Would that Philip K. Dick were with us at this hour! That paranoid trickster and mad-genius science fiction writer – whose novels and stories have provided the basis for screen works like “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” “A Scanner Darkly” and “The Man in the High Castle” – would surely know what to make of this year’s presidential primary in California, his home state.
Dick was fascinated by extreme political personalities, Richard Nixon most particularly. Were Dick writing the 2016 California presidential primary as a tweaked sort of old-school science fiction story, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would almost certainly get PKD’s votes for “most interesting fictional characters.”
Not enough of an extremist on either race or class, Hillary Clinton in a Phil Dick story would probably end up playing the part of a quaint Tiadroid, Grammatron or Bubbibot, whose politically thoughtful clucking and highly qualified finger-wagging the hapless Dickian Everyman would doubtless ignore – to his peril.
Even as late as the original “Star Trek” series and “Star Wars” trilogy, old-school science fiction often used the shorthand of “one planet, one culture, one idea.” Dick loved to parody that shorthand.
Since, in Dick’s work, authoritarian regimes are always looking for someone to blame for their failures, no doubt PKD could sketch out how and why, after the failure of its mandatory Patriotic Purity agenda, Trump World would degenerate into a concentration death-planet of war, hate and celebrity TV.
Or, alternatively, PKD could show us how and why, after the failure of its mandatory Wealthshare Free-For-All intersectionality trainings, Bern World would shape-shift into a planetary extermination gulag of peace, love and (yes) acoustic guitars.
And, of course, a story using both worlds could make the Dickian point that, whether one is killed in the name of peace and love or in the name of war and hate, one is still, nonetheless, dead.
History itself was plastic for Dick. His frequent use of the trap-door or backstage effect – that moment when a character recognizes that his or her reality is not the only one – works particularly well in “The Man in the High Castle,” his alternate-history masterpiece in which Germany and Japan won World War II.
From that historically informed novel, it’s clear Dick understood that, in the German context of the 1920s and early 1930s, both ends of the political spectrum played against the middle, to make sure the center could not hold.
Watching entitled billionaire Trump and entitled socialist Sanders masterfully scapegoat race and class for all the problems of the white working and middle classes, Dick would have recognized that the Donald and the Bern are running that same both-ends-against-the-middle con game in America today.
Dickian alchemy, however, would not stop there. Drop through Dick’s trap door, or step behind his curtain, and both Donald’s Twitterpatriots and Bernie’s social-justice flame trolls would be spewing more than just their usual social-media vitriol.
They would be true paramilitary Trumpborgs and Sandroids, clanking and whirring and blasting away at each other with lasers and napalm, one side never having learned the difference between “citizen” and “employee,” the other never having learned the difference between “revolution” and “evolution.”
In disavowing and rationalizing the violence of their “uncontrollable” humanoid followers, both the Donald and the Bern would also be shown to exhibit, in best Phildickian fashion, a grotesque moral cowardice eerily reminiscent of 1920s Germany – of German leftist leaders’ disavowals and rationalizations of Red Front violence, and Nazi leaders’ disavowals and rationalizations of SA brown-shirt violence.
Jedi mind-trick: Hey, we’re not the “responsible parties” you’re looking for! We’re just Donald and Bernie, doing the old Weimar two-step …
Of course, this is all just science fiction. Dick died in 1982. The hypothetical Phildickian stories here are just the hopeful time traveling of my imagination. Still, California and America would benefit tremendously today from the mad genius of Phil Dick.
Who better to show us that the lesson of history can always just as easily be “No one learns from the lesson of history” as “Forewarned is forearmed”?
Howard V. Hendrix of Shaver Lake is a science fiction writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.