Worse than PKD imagined

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 1:30 pm by George Smith

I took the first part of this week to re-read Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. In his books and short stories, Dick often described the US as irredeemably fascist. In the novel, it’s a full description serving as backdrop and driver for the heart of the story: a few friends, part of demoralized civilian populace, paranoid and under surveillance 24 hours a day, left to drug addiction as the only relief in a bleak day-to-day existence.

Substance D, or Death, is the most addicting, the most sought after. It slowly turns people into empty shells, good only for rehab, janitorial tasks or agriculture, out in the southern California countryside. Growing the plant from which Substance D is isolated.

It is a big business, one of drug rehab clinics as a supply faucet for slave labor, totalitarian policing that keeps everyone in a state of fear, and, of course, the use of people who have no other way to earn a living but selling and doing drugs.

Prisons aren’t mentioned. Why would they be? After being turned into a zombie by Dick’s imaginary neuro-degenerative compound, there’s not a need. There’s only the cycle — leftover ambulatory bodies requiring only feeding, warehousing and training in menial mindless jobs.

I’ve left out the character studies, all centered around anti-narcotics agent and undercover cop, Bob Arctor, and his Death abusing house-mates.

It’s wonderfully written but profoundly depressing.

Passages eerily describe the United States.

Arctor has his own place put under 24 hour surveillance. Another place down the street is an undercover police operation where the tv monitors operate. Seized from another “doper” family. Arctor is informed his own place probably won’t be taken after all the arrests and black bag jobs are carried out. It’s too run down.

Assets forfeiture. The government can’t get much for the shitty things.

There’s even a bit on “straights” in their gated communities, loaded with guns fearing all the so-called “dopers” just ready to come over the walls to rob them. In Dick’s novel, “the dopers” are the most non-violent, trying to maintain a living in a rundown exurban house as their minds deteriorate.

Early in the book, Arctor is before the Anaheim Lions Club in his scramble suit, a computerized electronic disguise he wears as a bag, originally to give a talk on what he does on the drug squad.

But Arctor can’t give the talk, something concocted from the mentality of the war on drugs, punishment and the need to strike fear in those who would corrupt society. The “Commies!” shouts one person in the crowd.

Arctor’s mind seizes, partly the result of Substance D addiction, which he has to take to get in with the drug abusers. He can think only of a couple blunt, supercilious sentences, stunning the crowd, people in their “fat suits” and “fat shoes” into silence. But someone from anti-drug police central is always on a two-way inside the suit and starts telling him the script, sentence by sentence, so he can repeat it:

“I’ll read it to you. Repeat it after me, but try to get it to sound casual …

“Each day the profits flow … where they go we — that’s about where you stopped.”

“I’ve got a block against this stuff,” Arctor said.

“–will soon determine,” his official prompter said, unheeding, “and then terrible retribution will swiftly follow. And at that moment, I would not for the life of me be in their shoes.”

“Do you know why I’ve got a block against this stuff?” Arctor said. “Because this is what gets people on dope. He thought, this is why you lurch off and become a doper, this sort of stuff. This is why you give up and leave. In disgust.


Life in Anaheim, California, was a commercial for itself, endlessly replayed. Nothing changed; it just spread out farther and farther in a form of neon ooze. What there was always more of had been congealed into permanence, as if the automatic factory that cranked out these objects had been jammed in the on position … Someday, he thought, it’ll be mandatory that we all sell the McDonald’s hamburger as well as buy it; we’ll sell it back and forth to each other from our living rooms. That way we won’t even have to go outside.”


  1. Ted Jr. said,

    May 29, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Agreed, PKD was brilliant. Like many authors of the genre, some science fiction authors were brilliant futurists.

    Orwell saw politics clearly. My two favourites of his were ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ and ‘Down and Out in London and Paris’.

    What worries me the most lately are the possibilities for Terminators (minus the time travel aspect). That is truly frightening as a possibility, especially when the flaws in the underlying code become apparent.

    No wonder we get bombarded with this ‘Freedom and Democracy’ BS, it serves as brain food for the clueless and distraction for most of the rest of the population.

  2. George Smith said,

    May 30, 2015 at 9:39 am

    I have a PKD biography, of sorts, buried somewhere in my books. I think his life in Orange Country preceded the rest of us. My impression was that it was a kind of Nixonian paradise in the Seventies, Disneyland included, if that was your thing. Even when I arrived in SoCal its politics were still way to the right. This only started to change as the Hispanic population started to vote in greater numbers, deciding more and more that John Bircher world was not a particularly friendly place.

  3. Ted Jr. said,

    May 30, 2015 at 10:05 am

    And Frank Zappa had his own unique take from 1968’s ‘We’re Only In It For The Money’. Ronnie was Governor at the time and I don’t think Frank was on board with what was going on.

    Still holds up well after 47 years, although more of a historical document now.

    Oh and you have to listen to the Verve original, the Ryko reissue was butchered by Frank because he was in a snit about Jimmy Carl’s drum work.

  4. George Smith said,

    May 31, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Yeah, I know. I bought the Zappa first-five-LP Masters box when it was first offered. I remember the bad will it engendered and being startled by a bass line on it suddenly popping up with the lick from “My Sharona.”

    I have a reissue that was reverted to the original some time after Zappa had died. It’s one of my favorite records.