The Dreamworld of Libertarianism (Part 1 of 2)

I’m still thinking and writing about libertarianism, struggling not only with it – that is, to try and understand its origins and ramifications – but also against it. For me, these two things have become tied together. What surprises and alarms me in particular is its hold on some American Catholics; the Church just doesn’t seem to have an historical or conceptual framework that seems amenable to libertarian influence. It would be different and rather unsurprising to say, for example, that conservative evangelicals have a strong pro-capitalist position and libertarian political orientation. But Catholics? Why us? How have we become colonized?

I don’t have a clear answer yet. I am gaining a clearer picture about what libertarianism represents in an ideological sense, however. The more I work on political ideology, the more it strikes me as a struggle at the cultural level to make sense of a partially incoherent world. Contra Marx, I don’t think that the production of ideology is directly tied to economic production. There’s no question that the two are connected, but their relationship is complicated. Without getting too abstract or theoretical, it seems to me instead that the cultural production of political ideas is something like what the dreaming mind does.

As many good things do, this idea came to me after hearing a story on National Public Radio. It seems that scientists have determined that a vitally important part of the sleep cycle involves a working-through of difficult emotions, small traumas really, that happen to us on a daily basis. In Professor Matthew Walker's words,

...what's interesting is that REM sleep chemically, in terms of the anuric transmitters that swirl around the brain, REM sleep is perhaps the only time during the 24-hour period where a particular stress neurochemical called norepinephrine or noradrenaline is actually suppressed and it's completely shut down from the brain. And it seems to be that REM sleep is a perfect chemical environment, almost like a therapy session, where you can take emotional events from the prior day and perhaps just smooth the sharp edges off those experiences, and almost like an overnight soothing balm, as it were. (Talk of the Nation, Feb 08, 2013).

Sleep is not just like therapy, it is therapy: it is the mind’s attempt to cope with the incongruity and incoherence of the world around us. It helps build and sustain a world that makes sense. Without it, we as individuals can’t focus, nor can we maintain emotional equilibrium. Dreams are of course part of this process, and as Freud suggested, analyzing their imagery can divulge to us what kinds of conflicts we may be ignoring and/or suppressing with the conscious mind. As I will argue in Part 2, we can appropriate and apply this analytical method to the "dreamworld" of political ideology. The results are, I think, suprising and provocative.

Robert Geroux is a political theorist.

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