The Baby Shower -or- Psychohistory of the Global Village

Dreamer: Maryanne, early 20s, single female

My question is very simple. I keep dreaming about babies. What is the meaning of that? I have no further details. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Mr Hagen's Reply: Entering the Global Village 

You are at the age when childbearing as a rite of passage is relevant, but your question is too general for me to answer specifically what the baby means in your dreams. I can give you an overview from several perspectives that may lead you to understanding. As we speak, somewhere on the planet a child is being born. As a symbol and metaphor, the baby is "overdetermined". Simply put, there are many perspectives, some competing, from which to view the meaning of the child in our collective dreams.

1. The archetypal-mythopoetic perspective:

The child is a spiritual symbol for wholeness and hope. The theories of Carl Gustav Jung are a modern example of this viewpoint. For Jung the child lives and develops within the unconscious of the parents. The New Testament provides an older, more traditional version, beginning with Joseph's vision or dream foretelling the coming of a child, the saviour Christ. In "Healing the Child Within" Charles L. Whitfield sees the inner child as a person's central, true self. This is a self that can be harmed by the corrosive nature of dysfunctional families and society.

Personality from an archetypal perspective the ego is driven and influenced by the poetic-religious configurations of the collective unconscious from which myth, fairy tales and works of art spring. The Jungian individuation process is based on the individual's journey through life faced with the problem of life's meaning: "What is the meaning of life?", "Who am I?", etc.

For further information on this perspective see: Play, Dreams and Education and The Dream As A Forum For Cultural Criticism.

2. The cultural or anthropological view:

Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture lays down an important foundation for this perspective. Society impresses its prefigured ideology, metaphors, norms, expectations, and values on the individual as the child enters the culture. The process is called socialization. In this "configuration" process of personality, language, consciousness and social reality, the media play an essential role in the socialization of children living in Western society.

It is important that we be able to question this process and the values it presents. For an example of how the process can go tragically wrong, I remind you of the events at Columbine High School in Colorado.

From an anthropological perspective cultural primitivism asserts that "primitive" people live in a more harmonious way with nature. The Noble Savage is a metaphor devised principally by the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who conceived of primitive life as naturally intelligent, moral and highly dignified. Freud has pointed out that the child can be identified with the primitive. So the child, as Noble Savage, is socialized by the needs of the cultural milieu in which it lives.

The national stage imprints a distinct language and socialization pattern on its children. This socialization pattern is visible in the dreams of its children who enter the cultural stage. The distinct communal framework of political, economic, religious, domestic and ethnic institutions shape personality and the everyday drama of life. The institutions of Western education teach social reality to their citizens. With the birth certificate the child enters the institutionalization of the citizen.

The popular culture industries which promote socialization of consciousness and the unconscious (dreams) include: art, film, TV, music, photography, fashion/clothing, cosmetics and hairstyling industries to name a few.

3. The historical-pedagogical viewpoint:

In The History of Childhood Lloyd deMause claims that for many generations Western culture has betrayed its children by socializing them with values that deny healthy development. De Mauss was a pioneer in shaping the concept of psychohistory, underscoring the deleterious effects of the family and social life in form of child abuse, rape, murder. Some other books that explore the ethical and historical issues surrounding children are Margaret Ribble's Rights of Infants and Philippe Aries' Centuries of Childhood.

The word "didactic" means "intended to give instruction". Fables, parables and allegories all can instruct with a persuasive influence. A fable is a short narrative which points to a moral. The fable (which we still teach our children) is the narrative vehicle which flourished among primitive peoples. Satire is a form of didactic which is designed by various literary devices of ridicule and alters the audience's attitudes towards, institutions, people, consumer products and modes of conduct.

In her numerous books, Alice Miller has provided the background pedagogical criticisms of the failure of educational systems and political ideology in Western societies. Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child exposes the "poisonous pedagogy" which exists and shatters the Dream of Love. Paulo Freire reinforces this view in Politics of Education. Freire believes that there are a variety of ideological forms of oppression and collective struggle including class, gender, race and age discrimination.

Dreams projected onto the communal dreamscreen make transparent the anatomy of prejudice.

4. The feminist perspective:

The feminist critic Kate Millet Sexual Politics believes that the battle of the sexes has been a way of life since the advent of patriarchal (as versus matriarchal) social organization.

The feminist perspective applies the cultural viewpoint to gender socialization of the child. Emily Martin's Woman in the Body: Cultural Analysis of Reproduction describes the process by which women are alienated from their own bodies and self-images as a result of dominant social, ideological, and medical metaphors that favourably depict an almost exclusively patriarchal capitalism. Some feminists argue that this alienation, and not a biochemical reaction, is what causes postpartum depression, a state of mind severe enough to result in murder and suicide.

The feminist perspective can be explored further in Dorothy Dinnerstein's The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise. Matriarchal and maternal values reflect the relationship between mother and child. For a good read on how this perspective relates to the dream of the child see Patricia Garfield's "Women's Bodies, Women's Dreams", especially chapter six: "Pregnancy and Childbirth Dreams".

6. Sociological Perspective

For the sociologist George Herbert Mead children learn through role models to play the game (i.e. moves) of social reality. Children learn to use language to stimulate and motivate the Self which in turn upholds their social reality. Internal dialogue is the means by which the individual directs its actions. In dreams inner dialogue shapes perceptions, narratives and action. From the sociological perspective, children learn that others act as a source of social information (i.e. act as mirrors/audience) about one's appearance and performance. Children learn that appearance is a language that encodes a narrative ideology. When we fail to play by the fashion rules the mind registers this. The failure to perform can proceed from wearing the wrong necktie, cheap perfume or exhibiting unfashionable attitudes. Individuals learn to conform, i.e., adjust or to deviate from the social norms of appearance.

Alfred Adler hypothesized that the child was egocentric by biological necessity. For Adler, the community feeling is an ideal towards which the child has to evolve. The unconscious goal of personality development is communal feelings such as altruism and responsibility. This development starts with egocentricity and opens out increasingly into a more social sense of personality. For Adler the chief problem of the child and human development is whether the individuals can assert themselves on a communal level or remain self-enclosed in their egocentricity. If the latter process takes place the individuals will assert themselves on an imaginary level of unreality falling into aberrations. From a sociological perspective when alienation from social interaction (social relationships) occurs the individual experiences "anomie".

7. The Biotopographic perspective:

This perspective builds on preceding points of view. Biological, social and mental structures (codes) are reproduced in the children of each succeeding generation. As the child enters culture, the archetypal transpersonal unconscious, (that is, the society's assumptions about politics, economics, spiritual values and education as presented in the public media or "communal dreamscreen") is mediated by the child's family experiences. Thus, many influences compete to shape the child's personality, their effectiveness reflected in the developing nature of the child's own dreams.

The child eventually becomes an adult impressing its values on the next generation of children, perpetuating the "transgenerational" cycle of dreams. Social variables of personality and culture can develop in healthy or malignant ways, but they are always reflected in dream narratives, both internal and public. The focus is on the child to learn the language games and narrative codes of the family and society they are born and grow up in.

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

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