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THE WORLD JONES MADE: An essay by Dave Hyde (this essay appeared first in FDO #2 (1992))
When you stop and think about it THE WORLD JONES MADE is one of the strangest of PKD's novels. Consider: It's a tale of alien invasion -- but an alien invasion no one seems to give much of a shit about. Here's these lackadaisical invaders, the drifters, just sorta blooping into useless existence from outer space. They laze around, frying in the sun, and every now and then they get burned up by a posse of local citizens led by a maniacal geek who can see into the future. Well, not actually see it: he lives there and the present to him is something he must remember as it exists in his past. He's somehow out of phase by a year from everyone else in the novel...
Then we've got this sort of police state wherein the authorities force everyone to adhere to Hoff's Principle of Relativism: you can think what you want but to act on it is a criminal offence. And Venusians. We've got miniature Venusians living in a biosphere and plotting rebellion... And Cussick, our hero, and his matrimonial bliss... And... A whole bunch more. All the things that for me make this a great Dick novel.
But the principle of Hoff's Relativism, to get this review onto some sort of track, is, I guess, if you want to look at it semi-seriously, what the book is about.
What then is relativism as applied here by Dick? As best we can figure it's a form of materialism: the belief that only objective reality, the fact of existence, is true. All commentary or interpretation is subjective and to try to impose your ideas on someone else is dangerous, not only to you because it's a crime but also to the state because it leads to fanaticism. This is the position of those in power in the book.
Now, naturally, as this is a Philip K. Dick book, the authorities are not benevolent. You could get sent to the forced labor camps for making prejudicial remarks. Call a woman 'baby' in that world and you'd be making little ones out of big ones for about ten years. Sort of like a world in which the current politically correct ideology has conquered all right-wing opposition a long time ago and now doesn't quite know what to do with itself.
Of course there is one catch, one linchpin on which this whole philosophy depends. If you can prove what you say is true, that is, manifests in objective reality like a rock -- or a drifter -- then you're not breaking the law. And this is the position of Jones.
Jones is exactly what he would be, what he has to be to prove the fallacy in this warped relativism. he knows the future, sees the drifters landing, the mobs marching. He knows the facts. This strikes to the heart of Hoff's Relativism which is based on the fact that no individual can decide what is true for everyone else. Beliefs aren't facts, visions aren't real. The converse of this: the power of the state to determine reality for the individual doesn't enter the minds of the government -- no hypocritical awareness of double standards here.
The drifters play the role of the new idea breaking into this stagnant world. To Jones who sees them ahead of everyone else the drifters are a thing to be greatly feared. Despite his extra ability he's really just an ordinary guy with ordinary xenophobias driven crazy by his twice-lived life. The drifters to him are what spiders might be to someone else. Only Jones, with his foreshortened knowledge of these true aliens, is able to mobilize a repressed populace against them. They're something new, an unknown phobia. And the populace, of course, living their furtive lives under this wishy-washy regime, are ready to leap at anything that gives them something to believe in. Especially when someone else is willing to do the leading.
The old versus the new is what we're talking about here. The old, as is usual, is represented by the state. The new is represented by the drifters . Like all states this one is reactionary: the status quo is all that matters. The drifters are the unknown. The big question is, Are they harmless, or are they to be feared? To Jones they are horrific but to the state they are no threat, as shown by their warning to the public that the "migrating protozoa" are not to be harmed. Which of them is right? Jones or the state?
Well, as we all know, the state in this case was right -- the migrating protozoa were harmless. Jones was wrong, disastrously so. Thanks to him humanity got locked into a few lousy star systems for who knows how long.
in this book, then -- possibly the only one of Dick's novels -- the state was in the right. The only reason I can think why this would be is that Dick saw the danger of the fanaticical dictator as being worse than that of the police state. Better the devil you know than the one you don't seems to be the logic here.
And I think this explains, for me, why this book comes off as being so careless. Not careless in the sense that it was written sloppily, because its not, but in that Dick had somehow gotten into writing a story that he didn't care about: like getting stuck at a vegetarian dinner party, if they have such things, and being forced to wax enthusiastic about broccoli or spinach.
Dick does a good job but his heart wasn't in it. Or maybe it was... There's a lot more to be considered here than the nature of the state, its opposition and the shattering effect of new ideas. What about the Venusians? What about life and love under this old new world order? And what about Jones?
Okay, the Venusians first. it just struck me what the purpose of the Venusians is! When you first think back on THE WORLD JONES MADE the Venusians seem superfluous, totally unnecessary: the story is about Jones, the cops and the drifters, not Venus. Venus seems only a hopelessly remote off-chance to sustain life. It is not necessary to the story at all, except in one sense only: to provide a paradise for the home-grown Venusians on Earth. These human Venusians! The one's in the Refuge at the very start of the book, taking precedence over the rest of the story. A precedence they deserve for it is with these modified people that we find the missing positiveness that I just got done lamenting above!
