Sunday, March 06, 2005

Post Number Ten: The Power Is In A Dream

Of the Power of Dreams

I would like to be very precise since the beginning. I am not referring to dreams such as those that come at night while you are asleep, and that the ancient Greeks thought were suggested by the god of sleep Morpheus. Although I have a certain appreciation for the Greek myth and an instinctive sympathy with Morpheus, whose catering of human sleep was abruptly interrupted by the invasion of a much bloodier Jewish god, the fact remains that I am not going to talk about night dreams.

What I am going to think of is dreams intended as "visions". We all have "visions", at least most of us do. Some people envision a better life, some a better house. It is part of the human nature to be able to imagine the outcome of actions; it is an evolutionary accident that turned out very useful when our ape-ish ancestors started planning their actions in advance. We all know for example that if we scare a rabbit, the animal will flee. That, together with some planning, can lead us to devise a strategy that will trap the rabbit and provide a dinner for the tribe.
There is a side effect of this innate ability of human: it doesn't have to be applied to hunting alone.
Some of us look at the world and imagine how it could be if it were different, in the same way our ancestors looked at the rabbit and tried to figure how it could be trapped. Anyway, most people have the problem to be able to feed themselves and survive to the next day.
It is probably the right moment to tackle this matter.
To some pragmatists that grew in very practical civilizations, it happens occurs that after all, what matters the most is to feed your body, shelter it, and survive. This is basically what all animals do after all, and humans are animals. Anything beyond these basic necessities is superfluous. As if, somehow, being practical and pragmatist, mainly focused on feeding yourself and your family and gather a reasonable amount of wealth to survive and breed, were the ultimate goal of life. As if, in some sense, there weren't much else in life.
I find this reasoning not only annoying, and I really mean it, but extremely ephemeral, vain, empty, void. How can a wonderful thinking machine like the human brain be reduced to an appendage of a body whose main goal is to gather food? Of course, I can understand that if the body is not well fed, the brain has little to think of, but once the body is healthy, is that all? Isn't there anything else that matters? So are we like African zebras that year after year, season after season, migrate from one region to another region, back and forth, chasing the edible grasslands and providing food for the lions, only to ultimately die after giving birth to a new generation of zebras that will behave like the previous one? Aren't we capable of reasoning too? With all the potentials that Nature gave us through evolution, aren't we going to do anything else but finding a job, gain money, use it to buy food, and wait for the end to come and close the curtain over a scenery of ultimate inane existence?
To me, this feels like a complete waste. It's like buying a sport car to slowly drive downtown on a 100 yard route back and forth, until the engine is so old that it doesn't start anymore. It's like having a grand piano and use it to play Frère Jacques. I cannot tolerate wastes, and dedicating one's life to gather the tools one requires to feed himself is a waste.
Feeding yourself is just the beginning. It's what you need to get done in order to start living. What kind of pointless futile thing would life be if all we need were to feed ours bodies with enough proteins to survive to the next day? What for? We die nonetheless. It's just a matter of when. Memento mori, said the ancient Romans, "Remember you have to die".
So, for these practical pragmatists, what matters the most is to postpone the ultimate end as much as possible. To keep living as long as one can live, until the end, inevitably, comes... et propter vitam vivendi perdere causas. And, to remain alive, lose the reason to live.
This is not acceptable to me. I cannot accept it. I especially cannot tolerate those that in this moment are thinking "you speak like that because you are well fed". Of course I am well fed, and of course I speak like this because I am well fed, if I weren't well fed I would be interested in feeding myself and then what? What would it be of my life once I am well fed? Once the poor African kid finally gets the food he needs and the water he requires to survive, once he's healthy and in good shape, well then what? What is he going to do with his life once he gets what he needs to live? Just live on? Keep feeding? And then die? So, what is the difference with dying right away? If all we have to do is to keep feeding ourselves until we die, then we can die immediately and put an end to this stupid experiment of nature called humanity. If we are nothing else but resource devourers we are unnecessary. There's no point at getting all that loving and caring with the African kid and give him food to survive to the next day. If all we care about is to postpone his death a couple decades, to let him live a totally pointless, aimless life of catering to his own most basical instincts, then we could as well kill him right away and it would make little difference.
LUCKILY there is much more with being human then just feeding. Humans think. Humans dream. Humans create. Humans shape the world. We are able to provide our life with a meaning. It doesn't really have one, we are the ones that attach a meaning to it.
It comes as an absolutely necessary consequence, that humans are not just animals to be taught how to feed themselves, but wonderfully complex thinking machines that require to be fed at a very basic and generally irrelevant level to start being real humans.
It is really appalling that a majority of people living in the modern ephemeral epoch do not understand this very basic truth. The ultimate essence of life is its meaning. Most people don't get it and don't really attach any meaning to their existence. They just live on. They stay contented of surviving, finding their niche in the giant mechanism created by others in other places and in other eras, and keep surviving until the end comes. Some actually find this vanity of life quite disturbing, and without being fully aware of it they resort to religions to fill their existence with some sense. So, many for example think that after living their pointless life of survival, they will be admitted in a very nice place called Heaven were they will be happy. Happy? I keep wondering, once they are happy, then WHAT? The point with being happy is that you aren't. When you are sick you of course want to recover, and when you recover? what happens then? You feel good. And then? What do you want to do, feel better? and then even better? And once you really feel "best"? What's the point with Heaven? What's the point with living a (short) life of vanity in the hope that things will be better after we die? I find the obstinacy of such blindfold believing very annoying, especially when enriched by the public display of superficial, vain behaviors, whose only point is that of pleasing some entity who has the power to let us in the nice place after we die. Usually such behaviors are very much in line with whatever the leader of the community wants you to do in order to control you better and strip you of your ability to think by yourself.

