Week 4: Dr. Bloodmoney
I just came across an article that reminded me of the MAD (mutual assured desctruction) declaration of the United States to its nuclear counterparts—you bomb us, we bomb the world and everybody dies. Whether or not this is in fact real I have yet to determine. But it has always raised in my mind many of the issues that Dick addresses in this book. What if? What then? How would we go on? What would we value? Dick mentions in his afterworld that Dr. Bloodmoney shows a prediction of an inverted society. Value becomes less about money and more about skill—yet commodities are certainly a driving factor in society. We are a bargaining species—we have an innate “what’s in it for me?” attitude. We want prescription medicine in exchange for eyeglasses. At least, without money, that is how we function, right? That is how we define ourselves. Well, that is how the book portrays it. As Enns notes that Freeman and Durham say: “If we are economically constituted as capitalists and wonder who must buy and sell human labor that is commodified in to labor-power, then we are physically constituted as paranoid subjects show must seek to interpret the signification of the objects—commodities—which, in a quasi-living manner, mystify the way that they and we are defined.”
But while I was very impressed with Dick’s ability to show human emotion, human thought and character, I had to wonder about this commodity exchange. My recent fascination with the attacks in literature on capitalism has made be question this sort of thing. What would we do? I think Hurricane Katrina taught us a great deal as we watched Americans—simultaneously labeled as survivors and looters—struggle to survive a catastrophe. Sure, many helped others. But the fight to survive was ultimate. And perhaps along with that, there was a desire to preserve the past. Many, even after being ordered to leave their homes would not. They could not give up their past.
When placed at the brink of extinction, where does instinct put the human race? As survivors? As salesmen? Powermongers? Is capitalism instinctual? Or is it more natural to acquiesce to dominant personalities, to succumb (or rise up to) monarchy and totalitarianism?
I think what Dick does particularly well in this book is show us that the character of the human soul is complex, intelligent, and mystical. It is uninterpretable, dialectical, and anti-instinctual. It is individualistic in nature but simultaneously reliant on social construction. And it is through this social construction that culture is developed and diverged, reliant on personalities and knowledge bases that exchange rationalities and justifications for their systems. As Jameson notes: “this [complexity of characters] is at one with our fragmented existence under capitalism; it dramatizes our simultaneous presence in the separate compartments of private and public worlds, our twin condemnation to both history and psychology in scandalous concurrence” (351).
What seems to be missing from Dr. Bloodmoney book, though, is something I’ve noticed missing in the other two science fiction stories—the concept of sorrow. There seems to be a “brushing over” of the idea of sadness. Yes, there were those in Brave New World who became sad, but they could get rid of it instantly with a quick shot of happy juice. And in Dr. Bloodmoney, Mrs. Dangerfield commits suicide. But these are moments that are only mentioned, never elaborated. Rather, a mood is set that humans learn to cope with loss and get over it. One man (his name now escapes me) has a daughter who is about to die—but you never really feel like he is sad. Why is it that these authors feel it possible to brush over such a vital part of being human? Grief, remorse, depression, sorrow, fear—without these at least prevalent, is it not hard to recognize their opposites? While Dick by far is much more apt at creating a realistic human emotion—much more so than the women of Herland and the Alphas, Betas, and Gammas of the World State—he is still voiding the human of an essential quality.