issue 213 - November 1990
This Is Your Dream!
We promised Fred the final word. Here it is.
RIGHT, that's it! I've had enough. It's my turn now.
I told you I get depressed if I have to think too much. Nowadays 'pinkos' like me are supposed to be depressed all the time anyway. and today has hardly been a bundle of fun so far, you have to admit. Maximize the realism, minimize the idealism - that's the spirit of the age. You'd have to be half cracked to be an optimist.
But I am - an optimist, I mean. And what about the next age? What happens when the realist purgative has taken effect? What will I or my children be left with then? That's what I want to know. And I'm not the only one, either.
After all, no-one can live without hope. The question for me is not whether there's hope, but what it is that I hope for. And there's another thing, something that's there just to give me the answer. whether I want it or not -my dreams. We're all dreamers, you know, every last one of us.
The trouble is, you can't dream to order. And now, of course, I can't get to sleep. I've woken up at last! At least everyone's back. The household is complete. Beth's here. She must have had a good time, whatever it was she was doing. I'm getting pleasantly, 'passively' drunk just from lying here beside her and inhaling the air.
The Greeks worshipped booze, you know. They created the god Dionysus in its honour; they dreamed up the ideas that founded Western culture at drinking parties called 'symposia'. That might explain a lot. And Beth looks pretty blissful. I have to admit. But I'd rather not go into that any further for the time being, if you don't mind.
Sometimes, when I can't get to sleep, what I do is this. I recall a balmy night by the Mediterranean Sea, years ago. Soft sand, still warm from the day's sun, sinks beneath my feet. I go for a swim in the black, phosphorescent water, trespassing over the sinister darkness. I turn on my back and float, waiting for the tips of my toes to rise above the surface of the water, my arms outstretched,
I open my eyes and stare straight up into a brilliant night sky, illuminated by the stars.
For an instant I imagine that I hang from the underside of Earth, peering down into the universe. Then, taking a deep breath, I launch myself off. I drift towards the point where time begins. I look back and I catch sight of Earth. It is breathtaking. I have the feeling of a dream of flying - I can keep flying so long as I believe it's possible. On such occasions I feel I can sense everything as it actually is.
I feel a sort of huge, human longing. The longing for freedom. Freedom from the fleeting, addictive rapture of needless consumption; from the monotonous, gnawing anguish of material need; from abuse, cruelty and the physical force of others. Freedom to imagine, to be curious, to discover, to be good. Without this longing there would be no satisfaction to be had, no reason to dispute the pain and suffering of life, no joy, nothing.
For me, a new vision has to start here - with an 'ideology' of experience and anticipation, running through friendships and love affairs, children and parents, neighbourhoods and networks, exchanged and expressed in daily life.
I begin to wobble and veer towards Earth.
I hit the ground, but feel no pain.
It's Beth, calling out in her sleep.
'Bananas, darling? You want bananas?'
I'm about to offer to go and fetch her a banana when she starts to snore.
No, you really can't dream to order, Dreams can be dangerous things too. One person's dream is another's nightmare. Trying to put them into practice has its pitfalls. After the revolution the Chinese decided that red should mean 'go' and green should mean 'stop' at traffic lights. Road junctions littered with mangled bicycles at last convinced them there were limits even to the revolutionary dream.
But make no mistake. We all do dream and I reckon we're all influenced by what our dreams tell us. Anyone who tries to convince me otherwise is lying. Especially if they claim to be realists or pragmatists. Dreaming was what Mrs Thatcher (or one of her speech writers) had been doing when she said: 'There's no such thing as society'.
It's no good. If I start trying to get to sleep I'm done for. Pick up a magazine. No, nor the NI! An article by Edward Thompson:
'At certain moments, history turns on a hinge of new ideas. I think there was such an 'Ideological Moment' in 1982 to 1985, in which peace and human rights movements together broke the cold war field-of-force and gave history a new hinge ... When the time is ready ideas can flow like the rivers of China in flood.1
Amen to that.
Looking to the future it is easy to forget the past, the debts we owe. I should not have to be reminded that it was not western liberal democracy, but 20 million Russian dead, that defeated fascism. I should be able to sense more easily how to make the most of the moment when the impossibility of nuclear war finally sinks in and brings an end to the Cold War. It really is a new age we enter; new questions to be answered, new ways to think, new opportunities to be grasped, new dangers to be faced. Child of the Cold War that I am, for the first time in my life I feel that time is on my side.
I won't be sold the pass of 'endism'. I won't believe that a 'new world order' is slipping smoothly into place and has nothing to do with me. As I watch the voracious machines of war snouting around the Arabian desert I realize that they are all the creation of a single, corrupt, deeply deranged and anachronistic Cold War industry with nowhere else to go.
