All Too Inhuman

The Man in the High Castle BY Philip K. Dick. Mariner Books. . $15.

The cover of The Man in the High Castle

"Their view; it is cosmic. Not of a man here, a child there, but an abstraction: race, land. Volk. Land. Blut. Ehre. Not of honorable men but of Ehre itself, honor; the abstract is real, the actual is invisible to them. Die Güte, but not good men, this good man. It is their sense of space and time. They see through the here, the now, into the vast black deep beyond, the unchanging. And that is fatal to life. Because eventually there will be no life; there was once only the dust particles in space, the hot hydrogen gases, nothing more, and it will come again." —Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

"THE ABSTRACT IS real, the actual is invisible to them": I think this sentence, from Dick's dystopian novel about what might have happened had the Nazis won, is a pretty good description of the people we're up against right now. (Well, the people we've always been up against, but who've lately seized the advantage.) They don't think of themselves as prejudiced because they don't really see flesh and blood, their own material being, let alone that of others. They've had an arbitrary idea of personhood drilled into their heads, and they're so fixated on it, and on the drudgery of life, that they never get around to measuring their idea against real people to see how close or far it comes.

Which is to say: The enemy doesn't see us as fully human, because humanity is an abstraction, and our obsession with material things like food and jobs and health and safety proves that we're not actually human. We're animals, to be raised as their own needs dictate, to be coddled or slaughtered as the mood strikes them, and in general to be provided for only insomuch as it enables us to serve them, whether that means we cut their hair or make their movies or wash their dishes or harvest their crops. Who knows, maybe if we stopped doing all this and impressed their own shabby materiality on them they'd finally realize how similar we are. At any rate, we could feel good about not working for Nazis.

Dale Peck is the author of several books, including the novel Martin and John (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993) and the memoir Visions and Revisions (Soho Press, 2015). He is the editor of the anthology The Soho Press Book of 80s Short Fiction (Soho Press, 2016).