Fewer and fewer of us nowadays dare to dream. Nonetheless, history teaches us something of immense importance. Some people's dreams have shaped the destiny of entire humanity. Some people gave a meaning to their life: pursuit an ideal, a dream, a vision of something. Not a life after death in some delusionary Eden, but the creation of a better world down here. Normally, such dreams fail to be realized, but this is hardly the point. It's the pursuit of a dream that led the greatest among us to reach the highest achievements of our species.
I will provide the following, inspiring examples.
Alexander the Great, a Macedonian King who died at the age of 33, envisioned a united world, where all cultures were equal, intertwined to create a new, richer entity. Led by his dream, one that no one in his time really understood, he became one of the greatest legends of human history. Alexander's fifty thousand oplites met on the field of battle Persians counted in the millions and won. He pursued his dream of finding the borders of the world and unite it all. A Macedonian young guy in his late twenties, without the aid of cars and engines, without maps or medicines, without satellites, without bombs, without genetically engineered food... a man and his fifty thousand faithful oplites crossed the known world and reached the unknown. Alexander marched all the way to India, creating the greatest empire the world had seen to that point. His deeds echo in eternity, and although he died young, although his dream wasn't realized, he shaped the destiny of the world.
Rome. Rome is a great, immense dream. The ancient Romans chased a dream, a dream that was the Greatness of Rome. Despite the bad advertising that some Anglosaxon and French contemporary scholars provide them with, the Romans were the ultimate force of civilization in a rude, primitive Europe. Rome never conquered other cultures but eniriched itself with them. In the Roman Empire, a citizen of Rome was equal to others regardless of his nationality. There were Roman Emperors from Spain (e.g. Traianus), from Africa (Adrianus)... How many African immigrants have a chance to be leader of a Western nations nowadays? Rome was the cradle of Europe, and its ideals lived through the dark ages of the Christian Church to speak through the millennia. But how did Rome came to become such an immense cradle of history and culture, how could Rome be the essence itself of civilization?
Through the dreams of its prominent citizens. Julius Ceasar, Marcus Aurelius, Scipio Africanus, Augustus, Traianus, and the philosophers and poets Seneca, Cicero, Vergilius, Ovidius... These people dared to chase their dream, a dream that was Rome.
Charles the Great, in the ninth century, had a dream too. He wanted to return Europe to its Golden age. After the fall of the Roman Empire, our continent had turned into a barbarian land, prey of the obscure schemings of the church and its delirious moment of glory. Pursuing a dream that he never managed to realize, Charles the Great forged a kingdom known as Holy Roman Empire (and I would like to stress how the immensity of Rome still echoed centuries after the fall of the empire, if Charles wanted to give the name Roman to his Empire). That kingdom is what later had to become France.
Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot dreamt of a world where the Pope and the King ceased to hallucinate the population with their lies and wrote down their ideals. These ideals led Jefferson and others to state that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...". These are immense words. They are so immense that they led not one but two peoples to revolution and they shaped our world and our mind completely.

Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Charles the Great, Voltaire, Jefferson - and nowadays John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and many others... all these people had dreams and dared to follow them. Their life had a much greater meaning than just feeding themselves. Their deeds echo through eternity. Most of them died young, or killed. Alexander was 33 when he was struck by disease. Julius Ceasar was killed by a group led by Cassius who had a different vision of Rome. John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. But they gave their life, however brief, a meaning. Their lives are to be taken as examples to us, who basically survive. Look at what other human beings, not different from us, could do thanks to our ability to think and dream! The power of dreaming is immense, the courage of dreaming is too rare. But as long as dreamers will walk the grass of Earth, their steps will echo through eternity.