You know those dreams we have occasionally (at least I do) that are so horrific, humiliating, or bizarre — and so detailed — that our first waking thought is, “Thank God it was just a dream”? And our second and third thoughts echo the first?
Thank God it was just a dream.
Some few may think my dream was idyllic, but I knew right away that for me it was a nightmare. Here was an early clue: I dreamt of a world where hatred was okay, even encouraged, as long as you hated the right people. (Or would that be the wrong people?) And hatred could justify practically anything.
It was a vivid, multifaceted dream.
It Was a Dream About Words
I dreamt (among other things) of a sustained, deliberate assault on language. We ruthlessly conscripted words into our quest for greater power. We turned them upside down and inside out. We deployed them for explosive and incendiary effect, not for precision of meaning. We called one faction’s speech violence. We called another faction’s violence speech. We labeled spoken and written dissent sedition.
In my dream a relatively new breed of racist preached that it was racism to judge people by their character, not their skin color. It was antiracism to judge, categorize, and privilege them by skin color. But even skin color was not always the color of your skin. If you spoke in favor of the wrong faction, you couldn’t be black or brown, no matter how you looked. You were officially white.
We deplored language education too. We denounced grammar, vocabulary, spelling, rhetoric, and logic as tools of oppression — like punctuality, math, a sense of personal responsibility, and reason itself.
It Was a Dream About Freedom
The philosophical foundation of human freedom is the worth and dignity of the individual. In my dream we abandoned this in favor of tribes and labels.
I dreamt of a world where religious freedom, or freedom of conscience, gradually shrank, and so did freedom of speech. We subordinated these basic freedoms to other freedoms, rights, and grievances, both real and imagined.
I dreamt that many conscientious Americans saw their core freedoms contracting and began to be afraid. Their fear was specific, that their choices would soon reduce to two: violence, which did not interest them, and capitulation, to which Americans have never warmed.
It Was Corporate, Bureaucratic, and Cultural
I dreamt the people’s representatives built a great bureaucracy, increasingly unaccountable to themselves or the people, to regulate nearly every facet of our lives. It existed to guard the welfare of all people, we said, but especially the poor and downtrodden. Our representatives, having nurtured it for decades, gradually ceded their power to it, until they could no longer restrain it. Yet the poor remained poor, the rich got richer, and multitudes felt downtrodden.
I dreamt that, after decades of effort, we had established the requisite corporate, educational, and popular cultures to support tyranny, not just the necessary government for it.
I dreamt that large corporations infiltrated the bureaucracy and the elected government. They received massive influxes of government funding, which were not available to smaller or less favored companies. They promoted policies to protect themselves and damage their competitors, especially the smaller ones.
In return Big Tech and other major corporations served their patrons in the bureaucracy and the ruling party by exerting greater power over people’s lives than the official rulers could on their own, while the latter were still subject, to a degree, to constitutional constraints.
It Was About Retribution
I dreamt of a world where history was first distorted, then discredited, then erased. We toppled statues of great founders and emancipators, black, white, and otherwise; anyone sufficiently prominent in the past to have a statue in the present was surely an enemy to some sort of justice or another.
I dreamt that we began to celebrate and institutionalize informant (snitch) culture. Of course we did it for the safety of the people, as well-meaning tyrants and their enabling subjects have always done.
I dreamt that people lost their jobs and careers for expressing mainstream political views privately, outside of work, or backing a popular but narrowly defeated candidate in an election. Or for using spoken or printed words to question the legality of some voting and the counting of some votes — an offense which the rulers and their allies called violent extremism.
I dreamt there were calls to repress and reeducate half a nation because of the crimes of a few unrepresentative radicals, and because they dared to vote against the leviathan.
It Was a Religious Dream
I dreamt of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and of those who called good evil and evil good. They taught the people that the dim light they saw was utter darkness, and the darkness they saw was brilliant light. (See Isaiah 5:20.)
I dreamt that Paul of the New Testament described our time, not just his own: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
I dreamt of things I’ve read in the Book of Mormon, of people “kept in darkness” by “such as sought … to gain power, and to murder, and to plunder, and to lie, and to commit all manner of wickedness” (Ether 8:16). I dreamt there was a force which “seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people” (Ether 8:25).
I dreamt that the leader who attracted the most bitter and constant hatred turned out not to be the ultimate source and exponent of all known evil — contrary to the incessant, hyperbolic cry of some in the ascendant faction.
It Was a Literary Dream
I dreamt that George Orwell’s most famous novel and novella (1984 and Animal Farm) advanced in status from cautionary tales to instruction manuals.
