Philip K. Dick, “The World Jones Made” (1956)

The World Jones Made is one of Philip K. Dick’s early novels, published in 1956.  As in many of his novels, The World Jones Made is set in a post-nuclear war Earth and the democracy has given way to a variant of authoritarianism.  Unlike the party tyrannies of 1984 or the emergence of a new imperial system as in many space operas, Dick is comfortable with his vision of the rise of a technocracy.  The story is made up of three interrelated subplots.  The first deals with the rise and dramatic collapse of Floyd Jones, a “precog” who can see into the future one year.  The second is a series of experiments in mutants (created in large quantities during the war and often used for entertainment) with the goal of adapting them to the Venetian atmosphere.  The final plot is the arrival to earth of the “Drifters,” which turns out to the pollen of a interstellar species, using the Earth as part of their reproductive cycle.  Jones attempts to use the arrival of the Drifters and his precognition to create  movement to cease political power from “Fedgov” (a world government).  The novel ends with the quarantine of Earth by Drifters, who look on humans as a virus to be avoided – essentially limiting humans to the Solar System.  Jones movement succeeds in pulling down Fedgov despite Jones’ death.  Jones’ main political enemy, Doug Cussick – an agent of Fedgov – is exiled to Venus.

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Power and Ideology
The major ideology that took over Earth after the war was “Relativism.”  In theory any absolutism claim is grounds for arrest.  Even the expression of a preference for one composer could land someone in into forced labor camps.  In hopes of avoiding another war, the Fedgov imposed these laws.  “I suppose Relativism is cynical.  It surely isn’t idealistic.  It’s the result of being killed and injured and made poor and working hard for empty words.  It’s the outgrowth of generations of shouting slogans, marching with spades and guns, singing patriotic hymns, chanting, and saluting flags. . . . Jones can disagree with us.  Jones can believe anything he wants; he can believe the Earth is flat, that God is an onion, that babies are born in cellophane bags.  he can have any opinion he wants; but once he starts peddling it as Absolute Truth.” (33-34)  This ideology is threatened by someone likes Jones, who has absolute knowledge of the future.  It is for this reason that Cussick begins investigating him for making predictions about humanity’s future at a carnival.  In a liquid world, we can understand the attraction of “relativism.”  It was absolutists who become terrorists, crusaders, and blind patriots.  We know politicians are cynical and do not mean what they say.  We vote for them knowing that they will lie.  Their cynicism and relativism is already a part of the system of late capitalist democracy.  A politician or activist who seems to really believe what he says is a curiosity, not to be taken seriously and useful for entertainment.  What else can serve in a liquid world?  Where Dick is too optimistic is in his belief that this regimen of thought control would need to be imposed by the state.  Throughout the novel Jones’ activists hold up signs like: “Disband the Terrorist Thought-Control Secret Police-End Concentration Slave Labor Camps-Restore Freedom and Liberty.” (103)  Characters question Relativism throughout.  In the world we live in, Relativism has become dogma without any need for a state apparatus.  On some level we already know that absolute claims are dangerous.  It is easier to be flexible.

The problem with Relativism as enforced ideology or as a rational response to a liquid world is that it takes away the possibility of dreaming.  Dick speaks to this at a few moments in The World Jones Made.  “But the followers of Jones had not given up; they had a dream, a vision.  They were sure the Second Earth existed.  Somehow, somebody have contributed to keep it from them: there was a conspiracy going on.  It was Fedgov on Earth; Relativism was stifling them.  Beyond Earth, it was the drifters.  Once Fedgov was gone, once the drifters had been destroyed. . . the old story.  Green pastures, beyond the very next hill.” (104)

Precognition
Jones’ dilemma is that despite having the ability to look into the future for one year, he is utterly incapable of forestalling his death of controlling events.  There is a suggestion that Hitler was a “precog” and suffered from the same problem.  His predictions were accurate but not far-reaching enough to stop his downfall.  He goes to war envisioning success, but cannot see the failure around the corner.  By the time Jones sees his own death,  it is too late to change the course of events.  Dick also plays with the Calvinist question of free will.  If the future is known, changing or taking advantage of that future is not possible.

