by Felix Lipov
A child is born. From that day on it will be taught the value of imagination and pure dreams and how to pursue grand goals. Then the day will come when this image will be shattered. That little kid, now an adult will knock his head smack against hard reality. A harsh stiff reality imposed on us where the dollar is supreme and a dream is equated to cash or charge. The idealistic dream is dead, relegated to movie, film and literature, banished from the real world. It's all become a matter of money and pragmatism.
A young Frenchman sits peacefully at a cafe table, letting time trickle away in its ever-lasting flow. He's a dreamer, and he has chosen that over his job of shipping packages. As he ponders away reality comes in. A policewoman happens to stroll by his illegally parked shipping van. She most expediently calls for a tow truck to send the van on its way. Of course, the back wasn't latched and so we see all his packages flying out, getting destroyed in the process. None too soon you hear the morale of the tale as described by FedEx, the shipping company, that "you don't want dreamers shipping your packages, you want FedEx! FedEx will get the job done, " and so onÍ. And this is quite true in a world dominated by deadlines and by pragmatism, but where is the innocent Frenchman to go? Is there any sanctuary left for him, where the cruel necessity of life is not always confronting him? More and more the answer is no. There's nowhere to hide and his dreams, as fanciful as they might be are sacrificed in the process. Consider your own life, where you too most likely face incredible demands that force you to leave your grand lofty dreams hanging high up in the sky, tempting you, but put off for other more urgent matters.
This sacrifice of dreams and fantasy for the material needs of reality have always existed. But at times the need becomes so strong to achieve both, that the worlds of fantasy and reality combine to form a hybrid of the two. In the classic tale, The Life of Lazarillo of Tormes his fortunes and misfortunes as told by himself we encounter a young rogue in sixteenth century Spain who for the sake of his poverty continually seeks a master who will aid him and care for him. Of these men, one was a young minor noble. This man in his attempt to give the façade of richness and nobility nearly drove himself to starvation and death for he himself was entrenched in poverty as deeply as the young rogue, Lazarillo. "He will die of hunger before he'll work," and allow his all too perfect image to be marred. His house is a beautiful mansion from the exterior, but inside it is a vacant space void of any material possessions. Even then, he is but renting it, and plans to run away the moment the rent comes due. A false shell of richness and luxury gives way to hunger and poverty. He would rather live in his fantasy world of pure dreams than to feel reality, because it has become so harsh and painful. Society and its mores forced him into this mental sanctuary where he is protected from the necessities demanded by all. Those same demands that we face today, everyday. The nobleman in the end could not cope with reality and found his only escape in his dreams, but now it's a wonder whether he could ever find his way back. In our world, he would be considered insane, a person who requires medical care to "cure" him of his malady. His cure would be a matter of assimilation, to make him forget his folly, but remember that we too at times feel the need to escape.
Our haven has become the movie theaters or a book or most commonly a television set where the powerful constraints of society untie its noose from around our neck. A place where we can be free to indulge ourselves in a world of fantasy where the knights of King Arthur's round table fight glorious battles to rescue the damsel in distress and where John Wayne rides in to defeat all the evil doers and things are happily ever after. These ideals though are not necessarily fanciful dreams. There have been times when people have sought to turn their dreams into reality even though society condemned them for their unorthodox idealistic pursuits. One of the key transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson describes their philosophy as espousing "the very oldest of thoughts cast into the mold of these new times," that of an ideal world, a seemingly impossible dream world. In their attempt to achieve their dream they separated themselves from society entirely and created Brook Farm a separate self-governing community. Even though they failed in the end, they realized that the only way to make their dream reality was not to work within the framework of society, but to go beyond its bounds. Still others such as the fictional, yet famed Don Quixote de la Mancha in his inability to equate the wondrous world of knights in shining armor with a sad world that seemed to lack the incredible glory of his tales decided to become the famed figure he had always read about ˝ the gallant knight. He became the hero he had read about, melding reality and fantasy, ignorant of the impracticality of his actions. The irony is that once Don Quixote became the knight of stories with the "the light and glory of chivalry," (Cervantes, 454) all mocked him for his eccentricity. Strangers he met on his adventures "could not forebear laughing outright," (15). The man of dreams had become an object of folly. Society denied Don Quixote the idealistic dream of knighthood he so yearned. Even more hurtful was that not one person could understand him ˝ he seemed so obvious the fool that there seemed no question to his sanity, or rather lack of. In the end it was his inability to cope with the hypocrisy of a society that strives to make people into heroes, yet in reality needs pragmatists who can serve its needs which led Don Quixote to a path where fantasy and reality are indistinguishable. But at times the dream is made to serve reality rather than conflict with it.
