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Philip K. Dick (author of Minority Report, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? [Blade Runner], and many others) wrote a short story “The Chromium Fence” which is profoundly relevant today, everyday, twenty years ago, and tomorrow.

I’d like to say the science fiction tale is political. Or anti-politics. Or nonpartisan. Or black and white. Or the gray area of life. All of it. None of it.

The dissection, however, murders the story.

Instead, let’s be thankful Dick observed and wrote about an individual having individual ideas.

Below is an excerpt of the most important part of the story (a conversation between a robot analyst and the main character, Don Walsh) which won’t mean anything unless you read the before and after yourself.

Thank you, and thank Dick.

Excerpt of Philip K Dick’s “The Chromium Fence”:

“Because the two sides exhaust the practical possibilities. Your position isn’t really a position … it’s sort of a description. You see, Don, you have a psychological inability to come to grips with an issue. You don’t want to commit yourself for fear you’ll lose your freedom and individuality. You’re sort of an intellectual virgin; you want to stay pure.”

Walsh reflected. “I want,” he said, “to keep my integrity.”

“You’re not an isolated individual, Don. You’re a part of society … ideas don’t exist in a vacuum.”

“I have a right to hold my own ideas.”

“No, Don,” the robot answered gently. “They’re not your ideas; you didn’t create them. You can’t turn them on and off when you feel like it. They operate through you … they’re conditionings deposited by your environment. What you believe is a reflection of certain social forces and pressures. In your case the two mutually-exclusive social trends have produced a sort of stalemate. You’re at war with yourself … you can’t decide which side to join because elements of both exist in you.” The robot nodded wisely. “But you’ve got to make a decision. You’ve got to resolve this conflict and act. You can’t remain a spectator … you’ve got to be a participant. Nobody can be a spectator to life … and this is life.”

Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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