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Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Cage Redux

Posted earlier today, Antonio Melonio's essay "Capitalism’s Golden Cage and the Illusion of Freedom" reflects my own thoughts on our deeply flawed, nearly dystopian civilization. In a couple of hundred words, Melonio outlines the high-level contradictions of our supposedly "free" society. "You are free, but . . . " "You can do meaningful and important things, but . . ." 

It's worth a read, unless you're already feeling down. 


Jeff Shyluk said...

Philip K. Dick wrote extensively about the Black Iron Prison, which amounts to the same thing as Melanio's Golden Cage, only PKD wrote about it fifty years ago and he didn't make much pretense about coming up with the idea himself. It's an ancient concept and his thoughts spring from ancient ideas, albeit ones that to his mind could also have religious, paranormal, and extraterrestrial origins. To our minds, also psychedelic.

In PKD's neo-Catholic framing of the current world, the BIP is an extension and a refinement of Roman-era imperialism, which in turn is a reflection of the universal powerbase. The Universe is greedy and self-centered while its Creator is not. The Universe trends towards chaos and dissolution as it cannot maintain the energy to contain itself. Yet this is what it tries the hardest to do, since the reality of existence is pretty much all we know and have; even if our Creator knows better, we don't really get that message even if They are yelling it at us at the top of Their lungs.

PKD posits UBIK, which represents a diaphinous yet resilient counter-force to the BIP. While the BIP uses negative reinforcers - fear, anger, the limitation of resources - as means to constrain us, UBIK suggests covert action and a certain boundless positive energy - love in short - as a means to subvert the prison. The walls of the BIP are far too strong to break down by physical means, but the prison wardens are not omniscient and there are many places they choose not to look or to go.

Specifically, PKD mentions the gutter. The lasting image is of the flower that grows in a shaft of light that plays upon the dirt of the gutter, but it doesn't take that much to transfigure that type of life force to the religious rebels of Roman times, or to the true philosophical gurus of our own times, and with luck and UBIK the shy genius that begets the new human age we strive for in Phildickian fiction.

As with anything in PKD, there's much that can be denied, or that needs rework, or that falls apart if you examine it too much. PKD himself was constantly correcting and revising his theories, pulling them apart and reconstructing them to fit his latest inspiration.

It's not so much that salvation comes with a final triumph of good over evil. I hope and trust that's how things will end up, but as mere humans, that's far beyond our scope of understanding. For us, what PKD finally came to understand, is it's not the outcome but the effort we put in to our gift of a single lifetime that helps humankind take that one step towards the light.

Earl J. Woods said...

Visit The Earliad for Earl`s nonsense, stay for Jeff`s insightful commentary!

Your final paragraph echoes my own feelings and hopes. In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, "We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny; but what we put into it is ours."

Or as Angel said, "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."

Don't surrender, keep doing the right thing despite the situation. Even the smallest efforts to the good are important.

Jeff Shyluk said...

PKD was nuts, and a genius both in writing and in metaphysics. I find reading his work provides a gateway into divine insight minus some of the accoutrements of religion, although religion such as it is provides some of our purest thoughts on the subject of good and evil.*

So me personally, I would not attend to PKD as gospel because he backtracks, self-edits, and recants his visions all the time as he goes. He does stick to a few irreducible themes, however, and those refer very specifically to the needs of his immediate family**. Outside of his family all we can do is read and theorize as to what went on in the man's prophetic mind. Instead of pointing to his themes and saying "these are scripture and must be adhered to", we say "this is PKD's starting point, what he was thinking at the time... let's follow him on his journey of discovery... right or wrong matters little, it's the effort of thinking this through that is miraculous." This latter premise is very rare these days. Our media is almost always dialectic, even Mr. Melanio's article won't avoid that.

PKD isn't relevant because of his thoughts on divine intervention, rather he is a teacher who instructs us on how to have faith by providing all of his thoughts, insights, dreams, and hopes in a sometimes-sound set of arguments. He is the young math prodigy, who when asked to show his work when solving simple arithmetic, fills a bookcase with notebooks crammed with his small-print reasoning.

*As for good and evil, have we reliably defined those terms yet? It's absurdly difficult to do so without referring one to the other, and I absolutely refuse to engage in trolley problems on the grounds that they have the potential to negate the Universe.

** There is a movie event upcoming called "Jane", which will take Lawrence Sutin's peerless biography "Divine Invasions" and bring it to the silver screen through the eyes of PKD's deceased twin sister.