Confederates believed in slavery

Today, society has a large emphasis on the equality of every human being. For most people, all races, religious beliefs, and nationalities are viewed as being equal. In times past, people were killed because they were different and war was waged. In the crusades, there were massacres because of difference in religious beliefs. The American Civil War was fought largely because the Confederates believed in slavery while the Union was against it. Today, we realize this is ridiculous. Using the comparison between the reality of today and the reality of the past, we realize that other people have the right to choose their religion and everyone has the same rights and should not be treated poorly. Philip K. Dick harnesses this difference in realities perfectly. By using alternate reality, Philip K. Dick goes beyond the reality surrounding us to show that everyone is equal.

Dick was born December 16, 1928 along with his twin sister Jane Charlotte Dick. They were born six weeks prematurely. About a month after birth, Jane died. The death of his sister affects almost all of his work and was the most influential event of his entire life. He was deeply affected psychologically by her death in many ways. Her death may have brought him to believe that everyone is (or should be treated) equal. He very much would have liked her to have the same opportunity of life as he did.


When Dick was only six years old, his parents got divorced. He spent a while moving about the country before settling in Berkeley, California with his mother. During his childhood, Dick had many problems partially because of the separation of his parents and lack of attention from his mother. He had two severe problems as a child which contributed later on in life to his writings and style. One was a swallowing disorder that prevented him from eating in public and the other was a severe vertigo which made him feel as if he wasn’t in real life. He confessed to attacks where “he doubted his own existence and felt that the world around him was a thin fa�ade over some unnameable reality.” (Behrens/Ruch)

During his teen years, Dick shared an apartment with a group of artists that included the poet Robert Duncan. Being around a group of serious writers inspired him and gave him a start in his desire to write novels. This may have been the most important point in Dick’s life as it led to the beginning of his career and catalyzed his interest in writing.

Dick’s early stories are short and simple but show some of the beliefs and style of the mature Philip K. Dick to come. One example is “The Defenders,” which Dick later expanded into his 1964 novel The Penultimate Truth. In the story, mankind lives underground while machines fight over the cities of the earth. An accidental discovery leads to a human expedition tunneling to the surface. There they find that the robots they’ve dispatched to fight the wars have been living a peaceful existence, working to heal the ravaged planet while keeping humans underground to prevent further destruction (Behrens/Ruch). This story is an early example of how he portrays people and robots as being more “human” than humans themselves. More than just being more “human” than the actual humans, Dick somewhat uses robots as a symbol of equality. When you think of robots, you usually wouldn’t think of one being superior to another. Robots are usually thought of as being nothing more than machines which are all on an equal level.

They are usually nothing more than just clones without any human traits like personality or physical ability. Differences in human traits are what make people believe they are superior to others. For example, Hitler believed that people with blue eyes and blonde hair were superior. Thus by using robots, Dick implied that they were all equal and he showed that the equal, more “human” race of robots was superior and managed better in the world than the actual humans. “The Defenders” also contains an early appearance of Dick’s use of alternate reality (which was instead used by the robots as opposed to him through his writing): the underground humans are fed false television broadcasts of nuclear war, created by the robots to discourage them from returning to the surface (Behrens/Ruch). Again, in this case the robots are made to seem more human than the “humans” themselves. They are more humane and don’t comply with the human desire for war. Instead, they keep peace and try to heal the earth by creating an illusion and portraying an alternate reality to the humans. To Dick, they are all equal. They all are just as human to him.

After becoming an established writer, Dick attempted to write mainstream fiction, but nobody would buy his stories. In 1955, Solar Lottery was published. It was his first published novel. However, he was rather depressed about it and embarrassed that his first published novel was an Ace Paperback original, and sci-fi on top of that. (Behrens/Ruch)

Dick devoted the next few years to trying to enter mainstream fiction, finishing almost ten novels by 1960. With the exception of Confessions of a Crap Artist, which wasn’t published until 1975, none of these novels were published in his lifetime. The best of this period were Mary and the Giant, The Broken Bubble of Thisbe Holt, and Puttering About in a Small Land. They are in many ways superior to his early science fiction output. Often drawing from Dick’s personal experiences, they portray tragic relationships and failed marriages amidst 50’s California, and are populated by numerous record store employees, radio dejays, and confused Berkeley youths. Upon their publication several decades later, they appeared as time machines, sweeping the reader back to a lost time and place, the world of the young Philip K. Dick. They are tender, emotionally complex and very human works (Behrens/Ruch).

After another failure to establish himself as a mainstream novelist, Dick returned to science fiction once and for all in 1959 with Time Out of Joint. But his style had changed after his experience of writing novels throughout the late 50’s. In the novel, a man discovers that he is part of a military experiment, and that the town he lives in is a hallucination (Behrens/Ruch). This was a change from his previous writings which were based on many of his own experiences. The novel was marked by more developed characters, a more detailed environment, and an overall improvement in literary skill (Behrens/Ruch).

Dick’s writing had been maturing throughout the 1950s, and in 1962 he published what many critics consider to be his most important work, The Man in the High Castle. At the center of the story lies a fictional novel titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Outlawed by the German government, the book describes a world in which the Allied powers were victorious in World War II, and is written by a secluded man living in the Rocky Mountains (Behrens/Ruch).

