Play, Dreams and Education: The Betrayal of the Child in Western Society

by Mark Hagen

Joining a Culture

To enter the social order of language and culture is to enter a work in progress. It is a symbolic, historical dramaturgy that determines the child's fate. Once entered, the game or play can no longer be spoken of freely and objectively by game players. They have now been influenced by the process, and the roles, rules and values taught.

A society perpetuates culture by educating its members with its values around issues such as gender, class and lookism, literally before new members have the capacity to imagine alternatives. As children grow up, the games become dramatic realities which members reconstruct in families, institutions and the workplace.

If basic human needs are not fulfilled by the techniques taught within a culture, as the pathogenic, agonistic games of western society fail to do, individuals will not readily accept the culture's values. Individual compliance is then achieved through compensation and deception.

Much of what is learned about how to cope in the world, and in society, is picked up outside schools and institutions. The process begins in the womb before birth, but even there, children do not arrive as blank slates.


Biotopographic View of Learning

Biotopographic View of Learning: All forms of learning are found in dreams.

  • Behavioral learning: the classic Pavlovian form; and Skinner's operant conditioning.
  • Cognitive forms: Edward Tolman's Place and Performance learning; and the Insight learning described by Wolfgang Kohler.
  • Social learning:Albert Bandura's learning via role model and observation.


Poisoned Pedagogy

If, as Michael Foucault has conceived, power and knowledge are intimately related, then it is education that makes the connection. The drive for power perverts the struggle for "knowledge versus ignorance" into the struggle for "truth versus falsity." Western society is motivated by the achievement of success. The Dream is a tool to examine the truth or falsity of educational values.

Dreams collected by the International Institute for Dream Research have shown that an unconscious poisonous pedagogy is at work, a hidden social curriculum which leads to arrested development; the self actualization of a few through marginalization of the majority. The Dream lays a foundation for critical evaluation of education. It provides insight into the technologies of the self. It reveals that western society has been blind and deaf to the vision and voice of the social unconscious.

The politicization of education has poisoned individual self-development. Teachers and students alike have abandoned the search for truth and replaced it with the rote learning of an ideology devoid of democratic practices. They have been left with no other choice. Schools attempt to build continents of conformity. It is time to provide a structure that will release individual narratives. Biotopographical criticism of education can restore the dream, building a bridge between the island of social dreaming and the shore of hope.


Perpetuating Culture

The child enters culture through language learning. Humans are born with biologically determined physical and mental capabilities to make the sounds and retain the ideas of language and learning. The process of socialization and skill acquisition begins immediately. Individuals are shaped as they learn their culture's inheritance of language conditioning (see environmental determinism).

Culture and personality theorists believe that personality is created by socialization patterns, placing emphasis on child rearing practices such as feeding, weaning, toilet training and the general rites of passage involved with raising children. In this way, different cultures create different personalities through child rearing practices. From this viewpoint, gender roles, race and so on are culturally, rather than biologically, determined. (Kardiner)


Biological Determinism - Nature

Ethologists hold the view that human behavior and thought processes are products of a combination of biology and adaptive survival techniques, what we think of as evolution.

Freud's theory of civilization was one of "unconscious determinism," the basic assumption that behaviour and motivation result from unconscious biological forces. The images seen in dreams are explained as symbols formed by the unconscious to represent the action or frustration of basic human drives on our active lives. Language is formed and used to explain these symbols. From the biogenic (biological determinism) point of view, the dreams of individual members of a society will reveal signs of a given society's success or failure to develop educational tenets for patterns of adjustment for its members.

Successful education, or socialization, is that which develops individuals in ways that meet their basic needs, resulting in healthy personalities, life-styles and dreams.

Dreams that reveal stress, indicate failure at successful adaptation and the culture's failure to teach workable coping mechanisms.


Environmental Determinism- Nurture

B.F. Skinner put forward the theory of "environmental determinism". Human behaviour and motivation are shaped in response to stimuli from the surrounding world. This is more than regular, daily encounters. We are products of our social-environmental, and therefore of cultural experiences. Cultures develop through generations and are imprinted on individuals through succeeding generations. Of course, they are influenced by the experiences of each generation, and so evolve through time. The study of this cultural evolution is the anthropology of the unconscious.


