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Endurance and Responsibility in Human Relationships: A moral conundrum from Philip K. Dick

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posted on Dec, 28 2010 @ 10:08 PM
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In his masterful and highly underrated novel Now Wait for Last Year, author Philip K. Dick presents a particular situation that touches on many important and hard-to-resolve issues, ranging from medical ethics to family relations to the degree to which individuals are responsible for their own actions. As in most of his novels, he gives us a tidy and fascinating moral, psychological, and philosophical knot to play with.

I’d like to present the situation briefly as laid out by Dick and ask for your opinions in general, because I think the case offers a wealth of good material to mull over from any number of perspectives. (Warning: There is a bit of a plot spoiler in what follows).

The book is set in the future. One of the book’s main characters is a doctor, Eric, who is married to a woman who treats him very badly. She cheats on him, belittles him, verbally abuses him, actively sabotages him, is decadent and involved with narcotics and criminals, and so forth. Throughout much of the book, Eric struggles to get away from her. At one point he even time-travels into the future and meets his future self, who tells him in no uncertain terms to dump the woman immediately and cut all ties, because she would destroy his life.

Yet Eric cannot let go of her so easily because he knows as a physician she is brain damaged (due to her indulgence in a particularly nasty narcotic.) He no longer loves her – the vileness of the way she treats him has worn down all affection between them. It is his moral sense (and, perhaps, some deeper psychological issues) that keeps him bound to her.

At one point in the book, Eric is speaking to an artificial intelligence computer that runs a cab. Below is an excerpt from the book of their conversation:



"'If you were me, and your wife were sick, desperately so, with no hope of recovery, would you leave her? Or would you stay with her, even if you had travelled into the future and knew for an absolute certainty that the damage to her brain could never be reversed? And staying with her would mean--'

'I can see what you mean, sir," the cab broke in. "It would mean no other life for you beyond caring for her.'

'That's right,' Eric said.

'I'd stay with her,' the cab decided.

'Why?'

'Because,' the cab said, 'life is composed of reality configurations so constituted. To abandon her would be to say, I can't endure reality as such. I have to have uniquely special easier conditions.'

'I think I agree,' Eric said after a time. 'I think I will stay with her.'

'God bless you, sir,' the cab said. 'I can see that you are a good man.'"


When I first read this book many years ago, I was younger and I was horrified that Eric would destroy his own life to save this harpy who would never get better and poison any person she touched, including the man who would devote his life to her. I thought Eric was a chump. After all, even if she was sick, she had willfully damaged her own brain through reckless activity.

But an interesting thing has happened as I grew older. The quote: “I can’t endure reality as such. I have to have uniquely special easier conditions” has always haunted me with its elusive, just-out-of-grasp implications. And somehow as time has passed I grew to see Eric’s attitude as increasingly noble. It involves taking a kind of moral stand that provides dignity amid the chaotic, painful, and ultimately short human lifespan that is all of our fates.

So what do you make of it all? Any observations welcome.


edit on 12/28/10 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)




posted on Dec, 28 2010 @ 10:45 PM
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reply to post by silent thunder
 


One can change the reality configuration by playing in another role because the circumstances, set and actors would be different. But keep in mind that if one changes that reality, it won't guarantee easier, unique, or special conditions in the new reality. If they are there, it is by choice. Changing reality configurations can be seen like spinning a wheel of fortune. Where ever a journey leads one, one can make the best out of the situation, what ever his lot.

So this woman was toxic to the T, yet maybe behind closed doors she satisfied a hunger in her man, or with all her going out and cheating, it allows him more time to work on his personal projects because he doesn't have to focus on her during the hours she is gone. With that in mind, the man could say his reality holds special and unique conditions. Adopting that mind set, would make his reality easier for him to deal with. Therefore, his current reality can already be seen as a uniquely special easier condition.



posted on Dec, 29 2010 @ 08:07 AM
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Originally posted by Key-MinderSo this woman was toxic to the T, yet maybe behind closed doors she satisfied a hunger in her man, or with all her going out and cheating, it allows him more time to work on his personal projects because he doesn't have to focus on her during the hours she is gone. With that in mind, the man could say his reality holds special and unique conditions. Adopting that mind set, would make his reality easier for him to deal with. Therefore, his current reality can already be seen as a uniquely special easier condition.


Framed in those terms, it sounds remarkably like the doctor is able to transform his difficult situation into one of uniquely simple, easier conditions merely by actively moderating his perception. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the interaction with his wife, he need only highlight and dwell on the positive aspects and he will be a happier (for certain values thereof) man.

Or, the "tl;dr" version: Perception is reality; change your perception, change your reality.



posted on Dec, 29 2010 @ 10:43 AM
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He shouldn't stay with her out of a sense of duty. He should only stay with her if he loves her. I think it is noble to face whatever reality puts in our face, but there is no reason to go out of our way to make life difficult so we can feel more appreciative or "noble" or whatever. Most problems are self-created, decisions we made that come with good and bad consequences.

If he doesn't love her he won't be a very therapeutic influence anyway. If he wants to stay with her, he should make every attempt to find a way to love her. Now THAT would be noble.



posted on Dec, 29 2010 @ 05:34 PM
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Interesting situation.

About commitment, I always say "you can't love and take care of everybody. You have to choose."

But I also value my own contentment, and I would be very much a malcontent in these circumstances.

