Many of you have probably dreamed like this at some time. I count them as instructive dreams because they reflect what we really understand deep in our hearts but often don’t want to admit. The vast majority of dreams speak only to one’s self. But once in a while they speak social truths as well, and for transpeople who live on the cutting edge of human rights issues, those truths can be poignant indeed.
We may be often inclined to dismiss any dream as mental flotsam initiated by the kickback of too many anchovies on last night’s pizza or the psychological impact of some stupid movie we saw on television. But while mundane dreams may indeed represent nothing more than emotional reactions to recent memory traces, not all follow this course.
There’s a scientific basis for dismissing them and it begins with Sigmund Freud and his Theory of Regression. This theory, posited in his book The Interpretation of Dreams, offers a model of why dreams happen. The Theory of Regression made the difference between the applied science of Freud’s work and that of oneirocrits through the ages.1
Freud asserted in his model that the current of synapses in the brain normally flow from perceptual to motor functions. The brain stores memory traces near the perceptual end near where they’re acquired in the first place. But the mechanisms of dreams require activation of motor functions where those memory traces could be brought to the preconscious facilities of the brain. For that to happen those synaptic currents must somehow reverse direction so they could pick up those memory traces. 2
But Freud didn’t identify the actual part of the brain facilitating these reversals. hippocampus, closely connected with the seat of emotion in the limbic system and which sorts and resorts these memory traces on the basis of emotional tags in association with collected sensory information. This emotional component doesn’t by itself contribute to rational thought as does the work of the frontal lobe which in mundane dreams remains switched off as are certain other components of the brain.3
However, many of those components, especially the frontal lobe, light up with activity with episodes of lucid dreaming. During lucid dreaming the brain functions more like a waking brain. The dreamer literally finds himself awake in his dream and fully aware that the dreamscape he encounters is in fact a dream. During these episodes the dream no longer binds him and feeds him with a scenario whether he likes it or not. Instead, the dreamer discovers a freedom to act rationally within the dream and to explore the dreamscape at will.4
But some types dreams carry some qualities of lucid dreams, particularly the lifelike and luminous intensity that typify them but in which the dreamer is still bound by the dream and devoid of actual choice. Some of the most mysterious dream episodes occur within this poorly understood mechanism, with rare, poignant, and sometimes forewarning meanings that hit the dreamer with such energy that such may awaken feeling profoundly disturbed. Because one particular dream of mine fits this genre, I offer it with a trigger warning that it may likewise disturb the reader:
I enter a branch of my bank in another part of my state, in the Sierra foothills, at a town situated in such a manner that it can overlook parts of the Central Valley. It’s a day like any day as I approach to deposit a check and to draw out a greater amount for my travels. The clerk cheerfully accepts my check and appears to enter it like he would any deposit.
I then offer my withdrawal ticket. The clerk misgenders me, saying, “I’m sorry, sir. You don’t have an account here.”
“Of course I have an account here,” I say, dismissing the obvious insult. “You just applied my deposit.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I just gave you a check. If you won’t complete my transactions, I demand that you return it at once.”
“Sir, I received no check from you. You must be deranged.”
“I am no ‘sir’ as my driver’s license shows I am female. Here it is.” I offer my driver’s license. The clerk looks at it and sets it aside.
“What are you doing?” I say.
“The real question is, ‘What are YOU doing?’ You have no business here and no account, SIR!”
“Give me my driver’s license back and my check.”
“I received no such items for you. Step aside. We’re busy with customers today.”
“We have not finished my transaction!”
The clerk motions for the guard, who is fully armed. The guard approaches and asks, “Do we have a problem?”
I say, “This clerk refuses to return a check I just deposited and refuses to return my driver’s license.”
The clerk says, “This lunatic has no account here. Please detain him and get his ID for the authorities.”
“You have my ID!” I protest.
The guard immediately restrains me. “You’re coming with me.” He takes me to another office and cuffs me to a chair. The guard ignores my continued protests. “May I see some ID or do you not have ID?”
“The clerk seized it.”
The guard slams his fist into my mouth, drawing blood and shattering teeth. “Clerks don’t do that. And he says you’re a man and not a woman. We’ll turn you over to the Sheriff who can sort through this nonsense.”
I take notice others detained in the room. I see various ethnicities represented: Native American, Blacks, Asians, Europeans, Latinos, Gypsies. The guard brings others in succession. The last window closes. The lights go dark.
I then notice that the guard leaves with the end of his shift. Another armed party conducts us to a waiting truck. In the distance I notice in the late summer day the lengthening shadow of the valley a rectangular pattern like an encampment and the smoke of a crematory.