America, the land of the free has become a hypocrisy where the "American Dream" is no dream at all, but simply a monetary goal. The lofty idea that one can be anything they want to be is only a ploy to get people to work harder and to make more money, which in this capitalistic society is what makes it grow. Here in this country the dream is nothing more than a blunt notion that simply means, you work to make money, and if you don't then you face the consequences of poverty. Either way the American dream seems lost, only to be replaced by a pragmatic goal over that of an idealistic one. There are of course those few who manage to squeak their way up, and can accomplish fantastic achievements in our world, and they are the heroes children learn to envy. Later in adulthood we are taught to realize that many of those people indeed achieve great dreams, but even more people become failures. The victors are glorified and showed as a model for all, yet the failures are condemned and humiliated to dissuade others from following their misguided example.
Society is an immense force upon every person's life. It pushes and tugs, leading each person into the path of it's choosing. Or in contrast it may force someone to find a unique path, that which is different from others. Even in recent history, during the 1960s we saw an immense shift in the culture, to escape from the bounds that holds back free thinkers and dreamers, away from the pragmatists who sought to force the people along its road of harsh reality. The day had dawned when the dream of a youth would no longer be suppressed, when an idea of fantasy could and should become reality. Their struggle was a powerful one, and their opposition, that of the rest of society was just as stubborn in their own counter-beliefs. The pain of the conflict with an unforgiving world eventually led this sub-culture to hide, and for many there was no place more private, no place more secret and secure than one's own mind. The gateway become drugs and in time the only reality they wanted to face was the imaginary world created in their minds with the hallucinogenic powers of narcotics. A generation was forced into its own destruction, all over the ability to have control over one's dreams. Society denied them that power and so they stood up in resistance only to fail.
What ever happened to those dreamers of the sixties? Where have they gone? Well it is an incredible thing. Despite their struggle in their youth, despite the pains they took to hold onto their idealistic dreams, many fell slowly but surely into mainstream society, the same that is filled with necessary goals and deadlines. Even they when looking onto someone still holding onto the hippie past would probably laugh. How could this happen? In the end there is no seeming escape from a pragmatic future, which our lives come to depend on. Once a person gets married and has children, what time is there for dreams between the car payment, the mortgage payment, the credit payments, the medical bills, and work, etc. Our finite ability to do the infinite ultimately restricts us, and society is just the tool to make us realize that. But does that mean that the idealistic dream is totally dead, relegated to some old age where our youthful strength can no longer help propel our dreams? Not at all.
Society today, though different from a time long passed, still holds deep within it the same currents against which the freethinkers of the sixties struggled. American society is not unique; all world societies work to deny a person that powerful ability to live by one's idealistic dreams. We will always have our fantastic books of incredible worlds, but in the end aren't we just creating a world of escape artists who skillfully manage to evade dark reality, rather than confront and change it for the better? We are society. We control it powerful as it may be. The direction we seek as a whole may not necessarily be that of the dreamer, nor the pragmatist. To deny pragmatism without which no one will get done that which needs to be accomplished can ultimately destroy our society. Likewise though without the dreamers, how are we to ever know that we are moving forward to a better future instead of just moving along a horizontal line, neither forward nor backward, but to no purpose nonetheless. There lies a balance, and at that balance the dreamers of the sixties or today will have a sanctuary where their dreams can be heard and alongside them the pragmatists who with the inspiration of the dreamers can lead us forward in ways that can defy one's imagination. And that imagination will never die.
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quixote. New York: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1962.
"Lazarillo de Tormes." Online. Internet. 7 May 98. Available: ftp://sunsite.unc.edu/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext96/lazro13.txt
Shah, Mahek. "Transcendentalism." Online. Internet. 5 Feb. 1997. Available: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/4747/