Maybe I would try to take care of her from afar.......Provide the things she needs, and keep tabs on her well being. But I wouldn't want to be abused by anyone, verbally or otherwise.



posted on Dec, 29 2010 @ 06:01 PM
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I've learned that it is better to help those who can appreciate it rather than not. Your wife treats you like crap regardless of how well you take care of her? Let her go, there are so many more people out there that would benefit a great deal more from even one hundredth of the help and attention that you'd give your wife.

She used drugs to mess up her mind? It is not noble to take care of her, that is her own responsibility. It is selfish. Just for you to experience reality you are taking away her experience of reality, which is, if you treat people like crap you will eventually be treated the same. Take drugs? Sure. You'll have to carry the responsibilities.

It's harsh, but that is reality. That is the world we live in.

Besides, there are places that offer specific help to people like the hypothetical wife.

Although I do understand the predicament, it is not one anyone would like to find themselves in. You will stop your own progression to keep someone in the same place. This will result in the other person learning absolutely nothing, a second-drug if you will, to help them escape from reality.

Help those who learn nothing and appreciate nothing from your help, steer away from those who are waiting to abuse it.



posted on Dec, 30 2010 @ 12:59 AM
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Personally, I don't think anyone has much of a choice in these matters.

We do what we do, for reasons that are sometimes discernible but rarely within our control.



posted on Dec, 30 2010 @ 02:02 AM
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How Noble..... to put away his desires to take care of her, ..... to repress ones own ego to accept their role in the bigger picture.

He had to love her, .... somewhere, there was no other way he could do it.

I can relate to this, a part of you wants to claim responsibility for someone, even if they treat you horribly. A part of you cannot bear to send them out into the world alone.


Edit, ... by the way, this is a great thread, and mind engaging idea.
edit on 30-12-2010 by IntastellaBurst because: (no reason given)



posted on Dec, 31 2010 @ 11:09 AM
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reply to post by IntastellaBurst
 



How Noble..... to put away his desires to take care of her, ..... to repress ones own ego to accept their role in the bigger picture.


I just feel like pointing out it is the opposite of repressing ones ego. You want to help someone that mistreats you? That is aking to a mental illness, really, it is. When you let go of your ego you understand there is no reason for helping someone that mistreats you, physically or mentally. Hypothetically you can help thousands instead of that one person who YOU have feelings for. When you are helping someone that does not appreciate your help or abuses your help, there is no progress. There are facilities that help these people understand themselves better or simply put, there are places in which they can live out their lives comfortably.

When you help someone that appreciates it, they will do the same for someone needing help, simply because they know how it feels. When you are helping a psycopath there is no sight of a bigger picture, there is lack of understanding. There is lack of sight on the bigger picture.

In response: He is not putting away his desires by helping her, he_is_following his desires of helping someone. Does the 'fact' that he is a doctor not say anything? Self-sacrifice is honorable and noble but in the case where there is no progress it is STUPIDITY, simply put.



posted on Sep, 5 2011 @ 12:00 AM
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He was right to stay with her, that was the correct thing to do. Even the machine can see that. And although the life he chooses will not be easy, it will lend him inner value.



posted on Sep, 5 2011 @ 01:23 AM
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I just recently started reading a collection of Dick's works and though I do not like science fiction, I find his reputation to be well earned! His insights and vision are magnificent!

In that particular situation, I do not find myself concerned with the moral implications too much. But then I am a woman, and I notice that, though for me, self sacrifice for other comes "naturally", almost as a reflex, it seems to be a challenge to many men! For me, I find putting my own happiness and intents above those of others is very challenging and takes conscious effort.

Considering that perspective of mine, I would automatically see the situation thus-

The woman is not happy with this man and does not want to live with him. But as a natural impulse, she pushes her desires aside and stays with him without even seeing that she could do otherwise.
A result of her denying her own desires and happiness, she becomes hooked on drugs to lighten the unhappiness, she becomes passive aggressive, or overtly aggressive, as her sense of self rebels against this tendancy to put duty and loyalty to others above duty and loyalty to self.

So...... if the man decides to leave her (putting his own desires above) then he will, in fact be giving her the opportunity to live as she actually wishes, escaping the bondage of self sacrifice and duty!

From there, my spiritual point of view, as life being and opportunity to seek balance between these opposing parts of ourselves, I would guess that ultimately for each to challenge "what coems naturally", would be for the man to choose to sacrifice self, and for her to choose to sacrifice other. In other words,
-for him to say, "Though I am not happy with this reality, I shall stay with you"
- for HER to be the one to finally say "I am not happy with this , I shall leave you."

Dick focuses on the lesson and challenge that faces the man, understandably. The lesson being that sometimes enduring and adjusting oneself to accept or leave be things in this reality that he doesn't particularly like. To give up the urge to control, to destroy, to make all reality a reflection of his own mind. To stretch beyond his own ego.

He doesn't really approach the lesson of the woman, and from what I can tell he doesn't have a lot of insight into the female psyche (which would make sense considering the time he lived in). But he gets a superificial idea of behaviorisms anyway.

The lesson for her would be to learn to not always accept passively reality however it is, no matter how difficult, how painful, how undesireable it is..... to sometimes shrink down their consciousness to an ego, and determine what "I" want, and put effort into changing it, and asserting personal power into it.

BOTH of these abilities have value and use in this life and reality, and I think Ideally, each of us could find balance in learning to master both- and knowing when each response is appropriate. Knowing when to accept things as they are (compassion) and knowing when to use your personal power to transform them.

That is just my own view on the subject.



posted on Sep, 5 2011 @ 02:26 AM
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Phillip Dick is such a great writer. Great sense of the future, it's amazing how the stuff he wrote is still thought provoking.



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