When I was four years old I had a dream that changed my life. It was 1954 and my mother had just left my philandering father in Trenton New Jersey where we had a two bedroom apartment in a public housing project called Donley Gardens. She had taken my younger brother Donald and myself on a bus trip to the South Jersey town of Collingswood to live with her oldest sister Pat and her husband Ed who had a young child named Eddie who was my oldest cousin.
It’s true that people do indeed have life changing dreams and it’s possible that many such dreams are brought on by radically altered life circumstances. I suspect that this is the case possibly with young children who at age four are taken from familiar circumstances to another world so to speak that is totally unfamiliar to them. The shock of having to leave my father to whom I was quite bonded with at that early phase of my life may have been a factor in all of this.
Perhaps, though this life changing dream was a gift, a kind of life balancing inner experience that was a compensation for the sad disappointment of having to lose my father through separation and eventual divorce at such a young age. I have never ever spoken of this dream to anyone before because I considered its contents to be too sacred and special to profane by sharing it with other human beings. It’s not everyone who gets to learn how they will eventually die and what the cause of death will be. This dream however involved much more than just my own fate. It involved the fate of the entire world and most certainly the country I lived in, as well as the times and place thereof.
The dream revealed to me that I would die in a nuclear war and that I and countless millions of others would perish in exactly the same manner at exactly the same moment. As a matter of fact I had variations of this same dream (or kind of dream) as I got older. In one particular version the H-bomb drifted down from the sky attached to a parachute or two until I was just about eye level with it and then it would explode. At that moment I would awake but the affect of it would stay with me for all time. What did these dreams mean and were they really some sort of a prediction about how I would actually die or were such dreams in fact a warning from what Jung called “the mind of nature” that this was one possible future for myself, my nation, and the world. It is not difficult to postulate that a child growing up in the nuclear age five years after two priors acts of nuclear terrorism had been perpetrated by a victorious America against a thoroughly beaten Japan could be obsessed with such fears. In other words such deep seated fear could be a perfectly natural response to growing up during the cold war where the threat of nuclear mutual extermination seemed to hang in the air. I had a wealthy aunt and uncle who had constructed a fallout shelter underneath their beach front home at the Jersey shore in Longport.
There was no level of fear involved with this dream revelation only the comforting feeling that for some reason God was talking to me in my dreams. He wanted to reassure me of something, i.e. that death was part of life, that it had meaning for us all, that there was indeed this very real Higher Power that knew what the future held for us all. I felt that I was in the strong protective arms of the father that I had lost only this father was the so called “Heavenly Father” that I had heard about somewhere before. It was an overwhelming feeling of ultimate peace and contentment that I had as a result of this inner dream experience. The world was a dangerous place but I was safe within the loving arms of this all knowing and all powerful “Heavenly Father” who had become the stand-in for the father that I had lost. Any Freudian analyst would be able to see this as mere compensation which is the role that the unconscious mind plays in our lives. Its function is to counter-balance the stance that our conscious mind takes. It provides this compensation through dreams. The little boy has given way to the adult mind of the fully mature man; and yet, there is still the air of mystery to all this that lacks any kind of rational explanation.
Pondering over these inner events that took place in the first ten years of my life, I have taken the meaning to be that this was one possible future and that the real meaning contained in the dream(s) was that I had some sort of a personal obligation to make sure that such a tragedy did not indeed befall myself, my nation, and humanity more generally. How best to do this without actually revealing my personal motivation for doing so always constituted a kind of quite conundrum for me. As an attendee at numerous and sundry anti-war and/or anti-nuke demonstrations I always was able to hearken back to this dream series as being the real reason that I was there. How does a person confess such a reason to another person and is there really any good reason to do so? Would it really matter anyway as the important thing was just to be there with that great throng of humanity that had a similar apprehension about war and most especially war of the nuclear variety? Maybe all these other people had had the exact same dream or one similar to it that was the cause that drove them into the streets as well to oppose the military madness of our era. These were the questions that I wrestled with as perhaps the biblical Jacob wrestled with an angel.
The Catholic religion was something that occupied every crack and cranny of my conscious and unconscious life at that early point in my young life from about age five when I became aware of such to about the age of fifteen when I left Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill New Jersey to attend the same hometown high school that both my parents had attended in the 1940s. It was good to be back home again and I was happy to trade a guilt laden Roman Catholicism for the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Yes, it was good to know that there was indeed a meaning and a purpose to life which brought great personal happiness to me as an overly introverted youth growing up in the somewhat bucolic circumstances in which I found myself. Life was good in spite of the occasional intrusion of reality that took the form of being beaten up or assaulted in some manner by either fellow classmates or just another student whose sister I had gone to grammar school with. I assumed that such physical assaults on my person had more to do with the psychological state of the attackers than anything that I myself had actually done to them.
