings, Ancient Greek leaders, and Roman Caesars, and of the leaders of nations, communities, families, and multinational corporations and CEO's. Centuries after Socrates death a dialogue in Cicero's On the Republic uses the archetype of the Wise Old Man in discussing the politics of the Roman state. Part of On the Republic is the Dream of Scipio, a journey through the Pythagorean musical universe. The Dream of Scipio was known to Boethius Consolation of Philosophy and to Chauser who referenced the work directly in his The Parlement of Foules.

In Plato's Republic, the city is governed and ruled by Philosopher Kings, men whose love of wisdom allows them to wisely steer the ship of state. This captain charts the waters of the Republic and pilots it through storm and calm. But captains are not always wisely guided. The Socratic parable of the unjust ship finds a voice in Herman Melville's Moby Dick (see film clip). The ship and crew is piloted by Captain Ahab, who is drunken with the motive of revenge. Ahab's obsession leads to his own destruction and that of his crew. Only Ishmael survives to tell the tragic tale.

Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia distinguishes between the country (the physical geography), the nation (ideological nationalism), and the state (governing institutions). The state is the night watchman, ideally in his view a minimal state whose public-service role is to oversee and protect individual rights. The state's responsibilities include institutions that uphold the laws of the land (the police, judicial and penal systems, which serve to protect persons from harm by removing criminals from society, and the military, which defends citizens from foreign aggression). The night-watchman metaphor implies that the state remains asleep until someone's rights and civil liberties are infringed, which shows its limitations in supplying a road map for building a just society.

We do not live in a just world, and we can imagine a Dante travelling through it. After all, in the Divine Comedy he described the nine circles of Hell. The broken dreams of disillusionment can be found in numerous Hollywood films, especially in Sin City (see film trailer) and Taxi Driver. Taxi Driver's (see video clip) misanthropic anti-hero Travis Bickle takes justice into his own hands, and ends ambiguously: the audience can't discern between reality and fantasy. The distorted reflection of city lights in the taxi's rear-view mirror taxi is a clue, as is the film's signature line, "Are you talking to me?" Such films put the dream of a people's governing themselves into question. Understanding the interplay of psychodynamic forces necessary to foster democracy leads Thomas M. French to ask, "What psychological  problems must men face if they attempt to realize their democratic dreams?" The psychological response in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (see film clip) comes in a dream sequence in which the tramp hopes for a better life, and at the end of the film, when tramp and his damsel in distress apparently walk into a brighter future. Democracy is guided by the politics of hope.

Western society maintains physical and psychological barriers to how communication goes on, based on class, race, gender, religious, dress codes, and private property. In Asylums, Erving Goffman notes that these spaces can fence in and fence out members of the community, and classifies them as "total institutions." They are protected by authorities, security systems, guards, locked doors, high walls, and barbed wire. Asylums, prisons, army barracks, ghettos, POW camps, boarding schools, members-only clubs, and old-age homes are closed in nature. The bureaucratic barriers, boundaries and codes of total institutions can cause disenfranchisement and discrimination when they become rigid or oppressive.

Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens with seditious ideas, for which he was sentenced to death. Many children growing up are confused by, or hate, what they perceive as a hypocritical reality. Juveniles exploring the mysteries of urban life, death, spirituality, sexuality, and existential meaning often only find perversity and evil that enter institutional doors. Juveniles become satirical or ironic rebels. In the film Rebel without a Cause (watch film trailer), the teenager Jim Stark, played by James Dean, resists the conformist pressures of a suburban family. The adult surveillance of thought and behaviour at his school is equally intense. Adults offer inadequate role models, widening the generation gap. Stark's peer-group pressure drives him to take part in a car-race game of chicken, motivated by the fear of loosing face. Stark survives; another player doesn't.  

Children and adolescents are often pressured to follow in their parents' footsteps. The film The Dead Poets Society (watch movie clip) dramatizes the conflicts and pressures students are faced with. The unconventional English teacher John Keating asks his students to call him "Oh Captain! My Captain!", the title of a Walt Whitman poem about the assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Keating tries to teach his students the meaning of carpe diem, "to seize the day."

What do our dreams tell us? At the extreme, total institutions restrict or abolish freedom, and the mind control by the establishment becomes the prevailing dystopian influence on people's dreams. With media control in their hands, the dominant sectors of society impose their ideologies on society's narratives. In Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham devises the panopticon, a circular prison with cells arranged around a central wall from which prisoners could be observed at all times. This is an apt metaphor for the political surveillance of society. Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punishment says the principle can be applied not only to the prison, but to the army, school, hospital, or factory. The panoptic political regime is tantamount to an iron cage that uses the "power of the mind over mind." Architecture and geometry provide a model for politically organizing minds. The thought that people create prisons for the mind has been a popular theme in literature and film. The dystopian cries that pervade the literary works of Kafka, Beckett, Camus, Brecht, and Sartre, reach back to Plato's Republic. Orwell's 1984 is a cautionary tale about a totalitarian state that uses thought police to uncover "thoughtcrime." Big Brother is the panopticon personified.

We can find the institutionalization of the individual and the community in our dreams. Presented here, are some of the institutions found in dreams.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.