Culture Taught Through Experience

The family is the primary education transmitter of social codes. Education is aimed primarily at children so they will reproduce existing political, economic, and religious power structures when they mature. Thus agonistic games, the lessons of patriarchy and capitalism, most affect children. The dramaturgical conflict of the desire for love versus the desire for power is reflected in the political drama and dreams of the family, itself a power hierarchy. The Family Dream of Western society is ever confronted by this political fatalistic determinism. The organizational principals that define a society are reflected in language and play.



Like other behaviours, language is produced both a result of the biological capabilities of the speakers, and of the type of relationships that develop within societies and the experiences of the speakers. The exchange of knowledge through a society, teaching, begins with instruction in cultural linguistic skills: syntax, semantics, pragmatics, dramatics, rhetoric and semiotics. Language reflects knowledge in its structure as well as its content.

Just as occupational groups such as lawyers, doctors or business managers each create words, linguistic short-cuts and patterns of speech (jargon) specific to their line of work, larger societies also create languages with words that reflect common experiences, and the values drawn from them. The Inuit, it is said, have many words for snow.

Language and ideology are reflected in dream structures. Dreams themselves are a language of symbols in which biological forces in our subconscious minds deal with the residue of daily events encountered by dreamers. Through language instruction, the unconscious is fashioned.



Play is the primary drive of individuals in society. It influences role-playing, entertainment, sports, etc. Think of how we define people by the activities they undertake that touch upon our lives; he/she is a doctor, fire fighter, coach, or parent. Biological determinism theory has been used as a powerful tool to explain the inequities of status, wealth and power evident in our patriarchal, capitalistic societies.

Play is an important educational tool. Football is enjoyed around the world, but those who play soccer learn different words and a different set of strategies than do those who play North American football. Games of Cowboys and Indians reflect different values than games of House. Even Paddy-Cake has its own language and assumes the underlying values of rhythm and tactile response. Hierarchies too, are evident in play. Sports teams have coaches, assistant coaches, team captains, water-boys. When playing "house", conflicts over who gets to play the mommy, the daddy, the children, frequently interrupt or end the game.

Play drives the arts: humour, poetry, performance. The arts create societal mythologies that define what activities are valued and pursued within cultures. They influence expectations of human behaviour, instructing individuals how to act according to the rules of the game, rules that change according to fashion. Just as the rules of a sport league change from year to year to increase scoring or on-field action, the laws of society change to reflect evolving ethical and aesthetic values.



Overdeterminism is a term coined by Freud to denote multiple determinations, and hence interpretations, of dreams. The idea that there may be more than one influence on human behaviour, more than one way to interpret dreams. This concept has been used to indicate multiple historical causation.



In contrast to determinism, voluntarism denotes the assumption that individuals are free agents with control over their actions. They are also aware spectators of others' actions and attempts to influence the behaviour of others. Loss of Control dreams, such those that depict a fear of falling, are prevalent in western society.


Biotopographical Determinism

The study and interpretation of dreams through biological and environmental determinants, I call Biotopographical Psychology. The social environment we inhabit is made up of the connections we make to form groups, such as families, work teams, social organizations, clubs and so on. These groups can be conceived as the spaces where we conduct our lives. We can think of life then, in geographic terms with a topography of the various connections that shape our lives. These connections evolve through time as we meet different people to form and reform relationships. They adapt as we change and are changed by them through our life cycles. These changes that occur over time are remembered as history.

The effects of group existence are multi-directional. We are influenced by other people. Others and the groups in which we meet them are shaped to varying degrees by our contributions to them. How we view and act within the spaces and connections of our lives are determined both by inherent biological characteristics and by environmental and cultural experiences.

Culture (environmental determinism) and biology (biological determinism) are the primary oppositions of dream formation.

Biotopographic analysis of culture and personality proceeds on three levels:

  1. learned and biological patterns of personality and perception are the backdrops of dream formation;
  2. learned determinisms of culture influence individuals and societies on both conscious and unconscious levels, such as the Body Politic, and the Politics of the Dream;
  3. culture and personality systems are abstractions of the same biographical data, played out on the dreamscreen, the theatre of the mind, in dramaturgy and in play.


