The America depicted in the news is every day coming closer to the dystopian future imagined by science-fiction novelists.  I am not referring so much to the rising tide of violence and irrationality that has overtaken our society at all levels as to the systematic spiritual, intellectual, and social desolation of our public culture.

One symptom of this desolation was diagnosed by George Orwell: the ever-increasing submission of American minds to marketing and propaganda.  Orwell extrapolated from the Cold War to a future dominated by totalitarian coalitions that constantly manipulated their servile populations by means of gigantic media that whipped up hatred and war frenzy.

The Cold War ended some time ago, but the media are more devoted to hatemongering than anything Orwell could imagine.  The media’s hate sessions are aimed not only at inconvenient heads of state but at designated private citizens accused of hate crimes.  When John Derbyshire challenged—correctly or incorrectly—the egalitarian party line, his “friends” at National Review joined the further left in pronouncing a fatwa against him.  I skimmed hundreds of tweets in response and failed to find evidence of conscious human life.  The future belongs to them.

A generation before Orwell, Aldous Huxley sketched out a Brave New World in which contraceptive hedonism was promoted by a world government that used drugs and mind control to dominate a rootless, mindless people that resemble nothing so much as the 20-somethings and 30-somethings who waste their joyless lives on social-networking media.  Some of these poor things go to bed with their iPhones on the pillow, and they wake up at every bleep alerting them to every text or tweet.  Once again, reality has gone beyond the prophecy.

We tend to apply the words prophet and prophecy in a loose and trivialized sense to people who foretell the future.  The deeper meaning, however, is apparent in the interrogation of Jesus by the Jewish leadership: “And the men who were holding him mocked him, beating him, and blindfolding him kept on asking, saying: ‘Prophesy: who is the one who has struck you?’”

Why, some Christians have asked, do Jesus’ tormenters ask Him to prophesy?  Luke provides the precious detail of the blindfolding but omits an almost equally valuable clue provided by Matthew, who says that they taunted Him with the name Christ—that is, Messiah.  If Jesus is truly the Messiah, the blindfold will not prevent Him from knowing who struck Him.  Does He or does He not know the identity?

Jesus had told His followers many things in a prophetic vein, including predictions about the destruction of the Temple, but, as this passage makes plain, prophecy is not primarily the ability to foretell the future but the gift of revealing what is hidden from ordinary men, who are blinded by their ignorance and passions.

In the early Church we hear of Christians with prophetic gifts.  In Antioch, the recently converted Paul is included on a short list of prophets, and Paul’s first act as missionary is to unmask and blind a false prophet.  Having recovered from his spiritual and physical blindness, the new prophet sees while other men are blind.

A Christian apostle can be called a prophet insofar as he teaches the Word of God, but, as Christ warned, there are many false prophets.  In a vision, Hermas sees a false prophet telling his victims what they wish to hear about their future.  It is a type we are all too familiar with today, Gantrys and Gingriches who make millions on bogus futurology.  Even sincere prophets, however, are not always perfectly intelligible, and some of them may not have been entirely in their right minds, which is why the Church in every age and in nearly all of Her manifestations has exercised the right to determine the validity and meaning of prophecies.

In a sickening world, even prophets cannot escape the contagion.  Huxley said somewhere that when society goes mad, the sanest people appear insane.  Perhaps the most relevant writer to have foreseen some of our own troubles without really understanding them was the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

In Martian Time-Slip Earth is dominated by global corporations—real estate, insurance, craft unions—and the housing project is the norm for terrestrial existence.  At the Public School, robotic teaching machines program children on Mars to be model citizens.  “The school was not there to inform or educate, but to mold, and along severely limited lines.”  Children who did not conform were deemed autistic and sent to a camp, but it is only the autistic child and the schizophrenic adult who have a glimpse into reality.  The book was published almost a decade before Roe v. Wade, but Dick casually mentions that abortionists were held in honor as noble human beings.

