When politicians and pundits refer to the American Dream, they do so to evoke images of national unity, identity, and a better future. But in what ways does this metaphor manifest in the actual dreams of sleeping Americans? In American Dreamers, dream researcher Kelly Bulkeley takes the ideology of the American Dream one step further-into the study of sleeping dreams-to explore how the nocturnal side of human existence offers a key to the psychological origins of people's waking beliefs and political passions.
Bulkeley builds on sixteen years of scientific research involving thousands of dream reports to show how the playful fancies of our dreaming imaginations can be interpreted as insightful expressions of our hopes and fears about issues as varied as the environment, religion, family values, and the war in Iraq. Examining in particular detail the dreaming tendencies of conservatives and liberals, the book centers on ten people of different political perspectives-a dreamers' focus group-who kept yearlong sleep and dream journals. The dreaming and waking stories of these "ordinary" Americans (among them a cancer survivor, a lesbian horse rancher, a former Catholic priest, a young waitress engaged to be married, and a soldier preparing for his third tour to Iraq) provide raw psychological material and a window into their deepest beliefs, darkest fears, and most inspiring ideals.
Hyperventilating political pundits have described in lurid detail what conservatives and liberals disagree about, but rarely do they try to explain why they disagree-and that's the real question. At a time of bitter partisan conflict and governmental paralysis, American Dreamers calls the country back to its visionary origins, arguing that dreams can serve as a royal road to the creation of new political solutions that integrate the best of conservative and liberal ideals. If we truly want to learn something new about the American Dream in people's lives today, Bulkeley proposes we take a good close look at how well Americans are sleeping and dreaming at night.
From the Hardcover edition.
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About the Author
Dr. Kelly Bulkeley is a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union and a faculty member in the dream studies program at John F. Kennedy University. A former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, he is the author or editor of several books, most recently Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions, Dreams: A Reader on the Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming; Dreams of Healing: Transforming Nightmares into Visions of Hope; and The Wondering Brain: Thinking about Religion with and beyond Cognitive Neuroscience.
Read an Excerpt
The American Dream. It’s a phrase that conjures up lofty visions of the nation’s highest ideals and most noble aspirations (or,
perhaps, memories of tedious high school English essays on The
Great Gatsby or Death of a Salesman). Widely used in political speech, media commentary, commercial advertising, literature,
art, and ordinary conversation, it’s a shorthand way of referring to our country’s core values, to those principles of enduring importance that define America’s national identity. What’s most striking when you first consider the various examples of politicians using this phrase is the basic agreement across the ideological spectrum about its essential meaning. Try the following test.
Read the seven quotations below, and see if you can match them to the seven political leaders who spoke them.
1. The American Dream does not come to those who fall asleep. . .We have endured a long night of the American spirit. But as our eyes catch the dimness of the first rays of dawn, let us not curse the remaining dark. Let us gather the light.
2. [T]he substance of that dream . . . is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God,
Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is a dream. It’s a great dream . . . God grant that America will be true to her dream.
3. Deep down, this country wasn’t built on fear. This country was built on hope. This country was built on a belief in limitless possibilities, on a belief in dreaming big dreams.
4. For [more than two hundred] years, Americans have been united by a simple, common dream that tomorrow will be better than today. The promise of American life, handed on through a dozen generations, rests on this basic bargain: All of us should have the opportunity to live up to our God-given potential, and the responsibility to make the most of it . . .To remain strong in the world, the American Dream must be strong and alive here at home. And as we continue to navigate through these changing economic times, restoring the promise of the American Dream is the central economic issue of our time.
5. We believe in the American dream, because we’ve had a chance to live it. The American dream isn’t about the accumulation of material things. It is much deeper and more profound than that. The essence of the American dream is the understanding that we are here on this earth and in this land for a higher purpose: to discover—and develop to the fullest
—our God-given potential. Anything that stands in the way of the dream, we must fight. Anything that enhances the dream, we must support.
6. I have faith that with God’s help we as a nation will move forward together as one nation, indivisible. And together we will create an America that is open, so every citizen has access to the American dream; an America that is educated, so every child has the keys to realize that dream; and an America that is united in our diversity and our shared American values that are larger than race or party.
7. It’s time to stop playing on people’s fears and to begin asking what we can do together to make things better. None of us can afford to play politics as usual. We love this land of ours,
because it’s a special place where people are free to work, to save, to believe, to build a better future. The cynics may call it corny, but this way of life we all cherish is best summed up in three simple words: the American dream. From our beginnings as a nation, that dream has been a living, breathing reality for millions. It still is. But it faces serious threats.
a. President Richard M. Nixon, “First Inaugural Address,” January
b. President Ronald Reagan, “Remarks about the Congressional
Elections,” television broadcast, October 26, 1982.
c. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., “The American
Dream,” sermon delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church,
Atlanta, Georgia, July 4, 1965.
d. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, introducing the Democratic
Leadership Council’s report, “Saving the American
Dream,” July 19, 2006.
e. Governor and President-elect George W. Bush, speaking to the Texas legislature, December 13, 2000.
f. Senator Barack Obama, speaking at a Democratic rally in
Tempe, Arizona, October 23, 2006.
g. Steve Forbes, A New Birth of Freedom: A Vision for America
(Washington, DC: Regnery, 1999),
Key: a-1, b-7, c-2, d-4, e-6, f-3, g-5
If you got most or all of them correct, congratulations! You are possessed of extremely sharp political intuition (or you’re a very lucky guesser). If you got at least a couple right, you probably recognized the distinctive words and turns of phrase associated with major historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and
Ronald Reagan. If you got none right, well, sorry. No more quizzes for the rest of the book, I promise.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
1 Conservatives and Liberals, Awake and Asleep
2 The War on Terror
3 Religion, Spirituality, and Faith
4 The Natural Environment
5 Work and Money
6 Family Values
Appendix 1 Dreams of Politics and Politicians
Appendix 2 Further Readings in Dream Research