So the import and substance of my reoccurring childish dream sort of receded into the background accept for a rather diffused sense of moral responsibility for something inconveniently nebulous but nevertheless present and pregnant with certain unique possibilities. Growing up in the bosom of material comfort in a middle class suburban town in South Jersey meant that for me personally all issues related to war and peace receded into the background almost to vanishing point. All this changed in my senior year when I become something of a political person owing to a number of factors in my immediate environment. The first of these was exposure through a senior year history/civics course required for graduation that was taught be someone of a far to the left social perspective or at least that was the way it seemed to a youth bought up in a far to the right John Birch Society influenced social perspective. I was the proverbial fish that knew nothing about the nature of water since it was all around me and indeed the medium that I had been bought up in. I seemed immune to the nature of my own immediate social atmosphere as well perhaps of its effect upon my developing personality. All of this changed in my senior year and the second major factor and perhaps the most important was a whole new set of friends who were what one might think of as anti-war political activists of the high school variety. Since all young men age 18 were required to register for the draft and become potential cannon fodder for the Vietnam War; the fact was that this was a very personal reality that we all had to contend with as best we could. This new reality that death was indeed on our doorstep engendered a new kind of reality based thinking in us all. I may have been able to entertain this idea of my own inner separate peace given to me by God above in my dreams but something had to be done in regard to the onward crush of this new reality that seemed to be hitting me from all sides at once.
The existential anxiety of my late teen years came to a fortuitous end through the convenient artifice of a well timed “nervous breakdown”, a two week stay in a local hospital, and the dearly needed Godsend of a letter to the local draft board announcing my unfitness for military service. I had great admiration for my fellow high school students who took the more honorable path of conscientious objection, refusal to register for the draft, or fleeing to Canada as was the case with the most highly principled anti-war student in my graduating high school class of 1968.
With the end of the so called Cold War we all thought that the threat of mutually assured mass extermination that hung over our heads life the sword of Damocles had been lifted and lifted for good. Francis Fukiama had told us that this was the end of history and that capitalism had triumphed over Soviet style “communism” that I was later to learn was not communism at all but rather the cancer of Marxism/socialism known to the educated elite as Stalinism. My Marxist education at the hands of the working class intellectuals of the Socialist Labor Party had prepared me for a new reality and a new class war that while new to me personally was not new to the generations before me bought up to understand what the overriding social, economic, and political realities of the modern era were and had courageously decided to make their own stand against the class enemy.
I was just the latest enlistee to this working class army of the educated elite just as determined to educate the uneducated masses as to the momentous issues of war and peace, life and death, and the real nature of the capitalist system. Since the ever present threat of mass nuclear annihilation had hung over my generation and generations since we were life fish swimming in a sea that had no idea as to what water was. Once again the analogy holds true and the fact that the ever present nature of this ever present threat constituting the new normal meant that for the vast unconcerned masses the threat did not exist and the capitalist power structure liked it that way. As the shock troops of the educated Marxist elite we had the inevitable job of trying to convince the fish that they indeed swam in water and that if they were going to survive they had to become aware of this fact. Opposed to us was the whole weight of recent history and a socially conditioned working class content to accept the massive propaganda outpourings of the system that defined Marxism/socialism in terms of the Stalinist cancer and capitalism as the heaven sent alternative.
I think that it is safe to say that never before in all of human history have the odds been so stacked against a small but dedicated minority except perhaps for the days of early apostolic Christianity which in fact forms an almost perfect parallel to our own time and situation. There are a host of reasons for this but the chief of these might be that Christianity in its origins was communistic to the core and thus represented something that the down trodden masses could easily identify with. Christianity bought new hope to the masses of oppressed peoples of the Roman Empire in the first century CE and thereafter. It took Christianity 350 years to finally win out and triumph as the official state religion/ideology of the Roman Empire. Christianity was a historical necessity that made it possible for humanity to advance to a whole new stage of development that in turn helped to create the social conditions that capitalism would need to establish itself in the late Medieval/Early Renaissance period as the most progressive social system the world had ever seen. Indeed the same could be said for all the Abrahamic religious doctrines emanating from the Fertile Crescent the place where human civilization first began.
So what does this have to do with today and our own era other than the fact that similar situations create the context for similar solutions to the overriding social, economic, and political issues of the day. Just as the wealthy established classes of the Roman Empire that brutally exploited the other classes below them saw in apostolic Christianity the face of their sworn enemy, so the various ruling classes of the Western world have seen in the liberating mission of Marxism their sworn class enemy. It is the underlying objective contradictions of capitalism however that have and will continue to destroy its viability as a social system. Certainly the threat that we now face of an almost certain nuclear war with Russia and possibly China is just one of the many contradictions that capitalism as a social system has created for itself in this late era. Such a war owing to the highly technical nature of the weapons employed and the devastation that will be wrought will only be fought once. This coming event will mark the most significant event in all of human history. It is something that that surviving portion of humanity will spend all the rest of its days seeking to recover from in a myriad of ways both physical and spiritual. The dimensional change in the course of human affairs that this event will produce can not be overstated or fully understood from where we now stand in relation to what will survive on the other side of this coming Apocalypse.
I have no fear for the future because I know that a portion of humanity will survive this coming terrible event. I have only a great personal happiness in knowing that I did the right thing in taking a moral stand against the military madness of capitalism in its final days of its existence. I know that I have chosen wisely and correctly. My vision of the future is an extremely hopeful one where at long last humanity will learn how to live with itself and understand all its critical flaws and weaknesses and how to deal with them successfully. I have in my mind the vision of a new age brightly lit by humanities fullest knowledge and wisdom of itself that will never again take second place to the development of a technology that is not made fully accountable to that Higher Power of self awareness that will guide our future.
Note-this piece was originally posted to Open Salon on 02-07-2015