We are all precogs now.  Anyone who looks at growing inequality, environmental destruction, climate change, the murder of millions of animals a day, the destruction of fisheries, and the growing cynicism of our political systems sees disasters ahead.  Some of us might seek to profit from these disasters and a few might try to avert it.  The vast majority of us, no matter how clear the vision of the future is, move on with little real concern.  Like Jones, who knew he was fated for great things, we assume we are fated for destruction.  Like the Relativists argue, to speak harsh lessons of truth creates unnecessarily social disorder.  Much better to go quietly, in full respect of everyone’s opinions and odious actions.  Precognition gives warnings but it makes it impossible for us to arrest our future.  A much better approach is to ignore the warnings from the future and create the world we want today without abandon or reservation.

Dick gives us one area of hope at the end of the novel.  From a small settlement on Venus, a “civilization” is possible.  “But it was a good sight.  All of it: the fields, the animal sheds, the smoke-house, the silo, the main cabin, now a double-walled building with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and indoor bathroom.  And already, Garry had located a substitute for wood-pulp; an abortive paper had been turned out, followed by primitive type.  It was only a question of time before their society became a civilization: a civilization, now, of nine individuals.”  (195)  Once we swallow our disgust of this new civilization being a replica of middle class America, we realize that it is the only hope that PKD gives us.  We do not have a frontier to retreat to.  We are instead Jones, realizing the end of our world and baffled that all of our knowledge has failed to forestall our doom.

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4 responses to “Philip K. Dick, “The World Jones Made” (1956)

  1. Pingback: Philip K. Dick, “Introduction” | Neither Kings nor Americans

  2. I think that the character of Jones was inspired by a short story,”Funes the Memorius” by Jorge Lois Borges,about a very young man with virtually perfect memory.Both are trapped by their talents,which should it seems liberate them because of their super humanism,but are flawed,and instead becomes their nemesis.

    This was the seed and the central theme of the novel,around which revolve a number of other themes,that form a super structure,far removed from Borges self contained arguments.It seems his self consciousness though,was too heavy for his still undeveloped style.

    “Eye in the Sky”,written soon after TWJM,shows his new maturity,with a spontaneous,light outpouring of political,social and existential themes.

    TWJM begins his exploring of themes that he would later take to extremes.

    • Never read it or saw any evidence of the Borges connection. I asked some fans on the facebook page for insight into Dick’s influences, especially for works written before the Exegesis and the Letters. While the influences of his late career are well-documented and known, it is hard to know for sure. I, for one, see lots of the historian Toynbee in works like “Jones,” “Time Out of Joint,” “The Variable Man,” and even “The World of Talent” and “The Man Who Japed.” I know I talk lots about Turner, but Turner and Toynbee get to the same place in the American cultural context. In the same way, Dick’s fear of the machine is strongly hinted at in Mumford. Here, I just chose three well-known intellectuals that could easily have informed Dick’s thinking, but I cannot prove he read them or knew of them. The best answer I got on this from fans was something like, “Dick was very well-read.”

      What the text (“Jones”) clearly tells me is that Dick was thinking of Hitler as a short-term precog like Jones. With all the above (and with Borges) maybe we can only guess. Being trapped in ones talents is hardly a theme that Borges invented. Scan my blog for several examples of this. (Ahab, Wolf Larsen)

      And that reminds me, kudos for pointing out a New World writer in Borges. Typically, I mention Old Worlders only to scorn them. (Toynbee is an exception) Now you know the rules.

      • One author who undoubtedly influenced Dick was Kafka;I know this for sure since Dick said so his self.I’ve already said that his novel “The Castle” seemed an obvious influence on his “A Maze of Death”,and as another said, on “The Man in the High Castle”

        Add to this,Olaf Stapleton,whose whose universally accepted stuff included ontological themes that are familiar in Dick’s otherwise unique opus.He influenced nearly everybody in and outside sf.It makes complete sense what Brian Aldiss said in his sf history,”Trillion Year Spree”,that Dick was “the first true genius to have worked in the sf mode since Stapleton”.

        Yes it’s well known that as an historical figure,Hitler was the model for Jones,but he also seems a much more insecure character,who is forced to be a dictator to protect his own peculiar ability from the “political idealists”.

        No,I don’t suppose Borges invented the theme,but assuming Dick read and was influenced by him,the similarity of the two characters seems very striking,and both ideas seem to be based on the concept of time.In both,life seems to have become stale,predictable and uninteresting.

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