The Man in the High Castle is a prime example of Dick using alternate reality to show that everybody is equal. Dick’s characters often view other races or religions lowly. The Germans hate the Jews while many Americans hate the Japanese. Mr. Baynes had to get surgery to transform himself so that he wouldn’t be recognized as a Jew. Still, he holds a high position, something he could not do if he truly was inferior as the Nazi Germans believed. Mr. Childan viewed a Japanese worker as a “chink.” Many of the Japanese are in the upper and middle classes. Dick showed that although people may not be viewed equally, they are in actuality equal. The way he showed this was through alternate reality. By creating a situation other than the one we are in, he showed what we wouldn’t normally see.

Soon after the publication of The Man in the High Castle, Dick’s relationship with his second wife, Anne, declined as she was hospitalized and treated for mental illness. It is believed that his troubles with his wife made for one of his oddest books, Clans of the Alphane Moon. This was a departure from much of what he had written (Behrens/Ruch).

In 1965, Dick wrote The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. At the time Dick wrote this novel, he was becoming increasingly obsessed with Gnosticism, a subject that would eventually dominate his life. Gnosticism teaches that our world exists as an illusion (Behrens/Ruch). His growing interest in Gnosticism and the belief that the world exists as an illusion was another inspiration for Dick’s use of alternate reality and he continued to perfect his use of it to convey his messages.

Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in 1968. In it, android replicants are distinguishable from other humans only through the Voigt-Kampff scale, a test which poses questions mainly concerning the suffering of animals. When Rick Deckard, a professional android hunter, fails to feel any empathy for the artificial humans that he tracks and kills, doubts are raised about his own humanity (Behrens/Ruch). Philip K. Dick believed all humans are equal and didn’t question it. However, what he did question was what is human and what is not? For him, the “human” who is cold and calculating is less human than the alien who is more humane, warm, and sensitive (Cook). In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the androids not only seem to become more human, but they also seem to become more equal. Dick shows that humans are equal and equality is human.

In the early 70’s, Dick was experiencing many personal problems. His third wife left him and he had opened his home in Northern California to junkies and runaways. Paranoia had set in and he was burying himself in it. He was convinced the FBI was constantly watching him and he hired hit-men to protect him and his drug-addicted friends. He began experimenting with pills and continued pursuing relationships with neurotic or broken young women. He tried to attend an international sci-fi convention in Canada and fraternize with the science fiction community, but he couldn’t escape his problems (Behrens/Ruch).

Eventually, Dick attempted suicide. This was where he hit rock bottom but is also a turning point of his life. In 1974, Dick had hallucinations, dreams, and visions which he identified as “2-3-74.” He spent the rest of his life trying to decipher the meaning of the events in a manuscript he called Exegesis. He believed some kind of alien life or technology was trying to communicate with him through an interface he called the Vast Active Living Intelligence System. According to him, it used pink beams of light to give him highly concentrated amounts of information. He also believed that a “plasmate” that was an early first century Christian was co-existing within him. He came to believe that he might be hallucinating the reality which was around him and that he may have actually been living during the Roman Empire (Behrens/Ruch).

The events of 2-3-74 brought out some of Dick’s best writing and demonstrated his use of alternate reality. In 1980, he wrote VALIS. In it, he bestows his own 2-3-74 experience upon Horselover Fat. Originally, Dick had written Radio Free Albemuth. When the publisher returned it with suggestions for a rewrite, he made the decision to restart completely and rewrite it. The themes were still much the same, however. It is less easily mapped onto his exact 2-3-74 experiences than Radio Free Albemuth, but VALIS is very much autobiographical, incorporating Dick’s experiences in mental clinics, his suicide attempts, and the most personal aspects of his spiritual life (Behrens/Ruch). Although Dick used alternate reality in VALIS, it was not to show humans are equal. Instead, he used it as a way to publish his story without seeming absurd for writing it autobiographically. Still, VALIS is considered one of his better works and shows that he had very much mastered his use of alternate reality in his novels.

Dick published his final book, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, in 1982. It accounts the last years of Episcopalian Bishop James Pike. On a personal voyage to the roots of his own changing faith, the Bishop died during a hiking expedition in the deserts of the Dead Sea. The novel gave Dick the chance to reflect upon the pain, sadness and religious pleasure of death, possibly as a form of therapy after a decade of watching several close friends die (Behrens/Ruch). After spending so much of his life writing in alternate reality, this may have brought him closer to the real world and been a non-fictional reality to him of life.

In 1982, Dick died from complications brought about by a series of strokes, ending his troubled life and years of physical and emotional self-abuse (Behrens/Ruch).

Throughout his life, Philip K. Dick wrote many of the greatest science fiction books ever. What made many of them great is his use of alternate reality. He may have been so good with it because of his familiarity with it from his experiences throughout his life such as his vertigo as a child or his 2-3-74 experience. As a writer, he was great because of his ability to develop a completely different reality and then use that reality to convey that humans are all equal.

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