Sometimes when we go to sleep with problems, we have nightmares. The nightmares wake us up. Not just literally. But also psychologically, mentally, socially, and in many other ways. Our nightmares are shock fables, designed by the mind to lead us out of the darkness of problems that seem unsolvable towards the light of new solutions. To respond to these shock fables told to us by our own minds requires only an understanding of the intent of the dream, the story—to wake us up to learning, and a few procedures for turning the into action.
In my own therapeutic, growth-oriented work with people, I’ve heard many accounts of various nightmares:
- A 15 year-old boy constantly confronted by bullying, assaulting enemies at school, and no friends of any kind, dreams of being attacked by ferocious monsters when he goes to sleep.
- A business owner with severe financial problems dreams of floods sweeping away all that he owns and holds dear.
- A mother experiencing a persistent conflict with her son, dreams of being shipwrecked and alone on an isolated island covered with horrendous creatures.
In my own life, periodically I’ve had dystopian nightmares about the world. My vision of the world and the looming crisis has been with with me since I graduated with a degree in environmental science from Arizona State University in 1976. That study gave me a deep understanding of the environmental aspects of the global crisis and corresponding worries about humanity’s trajectory in the 21st century. I’ve dreamt of vast floods; the end of the world through a full-scale nuclear war; earthquakes; and more. Each nightmare caused me to wake up, shaking with fear, only to find the dream, the shock fable, was just a fable, not reality. Not yet. And each caused me to do my best to wake up in a different sense of the phrase—to seek solutions, to walk in the footsteps of leaders seeking large-scale solutions to huge, global problems.
To the extent we understand the positive purposes of nightmares—to wake us up to solutions—we can benefit from them, turning traumatic, horrifying images into powerful, productive insights and effective plans and actions.
In a book by Alan Siegel titled “Dream Wisdom: Uncovering Life’s Answers in Your Dreams,” he states:
“During a crisis or after a traumatic event, it is important to know nightmares are more common and upsetting. We experience each nightmare as a traumatic event and for those who have experienced violence, a natural disaster, accident or other trauma, post-traumatic nightmares rub salt on our emotional wounds. Keep in mind that moderately upsetting nightmares may actually be a positive sign of normal coping but very graphic nightmares that are repetitive and unchanging may signal an emotional impasse.
“Nightmare remedies are self-help techniques that can help adults and children break the spell of their bad dreams and use them for personal growth and creative inspiration. A simple method for transforming nightmares is to use the 4 R’s of nightmare relief. Reassurance, Rescripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution.”
Siegel goes on in this online excerpt to write about each of those four processes to use the nightmare, the shock fable, for finding solutions to real-world problems.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often accompanied by nightmares, which relive the horrific memories the person experienced, as if the mind is insisting that the person learn crucial lessons from them such as how to prevent more traumatic experiences from happening again in the future. Such PTSD nightmares are often saying “Here is what happened. Relive the traumas. Use these dreams to find out how to prevent them from happening again. Only then will let you move on in peace.”
We humans create the same kinds of shock fables during the daytime when we tell stories through the storytelling arts via short stories and songs; novels and (of course) films.
As the looming global crisis gathers speed towards an apparent singularity of a catastrophe for humanity, our daymares, as shock fables, take the form of dystopian books and films. They have the same purpose as our nightmares—to wake us up.
A fabulous, short song and video in this category is Gotye’s song “
Movies that portray the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it are gracing our screens many times a year as of 2015. That’s a good thing, for the global crisis is real, and understandable. See my summary of the actual global crisis. In it, I’ve listed the factors which are unfolding exponentially. And our dystopian stories, increasingly embedded in our cultural awareness through films, tend to help us wake up. They too are appearing in an accelerating way.
What about the numbers of dystopian films?
According to a Wikipedia article about dystopian films, before 1950, there were three. The count, in each decade since then looks like this:
- 2010s—30 so far
I have my favorites. The Star Trek series with its hundreds of episodes is set in a post-nuclear-war future. I love the Roddenberry’s vision of a world that works, and life spreading beyond Earth. I especially like dystopian films which show or elude to actual solutions such as They Live, 1988; Pleasantville, 1998; Children of Men, 2006; The Hunger Games series, 2012+; Elysium, 2013; and The Divergent Series, 2013+.
That leads me to the second of The Divergent Series: Insurgent.
Here are some of the particulars of this film:
Shailene Woodley as Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior
Theo James as Four
Ansel Elgort as Caleb
Miles Teller as Peter
Naomi Watts as Evelyn
Maggie Q as Tori Wu
Kate Winslet as Jeanine
Jai Courtney as Eric
Zoë Kravitz as Christina
Ray Stevenson as Marcus Eaton
Octavia Spencer as Johanna
I enjoyed the second film in the series, as much as the first, called “Divergent.” The acting, the action, the dialogue and more, make it a top-notch film, easy to follow and inspiring to learn from.
As an allegory, it has a relevant message for us.
In the overall Divergent Series story, a couple of centuries after the mass-breakdown of civilization, a post-Chicago-area community finds itself divided into specialized communities where people operate like cogs in the machine of society. Each person plays their role in the six groups, based on specialized thinking:
- Abnegation—the selfless
- Amity—the peaceful farmers and gardeners
- Candor—the honest
- Dauntless—the brave, well-trained military police
- Erudite—the intelligent scholars
- Factionless—the underclass, homeless without an official sanctioned community to belong to
It’s a nightmarish society of conformity and subservience, tyranny and violence, on top of a global civilization which collapsed, leaving all we have developed up to now in ruins atop the bodies of billions who died.
