Life on planet Earth is looking more and more like a sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick.
The prolific author was less concerned with alien worlds than how alien our world could become, given time and technology. From the fifties to the early eighties, the San Francisco Bay native pumped out an astounding number of novels and short stories, many of which were adapted into Hollywood films decades later: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, Scanner Darkly – on it goes.
PKD’s funhouse visions of systemic flimflammery through corporate hi-tech set the standard for many later sci-fi productions, including the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix series.
The author, who spent most of his life living in poverty, extrapolated from what he saw happening around him for inspiration, without knowing later generations would be living out his fractured fairy tales in real time.
“We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, ‘What is real?’ Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms,” PKD wrote in 1978.
Every now and then I flip through The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, a 976-page cinderblock of a book in which the author attempts to Figure It All Out. Many of the entries, culled from his decades-long diary jottings, first left me wondering about the man’s sanity. Yet within a few pages he’s abandoned one eccentric theory of everything for another. Not the typical idée fixe pattern of someone who’s mentally disturbed.
It wasn’t so much Dick became crazy as the world became more crazy after his death. Here are 6 items indicating how Dickish things are already:
1) An orange-skinned reality television star with cotton candy hair is now the official Republican candidate for the US presidency. Meanwhile, his war-friendly Democratic contender, Hillary Clinton, has said she’ll open up the books on UFOs – or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) as she refers to them – if she enters the White House.
2) Most of us now fatalistically accept that privacy is dead. By freely giving away intimate personal information through social media, we are blithely doing unpaid work for marketers, law enforcement officials, and government operatives. The Bush-era vision of covert “Total Information Awareness” has been outsourced to the people themselves.
3) In China, the Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn has replaced 60,000 workers with robots, and this may just the orchestra tuning up for the grand symphony of AI outsourcing in the west. Robotics threatens to eliminate entire job sectors, making millions of white collar workers redundant, from legal aides to medical staffers to mid-level managers.
And surprise, surprise: according to a UBS Bank report, the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is set to benefit the richest among us.
Google robots are already working in warehouses and patrolling the grounds of Silicon Valley firms. The US Defence Department recently mooted the invention of autonomous Terminator-style robots. That is, androids that can make decisions to kill without human involvement or intervention.
4) Face transplants are routine surgical procedures, and some adventurous-minded surgeons are pitching head transplants as future options for the aged and infirm.
5) In North America, almost all hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan are made using genetically-engineered microbes containing genes from cows. (Ironically, the organic, non-GMO cheeses are worse options in terms of animal welfare.)
Any of the above items could have made into Onion News headlines only a few years back. They certainly could have served as plotlines or sub-plotlines for PKD novels decades ago.
Now that we are into the second decade of the new millennium, we’re already living the projected future of long-dead sci-fi authors. George Orwell imagined a repressive global police state in 1984, and Aldous Huxley prophesied a drugged, electronically distracted caste system in Brave New World. Without collective resistance and/or some social transformation involving a universal guaranteed wage, things are looking mostly Orwellian for the underclass and mostly Huxleyean for the overclass. In sum, that sounds very PKD.
Sobering stuff. As Dick once observed, “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
The Vancouver Courier, June 2