Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dreams, labels and tragedies

The other night I had a dream about a wardrobe in a junk shop. The front of the wardrobe was heavily carved in a Chinese style which gave it a rather exotic appearance.

However, when my wife and I examined it more closely, it seemed to be made of chipboard. The back was particularly flimsy – almost like paper. It flexed easily when I pressed it with my finger. Also in the shop was a young neighbour who liked the wardrobe too. The junk shop owner hovered in the background as a hazy figure.

So – not a very interesting dream, but where did it come from?

I think it was a mix of recent events triggering generic labels. As I see it, the labels went something like this, although I’m sure there are subtleties and complexities missing from the list :-

Chinese / Exotic / Carved Wood.
Junk Shop.
Young Person.
Dodgy Person (junk shop owner).
Poor Quality / Chipboard / Furniture.

We visit lots of junk shops and one we recently visited had a heavily carved table which we liked - not Chinese though. We like Chinese antiques, although we don’t buy them and I have a thing about chipboard furniture as the epitome of modern crap. Been there, done that, never again. It's a strong aversion.

We also have new neighbours, although I wouldn’t call them young. However, Son and Daughter-in-Law have visited recently with Graddaughter – so that may have blended Young Person into my dream.

To my mind, dreams contain clues about the generic labels we use to make sense of the world with what is often a broad and impressionistic brush. However I suspect we can't really label the labels as I've suggested in my list. They are too fluid and impressionistic, too liable to be moulded by events, too liable to have subtly different versions for different yet similar events.

Imagine though, if our labels go wrong in real life, if the broad brush is too broad or we apply it in an irrational way.

Suppose Dodgy Person is applied to one who is really Trustworthy.

Suppose Adult is applied to one who is really Child?

Suppose Guilty is applied to one who is really Innocent.

Suppose Dodgy Person is falsely applied to Neighbour or Colleague.

It’s not too difficult to see how someone could screw up very badly indeed. It may be odd, weird and rare to screw up to a life-threatening degree, but by no means incomprehensible. I think we see how in our dreams and our imaginings.

Take someone such as Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of that appalling Connecticut shooting of young school children and their teachers.

Many people say the guns did it, but clearly they did not. It was Adam Lanza and now we hear he was assigned a psychologist. What a can of worms that opens up.


Anonymous said...

Not the only one in need of a nuthouse by the sound of it. In a gun-toting country the precautionary principle should apply.

As for those who dream of wardrobes with wobbly backs.....

A K Haart said...

Roger - Clayton Cramer has written a book on the issue. These crimes have risen as the old asylums were closed.