“The Mold of Yancy” was originally published in If in August 1955. It can now be found in Minority Report and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 53–70.
Leon Sipling was struggling in his office job to come up with a gestalt to be used by Yancy. Unable to come up with anything, he turns to watch Yancy’s latest gestalt. Yancy is telling a story of a squirrell collecting nuts, preparing for the winter. It stopped before it could be completed, waiting for Sipling’s contribution, which is the central “gem.” He goes out to take a break.
Peter Tavener works as an analyst for Niplan police, preparing intelligence reports on the political situation on Callisto. Taverner explains to the police director Kelleman that Callisto has achieved a totalitarian society without a dictatorship. Even elected Parliaments can be totalitarian if they reach into every area of people’s lives. Taverner agrees to go to Callisto once the police can make him look like the Callistotes, who are turning out to look more and more alike.
Taverner arrives at Callisto, the fastest-growing human settlement in the system. The guards at customs immediately realize he works for the police but let him in anyway. That evening Taverner meets his colleagues Dorser and Eckmund. They report to him that there debate is openly allowed and no opinion was suppressed. In fact, discussion was apparently encouraged. The jails have no political prisoners, only criminals. The borders are open as well. Eckmund is baffled at how a totalitarian society can lack any enforcement apparatus. Taverner is introduced through the television to Yancy, a quasi-official figure who gives political commentary. He is loved by the masses and products he endorses are accepted by the people without question. He even made croquet popular, yet he is a full and unimpressive man.
Taverner is told that he will need to wait four months to see the very popular John Yancy. He begins watching a gestalt in progress. In his eyes, Yancy seems to have changed subtly. His more serious message about vigilance against enemies was reflected in an older and more serious tone.
Looking into Yancy, Taverner learned that he has spoken on almost every imaginable subject. He often had definite opinions. But on the issue of war, he was more vapid, both supporting peace and the need to protect Callisto. A closer inspection of old tapes shows that Yancy was willing to talk about controversial issues and give him opinions, but these opinions never amounted to a statement. He realizes that this is how Callisto created a totalitarian state without repression. Total banality was enforced as everyone followed the advice of Yancy, no matter how vapid. Taverner decides he needs to get out of the Yancy building, but is intercepted by Leon Sipling who needs to speak with him.
Sipling gives Taverner the history of Yancy—who is synthetic based on a collection of normal people. He started as a means to get the population of Callisto in line and unified in preparation for a war with Ganymede, Callisto’s trading competitor. A massive bureaucracy creates the material shared to the world by Yancy. To make his point, Sipling has Taverner interview a boy about his opinions, revealing that he can recite Yancy’s claims, but cannot give any explanations for his “views.” Taverner agrees to help Sipling.
Keeping the Yancy infrastructure intact, Taverner and Sibling change the format. The background is changed to include a more intellectual image (The Journal of Psychological Review) and Yancy’s gestalt is subtly ambiguous instead of absolute, including a story about his preferences for breakfast against his wife’s. These would grow into more dramatic changes, such as pointing out the injustice of war and preferring Hieronymus Bosch to pastoral calendars.
“The Mold of Yancy” should be placed next to “Service Call” because they present two ways of getting to ideological conformity. “The Mold of Yancy” is the more convincing of the two because it seems more rooted in the plausible. Dick said he got the idea for Yancy from watching the folksy and vapid musing of Eisenhower, who was president when the story came out. The point he wanted to make was that while the Soviets presented an image of unity and conformity, it was the United States that was achieving it by creating a homogenous and banal middle class culture. While today we do not have a Yancy directing our thinking we do have a popular culture that no less moves the population toward a certain set of values. Dick is correct to see the entry point of totalitarian conformity in consumerism. While people may disagree on politics, they tend to find common group on consumption or popular culture. For example, we (including those who never watched it) agree “The Wire” is the best show ever made. To make this statement is a suggestion of our respectability. It is later that the real message gets in. We do not want war, but we must fight it. Slowly and gradually the conformity of everyday life becomes the conformity of political opinions. Yance says: “I feel a planet must be strong. We must not surrender ourselves meekly . . . weakness invites attack and fosters aggression. By being weak we promote war. We must gird ourselves and protect those we love. With all my heart and soul I’m against useless wars; but I say again, as I’ve said many times before, a man must come forward and fight.” (61)
Dick strongly suggests that the folksy character of Yancy is the heart of his danger. Family, home, pastoral calendars, dime novel westerns, and hardworking squirrels are all in Yancy’s lexicon but none of them inspire real division of emotion. (Come on, tell me how you think those squirrels are lazy in the autumn). If he delivered opinions on art and culture and philosophy, the plan would not work. One can be neutral about the vapid pastoral calendars but not about Bosch or the Art of the Fugue. This is a nice argument against anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism makes totalitarianism easer to creep up, not because people lack opinions or are silenced, but because most of us will have opinions that simply do not matter.
Wikipedia for “The Mold of Yancy.”