Most of Dick's early stories were very short; written in the fifties, many of them are less than 20 pages in length. And yet, within these constraints, he was able to paint very vivid scenarios involving space travel and warfare, extra-dimensional beings, and apocalyptic scenarios involving a future in which nuclear war and human excesses have turned this beautiful planet into a toxic wasteland in which humans struggle just to breathe.
One such early story, "Survey Team", paints just such an apocalyptic scenario. The story is set several centuries in the future. Earth has become so ravaged by nuclear war that humans can only live underground, subsisting on food grown in special tanks and breathing air that is highly processed by compressors. Entire generations of children are born never having been on the surface of the planet; as a result of the vitamin D deficiency, their eyesight is severely compromised. A special team--the Survey Team--is sent to survey the various planets in the solar system in search of a new home for humankind. The team concludes that Mars is the only place that may be even remotely inhabitable, and a special team of surveyors is sent to explore and prepare Mars for possible human colonization.
When the team arrives on Mars, they discover buildings and installations left behind by what was apparently a very advanced civilization. They also discover written records left behind by this civilization. From these records, they learn that the original inhabitants of Mars had to abandon the planet many thousands of years ago, because they had depleted its resources. The team also learned that these inhabitants had since discovered another pristine world untouched by development, and have since emigrated en mass to this world. However, upon arriving on this new world, the inhabitants were unable to preserve their original culture. Factions formed among these emigrants, war resulted, and the originally advanced civilization lapsed into barbarism on their new world.
The team members are excited by the possibility of such a pristine world, and they decide to track down this world and emigrate there as well. And then a couple of team members started fiddling around with the equipment that the inhabitants had left behind, and uncovered a very startling piece of information hidden within the equipment: The pristine world that the inhabitants had emigrated to was none other than Earth! Which actually totally makes sense, since Earth is just "next door", in a manner of speaking. What this means is that human beings were all originally descended from Martians, who had emigrated to Earth because they had totally messed up and depleted the resources on their home planet. And then the Martians--who are now Earthlings--went on to mess up and destroy Earth. And now the Earthlings-who-were-originally-Martians find themselves back on their original home planet. They had come full circle (not in a good way), and had destroyed not one, but two worlds in the process.
Pretty heavy reading, don't you think? Especially considering that most people read sci-fi to "escape" from real life. I also can't help feeling that Dick's worldview as reflected in his writings was very ahead of his time, especially considering the fact that he was living and writing in the United States in the '50s, a time of relative plenty in which few people even stopped to consider whether the Earth's resources could ever be used up.
Actually, there are still people who believe that this planet's resources can never be used up; at least, there is nothing in their behavior which suggests that they think otherwise. For instance, I live on the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. The great state of North Dakota has recently become flush with cash, as a result of the oil-fracking boom. The local papers are filled with happy stories of young people who are now able to return to their hometowns from far-away cities to make a good living on the ranches on which they grew up, because of the new-found prosperity that all this oil money has brought. This is so even if there are actually oil pipelines running through their ranches... actually, this is probably what explains their new-found prosperity; I imagine that the authorities have to be paying them quite a handsome bit of cash for the right to run oil pipelines through their land.
Anyway, I often read these happy stories, and wonder if I am in some kind of a time warp: I'd imagine that this must be how Texas and many other places in this country felt like in the fifties, with all this new-found wealth and power... but what do I know?
Even the yoga world is not untouched by this kind of ideology, the kind of ideology that tells you that you can be totally self-sufficient and do well for yourself, so long as you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, dig deep enough (literally!), stay vigilant, make sure that government is small and limited, and protect your rights from socialists and other undesirables that try to tell you how to spend your hard-earned cash. As many of you who follow yoga news are well aware, Off the Mat, Into The World (OTM) recently collaborated with the Huffington Post to create the Huffington Oasis at the RNC. The Huffington Oasis, according to this Elephant Journal article, is "a unique, alternative space providing yoga, meditation, spa services, and organic food at the DNC", "a refuge where, instead of grabbing a Red Bull and burger between sessions, they could come to reconnect to their bodies, minds and intentions in an environment providing sustainable methods for grounding, health and healing in an otherwise supercharged environment."
Interesting. According to this report by Salon.com, the massage therapists and yoga teachers who worked at the Oasis were working for free, rubbing feet (and perhaps, licking a few boots too? :-)) while being "essentially conned into believing they were performing a public service."
Well, I'll take back that parenthetical remark about licking boots. That wasn't nice. Gosh, why am I so cynical? After all, most (maybe even all) of these yoga teachers and massage therapists at the Oasis probably really believed that they were spreading some good vibes through their pro bono work. How can I be so unkind? But then again, I think this really says something about how gullible we "yoga-types" can be, that we can be so easily conned into doing work for free, that if we even think of asking to be paid for what we do, we are being "unyogic". If this is not brain-washing, I don't know what is...
But enough of all this ranting. It's not going to get me or you anywhere. Perhaps we should really try to take a more charitable view of this whole thing. Maybe the people who worked in the Oasis really did believe that they could change the world, one pair of Republican feet and one tight over-stressed Republican body at a time. Very possible. After all, people are essentially the same, whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Tree-Huggers. Whatever our political persuasions, we all have minds, bodies and spirits. And minds, bodies and spirits can always be aligned and set right through a good yoga practice, which helps us all to make better decisions and be more effective in the world.
The big question, of course, is: Set right in what way? Become more effective in what way? If I were, say, a Tea Party Republican who does yoga (maybe even, God forbid, Ashtanga Yoga) everyday, six days a week, will I become a more effective exploiter of the Earth's resources, finding new ways to drill for oil in ways never before imagined? Or will I perhaps come to see the error of my ways, and switch sides to become a Libertarian, or even a Democrat? The possibilities are endless...
Gosh, this is becoming one long drawn out neither-here-nor-there post. And I still don't know where I'm going. Maybe I better quit right now while the going is still (relatively) good. Well, maybe I'll end with something fun (at least, I think it's fun). I recently learnt that Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan is actually an exercise enthusiast. According to this article, he actually does P90-X! Which means he does some kind of yoga at least once a week! Interesting... well, here's the question I'll pose to you: If Paul Ryan (or maybe even Mitt Romney) asks you to teach him Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (for a reasonable fee, of course), would you do it? Yes, I know this is a sensitive question, one which you may not feel comfortable answering directly. So, in the name of good, clean, anonymous entertainment, I have set up a poll in the right-hand corner of this blog for this question. Please participate generously! I'll love to see what your views are on this. I think this is going to be fun. I hope you do too.