Buy or Die

Phillip K. Dick on Prepping and Consumerism

Throw a rock in any direction these days and you’re bound to hit somebody who has heard about prepping. There are articles, TV shows, and seemingly countless You Tube videos meant to inform, entertain, and persuade. Phillip K. Dick’s “Foster, You’re Dead” makes some insightful connections between prepping and consumerism that are worth discussing.

I’ve been a fan of Phillip K. Dick for years (ever since my first viewing of Blade Runner which lead me to the source material Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). I reread “Foster, You’re Dead” about a month ago and was reminded why Phillip K. Dick is considered a master of science fiction. This short story, set in 1971, centers around the fear of a possible Soviet nuclear attack and preparations to survive it. Preparations include purchasing bomb shelters that become obsolete shortly after they are installed. Dick’s story addresses the roles fear and the government play in convincing people to prepare for a possible attack.

Selected Stories of Phillip K. Dick

The first point Dick makes concerns fear. Nothing sells quite like fear. Fear can convince people to purchase things they do not need or may never use such as a bomb shelter. Most people of wealth can readily purchase such luxury items while people of less economic means are often unable to. But fear is not a luxury, and fear is profitable. Dick develops this idea through the dilemmas of the Foster family. Dick’s ability to show the struggles of the typical American family trying to prepare for a possible nuclear attack is a profound criticism of the economics of fear. The second point Dick makes concerns the government’s role in protecting its citizens. The family of Dick’s short story is ostracized because of their belief that it is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens. The government of Dick’s story convinces the population that individuals should be responsible for their own protection, effectively abandoning them. The government’s unwillingness to protect it citizens creates a collection of frustrated groups (some with money and others without). This second point has a eerie prescience to it when read in 2022.

Prepping has become a common activity for some and a way of life for many others. Although prepping may appear to be a relatively recent phenomenon it has been part of our culture for decades. Phillip K. Dick made some insightful connections between prepping and consumerism over a half century ago that are relevant and worthy of study today.

-K-

Selected Stories of Phillip K. Dick (2013) by Phillip K. Dick.

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