Of dreams and wars


Sigmund Freud, perhaps even more than television, destroyed the innocence of childhood.

After reading about the “phallic stage” in a child’s development, I have never quite been able to look at children the same as before that harrowing encounter with psychoanalysis.

Freud claimed that between the ages of three and five, children become aware of their sex and the sexes of those around them. In his view, this is the stage where personality becomes developed.

Freud spoke of Oedipus and Electra complexes: a reference to a son’s love for his mother and jealousy of his father; and a daughter’s love for the father and jealousy of the mother.

This sexual-isation of childhood really ticked me off for years, but with time, I came to accept that hey, those were one man’s views and were not Bible truths.

Naturally, there are many critics of Freud, and most dissent is informed by the same aversion that I had to his sexual-isation of everything about human personality.

Some say the fact that he lived in the Victorian era, when sexuality was repressed, contributed to his own fixation with sex. It is something that the experts have been debating for decades, and there certainly is no room here to even begin to elaborate on that issue.

Whatever the debates, Freud remains an influential character whose ideas shape thought in fields far beyond his own specialty of psychoanalysis.

So aside from his deconstruction of the innocence of childhood, I find Freud quite an interesting read.

Take, for instance, his “The Interpretation of Dreams”.

As with all his analyses, dream interpretation is premised on Freud’s categorisation of the mind into three parts: the id, which is in charge of primal instinct, unguarded pleasure and unchecked urge; the ego, which is concerned with rationality and conscious action; and the superego, which acts as the censor for the id, ensuring that we do not go about trying to fulfil our wildest and basest desires.

While we are awake, so says Freud, the superego balances the id and the ego, making us rationale human beings who observe the rules and laws of society and who seek consensus with our fellow man.

But once we sleep, those repressed and suppressed desires and thoughts come to the fore.

In essence, our dreams are what we really are: everything else is a pretence enforced by the need to act within social boundaries that we all too often do not like.

Freud believed that the motivating force of a dream is wish fulfilment and is strongly tied to the functions of the id.

Maybe that is why Freud once remarked that: “All men are heroes in dreams.” It is a profound statement, juxtaposing our claim to have sovereignty over all Creation but at the same time lacking the courage to act out the role of a sovereign.

In essence, the majority of us are cowards and only act out our wished for heroism and sovereignty over Creation in our dreams.

Think of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

It is powerful stuff from a polemical point of view, but when considered against his rather cowardly refusal to take on the establishment a la Malcolm X, I get the inescapable impression that here was a man who was really only a hero in his dreams.

On the other hand, you get people of action who dare to venture beyond the realm of dreams and actually put into action the practicalities that make dreams realities.

Which is why I like Emperor Haile Selassie I’s address to the UN in October 1963.

The address came a few months after he had gathered African leaders in Addis Ababa to form the OAU, and it also came 27 years after Emperor Haile Selassie I addressed the League of Nations.

The substance of his two speeches was essentially the same.

But there was a big difference in that when he had addressed the League of Nations he had pleaded for assistance to stop the Italian Fascist invasion of Ethiopia, while in the 1963 address he stood as a proud conqueror who had almost single-handedly repelled that attack and gone on to help found the OAU.

In 1936, Emperor Haile Selassie I had dreamt of a time when imperial powers would not do whatever they wanted with Africa.

In 1963, he had gone a long way in making that dream come true.

Who can forget those powerful words to the UN?

“…until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: … until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; … until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes;

“…until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; … until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed;

“… Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace.

“We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.”

It is a dream that Bob Marley immortalised in a song appropriately titled “War”. One aspect of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s dream has been realised.

Africa has attained its political independence. But until there is economic independence, until the people of Africa can enjoy the benefits of having diamonds and oil, until Africa’s leaders are responsive to the needs of their citizens more than they are to the needs of Europe, Asia and America, until we can work in solidarity to boot out the divisive elements causing strife in the DRC, Mozambique, Somalia and others; until then there can only be one thing as we pursue our dream.

And that one thing, as Marley put it, is that “everywhere is war”.

November 2013
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