The Revelations in Children's Dreams

The language used and play situations described in contributions to the International Institute for Dream Research's dream bank, indicate a failure in western societies to teach children what they need to lead happy, loving, productive lives.

The dreams of children in western societies reveal a developmental pattern, exposing a dark side of developmental arrest. Centuries of teaching lessons through irrational power games has transmitted an ethopathology into generations of children. It has become part of our culture. The disintegration of the self, love and loving, in all its manifestations, has led to a failure of adjustment, individually and collectively.

The modern vision of western society still primarily reflects the phallo, ethno and class structures of male, class and race dominance. Western dreamscreens reveal a resultant determinism of transgenerational perverse development (see Theatre of The Mind).


Binary Oppositions

People dream not only of personality traits viewed positively by the societies to which they belong. Personality types regarded as negative, or deviant, within a society also show up in the dreams of its members. There are dreams of being threatened by "bad" people, dreams where the dreamer fears falling into that category, dreams where "good" is seen to triumph over "evil", or not.

This is a reflection of the binary structure of philosophies as envisioned by Levi-Strauss (see Claude Levi-Strauss). Ideologies are belief systems, or philosophies, with built-in binary oppositions such as good versus evil (moral philosophy), beauty versus ugliness (aesthetic philosophy), knowledge versus ignorance (epistomology), truth versus fallacy (metaphysics).

What a society views as beautiful, for instance, is built into that society's language, vision and dreams, and will be reflected unconsciously in the dreams of individuals, groups and nations. The language and images regarded as positive by the fashion industry are projected on television, in movies, and in magazines from our infancy to middle-age. Children grow up wanting to become fashion models, or to look like one. But the images and words defined by the fashion industry as negatives (big, overweight, short) are far more common as body types than their so-called positive images, or are an inevitable stage of the life process (old).

Philosophy is overdetermined. Societies often have several, competing philosophies based upon religions, economic viewpoints, political opinions etc. Opinions evolve, compete and change, sometimes quite frequently and quickly over issues such as morals (innocence versus corruption as reflected in public attitudes toward gambling or business ethics), politics (liberal versus conservative) and religion (pro-life versus pro-choice.)


Dominant Narrative

There is a dominant narrative that shapes collective histories, and the individuals who play them out. Professional and political organizations, for instance, try to estimate how many doctors will be needed in coming years and then adjust enrollment in medical schools. This could affect whether you would be admitted, if you applied, or how long you will wait for treatment when you are ill. Setting courses of study in medical schools, and the recognized treatments, determines whether a particular illness you may encounter in life is treated, and how. Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome an illness or a state of mind? Is AIDS a treatable virus or God's punishment for immorality? Is treatment more effective when the patients' spiritual needs are also addressed, or is this handled better in a separate environment, or at all.


Body Politic

Think of your community, the relationships that define it, the roles that individuals, yourself included, play to keep it going. This is the Body Politic, a metaphor that applies to the family, the workplace, society as a whole; wherever people engage in social discourse.

A political community always finds ways, such as rites of passage, to express and continue the dominant philosophy that affects the workings and failings of relationships among community members. In a larger, more formal sense, this becomes a political philosophy of ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, and metaphysics which define how a society is governed and operates. Rules and values are handed down through time. Ancient imagery of the Body Politic, such as the Narcissus and Oedipal myths of Greek and Roman societies, is echoed in modern vocabularies.

The consensus surrounding dominant binary oppositions determine the Body Politic of a society on conscious and unconscious levels. Shifts in the structure of binary oppositions will change the Body Politic and social philosophy. This dialectic of culture and biology has been the cornerstone of humanity and social philosophy since its dawn.



It is those who "succeed" in western society, those with the power to influence society's educational games and language, are those most likely to make the deceptive arguments for the inevitability of existing values, and to urge acceptance of compensatory powers. Society's "losers", the poor and disenfranchised for instance, will always be with us, we are told. There is nothing to be done to improve their lot. Better to get on with assuring your own place in the hierarchy.

