In Defense of Daydreams

“All men dream, but not equally,” wrote T. E. Lawrence. “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

“Stop daydreaming.” Most of us heard this, directed at us, during childhood. And some of us heard it more often then others, of course. Yet creativity — including in the commercial sphere — depend on daydreaming. Civilizations themselves are conceived, bit by bit, in them.


But daydreams remain dangerous, since it is in them that man conceives of a new, different world that he can create, or, failing that, can experience metaphysically. Poets, mystics, painters, aesthetes, dandies, revolutionaries, and political extremists of the Left and Right created movements after their dreams, and appealed to the dreamer in, especially, young men.

That such things can end in tragedy is undeniable. From the young men and women who threw themselves to their deaths in the Rhine after reader Wolfgang von-Goethe’s Sufferings of Werther — which romanticized the act — to the destruction of cities, nations, and even civilizations themselves. “No genocide without poetry,” neo-communist thinker Slavoj Zizek has remarked, encapsulating the link between the visionary and romantic and the ruthless and destructive.

For Karl Marx creativity and destruction were bound together in capitalism, which would inevitably undergo periodic crises, during which industry, commerce, and so on, would be destroyed, because there would emerge, as a result of capitalism, “too much civilization, […] too much industry, too much commerce.” At such times

The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions.

I would argue, however, that the society that has begun to destroy itself is one that has lost the capacity for dream, which it replaces with fantasy. It must occur, perhaps, when the civilization’s “progressive” movements have achieved enough to become conservative, and, as such, fight to hold onto what they have through legislation.

If dreams are the big vision that immerses the individual in it, fantasy is technocratic, myopic, and concerned with details. Fantasy has no big picture. While dreams envision a perfect world, fantasies often fixate on eradicating obstacles. From the dreary dungeon of the obese sadomasochist to the increasingly bloated state that the former so perfectly, if unconsciously, reflects, there is often an underlying sense of desire for punishing or limiting the rights of others.

Laws restricting speech are introduced, in place of freedom of speech — usually on the premise that this will protect people or will help to establish an ideal type of society that the litigious suggest is virtually complete. Speech laws mean the death of poetry and the death of dreams. They mean, simply, that others will think for you.

Yet, if such laws are justified as “protecting” us from bad opinions, at the same time, violent porn, for example, is available as “literature” and popular entertainment. Occasionally it becomes a best seller.

“One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real,” said actor Klaus Kinski. But this is true only in an era in which the culture creators are dreamers. Not in an era of the suburban, housewife sadomasochism of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Today, in an era of fantasists, people fake their depravity.

Such posturing is made desirable because the mainstream itself becomes “against” the traditional institutions (which are deemed oppressive and moralizing), though the former is usually at least as moralistic and restrictive.

Rather than immersed in the transcendental of the dream world, the fantasist, usually unconsciously, draws his identity from the opinions of the media (hence he readily accepts restrictions on speech, sometimes for sentimental reasons, if the result will be to silence those with views different to his own) and his identity from the marketer (hence mass market label jeans have become, paradoxically, the uniform of the individual and the rebel; while allegedly radical spirituality insists that the practitioner, like the consumer, do simply what feels right — he can adopt any “convenient” belief system).

Yet, even in the era of fantasy, dreaming occasionally breaks through. As art becomes crystalized and uncontroversial (even if it falsely presents itself as radical), new, free-thinking artists emerge out of site. Old spiritualities return. A longing for the transcendent is increasingly discernible. Concern for nature reemerges. Creatives, though often obscure, draw inspiration from ancient culture for their vision of tomorrow. “As reality rapidly gave way to dreams,” writes Japanese author Yukio Mishima in Runaway Horses, “the past seems very much like the future.”

Angel_headshot_smallAngel Millar is an author, blogger, and the editor of People of Shambhala.

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