Forty-five years ago, Dick began writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  The book did reasonably well but only really took off after the production of Ridley Scott’s film adaptation, Blade Runner.  While Blade Runner focused attention on the novel’s gritty depiction of a dystopian Earth that will never recover from the fallout of a world war that has extinguished most animal species, Dick was more interested in exploring the fuzzy borderline between human life and artificial intelligence.

The highly advanced androids created by the Rosen Association are not allowed to return to Earth and, if they do, it is the job of bounty hunters to track them down and “retire them.”  When a group of androids massacres humans on Mars to return to Earth, where they seriously wound the top bounty hunter, the job of retiring them is given to Rick Deckard.  The androids, although highly intelligent, are entirely without compassion or loyalty, either to each other or to any living thing.  If anything, they resent living beings because they know that the one quality they lack is empathy, and when an empathy test is administered to them, their failure results in their immediate retirement.

This outline has the outlines of a fairly straightforward conflict between real life and engineered intelligence, but Dick introduces complications that are at the heart of the story.  Though androids have no empathy for humans, the reverse is not true.  A retarded man (a “chickenhead”) takes them in and shows compassion for them even though he knows they are androids, and, even when they openly discuss killing him, he persists in his loyalty.  Despite the extinction of most animal species, the “chickenhead” has the good fortune of finding a live spider, but the androids are curious only to see if the spider can do without so many legs, which they cut off, one by one, before applying a flame to see if the creature can still move.  Their friend is horrified by their cruelty, but they are the only friends he has.

Deckard himself finds that he is falling in love with the beautiful android Rachel Rosen, but after he sleeps with her, she reveals that her only interest in him—and the previous bounty hunters who have bedded her—is to render them incapable of killing androids.  She fails with Deckard but goes to his apartment to kill the extremely expensive pet goat he has purchased with his bounty money.  He is lucky she did not terminate his wife.

But if normal human feelings distinguish men and women from androids, what can we say of the Deckards, who get their news and insight from Buster Friendly’s nonstop telecast—it is more than implied that Buster is an android—and connect up to a mood organ that enables them to manipulate their feelings and moods?  Their natural feelings are to a great extent orchestrated by a form of artificial intelligence that is a good deal lower than the androids’ minds.

This bare summary does not do justice to a fine book or to the genius of its schizophrenic author, but it should be enough to set off bells in any mind that is not hooked up all day to one or another device created by the race of zombies (e.g., Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs) who seem to have no real connection with the human race, its history, its joys, its sorrows.  That our Buster Friendly is a compendium of superficially disagreeing anchormen, talk-show hosts, and sportscasters is a distinction without a difference.  The difference between a dittohead and a chickenhead is not always perceptible.

When C.S. Lewis predicted, in The Abolition of Man, that the human race as we know it would be altered or even eliminated by a combination of genetic engineering and mass education, he failed to explain how humankind could be persuaded to walk down the road to inhumanity.  But Lewis was writing before the computer revolution, which has prepared the human race to accept the proposition that it can be systematically reprogrammed by mass media, computer technology, and social networking to lose much of their connection with humanity.  They have sex without love, copulation without babies, and if a mistake is made, it is flushed down the drain or tossed in a dumpster.

What Dick appears to have realized is that the combined effects of totalitarian government, stultifying state education, and computer- and media-generated virtual reality are erasing the distinction between human and nonhuman, not by elevating machines to the human level but by depressing humanity into mere “meat machines”—a term coined by Nikola Tesla before Dick was even born.

Dick understood the implications of our programmed dehumanization.  When Roe v. Wade gave American mothers the legal right to kill their children, he wrote “The Pre-Persons,” in which humans could be terminated at any time before they could understand simple algebra.  Many of the hip and avant-garde people who had professed to admire his work turned against the writer, and some feminists, he claimed, threatened him with death.  Of the many things Phil Dick had to apologize for, this story, he said, was not one of them.

Are the sorts of females who lashed out at Dick really human women, or only clones of Rachel Rosen?  Are their metrosexual male playmates actually men, or only androids who have learned to feign compassion for whales and baby seals but are utterly without empathy for their own offspring?  Perhaps it is cruel to speculate.