“The Exit Door Leads In” was originally published in Rolling Stone College Papers in Fall 1979. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 315–331.
Bob Bibleman orders a fastfood lunch from a robot at Earl’s Senior. While they wait for the order to come up the robot tries to upsell Bibleman into buying a ticket for a contest. First prize is the right to attend college at 2 trillion to one odds. Bibleman buys the ticket and wins. He knows immediately it is a set up in order to draft him into a military college for accepting the award is mandatory.
Bob Bibleman arrives at the military college and thinks about his life, which was not so bad before. He had an apartment, a decent job, and a girlfriend before he was suckered by a robot into attending a glorified forced-labor camp. Bibleman asks his supervisor, Major Cassals, if he could have avoided going. Cassals confirms that they would have gotten him some way.
Bibleman completes a set of entrance exams. He begins talking about the school with another new “student,” a red-haired girl named Mary Lorne, during the orientation sessions. During a lecture my Major Cassals about what information is considered classified and what can be openly discussed. Mary interrupts the lecture to complain about the commonplace knowledge required to mine titanium. Mining wurzite (which her father discovered) would be more impressive. Cassals moves on with his lecture and gives the example of the Panther Engine, which must remained secret. The system is set up to destroy any information it gets about the Panther Engine. Each student is assigned a different area of study. Bibleman is assigned “Cosmology Cosmogony Pre-Socratic.” Bibleman does not even know what this means, much less what use it will have for his career.
Bibleman is busy studying pre-Socartic philosophy through a computer terminal. He is bored, but the computer reminds Bibleman that he will be sent to jail if he fails college. The terminal recommends that Bibleman study Empedocles, who he may find more interesting. His thought dealt with the tension between love and conflict. During his study of this thinker, the schematics for the Panther Engine appeared on the terminal. He prints it out and wonders what to do with this information.
Bibleman talks to Mary about coming across the Panther Engine schematics. Bibleman did not understand the documents but knew enough to identify it as a cheap and near infinite source of energy. Bibleman could destroy the information, inform the authorities, publish the result for the public, or sell the schematics. He thinks that it was perhaps industry pressure that led to the suppression of this technology. Two military guards escort Bibleman to see Major Cassel. Cassel begins questioning him about his course of study and then the Panther Engine. Bibleman explained that they came up by accident. Cassel assures him that he will not be punished if he returns the copy. Bibleman decides he must think about what to do. After debating what he should do, he returns with the schematics and delivers the only copy to Cassel. Cassell immediately expels Biblelman from the college. Mary enters and tells him that she is the true representative of the school and that the Panther Engine schematics was a way they test all of their students. Bibleman failed because he submitted to authority instead of thinking for himself.
Back at home, Bibleman buys a meal at Earl’s Senior. When the bill comes up, he refuses to pay despite being threatened with going to jail. As Bibleman walks away the robot mentions how proud he is of Bibleman.
The 1979 story “The Exit Door Leads In,” written not that long after the Watergate scandal, is Dick’s declaration on the proper attitude of people toward state secrets. In this story, Bob Bibleman enters a military university. During his early days there he is told that classified secrets will come into his possession during his time there but that since the school was military, students who leaked the information could be tried under military courts. Everything about his early days at the school taught Bibleman that he was expected to respond to authority with deference and submission. Even his choice of specialization. He received the esoteric field of Pre-Socratic Cosmology. During his studies he comes across the plans for “The Panther Engine.” Bibleman faces a moral dilemma. He could oppose the authorities of the school and release the information, becoming rich, but that seemed to work against his training. He eventually returns the plans to the school authorities and is expelled. The conclusion of the story is more banal because the discovery of the secret plans is only a test to see if Bibleman is a subservient figure.
He learns his lesson and later breaks the law by refusing to pay for a fast food meal, but his natural subservience takes over again and he pays the robot for his meal. For Dick, Bibleman is one of the most dangerous people in the country (at least until he learned his lesson). It is a powerful point that Dick makes when he shows that the total subservience that makes Bibleman useless for the military college, which requires at least a baseline of critical thinking, is perfect for consumer society.
The story is also a powerful commentary on education. Mary, when lecturing the expelled Bibleman on his failure in the test talks about the real role of educational institutions. “The covert message of institutions is: ‘Submit to that which you psychologically construe as an authority.’ A good school trains the whole person; it isn’t a matter of data and information; I was trying to make you morally and psychologically complete. But a person can’t be commanded to disobey. You can’t order someone to rebel.” (329) When he learns about the true purpose of the school, Bibleman lets go of his resentment toward being forced into it and wants to stay. It is, however, too late for him. His rebellion will need to take place outside of the school doors, starting with stealing a meal.
Great clip by John Taylor Gatto on the purpose of education