The only alternative to ideological or political conformity is to deviate, which is really no choice at all. All individuals are caught in a destructive, fatalistic double bind.


Free Will, Free Speech and Power

Power elites enforce conformity by defining the rules, roles, values and dominant meanings of social discourse. Sociologist Basil Bernstein speaks of restricted and elaborate speech codes laying a foundation for understanding how and why subjugated groups are usually incapable of successfully relying on defending themselves based on free speech. Free Speech is an instrument in the hands of few individuals. Freedom of the press is enjoyed by those who own a press, for instance.

In this circumstance, constitutional protection of free speech actually subordinates women, children, minorities and the poor, people who have neither access to, nor the skills to use a "free" press. They are subject to forms of hate speech that enforce and reinforce the power of those who have the wealth and education to be so equipped. Where free speech is restricted, free will cannot exist.


Values in Western Languages

The structures of language in western societies are predetermined to promote patriarchal and capitalistic values. The codes of our languages are about the love of power. This can only generate future scripts for more dreams of power, power conflicts and agonistic play and games with rational and irrational outcomes.

Imprinted on the human life-cycle in western society is a dramatic power game, of conspicuous consumption and possessive individualism, driven by social comparisons based upon money and status, and power rivalries that produce feelings of envy, greed, jealousy, hate, inadequacy, insecurity, paranoia and fear of failure. Behaviours based on these emotions, such as the development of fetishism to relieve the anxiety created by such feelings, result in low self-esteem, shame and guilt. In western societies, such patterns are evident in the dreams of children, adolescents and adults (see Alice Miller).



Ethopathology, an adjustment disorder more specifically referred to as General Adaptation Syndrome is the consequence, for individuals, of the assumptions of class stratification and male dominance inherent in the languages and agonistic games of western societies. For society as a whole, this has produced a pervasive nihilistic syndrome through the 20th century.

Ethopathogenic conditioning is widespread. It is marked by a sensual dissociation of healthy pleasure, play, sex, love, work and meaning, replaced by a learned equation of pleasure and play linked with power, rivalry, aggression and anxiety. This is the stuff of nightmares.



As hypothesized by the psychologist Rollo May, western society offers the lure of power, over our environment and our fellows, as compensation for a failure to satisfy human needs for love and security.

Power corrupts childhood innocence, called axaxia by the Greeks (loss of the way, sin). The language and games of western societies accommodate and promote concepts of winners and losers, stratification and dominance as the natural order of the universe.



Western society has supplanted in its language, education and culture a philosophical fatalism that argues the outcomes of the future cannot be avoided by effort or foreknowledge. This is a deception that hides the true state of affairs, termed akrasia (self deception) by the Greeks.

Tired of the stress of competition, of pushing to advance at someone else's expense? Doesn't matter, that's all there is. Without the threat of failure, no one would work. Don't look for a better way because it does not exist.



Lookism one way that compensation and/or deception is played out as a consequence of cultural indoctrination emphasizing rivalry and power. It is a societal bias to evaluate individuals based upon their appearance (colour of skin, beauty, fashion sense, etc.)


Social Medicine

Where adjustment disorders are made transparent through dreams, societies as well as individuals can learn to cope with nihilistic, fatalistic philosophies.

The binary opposition in Social Medicine is health versus illness. Biotopographical analysis and treatment involves the accurate recognition of determinisms of illness and health. Biotopographic treatment does not treat symptoms, only causes. The first step toward treatment, then, is to reveal the underlying causes of neurosis, perversions and psychosis. This is the aim of dreamwork. Biotopographic evidence, the dreams collected at the Institute, make the underlying causes of mal-adjustment transparent.

The underlying causes are found in the poisonous pedagogy, the learned behaviours that are taught to children in western societies. They distort the child's developing perception, the child's memories and experiences of the world, and the child's developing role within society.



The shaping role of the dominant narrative in the body politic is revealed, or made transparent, through the study of dreams. Dreams expose the deep political structures of language, sex, race, age and the body (See Rousseau).

