“Misadjustment” was originally published in Science Fiction Quarterly in February 1957. It can now be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 305–319.
Richards comes home from a ten-hour shift at the Commerce Institute and commenced his private ritual of tending to his garden. The high-velocity transport he has been growing was almost ripe and can soon be used to fly around.
At 3:30 the waiting room was almost empty. Only one women remained, even though the desk warned her that Mr. Eggerton would not see her any more tonight. She insists that she will see him. When Eggerton finally approaches her, he tells her that he is not interested in buying anything and is not hiring. When he notices a card in her hand, he runs off in a haste. The desk scolds her for not informing him she was an Immune when she filled out her standard card. She was delivering a summons request to Eggerton, which is why she was willing to wait all day. She make preparations to publicize the notice.
Doris thinks about how Eggerton did not look like a typical parakineticist, most of them are not so prominent in the world, residing in hiding. Doris’ husband, Harvey, tells her to relax and that she should be happy she has another mutant to chase. He also tells her that it will be an easy case since Eggerton is so well-known and the bounty is substantial enough. Doris knows it is more complicated. There are mutants who hide (they are easy to locate). Others do not know they have mutant abilities. Yet another group falsely believe they have abilities. Harvey then tells Doris that they are invited to a garden party hosted by his associate Jay Richards.
Eggerton flies around looking for a safe place. He thinks he has about a one-day grace period before the bounty would make his freedom difficult to keep. He thinks about the reasons why he resists the summons. Technically, it is just a mind probe. He could—perhaps—prove he was a not a parakineticist. Eggerton’s opposition to these probes is more principled. He goes to the id bloc hall thinking about airing his case before like-minded leaders, but he knows it is future. The Agency is too powerful. He hesitates but eventually discusses the situation with other economic leaders. Eggerton tells them that they should help him and resist because soon they will be next. One man reminds Eggerton that it was they who set up the Agency in the first place to protect them from parakinetics. He reminds Eggerton about why the P-Ks are so dangerous. They not only have delusions, but through their ability they can make their delusions real. If they are allowed to reproduce and expand without check, they will create communities that do not follow objective rules of reality. They recommend Eggerton to surrender and follow the system.
Eggerton locates Doris at Richard’s garden party and enters uninvited. He tells Doris that he is ready to surrender and that it is still within the 24-hour window. As they prepare to leave, Doris asks why he did not respond to the first summons. Eggerton was about to talk about individual rights, when Richards starts to unveil is creation. When he does, most of the guests flee. His creation is a plant that grows rocket ships. By revealing his creation he revealed that he is a P-K. Eggerton kills him, earing the thanks of Doris. This experience makes Eggerton realize that they do not need the Agency, run by the small population of Immunes. Each person is capable of seeing the delusion from the reality if they are vigilant. Each person will be the standard by which reality is judged. Eggerton muses about how delusional Richards must have been to want to grow rockets from plants in his backyard because flying is as easy as flapping your arms.
The ending of “Misadjustment” revels that Eggerton is indeed a P-K and his delusion is that people can fly. Looking back at the story you see that he was actually flying from location to location. This is another mutant story, sustaining the theme that mutants will be a threat to human existence. In this case, their delusions will become manifest in reality. Once enough such delusions are real it will be impossible to judge what is true and what is false. It sounds like Dick is exploring the tension between the homogenous state and the people, who embrace a variety of subcultures and ways of life. As Dick realized very early in his career, modern states have a hard time understanding or accepting cultures that different in fundamental ways from the norm that has been imposed on society through mass education. For the more open-minded person, the idea that each person can make their delusions manifest in reality may pose difficult questions but actually may create a more interesting society.
The Agency is made up of Immunes (all women) who can see past the delusions. It was originally founded by the social elite in hopes of protecting their way of life. They had the most to lose by a diffusion of alternative systems of reality. Although it is not spoken directly, what is to stop a P-K from imagining a classless society? Once imagined, it can be made real. Nothing is more frightening to the ruling class. But is this not an empowering idea. Setting aside the mutant stuff, we have a belief that the world itself is ours to recreate. The rules we live under are not necessarily objective reality. We should be free to dream and then try to make those dreams real. Is this the subtle message of the tale?
If we accept the P-Ks as a real problem and decide to sympathize with those who want to maintain an unchanging objective reality, Eggerton’s solution to the problem of the P-Ks at the end is still compelling because it presents a non-state-centered solution to social disorder. Their original idea was to form an agency, but at the need of the story, Eggerton realizes that collective self-defense and collective cooperation is a much better method than oppressive, institutional controls. Either way we read it, we get to a libertarian solution.
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