Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Post-Technology World

In the dream I had last night, the world had changed. There was no more Internet, no phone systems. Long distance travel was very limited. Automobile and air flight existed, but was extremely rare. Local transportation was all by foot, bicycle or handcart. In order to preserve social cohesion, society had been completely reorganized around hierarchical, person-to-person networks, which made word-of-mouth communication more effective. There were local team leaders, who communicated with group leaders, and so on, up a chain of communication to some level of national and world leadership. We were all waiting for word to move to Zion.

Göran and I had slowly been traveling westward. We were in some western town in some place like Colorado. We had made our way there by foot travel, over a fairly long period of time. I was a trusted government official. People looked to me to help keep them informed about what was happening outside of the local community and region. There was a woman we knew there from our days singing in the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir.

There was general anxiety about the fact that we no longer had the conveniences that modern technology had once provided. We were all living in a society on the edge, so efficient use of resources and a high level of social cohesion and coordination were absolutely necessary in order to maintain order, and ensure everybody's survival. Life felt precarious. But in a sense, it also felt good and right. People loved each other. They treasured family and relationships, and took care of each other. Since all of our communication was person-to-person and face-to-face, our relationships with each other were more real, more true and substantive.

Göran and I were permitted to make a trip to Finland. We actually brought a delegation with us that included friends and family members from Göran's side of the family in Memphis. We went to eastern Finland, where we were going to stay with my cousin Kalevi and his wife Anja. Most people in that part of Finland had never seen or encountered people of African descent, so my arrival with Göran and members of his family aroused considerable excitement and curiosity. Members of Göran's family were regally dressed, and made quite an impression. Kalevi and Anja seemed a bit nervous – uncomfortable even – but they were still hospitable.

Kalevi and Anja had once had a small dog – a dachshund. But for some reason, they had been unable to care for it, and had given it to some neighbors who lived across the street. The dachshund had had a litter, and so the neighbors had another little dachshund like it. As we arrived at Kalevi and Anja's house, I saw the dogs standing on the pitched roof of the neighbor's house across the street. The dogs were brown, but tinged with a kind of turquoise or aquamarine color – I had never seen dogs like that before. They started barking excitedly when they saw us. I could tell that the dog that had once belonged to Kalevi and Anja missed them. The neighbors came out of their front door to greet us, and the little dogs, in the meantime, had run from the roof into a gabled window, down some stairs inside the house and then out the front door. From there, they ran excitedly toward us, barking as they ran. When Kalevi saw the dogs, he seemed to panic. He quickly ran into the house and closed the door behind him. Anja had a wistful look on her face.

I realized that Kalevi really missed his dog, and it was too emotional for him to have to deal with it, and that is why he had run inside, before it could get close enough to greet him.

*****

This was one of those dreams that felt revelatory to me. At first, as I was still waking up, it felt prophetic to me. I wondered if it was possible that we soon could -- in my lifetime -- live in a world without things like the Internet, telephones, or various forms of high-speed travel. It's imaginable... Just imagine a post-petroleum-based economy, and it doesn't seem completely beyond the realm of possibility.

What was fascinating to me, though, was that my dream version of such a world wasn't a dystopia, it wasn't a post-apocalyptic nightmare. There was anxiety, there was a sense of the precariousness of life, but in many ways it was a richer, fuller, more satisfying, more human world, in which human needs were met and human problems solved through face-to-face, personal relationships. We had figured out how to feed people, how to clothe and shelter and care for everybody, how to maintain social cohesion and government, basically using stone age technology!

As idyllic as the literal possibility of a world without the Internet sounds, as I shook the previous night's sleep out of my head, I thought more about the really preposterous dream elements, such me being a trusted government official in Colorado, leading a Memphis delegation to North Karelia with my husband, and my Finnish cousin's inability to deal with his emotions about the bluish-green dachshund he'd given away to his neighbor. And it dawned on me that maybe I ought to look at the dream a bit more metaphorically.

This dream I realized was about communication and human relationships. Living in a world with no Internet, no telephones, no cars and no planes, in dream language, I realized, is about a major breakdown in communication. Communication was a theme in my Spaceship Humanity dream, too. Though in that case, I felt it was about a specific communication challenge for me and, more broadly, for gay Mormons. In this dream, the breakdown in communication is global in scope. It's about a general inability on the part of human beings in general to communicate with each other in a truly satisfying way.

And in this dream, I see myself and my husband Göran playing a role in bringing people together. In the past when I've dreamed about traveling out West, it has had to do with making a deeper connection with my faith. So it seems likely to me that our traveling on foot to Colorado might have to do with me building bridges within the Church. Of course, in my dreams, Memphis symbolizes Göran's "home country," and North Karelia (Finland) symbolizes my "motherland." So it was clear to me that this dream was also about Göran and I playing a bridge-building role within our families.

The dream was also about successfully navigating the emotional complexities involved in bridge-building. Without getting too Freudian about the potential significance in my dream of a male family member showing anxiety in the presence of a blue "wiener dog," I think the dogs represented most broadly the power of emotions. Their blue-green color could symbolize spirituality and vitality. The fact that they had been banished to a neighboring house, only to loyally return, and the emotional conflicts created by their return, is suggestive of the challenge of mastering and integrating one's emotions.

My cousin's discomfort with his emotions made it difficult for him to receive our "delegation." His inability to extend hospitality had to do with fears and anxieties that were very much his own, that originated from within himself. It had nothing to do with his guests (though, in my dream, cultural difference was a factor in their reception). A successful bridge-builder will recognize this and take it into account in his or her interactions with others.

*****

My dream reflected a role that Göran and I have played in reality on significant occaions in our families. When there are breakdowns in communication, when family members don't want to talk to each other, we have often been the only ones that everyone talks to; we've been the go-betweens.

I do think there is something to be said for the notion that gay and lesbian folks are "natural" bridge-builders. Like many social "outsiders," by virtue of the fact that there's no unambiguous place for us in the public culture, we are forced to live in two worlds. We are forced to be "bilingual," because the native tongue of the love and affection that comes naturally to us isn't permitted or isn't understood by the majority. We have to speak, instead, the language of the dominant culture. We learn to speak that language in ways that are polyvalent, that are susceptible to multiple meanings and interpretations. We had to do this to survive.

This is, I think, why gay folks gravitate toward callings and professions that benefit from this kind of psychic multilingualism: the arts, language and linguistics, teaching, social service, diplomacy, politics, religion... Our gifts come in most useful when there is a collapse of social cohesion and order, or when there are breakdowns in communication.

When we are healthy, grounded, and strong, we contribute indispensable gifts to our communities and our families. It's hard for us to do this effectively when we are suicidally depressed or socially isolated. So homophobia deprives our communities and families of much needed social resources. On the other hand, when we are allowed to care for each other and love and nurture each other in loving relationships, we can play important roles in solving the problems that the whole human race has faced in crises past, and that it will face in crises future...

2 comments:

Jonathan Gardener said...

I just have to say, thanks again for your comments! Your blog seems to speak to me where I am right now: a closeted gay Mormon man striving to live the Gospel fully, including by trying to come out to my family and friends. I particularly like the end of your Spaceship Humanity dream when you turn on the light to reconnect the keypad. I'm doing my best to lovingly shed light where I am! And I feel hope that in time, there will be light enough for all to see.

J G-W said...

"I am... a closeted gay Mormon man striving to live the Gospel fully, including by trying to come out to family and friends."

Jonathan, that is a deep statement... Finding that level of honesty with others, that personal integrity, truly is essential to living the Gospel "fully." And the Lord blesses us in incredible ways as we do that...

Thank you!