In their tiny refuge, so painfully artificial, the mutants grumbling over their lot signify the hopes of mankind. For even though our dreams may be dashed and the world is a stagnant hell-hole riven by the passions of deranged men, cold reality does give us a way out -- the miracle of genetic science. For there has to be a way out in this novel. I don't think Dick could've written it otherwise. So why not the technological fix of Venus? It's pretty obvious that in Jones' world there's not much to stick around for, that's for sure.
The hero of the novel, Cussick, serves the classic function of the Dick protagonist, to give the story life, lug it along. With his wife, Nina, he lives the policeman's life of a rapidly disintegrating marriage due to overwork and on-the-job stress. He's caught up in the action of the novel, attempting to nail Jones, too busy for domestic mundanities to do more than nag at him while he changes clothes.
Nina is more complex. An affluent, artsy type from Denmark she's unfamiliar with and resentful of the demands the police force make on her husband's life. And in that bored way the idle rich have she is attracted to Jones ideology: like a new-age religion it gives her something to believe in. Plus she gets to wear a natty uniform at the secret meetings of the Woman's Defense League. I guess she typifies the kind of person, as suggested above, who must have certainties. She's the Floyd Jones wannabe screaming inside for the kind of knowledge she thinks Jones has. All this relativism is just too inane for her. If passion is against the law what fun is there in life?
But Jones' certainty does not bring freedom, only a vicious determinism. As Dick wrote in Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes (see PKDS 14), "By being a precog, Jones ultimately lost the power to act entirely: instead of being freed by his talent he was paralyzed by it." To see the future is not necessarily a good thing. What Jones needed was what everybody else had: ordinary uncertainty. His problem was that he could not doubt what he saw -- it was true, he saw it -- and he had to make it real, had to have the agreement of everyone else in the book, otherwise he'd be merely insane. Thus his crusade against the drifters.
There's a lot of ideas bouncing around in this book, but they seem to cluster around the central one of determinism. But the natural opposite of determinism, free will, is not represented in the story, unless by the theoretical benefits of Hoff's Relativism which is supposed to remove all imposed constraints on individual action. Instead we have a conflict of materialism with determinsim. On the one hand there's the police state -- about as deterministic as you can get with all its laws, and on the other there's Jones' absolute certainty. No one is free to act in Jones world and in the world of Hoff's Relativism there is only the illusion of freedom, the structure of society itself is too rigid.
Both of these competing determinisms proffer solutions to their world's problems. Jones offers the drifters up as enemy, rallies a hatred against them as if they were outer space jews. The police state offers the technological fix: Venus. Neither one is what you'd call positive, although in the end of the story Dick has Cussick and the Venusians living happily ever after on Venus.
What it perhaps reduces to is a study of Naziism split down the middle: Jones the nazi against the nazi Party of Hoff's Relativism. The natural, charismatic leader required by the Nazi state is at odds with that leaderless state. Normally you'd expect them to be together, united in the job of crushing out freedom. Why they're not is why we have this book.
Dick was obviously appalled at the thought of Adolf Hitler and modelled Jones on him. Hitler was certain of his fanatical dream, as was Jones. To get that certainty across Dick had Jones see it in the future. There could be no doubt. The notion Dick entertains is, What makes a Hitler? Or rather, how does a Hitler arise? In what kind of conditions? And how does the state handle it?
Briefly, dictators arise in a society lacking conviction, of peurile ideas. A stagnant world running out of lebensraum for its apathetic populace. An old dictatorship with its original leader long dead and now guided only by his book : Hoff's Primer Of Relativism. The kind of world you can imagine if Hitler had won the war then died, leaving only Mein Kampf for his followers to lean on.
And this society is helpless in the face of Jones: the new idea or the passionate man cuts through existing structure and goes direct to the prejudices of the people. And, as in any centralized state, internal challenges are met with more repression: twenty years hard labor for burning a drifter. Thus the state hastens its doom.
The tragedy of the story is that the state is right. Jones is wrong. There are no winners after their struggle. No grand morals to be deduced from this book, only the reminder of a stupid truth: a diseased society throws up diseased people; wars are fought over ridiculous things.
In THE WORLD JONES MADE, then, Dick takes his first in-depth look at one of his fears, naziism. Later he will return to it again with THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, obviously, and also in one form or another in many stories even as late as RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH. The shadow of Adolf Hitler darkened the landscape of much of Dick's writings, as it does the world.
NOTE: Talking about THE WORLD JONES MADE with Barb has made me reconsider this book (again!). After hearing her views I'm not sure now that I would say that Dick didn't care about writing this novel once he found himself into it. It has other levels than the political, as she addresses in her review, which I totally missed. Now I think it's a masterpiece!
See: THE WORLD JONES MADE by Barb Morning Child for Barb's essay.