And I'm still awake. Usually all I have to do is place a few lines of text in front of my nose and I'm out like a light. My 'Book at Bedtime', the one I'm supposed to be reading, may never be finished. The sight of the cover drives Beth crazy. It's by Andre Gorz:
'History might end in nuclear winter, or a global Chernobyl or Bhopal; it might unfold by continually reinforcing the domination of individuals by increasingly powerful means of dominating Nature; or by developing increasingly barbaric forms of violence against the growing mass of those who have been excluded, both within the industrialized world and outside it. If we avoid all this, it will not be because history has a different meaning but because we will have succeeded in investing it with one.'2 Amen to that too.
Liberal democracy may be preferable to dictatorship but as the embodiment of perfection at the end of history it is a pitiful thing, a hollow vessel drained of meaning. It tries to convince us that more and more of the 'new world order' is simply beyond our control. It sets aside 'no go' areas where we can expect no say - from wars that are fought but not declared to 'state security', trade deals and the affairs of monster corporations. Huge parts of my life, especially the time I spend at work (or out of it) are completely untouched by 'democracy'.
As for the world, it's almost feudal the way the rich lay claim to the ownership of everything, a sham of 'democracy' when four out of five of its people are left destitute and without redress.
Mundane thoughts are sometimes worth having. Perhaps 'pinkos' like me tend to use the United Nations as a rather tacky dummy to suck when all else fails. Herman Kahn, the US futurologist, thinks there are three options for world government: democracy, in which case the world would be ruled by the Chinese and Indians; national states, when it would be ruled by Latin America and Africa; or the power of the buck, with things staying much as they are.3 It doesn't take much thought to guess which of these options he commends to the American people.
The handle on the bedroom door turns slowly. It's Henry. Rubbing his eyes, trying to sob, grumbling incoherently to himself, he stumps across the room and clambers into the bed beside me. His minute body fits into mine. He has a soft smell of urine and sweat.
'Daddy,' he says, after a while, 'what are bottoms for?'
'For sitting on, Henry.
'Why are they called bottoms?'
'Because.they're at the bottom. I suppose.'
'The bottom of what?'
'But they're in the middle.'
'OK, Henry. You win.'
'No, really Daddy, I want to know.
'Shhh. We'll wake Mummy.'
But he's not satisfied, fidgeting beside me.
'Come with me,' I whisper. I prize him out of bed and head off conspiratorially for the kitchen. 'Fancy something to eat?'
'What?' says Henry, swaying on his chair at the kitchen table, baffled.
There's nothing in the ice box except one frozen hamburger, a large carton of cheap ice cream and a chunk of cheese. I put the cheese and the ice cream on the table.
'We must say 'thank you' to the cows for this, Henry.'
'Thank you cows,' he says.
The sound of the bathroom door closing. Beth. 'What's going on? Where is everyone?' I hear her croak. Unsteady footsteps on the stairs. 'What on earth are you doing? Oh God, I feel awful!' She slumps onto a chair beside Henry.
'It's a midnight feast,' he says. 'Ice cream and cheese.'
Beth pales visibly and seems about to head back for the bathroom. 'I wouldn't mind a banana, though.'
'Who do we thank for those?' says Henry.
'Palm trees. And the people of Central America,' I say.
'Palm trees,' says Henry.
Beth brings a bunch to the table.
'Why didn't anyone tell me?' It's Alice, world music still playing in her ears. 'You woke me up.'
'A midnight feast,' says Henry. He's beginning to enjoy himself.
'I fancy a hamburger,' I say forcefully.
'Who do we have to thank.?' begins Henry.
'Sorry,' I say quickly. 'I just have to have some meat. But don't worry, it wasn't the same cow we thanked for the milk.'
'How do you know, Dad? Typical,' says Alice.
'Have a glass of red wine, Alice,' I say.
'Really?' she says.
'Sure. You can thank the Greeks for that.'
I cook the hamburger. The others start eating.
'This is crazy,' says Beth, but she is almost smiling. 'I have to be up at seven tomorrow. What time is it?'
'Half past two,' I say. 'So do I.' I bring back the hamburger and sit down at the table. 'Or perhaps not.'
'What do you mean?'
'Well, we could be naughty, you know. Do a bunk. Play truant.'
'Teachers can't play truant,' says Henry.
'You'd be surprised,' I say. 'Well, why not? Who's game?'
'Me,' says Henry.
'I have to.' says Beth.
'But.' says Alice.
'The seaside, How about the seaside?' I say.
'It's November,' says Beth.
'Raining,' says Alice.
There's a pause.
'Well, why not?' says Beth.
'Ok, let's!' says Alice.
'Yeah!' says Henry, clapping his hands.
'Right, everyone off to bed,' I say. They shuffle away, leaving Beth and me alone. God, what have I done? Will the car make it?
Beth is peeling another banana. She looks much better. She raises one eyebrow. It seems like years since I've seen her do that. I must be dreaming.
'Well, Mr Fred Z! What next?'
1 EP Thompson, When the war is over', in New Statesman and Society, 26 January 1990.
2 Andre Gorz. Critique of Economic Reason, Verso, 19B9.
3 Herman Kahn. The Next 200 Years, Hudson lnstitute/Associated Business Programs, 1977.