As the armed party loads us onto the truck I glimpse a passer-by. I utter one last appeal to him through my sore mouth and broken teeth while he glances at me with the sneering condescension one offers an imbecile: “Where were YOU when the lights went out?”
It’s a dream that might frequent any transperson who has suffered disenfranchisement and realizes her own vulnerability by violence, and indeed, we transpeople have known a lot of that in our lifetimes. On the level of psychological interpretation there was nothing from the previous day that should trigger these kinds of memory traces. They pertained to deeper issues. But setting aside psychological interpretation, the dream offers a starting point for social commentary.
Does America have facilities for concentration camps? The more paranoid believe we do. The National Defense Authorization Act appears to extend indefinite military detention of terrorists provided by the Patriot Act to U.S. Citizens. Certain lawmakers have dismissed this interpretation as “erroneous”.5 But America has operated concentration camps in its history including internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II6 and for Southern troops and sympathizers during the Civil War, most infamously at Andersonville.7
Some Right wing conspiracy theorists proliferating on YouTube and elsewhere claim the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operates the facilities they believe to be concentration camps. These conspiracy theorists have propagated certifiably some of the wonkiest examples of American paranoia. Some of them have called President Obama every sort of criminal from a Muslim Terrorist to a traitor to the full and final Antichrist and have facilitated rumors that president would declare martial law before the 2012 election before imprisoning citizens wholesale. That scenario, of course, didn’t happen. No Christians have been rounded up and executed with guillotines as some claimed would happen.8
But evidences offered about these camps have at best consisted of videos leave much open to interpretation. None of them prove operation by FEMA. Videos of turnstiles that turn inward but not outward show what can be found in any secure facility that requires people go in by one route and out by another. Many facilities have railroad tracks leading into them whether military or industrial. Aerial images of concentration camps in North Korea have been presented as if they were in the United States. Even the presence of empty cattle cars waiting on tracks have been offered as “proof” that these have been prepared for rounding up Christians. The truth is, most of the places identified as “FEMA camps” have been identified as known military bases, detention facilities for the Border Patrol, and factories. Of course, any military base could provide for mass detention in short order if a real national emergency has been declared. This has never been anything new.9
But the paranoid raise a valid question about the potential for martial law and oppression including mass slaughter. Just what would constitute a national emergency? Might the Executive Branch declare such an emergency by executive order (decree) if it felt its power was threatened as some on the Right claimed President Obama would do in 2012? None of us can eliminate such a possibility for a future administration whether Left or Right. Over time and after episodes of national distress, possibilities become probabilities and it’s anyone’s guess who might feel threatened enough to use them at any given time.
But we have far less to fear in this regard from an administration dedicated to democratic principles than one who preys upon popular fears and refuses to address the nation with truthfulness. Much of what we saw in the 2016 campaign appears to have run more on the basis of fear and hysteria than actual fact. The proliferation of “fake news” wasn’t even talked about till late this year when we saw lots of clickbaity material circulating disinformation on social media. The establishment of dominionist Evangelical theocrats in government pretty much guarantee leaders influenced by the paranoia of preachers who frighten others into their churches with the most sadistic depictions of hellfire. The result: the ones who worry the most about oppression and mass detention can easily become the very perpetrators they fear.
It’s a terrible situation to have to choose between 2 forms of paranoia whether that on the Left or Right. Then again we really don’t have to choose paranoia at all. It comes down to a basic principle upon which moved the Founding Fathers to action but which today becomes too often subverted by a malleable concept of tolerance.
There’s something insidious about tolerance. Tolerance always reserves unto itself the right of judgment whether on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, etc. But like tolerances employed in industry, there’s a level of leeway concerning what those who judge accept. Industrialists select tolerances according to rigid standards of measurement. Societal tolerances are far more subjective and changeable, varying widely from one person to the next, one organization to the next, and from one demographic to the next.
Societal tolerance always fails sooner or later and here’s why: since nobody really knows how to measure those tolerances aside from constant surveys, they will always be in flux depending upon the current feelings of people with respect to whatever teachings those individuals accept. Germany tolerated minorities till the rise of Nazism. Then came the death camps. The failure of tolerance spurred Rabbi Marvin Hier if the Simon Wiesenthal Center to open the Museum of Tolerance by which all must enter one of 2 doors: “Prejudiced” or “Not Prejudiced.” The door marked “Not Prejudiced” remains locked.10
Liberty operates on a different principle than tolerance. It disallows that presumption of the right to judge others on the basis of religion, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, or any factor naturally associated with humaness. It rejects the Orwellian idea expressed in the novel Animal Farm that all are created equal but some “are more equal than others.”11
Liberty demands something else as well: courage. One must put aside fear when committing to liberty. One must replace fear with a higher, altruistic tide of love. Liberty doesn’t allow time for paranoia. It doesn’t indulge in hysteria about FEMA camps but does challenge the efficacy of concentration camps as a matter of principle.
