The Lathe of Heaven Proves Idealists Can Be the Most Dangerous Among Us
PBS Masterpiece Cautions the Perils of Dreaming
I read Poland by James Michener a number of years ago and came to a startling conclusion after reading the chapters on the Nazi Occupation during World War II. I certainly know of the Holocaust and that Hitler wasn’t particularly fond of Poles in general. But I was not aware that his long term goal was to not only eradicate every single Polish person from that country but from the face of the earth. Wow. The question that then arose is how do you get an entire occupying force – especially professional soldiers and officers - to carry out such a definitive and horrific action? Well, if they think they are making the world a better place, it’s easy, and that’s what Nazi indoctrination made them think. In this, I determined that idealists can be the most dangerous among us, and that was what came to me as I watched the 1980 PBS adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s, The Lathe of Heaven.
As a child George Orr, played by Brad Davison, learns that he has the ability to change the world’s reality through his dreams. So it’s not hard to imagine how the Rapid Eye Movement of any given night could have tragic consequences for him and the world.
As a result, Orr seeks help from a Psychiatrist William Haber (Kevin Conway). Thinking George is a schizophrenic and suffering from delusions, Haber induces the young man into a series of effective dream states to record brain function. Through this process, Haber learns that George is telling the truth and sets on a path to change the world for the good.
The Dream Weaver
This has Haber encouraging George to dream an institute that will be a focal point of this new vision and better world. Of course, Haber is at the helm, and his attire and office space upgrade in step with the new found prestige on the world setting.
Nonetheless, the pace is too slow for Haber’s sudden preeminence, and he ups the evolution by having George dream the end of over population. Probably doing Hitler proud – at least by the numbers – George’s subconscious delivers by wiping out three quarters of the Earth’s population.
Haber simply accepts the downside in stride, and his growing megalomania conveniently overlooks his part in the oversight, while blaming George’s twisted mind for the catastrophe. But George’s conscious mind does not suffer the shortfalls of Haber’s grand visions. “You cannot outthink God,” George implores Haber.
“Defeatism,” Haber seamlessly defends himself, “we have to change the world.”
If you Build it, They Will Come
Steadfast, George fails nonetheless in his reasoning that overpopulation is not a problem to be solved in the swoop of a sleep state or any other magic elixir. “You have to build to change things,” he lectures Haber on the merits of patience.
Undeterred, Haber takes on world peace in the PBS Masterpiece and the unification of mankind. So absent the rationality of George’s waking state, humanity is completely united in the face of an alien invasion that threatens to wipe out the rest of the population.
Fortunately, George regains control of his dreams and sets the world back to the chaos rational minds accept as a given. In contrast, Haber loses his mind and takes his place along side other idealists – only the intent to actually make the world a better place serving as a distinction from the truly evil.
Of course, that matters little to the dead in the lathe of Haber’s creating. So in the end, an apt lesson is front and center to all you dreamers out there and hopefully doesn’t keep you awake at night.