In the first part of the story, covered by the film Divergent, a tyrannical coup by Erudite using a mind control serum, seeks to use the Dauntless police to execute all of the leading faction—Abnegation.
This is all thwarted by Tris (Shailene Woodley), a former Abnegation member who joined Dauntless. She thwarts this due to her “divergent” thinking which enables cross-faction, multi-dimensional thinking, outside the bounds of the specialized thinking of the members of the sanctioned, approved factions. She and her divergent thinking make her a member of the threatened “divergent” class of thinkers who can see the faults in the system and, presumably, can seek to change it.
In Insurgent, with Erudite still in power after their coup, the leader of the Erudite faction, Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet) seeks to find and eradicate any remaining divergent thinkers, for they are the only threat to their stranglehold on their society.
Tris and her allies are then on the run, pursued by the Erudite powers that be.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, I don’t want to spoil the story. Let it suffice to say, the protagonists make some progress in an unexpected way, with a startling discovery—something only a divergent thinker can do.
Back to reality in the United States of America.
- To what extent is society pursuing a path of large-scale destruction?
- To what extent is there a ruling faction using mind control to consolidate their power over our society and our planet?
- To what extent is there specialized thinking among various factions which prevent the kind of see-the-system-for-what-it-is insights that could change the system to make it work for all and for a viable future?
- To what extent is there a persecution of those who think divergently to synthesize insights about how to change our society?
Who are the divergent thinkers persecuted in our society?
I’d say Edward Snowden is a perfect example of a divergent thinker. So is Ehren Watada. So is Chelsea Manning. So are many others like John Kiriakou and Thomas Andrews Drake, Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony, Dr. King and Malcolm X, Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange, Mahatma Gandhi and Noam Chomsky. There is a long list of whistleblowers who risked much to right the wrongs they were in a position to expose.
These individuals and many more broke out of their specialized roles. They integrated diverse areas of thinking into a course of action to confront an undemocratic, broken, tyrannical system.
Let’s take Snowden. By combining his specialized knowledge of the NSA spying programs with his sense of the ethic of right and wrong embodied in law, and further combining the assumptions of a democratic citizen-activist towards letting the public decide about spying through informed consent, he has become one of the great fugitives for thinking divergently.
After seeing the National Intelligence Directer, James Clapper, lie under oath to Congress, Snowden decided to blow the whistle to expose Clapper’s lie.
Here’s what Clapper said from the Wikipedia article about Clapper:
“On March 12, 2013, during a United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, Senator Ron Wyden quoted the keynote speech at the 2012 DEF CON by the director of the NSA, Keith B. Alexander. Alexander had stated that ‘Our job is foreign intelligence’ and that ‘Those who would want to weave the story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people, is absolutely false…From my perspective, this is absolute nonsense.’ Senator Wyden then asked Clapper, ‘Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?’ He responded ‘No, sir.'”
That was the lie. Snowden, said of that moment:
“…the breaking point was seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress. … Seeing that really meant for me there was no going back.”
Rather than focusing only on his specialized skills with computers, computer networks, and surveillance, Snowden diversified his thinking to include ethics, the higher obligations of citizenship, and more. Then he used his specialized skills to expose governmental crimes.
As Steven Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple recently said:
“…total hero to me; total hero,’ … ‘Not necessarily [for] what he exposed, but the fact that he internally came from his own heart, his own belief in the United States Constitution, what democracy and freedom was about. And now a federal judge has said that NSA data collection was unconstitutional.”
Ehren Watada is the highest ranking military officer in recent memory to refuse to deploy to Iraq because the military and political institutions which invaded and occupied Iraq violated laws and treaties and engaged, therefore in an illegal and immoral war. According to the Wikipedia article about him:
“Soon after reporting to Fort Lewis, Watada discovered that his unit would be deploying to Iraq, in support of ongoing operations there. In preparation to deploy, he began conducting research on the country, its culture, and the reasons for the U.S. involvement in Iraq. Watada claims that, after reading several books and articles about the history of Iraq, international law, and the evidence used to justify the war, and speaking with veterans returning from Iraq, he ceased to believe in its legality and justification.”
Note the divergent thinking he engaged in, pursuing history and international law. He was not awarded a medal for his courage to follow his convictions, but was put in jail and tried for the crime of not only “missing movement” for failing to deploy, but for “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” for thinking divergently and speaking about his thinking that the attack and occupation of Iraq was illegal and immoral. In this way, Watada pursued a course like Chelsea Manning’s by following his conscience.
Chelsea Manning, like Snowden, is a whistleblowing leaker of secret military misdeeds.
Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in Fort Leavenworth Prison for leaking a series of documents, including the famous “Collateral Murder” video which shows the U.S. military assassination of journalists and their rescuers in Iraq from cannon fire from a helicopter.
These people—Edward Snowden, Ehren Watada and Chelsea Manning are real-world Divergent Series Fours and Tris’s. They found a way to look at the unfolding story of our world, and use their thinking to make a positive difference by righting wrongs and challenging the problems as they saw them. I suspect that they followed aspects of the four steps put forth by Alan Siegel—Reassurance, Rescripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution to deal with the living nightmares they saw in our world.
Our real world needs more divergent thinkers—more Snowdens, more Watadas, and more Mannings. You. Me. And those we may inspire.
The four stages of responding to nightmares—Reassurance, Rescripting, Rehearsal, and Resolution—can guide us to use the stories around us to join in the real story in which we can all play protagonists—responding to the crises around us with divergent, multi-dimensional thinking and effective, ethical action.
Let us wake up to the capacities for advanced, divergent, multi-dimensional thinking for solving the problems we face. Let us get the message from the allegorical films we enjoy. Let us solve our large-scale problems with the large-scale solutions that emerge from our divergent thinking.