I dreamt that Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor was alive in the 21st century, saying what he said in 16th century Seville:
“For … centuries we have been wrestling with … freedom, but now it is over and ended for good. … People are more persuaded than ever that they have perfect freedom, yet they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet. … Now … it is possible to think of the happiness of men. …
“Oh, never, never can they feed themselves without us! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’” (See The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Garnett Translation, pp. 232-39 in the Norton Critical Edition.)
In my dream I thought of T.S. Eliot: “They constantly try to escape / From the darkness outside and within / By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” (“The Rock,” 1934).
It Was a Dream of Disease and Death
I dreamt that, to defeat elected leaders, promote others to power in their place, and further enrich megacorporations specializing in pharmaceuticals, we denounced a safe, inexpensive, long-used, widely available drug as dangerous and banned it as a treatment for a new, pandemic disease, despite some doctors’ success with it. Our excuse was that a hated leader said it looked promising. And science, already half-smothered by ideology and greed, began to die.
I dreamt that state, national, and international bureaucracies, among other entities, found ways to manipulate key numbers, like case counts and death counts, in service of their political agenda. And science died a little more.
I dreamt that we returned sick, infectious people to their nursing homes and other care facilities, where they infected many others, thousands of whom perished — while the responsible officials boasted of their enlightened and heroic crisis leadership, and we praised them.
I dreamt that we quarantined uninfected millions for months in their homes. We forbade them to go to work, gather at church, or buy garden seeds in the planting season, but we allowed them to leave home to shop at the liquor store, engage in “mostly peaceful” mass demonstrations if their politics were right, and buy lottery tickets.
It Was About Power Untempered and Unmoored
I dreamt of legislation without representation, where hundreds of the people’s elected representatives voted blindly on bills which were thousands of pages thick, crafted in secret by a few leaders and staff, and published mere hours before a vote. They had to pass the legislation to find out what was in it.
I dreamt of a faction so ignorant of history and so divorced from economic reality and common sense that they declared they could borrow and spend without limit and without major negative consequences for the nation.
I dreamt that law itself, like language, became a malleable tool for protecting your friends and punishing your enemies — if you belonged to the proper faction.
It Was a Dream About Truth and Lies
I dreamt of a dominant faction which valued truth only when and to the extent that it could be weaponized against an enemy. Otherwise, this faction was hostile to truth. It worked to obscure, confuse, distort, discredit, corrupt, deny, bury, and punish truth. It labored to misdirect, distract, and deceive people who persisted in seeking truth. When that failed with some stubborn folks, it suppressed and spoke of destroying them.
This faction pointed constantly to their nemesis du jour and called him a Father of Lies, even when he spoke the truth (which he often didn’t). He was an unreliable source of truth, so much of the nation turned to his accusers and embraced them as a reliable source of truth.
In my dream I remembered the words of Czech leader Vaclav Havel, who knew life under a repressive goverment.
“Life in the system is … thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies. Government by bureaucracy is called popular government. The working class is enslaved in the name of the working class. The complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation. Depriving people of information is called making it available. … The arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code. The repression of culture is called its development. The expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed. The lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom. Farcical elections become the highest form of democracy. Banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views. …
“Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. … It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. … It pretends to pretend nothing.
“Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence. … They must live within a lie.” (Punctuation modified for readability.)
It Was a Dream About Evil
In my dream I worried about the evil alliance of a vast, unaccountable administrative state; the elected branches of government, dominated by people who pursued power at the expense of truth and freedom; the Big Tech monopolies, functioning in a quasi-governmental role to quash dissent and discredit and suppress opponents; the traditional media, who largely abandoned journalism for advocacy; the academic world, where many loved ideology more than freedom and truth; and Wall Street, grown adept at manipulating government for its own gain.
I dreamt that this leviathan so disoriented the people that they elected it to rule them. They chose to trust its promises of peace, unity, and a return to normalcy. In my dream I wondered if we had welcomed to power the most dangerous internal enemy in our history. As it ascended, this composite modern tyrant flexed its muscles and continued to shout that our real enemy was someone else.
In my dream I saw that this institutionalized evil was not new. It was newly emboldened, newly consolidated, and newly unmasked for those with eyes to see. But it had arisen before, in many places and times — wherever the systemic lust for power chronically exceeded the common love of truth.
If I Wake Before I Die
Thank God that, even in the throes of such a dream, I could remind my subconscious that morning was nigh. Soon I could awaken to a new day, awash in unity, peace, justice, healing, and intersectional goodwill — gifts from the elite people who care for all the people, not just themselves. For democracy had triumphed, and all the evil I thought I saw was just a dark, passing cloud.
Thank God it was all just a dream.
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