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Mold In The White House

Speaking of Phillip K. Dick ...

When it was released in 2002, Minority Report was interpreted by some as an indictment of George Bush's doctrine of preemption, which allowed the US to detain persons and attack nations on mere suspicions.

In anticipation of the film, I bought The Minority Report and Other Classic Stories, and was surprised to find that the titular story was not alone in predicting the foibles of the Bush administration. In fact, the story immediately preceding The Minority Report was so eerily reminiscent that I kept waiting for Cheney to stroll into the scene.

The Mold of Yancy, despite the title, has nothing to do with fungi. Terran agent Taverner is dispatched to Callisto to investigate the political situation when computer analysis shows the Callistian society inching toward totalitarianism. Upon arrival, Taverner initially believes that the political assessment is incorrect, as he can find no overt signs of repression. Then he learns of John Edward Yancy.

Every evening Yancy takes to the airwaves, treating the Callistotes to charming little homilies and sage advice in his short, televised spots. "A kind of home-spun philosopher," one person describes him. "Totally ordinary man ... A sort of talking almanac. Pithy sayings on every topic. Wise old saws: how to cure a chest cold. What the trouble is back on Terra." Though supposedly unaffiliated with the government or the church, Yancy is admired by most inhabitants of the moon with an ardor that borders on reverence.

Taverner does a little poking around, and, upon reviewing the tapes of Yancy's broadcasts, discovers something interesting: despite all his talking, Yancy almost never says anything:

Yancy had definite opinions on everything ... or mere they so definite? A strange suspicion was growing in [Taverner]. On some topics, yes. On minor issues, Yancy had exact rules, specific maxims drawn from mankind's rich storehouse of folklore. But major philosophical and political issues were something else again.

Getting out one of the many tapes listed under War, Taverner ran it through at random.

"... I'm against war," Yancy pronounced angrily ... "[But] I feel a planet must be strong. We must not surrender ourselves meekly ... weakness invites attack and fosters aggression. By being weak we promote war. We must gird ourselves and protect those we love. With all my heart and soul I'm against useless wars; but I say again, as I've said many times before, a man must come forward and fight a just war. He must not shrink from his responsibility. War is a terrible thing. But sometimes we must... "

As he restored the tape, Taverner wondered just what the hell Yancy had said. What were his views on war? They took up a hundred separate reels of tape; Yancy was always ready to hold forth on such vital and grandiose subjects as War, the Planet, God, Taxation. But did he say anything?

A cold chill crawled up Taverner's spine. On specific -and trivial - items there were absolute opinions: dogs are better than cats, grapefruit is too sour without a dash of sugar, it's good to get up early in the morning, too much drinking is bad. But on big topics ... an empty vacuum, filled with the vacant roll of high-sounding phrases. A public that agreed with Yancy on war and taxes and God and planet agreed with absolutely nothing. And with everything.

Taverner suspects that Yancy is more than just a freelance philosopher. "Nobody [is] as harmless and vapid as John Edward Yancy," he think, and delves deeper into the mystery. Sure enough, an inside source named Sipling soon gives him the straight dope: Yancy is completely computer generated, a fictitious figurehead created by the authorities.
"By authorities, you mean the governing council?"

Sipling laughed sharply. "I mean the trading syndicates that own this moon: lock, stock, and barrel."

Why would the big corporations go through the trouble to foisting a charismatic but shallow leader on the people? Well, it seems that they want to start to war with a distant land, in the hopes of acquiring the other's resources. "To start a war they have to get the public lined up," Sipling continues. "Actually, the people here have nothing to gain. A war would wipe out all the small operators - it would concentrate power in fewer hands - and they're few enough already. To get the eighty million people here behind the war, they need an indifferent, sheep-like public. And they're getting that."


Here's a quotation from another Yancy speech:

"I realize how lucky we are to be alive, and to have ... the fine cities and houses, all the things God has given us to enjoy. But we've got to be careful. We've got to make sure we don't lose these things. There are forces that could weaken us. Everything we've built up for our loved ones, for our children, could be taken away from us overnight. We must learn to be vigilant. We must protect our liberties, our possessions, our way of life. If we become divided, and fall to bickering among each other, we will be easy prey for our enemies."
Psyche! That text was actually taken from Bush's speech on Monday.

Well, no, that quotation really did come from The Mold of Yancy. But come on: you thought that was Bush for a second, there, didn't you?

"I've come to see the essential key to the Yancy character," says Sipling near the end of the story.

"The key to the new type of person we're growing, here. It's simple. It's the element that makes that person malleable enough to be led around. All Yancy's beliefs are insipid. The key is thinness. Every part of his ideology is diluted: nothing excessive. We've come as close as possible to no beliefs . . . you've noticed that. Wherever possible we've cancelled attitudes out, left the person apolitical. Without a viewpoint."

"Sure," Taverner agreed. "But with the illusion of a viewpoint."

"All aspects of personality have to be controlled; we want the total person. So a specific attitude has to exist for each concrete question. In every respect, our rule is: Yancy believes the least troublesome possibility. The most shallow. The most simple, effortless view, the view that fails to go deep enough to stir any real thought."

