A Technological Chokehold


Philip K Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle is a masterpiece depicting the dystopia that awaited the United States after the loss of World War II and the theoretical government is something of nightmares. The Nazi dictatorship is one without consideration or compassion and one of the keys to this ruthless rule is that the government controls the development and advancement technology in this society and the impact is incredible. This grip on technology effects the control zones of a society that are crucial to its development stated as such in Claudio Lomnitz’ Nationalism’s Dirty Linen. This government uses technology to control the development of society on a physical level and in terms of national identity and this control oppresses and separated the people of this society. The Nazi government uses this separation to manipulate its own people into a divide between the races that causes conflict like one described by Angela Kachuyevski in Divided Societies and Identity Boundaries: A conflict analysis framework. From a lens of technology and nationalism the government in The Man in The High Castle uses this to control and oppress their people showing worry for our society, which is dependent on technology, and shows how vulnerable we can become without it. The novel gives contrast how the government has access to advanced technology, but the people do not, and this is assumed to be Dick’s intention (even though I’m fairly certain he was not sane).

The book was published at the start of the year in 1962 which coincided with the setting of the novel. This is because the topic of the novel was extremely relevant at the time due to the winning of World War II and the novel being about the alternative. There was a huge economic and industrial boom after the war and the suppression of technology is the mirror of industry in the novel. This makes the novel feel much more reasonable and when talking about an alternative universe that idea is unsettling

First, we must look at the technological gap we can piece together between the government and its people. The book presents much less of the German government than the show does and I will refer more often to the novel than the show because the effectiveness of this lens is lost slightly. The Greater Third Reich is depicted in the novel to have supersonic traveling jets that can go between continents faster than we would even do today. This is an obvious sign of technological suppression because they are imposing on their citizens abilities to travel. Second is that there is obvious evidence of military strength highlighted with the use of hydrogen bombs in the novel. The contrast to this being the scene where Tagomi guns down to men with an “antique” pistol, showing the firepower of the people versus the power of the governing bodies. This note is played down in the television show a lot, the antique store and Childan are not introduced until the forth episode. Media is another technological development that we can see the government using to manipulate and abuse its’ people. The novel shows no real signs of television and it seems that the main form of media is text. This is different from the show because in the show we see that people can watch their own film and have forms of visual media. In the show, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a film, and this makes the technological focus less obvious and the downplayed role of Childan does not help.

In the show we see Julianna gain asylum in the Greater Third Reich, which we do not have the pleasure to enter in the novel, and there are televisions, but they are highly censored, and this is the least surprising use of technology to oppress its people. The final focal point is the rotary phone that we see repetitively, which is confusing in itself that there is not more advanced forms of communication but none the less shows that mass communication is still not viable for general population. This control makes it extremely difficult for the citizens to rebel because they cannot communicate, gather, or arm themselves to fight against their government. These differences are where the government takes control of the development of the society in the novel and attempt to shape it into the Greater Third Reich’s liking.

Now with our focal points established, we can see how the Greater Third Reich ( and the Japanese government, but I will highlight why the German Third Reich is more in control later in the essay) uses these to shape their society. Claudio Lomnitz defines four different “contact zones” in which national identity is formed and of these four, three of them involve modernization and the advancement of technology. Lomnitz said that the states in which national identity develop are “1) the material culture of capitalism; 2) the ideological tension between tradition and modernity which is necessary to the founding of nation-states; 3) the entropy of modernization, which is intrinsic to the development process; and 4) the international field of ideas and models of civilization, science and development, that forms part of what could be called the civilizing horizon of nation-states” (Lomnitz 8). Using only numbers 2,3, and 4 we can see how the Greater Third Reich controls its people. Referring of the second zone on the list, the Reich prevents any tension between tradition and modernity because those who are controlling any tradition are also in fact controlling the level of modernity in society, seen in the entire concept of a technological control from this government. This goes well with third zone, in which internal development of a society is dependent on the energy that is put into modernizing as a society, because if you withhold modernization from your society you cause stunted development in the society, which is what a totalitarian government would prefer, it makes the gap between the people and those in power even larger. The last of Lomnitz described zones describes that a society becoming modern develops its relations with other nations and becoming on the same “civilized” level as others. This zone is the important because without modernization the people of the Greater Third Reich and Japanese Pacific States are not a beneficial ally for any other countries because they have not modernized, but this issue is cleared a bit when we account for the large portions of the world that are under Nazi control in the story. We can clearly see how the restricting technology in this society is helping the government stop or direct the development of society and how impactful this is.

t chart

It has been established now that the government in control in The Man in The High Castle is shaping its society but with the use of the article by Kachuyevski. She describes two ways society can be divided between the minority and majority opinions and by using the most fitting division from each groups point of view I have concluded that the most accurate societal conflict scenario is where within three groups involved (Nazi, Japanese, and the controlled peoples) the majority sees an L configuration while the minority sees a T configuration. The controlled people are the collective identity in the scenario, meaning they are the bottom level of society in the scenario. With the way the Greater Third Reich displays itself I have made it the majority and the Japanese government the minority. With this combination of configurations, we have a society in which “The majority sees the minority as closely identifed with an external group (L-shaped formation), while the minority perceives itself as a distinct group and may actually identify with their state of residence to a much greater extent than the majority perceives (T-shaped formation). Conflict escalation is more likely on the part of the majority, especially if they perceive the threat to “who ‘we’ are” to be acute” (Kachuyevski 8). This is a “besieged state” and is one of the possibilities discussed by Kachuyevski. This is almost identical to the dynamic in the novel where the Nazi see the Japanese as part of the minority because they are not Aryan and we even see that they were planning an attack, like Kachuyevski states they would. The Japanese are the minority here and they see the world as a T configuration still because they still are in a position of control, so they do not take place with the rest of the global minorities as “Collective identity” but this doesn’t mean that they are unaware of how the Reich views them. Overall this is still a society being molded and manipulated by the Reich and even though they have tension between them and the Japanese, they still control the collective identity and can shape society to their benefit.

Concluding with this analysis we see that what the novel portrays is not outlandish and in fact it is plausible. If a government took ahold if the modernization of a country completely and stunted its advancement, it should become behind the average levels in other neighboring societies. Once a society is developmentally behind they are more susceptible to manipulation and the Greater Third Reich takes advantage of this. This concept is unsettling once you consider how dependent on technology we are today and how a potential attack could be placed by trying to control our society’s access to technology and as we become more integrated to technology we become equally as vulnerable. The novel by Philip K Dick highlights how technology can be used as a hold against a society to cause issues with national identity and in turn internal conflicts and reveals that our society is more susceptible to this kind of attack than I personally thought (and maybe Dick isn’t as crazy as I thought).

Works Cited
Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
Kachuyevski, Angela, and Ronnie Olesker. “Divided Societies and Identity Boundaries: a Confict Analysis Framework.” International Journal of Conflict Management, 1990, blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3673156-dt-content-rid-60323383_1/courses/HUM409-01-Fall2017/identities.pdf.
Lomnitz, Claudio. Nationalism’s Dirty Linen: ‘Contact Zones’ and the Topography of National Identity. University of Minnesota Press, 2001, blackboard.sdsu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3614220-dt-content-rid-59951218_1/courses/HUM409-01-Fall2017/Nationalism%27s%20Dirty%20Linen%20Lomnitz.pdf.