We can only control the end by making a choice at each step…. On some other world, possibly it is different. Better. There are clear good and evil alternatives. Not these obscure admixtures, these blends, with no proper tool by which to untangle the components.
The words above went through the mind of a character near the end of Philip K. Dick’s alternative history novel, The Man in the High Castle, which served as the loose foundation for an Amazon Studios series with the same name. I recently binge-watched Seasons One and Two of the series and then read the book. I look forward to Season Three when it is available but feel compelled to write about High Castle now (without spoilers) because its message is important now.
Although the book and cable series are quite different, they share a premise as well as a basic message. The plot takes place in 1962, the year after Dick completed the book. He was fascinated by the idea of alternative realities, and most of the book and series unfolds in a reality in which the Axis defeated the Allies and won World War Two. Most of the United States is under Nazi control, with the West Coast ruled by Japan and the Rocky Mountain area a sort of no-man’s land.
After 15 years of being an occupied people, Americans go along to get along. In the cable series, only a small but dedicated resistance has a hope of changing things. In the book, a novel about an alternative reality stirs the pot. But no one is pure — pure good or pure evil. Everyone is the product of his or her environment and trying to make the best choices. Even those who believe another reality is possible can’t know for sure what actions will lead to that better reality.
The producers and writers of the cable series do a remarkable job of inviting the viewers not only to see that other realities are possible, but to experience the current reality through the eyes of even the Nazi rulers who believe they are building a better world. The series takes us further than the book does. Members of the resistance make compromises. Followers of the ruling class make compromises. Leaders of the ruling class make compromises. And compromises are made as well by even the few who seem to be able to glimpse a better world without aligning with any group.
We never know for sure whether the decisions we make — the actions we take — will make the world better or worse. Yet we keep trying. In Buddhist terms, we have a choice to make moment by moment. We have our karma, but we also have free will. We can choose to live with compassion, but might that mean in some moment, in some version of reality, killing a person so that millions more won’t die?
Those of us who live in the United States are struggling now with questions about the best path forward. Do we work within the system? Do we become gentle critics? Do we resist with every breath? Can we even know the right answers?
That’s why I needed to wrote this now, and I hope I’ve encouraged you to at least watch the series.
— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)
Copyright 2017 © Mel Harkrader Pine