In turn, altruism (also described as the Biblical φιλαδελφία, philadelphía, or “brotherly love”) demands something else: an interest in one’s neighbor such that one is always willing to accept as part of one’s own society highly diverse peoples. That includes the immigrant. That includes Muslims and Jews. That includes those LGBT. It even dares to out to those unloving and fearful societal elements that embrace various forms of radicalization. Is altruism a dangerous thing? You bet! But it’s more dangerous to withhold brotherly love, especially as inspired by that numinous divine love sourced above and beyond a human (ἀγαπή or agapê) which Christians often claim without understanding. Ultimately, the irresistibility of love will melt away all paranoia including the paranoia that fuels radicalization.
It’s easy to see how one becomes a prerequisite of the next. Love inspires courage to act and consequently compels to rise above prejudices so that one may uphold liberty. That’s what built the American Republic.
But more importantly, the planet can no longer survive with anything less. The threat of nuclear war, plague, terrorism, and environmental collapse offers a future that can be compared to a bear ready to fall off the edge of a cliff with its stub of a tail tied to a wildflower while surefooted mountain goats fear to intervene because the bear is… well… a bear. But if the bear falls it may trigger an avalanche that wipes out the goats as well. Rationally, the goats must overcome fear and find a vine by which they may pull the bear to safety lest they all die. Only they can put their fears aside to face such personal risk.
The time has now come by which we all must reach out in new ways, looking for new creative avenues of outreach. If the pursuit of liberty is the light which lightens our path, every one of us must be at once the bulb that carries the life-giving current as well as the customer. The light is above and it’s also within. When the lights may go out depends upon whether those lights remain lit in the heart, and if they do go out, how great is the darkness!
With the founding of the Republic, the pursuit of liberty also depended upon the dream, an innocence by which the one who beholds the divinity manifest in the order of the universe looks upon it with the inspiration of awe and wonder. Dreams teach if one dares to listen to what they have to say. Dreams also forewarn when liberty may be eclipsed, and the fearful condemn those who enshrine it as “criminals”.
For liberty is fragile and beautiful like an elusive and luminous butterfly, ever marking transformation from the lowly and ugly into the transcendent and superb. It’s revival often falls into the hands of innocent criminals. Are you one? Will you shirk labels to dare to reach out to those whom others may forbid you to communicate? If so, your light will shine. If not, one may well ask you, “Where were YOU when the lights went out?”
- Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, Chapter 7B (1900) Web: E-Book Server: http://books.eserver.org/nonfiction/dreams/chap07b.html. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
- (n.a.) Memory Encoding (n.d.) Web: The Human Memory: http://books.eserver.org/nonfiction/dreams/chap07b.html. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
- Haefeli, Selina. Lucid Dreaming and the Neural Basis of Consciousness (August 1, 2012). Web: Science Illustrated: http://scienceillustrated.com.au/blog/science/lucid-dreaming-and-the-neural-basis-of-consciousness/. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
- Alton. The National Defense Authorization Act: Our Disappearing Rights and Liberties (January 2, 2012) Web: The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alton-lu/the-national-defense-auth_b_1180869.html. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
- (n.a.) Japanese-American Internment (n.d.) Web: S. History: http://www.ushistory.org/us/51e.asp. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
- (n.a.) Andersonville Prison (n.d.) Adapted from National Park Service brochure: Andersonville. Web: Civil War Trust: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/andersonville.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
- Burleigh, Nina. Donald Trump and the FEMA Camps Crowd (August 19, 2016) Web: Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-fema-camps-crowd-491841. Retrieved December 15, 2016. The claim that FEMA intended mass murders of Christians by guillotine can still be found in a Google search.
- Any Google search of “FEMA Concentration Camps” reveals debunked examples and provides many examples of videos on YouTube, but the debunking of one does not logically exclude the possibility of a concentration camp existing at any time.
- (n.a.) Rabbi Marvin Hier — Dean and Founder (n.d.) Web: Simon Wiesenthal Center: http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441311. Retrieved December 15, 2016. The description of the doors has been observed by the writer.
- Orwell, George. Animal Farm (1945) Web: MSXNet: http://msxnet.org/orwell/animal_farm.pdf. Retrieved December 15, 2016, pp. 51, 52.