Secular liberals can only celebrate Philip K. Dick’s writing by filtering and censoring it, for among other things, it includes an unambiguous, carefully argued, and strident attack upon the central liberal sacrament—abortion.
From Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle to the Hollywood films like Blade Runner and Minority Report, the surreal science fiction of Philip K. Dick enjoys extraordinary popularity in 21st-century America. Perhaps this is ironic, given that globalization, political-correctness, and mass culture represent everything the mercurial author detested. Then again, maybe Dick’s popularity is not ironic at all, but merely a sign that on some level his work touches upon the very anxieties provoked by the emergence of technocratic hegemony. In any case, one thing is clear. Secular liberals can only celebrate Dick’s writing by filtering and censoring it, for among other things, it includes an unambiguous, carefully argued, and strident attack upon the central liberal sacrament—abortion.
Didactic works often tend to be predictable, but the savagely hilarious dystopian short story Dick urgently pounded out in retort to the Roe v. Wade decision is anything but. “Because of energy and fuel shortages,” one character from “The Pre-Persons” explains, “population must be radically cut,” with the result being an expansion of the law such that state-funded abortions may be carried out upon anyone under the age of twelve who cannot do basic algebra, since according to the theory undergirding the law such children have not yet developed souls. As a result parents overwhelmed by the burdens of coping with children have the option of sending said children to a kind of pound, where they are put up for adoption. If no one claims the children after a grace period, they are euthanized. Having established this background, the story follows the ways in which various characters respond to the insane world in which they find themselves.
Dick claimed to have received death threats from feminists following the story’s publication, and a glance at select passages of the outrageously iconic text makes such claims entirely plausible. At one point, for instance, a character explains to his young son Walter the darker psychological urges driving the abortion movement:
“Listen, Walt, let me lay something on you.” He took a big, long drink of Scotch and milk. “The name of all this is, kill me. Kill them when they’re the size of a fingernail, or a baseball, or later on, if you haven’t done it already, suck the air out of the lungs of a ten-year-old boy and let him die. It’s a certain kind of woman advocating this all. They used to call them ‘castrating females.’ Maybe that was once the right term, except that these women, these hard cold women, didn’t just want to—well, they want to do in the whole boy or man, make all of them dead, not just the part that makes him a man. Do you see?”
“No,” Walter said, but in a dim sense, very frightening, he did.
As if goring the feminist ox were not enough, Dick freely mocks Malthusian environmentalism, as one of the employees of an abortion clinic meditates upon the bright future of radical depopulation:
People pollute the natural environment, he thought. What must this part of the country have been like before man? Well, he thought, with the postpartum abortions taking place in every county in the U.S. of A. we may see that day; we may stand and look once again upon a virgin land.
We, he thought. I guess there won’t be any we. I mean, he thought, giant sentient computers will sweep out the landscape with their slotted videoreceptors and find it pleasing.
The thought cheered him up.
And although Dick’s own religious persuasion might best be described as drug-addled anarcho-gnosticism, the story in question even includes a nod at the Christian faith, as theologians are favorably contrasted with lawyers and bureaucrats:
The Church had long since—from the start, in fact—maintained that even the zygote, and the embryo that followed, was as sacred a life form as any that walked the earth. They had seen what would come of arbitrary definitions of “Now the soul enters the body,” or in modern terms, “Now it is a person entitled to the full protection of the law like everyone else.”
Here it is worth pointing out that—as unsettling as Dick’s dystopia is—in certain respects it reflects an improvement over the real-life situation in America today. For at least in Dick’s imagined future the question of what personhood means is actually on the table, and can be rationally considered. Thus in principle, at least his, dystopia might be open to correction. In the unreal regime we actually inhabit, on the other hand, there are no clear terms, not even bad ones. Feminist-informed emotivism entirely decides the matter, and debate is not just forbidden but metapolitically excluded by the way in which the issue is framed. Proponents of abortion simply refuse to discuss the question of when and why a person becomes a person. From the hyper-subjective, postmodern perspective the unborn is a baby if the mother chooses it, and a disposable fetus if she doesn’t—period.
Then again, on a more positive note, just as one of the heroes of Dick’s story rescues a group of children from the abortion wagon, so in the real world we have our own protagonists against dystopia, such as the staff of the Angels In Disguise Foundation in Louisville, Kentucky. Established specifically to counter the eugenic abortions which have become widely practiced throughout the world, the foundation organizes and sponsors the adoption of children with Down’s Syndrome. And indeed the bizarre situation which called the foundation into existence is very much the stuff of which Dick has written. In the United States more than half of unborn children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted, the Chinese government encourages pre-natal screening for the purposes of eliminating fetuses with trisomy 21, and Iceland has almost “cured” its people of the condition by exterminating the majority of those who have it. In the face of morbid facts and statistics a handful of adoptions might seem trivial, to be sure. Yet if there is one insight to draw from an eccentric genius like Dick, it is that dystopia is overcome not by grand political theater, but through the achievement of personal victories.
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