Philip K. Dick and the value, and perils, of doubt

Image credits: MENTAL IMPLOSION: If facts aren't sacrosanct then what is? Certainly not religion!

A while ago, I attended a fascinating lecture about the science of spreading doubt and ignorance, directly referring to Noam Chomsky and the manufacture of consent. A sci-fi parallel struck me.

By Emad Aysha
It was a lecture by Dr. Hassan Ali, “Delusional Understanding… A Reading of the Contemporary Intellectual Scene”, part of the Abd Al-Hamid Ibrahim Elzembely cultural salon series). Namely, Philip K. Dick’s The World that Jones Made (1956),

The novel is set in a future after a nuclear war where the dominant philosophy is ‘relativism.’ The job of the world government is to stop people from forcing their views on others, and no more in this emotionally charged and intellectually dumb atmosphere.

You get a veteran called Jones who claims he can see the future. He creates a xenophobic movement around him that is wholly opposed to democracy and – you guessed it – relativism, and yet the police can do nothing to stop him because of relativism.

While you’re reading this, you can tell it’s about Hitler and the rise of Nazism in the incredibly liberal world of Weimer Germany, and they pretty much tell you that later on in the story. In short, relativism leads to its exact opposite – absolutism and totalitarianism.

That’s precisely what’s happening in the Western world, as we speak, under the aegis of post-modernism, which is a relativist ideology in the extreme growing side-by-side with the rise of the right-wing xenophobic populism. The very paranoia these people perpetuate, and with it, mistrust of the media and politicians, fed the online conspiracy theories that blew up into the January 6 Capitol Hill riots.

Everything is deconstructed, including heroes, role models, and apolitical institutions like the family. That explains what’s been done to Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones. The flipside of this, of course, is taking villains and reverse tarnishing them and transforming them into likeable or sympathetic or redeemable figures. Hence, Hayden Christianson as Darth Vader and Cruella de Vil turned into some misunderstood genius. (Please check out “Why I Stopped Caring About Star Wars” and “Hollywood is EVIL - Everything is a Lie”).

We have ready equivalents here with the so-called progressivists in the Arab world, leftists on a foreign payroll, as it turned out in the lecture since they hate the Companions of the Prophet and heroes like Saladin and Qutuz. Again, they can’t handle heroism, probably to hide how unheroic they are.

This is playing with fire since radical doubt feeds its religious opposite – Islamic fundamentalism. It’s also hypocrisy since progressivists themselves understand the appeal of religion. Remember that Marx, atheist and materialist that he was, gave the workers struggle a quasi-theological feel to it where you have an end of history that he somehow knew for sure would happen if after his time.

Evidence of creative bankruptcy and, critically, lack of intellectual courage. If you can’t create, all you do is either take something old and label it as new or trash everything old. J.J. Abrams does pastiche imitation of things (Star Trek, Star Wars, Spielberg’s E.T.) while Rian Johnson just castigates legacy characters. (The same goes for Salman Rushdie, interestingly enough).  And we can see the ready results of all this swishy, wishy-washy relativism, as said above.

That’s actually what Leo Strauss argued, an avowed atheist who nonetheless encouraged religion as part of the shared myths that every nation is built on. Or otherwise, you get relativism, and out of that, you get (again) Nazism.

He saw that firsthand in Weimer Germany, and was committed to preventing anything like that from happening in the US. To add grist to the mill he was a big fan of Islam and understand Judaism as revealed law, just like Islam. How ironic, again, given what progressivists are getting up to here in the Arab world.

If Strauss, or PKD for that matter, knew what was happening now in the US, they’d be turning over in their graves. Even a Marxist like Noam Chomsky was hell-bent on countering post-modernist relativism and predicted dire consequences for the Third World in particular. Post-modernism needs to be deconstructed itself.

When I was taking my degree in philosophy back in England, I asked a professor what ‘deconstruction’ was, and I realized it was just a fancy word for critical analysis, but in an inept and useless way.

Destroying is easy, and knowing what’s wrong is easy, but what about building anew and finding out what’s right? That’s hard. These jackals think it’s liberating to know what’s wrong without knowing what’s right.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario. Say you want to cross the road and look right and left to see if a car is coming. You don’t see anything. What do you do? If you’re a post-modernist, nothing because there is a one-in-a-million chance that a car will come out of the blue and kill you – a very actual eventuality in a country like Egypt, mind you. Absolute certainty is impossible, but that shouldn’t be a problem. You shouldn’t reject something because it isn’t perfect or you can’t be sure it’s correct.

There’s always doubt, and it’s a good and necessary thing since it stops you from becoming an ideologue, but it has to be coupled with bravery, self-confidence, and the spirit of adventure. Or else you won’t be able to do anything in life, even doing something as simple as crossing the road. That brings us back to what Jones did in the Philip K. Dick novel since he gambled on winning what he saw as the alien threat.

And wouldn’t you know it, even the diehard relativists in charge of the world government use a loophole in the constitution to assassinate Jones, the moral hypocrites and closet absolutists that they were? How prophetic indeed!

 

Emad Aysha

Academic researcher, journalist, translator and sci-fi author. The man with the mission to bring Arab and Muslim literature to an international audience, respectably.
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