THE NIGHTMARE

Even as comedy, I want not to care about these recent rounds of politics. I want to disdain them, to be above the fray.   There’s so much rhetoric that grates on my nerves. Words lose their meaning.

Like the word “great.” “Make America great again.” Greatness shows up in an individual now and then. Joe Hill was great. Malcolm X.   Crazy Horse. Emma Goldman.   John Brown. A few hundred individuals could be mentioned. But America as a whole? A generic, national, everyday kind of greatness?

Pioneer days, maybe. Small farmer and merchant days.   They were great in their everyday ways — people sweating to survive, to make an ordinary living, not sweating to get above their fellow citizens….   But then there’s that nagging knowledge that we brutally stole the land from the Indians. Can greatness live on top of a genocide?

A country is its people. Of course, it’s also its landscape, its resources, its laws, its myths, but largely it’s the sum total of its citizens. If a country is great, it means the people in significant numbers are living consciously and with some semblance of noble purpose. Does that describe today’s America, which leads the world in TV watching, overeating, cell-phone addiction, things like that. What is it exactly that makes anyone think this is a great country?

It seems that America’s “greatness” has come down to one single measuring stick: that we’re economically better off than other countries without doing our share of the sweat work — and that we’ve got our huge armed forces to make sure that it stays that way. And our patriotic buglers.   And our surveillance radar for malcontents within.

. . .

I had a big dream last night, in the sense of what Jung calls a big dream: a dream that goes beyond the personal, i.e., that carries a psychic load that goes beyond the span of the dreamer’s location or lifetime. I can’t remember all of it clearly, but a few things and the general flow. I’m living in an arid landscape, wearing loose-fitting desert clothing.   And there’s a book that is said to contain all truth, and that is mandatorily worshipped. To say something that is contrary to this book is blasphemous, and tantamount to asking for a death sentence. Even to privately entertain questions about it is dangerous, because authorities might pick up hints in your demeanor that you are a disgruntled person, at odds with the accepted ways of thinking. Not a team player.

In this desert context, I’m sitting on my haunches with my back against an ancient stone wall, when someone walking past me slips me another book. On the outside it’s the same size and shape and color as THE book, so I don’t think anything of it. But when I open it up it is saying the opposite, almost verbatim, as the official version. In poetic language, it talks about things like the power of love and tolerance over hate and punishment, openness over repression, and so forth. But it also makes clear that mean spirited people usually bully their way to the top of political structures, making an open-minded, non-exploitive way of seeing difficult, if not downright impossible, to practice.

In the dream, I knew that by having this book on my person, my life was now in jeopardy. But I also knew it told the truth about what the human being, and human societies, most deeply want and need to evolve into. Though I hid it carefully, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I hoped and prayed that no one found me out.

There are a couple of intermediary scenes which aren’t so important, except to get me into this tower where a young woman is about to be executed. Decapitation style. When I arrive to the room, she has already laid her head sideways on the block. I take my place on the floor, sitting cross-legged with the many other witnesses. To protest would have meant to have one’s own head on the block. I knew I didn’t have that kind of courage. None of us did.

But suddenly this girl — maybe sixteen years old — stands up and shies away from her executioner, pleading that she doesn’t want to do it. If this scene is already ghastly, now it is an absolute horror. The witnesses can no longer contain their groans and cries.

At this point, maybe having reached the limits of what I can bear, even in a dream, I wake up. It takes awhile to come all the way out of it. I lay in bed and let my re-emerging conscious life come to terms with it, even to imagine what “crime” the girl may have committed. It was probably as simple as having been caught with the other book.   Or loving the “wrong” person.

The man who was “I” in the dream wasn’t anyone I’m outwardly familiar with. I’ve never lived in a hot country, worn desert clothing. I’m uncomfortable sitting cross-legged, or even on my haunches. The executioner and the girl being executed didn’t look like anybody I knew.

But that’s only to say that the world of this dream was unfamiliar to me in terms of personal outer details. As Jung’s work has amply brought home to me, apart from the separate person my conscious ego thinks I am, I carry within me a collective unconscious. That I am an island unto myself is an illusion. And in this nightmare, that bubble went pop.

Jung says that “our true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome.” Under the surfaces, in the rhizome, we come from the same source, we are all brothers and sisters. For certain, the “other book” would say that. The dream came to me, I believe, as a palpable reminder of the terror my brothers and sisters have gone through for centuries, and into the present, at the hands of other brothers and sisters who have accumulated the power to do what they damn well please.

Thank God for the wisdom of the founding fathers to create an elaborate system of checks and balances to thwart the abuse of power. It hasn’t ever worked perfectly, but it’s better than nothing. In this election cycle, I observe a proud capacity for cruelty in the demeanor and policy statements of our current leading candidates for president. Bernie Sanders excepted. I guess it’s always been there, but never so blatantly.

Cruelty is a nightmare from which we can’t seem to wake up.

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