Within patriarchal, capitalist, communist and fascistic western societies there are influences that seek to arrange social organization to their own benefit. This politicization is achieved by revising history to distort our collective memory or by teaching gender and class roles to groups and individuals that will serve the ends of those wielding power. The effects of these politically oppressive hidden agendas and ideologies show up in the dreams of people within such politicized groupings (See Franz Fanon). When we analyze a number of dreams, patterns emerge that reveal the workings of various influences on our larger social structures. By contributing to the dreambank you will provide some of the raw data which we can examine for these patterns.


The Conflict of Dreams

Variations in the Dreams of Eros (loving in all its manifestations) have, and will remain, a social trend of dreaming, as will dreams of power and rivalry. They provide the tension in the drama of life, perpetuated over and over in a transgenerational drama. Pathological power relationships are revealed through dreamwork (Transparency) and the roles they play in individual and societal linguistic interaction (linguistic determinism) become clear. Prejudiced metaphors of class, race, gender and appearance condition and distort speech and thought. Language has become a political weapon in the ceaseless war between dominant and disenfranchised groups.



Through the study of Biotopographic Psychology (see Biotopographic Psychology) the dark side of psychodynamic patterns of adjustment and learning becomes clear, revealing the need for a program to restore the dream (see Restoration of The Dream). A readjustment of attitudes and beliefs, through a form of group therapy, is necessary to end the ethopathological nightmare western society has imposed on its children.

This new dramaturgical vision would create a rational, logical and sane society, embracing the concept of hope (see Ernst Bloch), where stress is well managed, and where peace is the primary goal of negotiation.

The Restoration of the Dream begins with the healthy guidance and education of children's dreams, leading to the continuance of these activities through the entire lifecycle.




The dream of achieving transparency in our social environment stems from the eighteenth century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau recognized that freedom and opportunities for individuals would increase if the workings of societies' institutions, political structures, social groups and business organizations, were evident to all participants.

The dream provides a context for an examination of social relations and memories to provide this transparency. The unconscious mind sees our life throughout our entire biological cycle, remembering and making connections that are forgotten by the conscious mind.


Franz Fanon

Franz Fanon has shown how oppression works in the dreams of black Americans and affects family relationships and sexual life. The language of prejudice instructs and defines self-hatred. The land, power, money, knowledge, beauty, even the language itself are all white. Any black man who covets them must warn himself off as a thief, violator and criminal. The result is a dream of racial neurosis, set in environments where the self is divided into good and evil, black and white.


Alice Miller and The Continuance of Power

In her numerous books, Alice Miller has provided the background criticisms of the failure of educational systems and political ideology in western societies. Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child exposes the "poisonous pedagogy" which exists and shatters the Dream of Love (see Dream of Love).


Claude Levi-Strauss

Straus studied primitive societies. He theorized that everything that is known is already in the mind, structurally. What individuals conceive of as "creation" and progress is merely the combination and re-combination of what is already in the mind. Ideas are formed through binary oppositions of good versus evil, wise versus foolish, and so on, forming the myths, philosophies and ideologies that define societies.

Change and progress, therefore, are illusions. Everything that exists has always existed. There is nothing new, but the human quest is to discover the truth that has existed from the beginning.


Abram Kardiner

Abram Kardiner, author of Psychological Frontiers of Society, believed that culture patterns provide the dreamscreens onto which the basic personality orientation of a society is projected. Acts of bravery and self-sacrifice are depicted positively in the media, for instance, and "heroes" are publicly rewarded. A personality type valued in one society, however, may be deviant in another. The heroics of one culture may be regarded as foolish risk-taking in another. The particular valued personality type projected toward society members, will be reflected in the dreams among members of that society.


Norman Brown

In Life Against Death: Psychoanalytic Meaning of History, Brown searches for a libidinal Body Politic, with societal adaptation organized on an animistic science based upon our natural erotic and pleasurable sense of reality. Educational systems would be dominated by an ecology of mind and body.


Ernst Bloch

In The Principle of Hope, this sociologist called for a society based on loving versus hating, with dreamwork to restore our fractured society and stop the betrayal of our children, the betrayal of our animistic nature, and the betrayal of the body in western society. Humanity need not be doomed to a vision of fatalistic power struggles based on divisions of race, gender, class and appearance.

Play and Language



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