When Taverner and Sipling set out to undermine the Yancy project, and they do so by injecting some complexity into his speeches. "What if Yancy sat down in the evening with his wife and grandson, and played a nice lively six-hour game of Kriegspiel?" Sipling says, as they plan their sabotage. "Suppose his favorite books - instead of being western gun-toting anachronisms - were Greek tragedy? Suppose his favorite piece of music was Bach's Art of the Fugue, not My Old Kentucky Home?"

In related news, Bush was seen reading Albert Camus' The Stranger a few weeks ago, and recently spoke of the Iraq war as "straining the psyche of our country." Maybe we've got a Sipling in the White House, at long last.

You can read The Mold of Yancy here.

Posted on August 23, 2006 to Politics


I'm not the only one who read Yancy and thought Bush. See also What Would Dick Think? and The Lessons of Phillip K. Dick's Short Fiction For The Post 9/11 World.

Posted by: Matthew on August 23, 2006 2:25 PM

Good stuff, I even took the liberty of seeing if the collected stories was available in the Uk. I now see I don't even have to do that, as you have provided a pdf.

I count the days to Tony Blair stepping down, and the UK, once again, being able to think for itself!

Posted by: premiump on August 23, 2006 2:52 PM

The blue link caught my attention so I skipped past the "Bush" quote and saw that it was from his speech, so I read it thinking that it was indeed from his speech and WOW, that definitely sounds like him! You should do a poll with 5 quotes, one from Bush and four from Yancy to see if anyone can pick out the Bush quote, haha.

Posted by: Ian Clifton on August 23, 2006 3:46 PM

Wow, nice one. I got to the end of that and actually started wondering whether maybe the quote IS Bush, and your double fake was meant to trick me.

You ARE trying to trick me, aren't you?

Posted by: i, squub on August 23, 2006 6:36 PM

Things that make you go, hmmmm...

Nice to see you're still up and going and continuing to entertain the masses. Good read, as always.

Posted by: clautje on August 24, 2006 12:29 AM

I remember once, back in the old days, when my mother actually bought cheddar cheese from retail outlets. It was much tastier than the cheese we now have to stand in line for at the state-run distribution centers. Regardless, tasteless goverment cheese is better than no cheese at all, and gets me by until Cuba is rightfully ruled by Sir Gary Glitter. I shall swim there when his benevolent reign begins.


Posted by: Political.Asylum on August 24, 2006 8:01 AM

Well, I'm sold. Yancy 2008!

Posted by: Rob Cockerham on August 24, 2006 10:58 AM

It's Garrison Keillor! Yancy is Garri . . . (click)

Posted by: JP on August 24, 2006 2:18 PM

If not Bush, then certainly Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson and their ilk.

Posted by: MadScott on August 24, 2006 4:19 PM

This just in...someone finds a way to compare the Bush presidancy to a totalitarian government. I'm amazed you are all so easily impressed/fooled. This is the same reason why people believe Tarot Card readings - the *want* to make things fit in to their beliefs.

Posted by: JPH on August 25, 2006 11:36 AM

I agree with JPH! It really is amazing that someone's found a way to compare the Bush administration with a totalitarian government, considering that the Bush administration has shown such a strong commitment to the protection of civil liberties and personal freedoms! I mean, just as an example, look at... umm... hmm.

Posted by: Jake Boone on August 25, 2006 12:24 PM

Just remember. Fiction does not make fact. The author's intentions and agenda's are his own. I think we're all intelligent enough to see that.

Through this "lense" the story connects with reality in many ways. I must admit myself, that though I voted for Bush I had much higher hopes for his administration. Thus, I find myself feeling that this all rings a bit truer than I'd like to think about anyone let alone our leader.

To help you think critically about what Matt has posted. The secret is not to break or undermine the process to find the truth. That just burries it in rubble. Find the who, what, where and why. The "how" should always come after the truth is revealed.

We rely on our reporters to do this for us, and all too often they fail us for the glory of the "how".

My point: this story describes the how in it's comparison to Bush (or most politicians). Let's answer the other questions first before we try and undermine the "how"

Matt, you and I don't often agree on politics but we agree on many of the human ideals and end results. Thanks for engaging my brain from time to time. :)

Posted by: Scott on August 25, 2006 1:02 PM

Oops, sorry for calling you "Matt". I'll remember not to be so familiar in the future. Feel free to call me "Scottie" twice if you want to get even with me. :)

Posted by: scott on August 27, 2006 1:41 PM

Well said, Scott. "They fail us for the glory of the 'how'." That's a truly great line.

When the post attributed the quote to Bush, my first reaction was, "Wow. That's a strange thing for Bush to say, even for Bush." When I found out it wasn't really Bush, it made much more sense.

Bush talks a lot about staying strong, protecting our way of life, etc. Then again, so has every politician that has run for office in the last five years (longer?) I don't think you're going to find a Bush quote, though, that credits God with giving us our cities and homes.

The more interesting question is this: do our leaders minimize the substance of their speeches due to our short attention span, or has our attention span atrophied due to the lack of substance in the national debate?

Posted by: Brian Greenberg on August 29, 2006 9:46 AM

You got Bush's number man, he is so charismatic and popular. Where did you manage to get a book with that story that dosen't have an afterword explaining that the it's about Eisenhower?

Here's PKD's simpliseme take on Roe v Wade. PKD must really have been Pat Robertson or something!

Posted by: Dave Munger on August 30, 2006 12:42 PM