The Empire Never Ended is a maxim used often by Philip K Dick, especially in his novel Valis (1978), but also throughout the philosophical journal the Exegesis (2011).
The Black Iron Prison (BIP) was PKD's term for the manipulative, modern, totalitarian System based on bureaucracy and propaganda.
What I personally derive from this is that The Roman Empire was an institutional structure, a System, that has continued to this day. But, while continuous in The West; The Empire has changed considerably - especially in response to the breaking-in of Christianity; which was profoundly at odds with The Empire.
My summary understanding of what happened (not that of PKD) is as follows: Jesus Christ and his posthumous followers were a transformative force acting upon The Empire. Initially there was no 'church' but Jesus's followers worked like a family, based on loving personal relationships and without any abstract institutional structure.
The first stage in assimilating Christianity was to create an institutional church which could take its place among the other institutions of The Empire (the Emperor and his bureaucracy, the Military, the state religion etc). But such was the spiritual power of Christianity, that its church rapidly grew to take-over the Empire as its primary system.
Over the centuries, however, The Empire first assimilated then dominated Christianity - in multiple ways; until from the 19th century The Empire began to eliminate Christianty from the public realm altogether - first with the Communist and Socialist totalitarian Systems, then with the whole of the world.
At this point - where Christianity became almost-wholly corrupt, of fully assimilated at the institutional level - The Empire became The Black Iron Prison - an atheist totalitarian and global bureaucracy.
Just this year of 2020; the process came to near completion, with Christian churches closed and suspending core activities across the whole world.
The Black Iron Prison has won.
Edited from Exegesis 19:34-5:
The BIP is a vast complex life form which protects itself by inducing a negative hallucination of it: muddled thinking, loss of faculties and perception (as a protective mechanism). It has come here and because of its defensive devices we are not aware of it.
This BIP a sinister life form indeed...
1. First it takes power over us, reducing us to slaves.
2. Then it causes us to forget our former state
3 And to be unable to see or think straight so that the BIP becomes invisible to us, by reason of what it has done to us.
4. But we don't even know that we cannot think straight.
5. We cannot even monitor our own deformity, our own impairment.
Even the edifice of the church has been subverted by the BIP and made into an instrument of its occlusion of us. Ii is interesting how effectively the impairment works. If you derange the brain in precise ways, not only will it be damaged, but it will be unaware that it is impaired and will not seek to rectify the damage.
My note: At this point the BIP has become a single, global, exclusive and self-perpetuating system - based on the positive feedback of mutual reinforcement.
There is a primary concealment of the BIP controllers by using human puppets; true motives are hidden by a labile-rotating and incoherent pseudo-morality (e.g. healthism, environmentalism, antiracism, sexual revolution etc...) to mask the true selfish and exploitative nature of The System.
All autonomous institutions or groups are destroyed or assimilated - including the primary, natural and spontaneous human groupings of marriage and family, neighbourhood and nation.
The defences of the system are manyfold and are underpinned by a false metaphysical monopoly; such that all 'evidence' (itself heavily controlled, and overwhelming in volume) is seen to conform to the rigid cultural assumption that excludes God/ Spirit/ Objective values; and the whole BIP functions on the exclusive assumption that this is a materialistic, positivistic, meaningless and purposeless world - in which autonomous life and consciousness are essentially epiphenomenal illusions.
Further interventions (justified by the metaphysics and pseudo-morality) themselves also impair thinking and suppress motivation. The BIP deploys addiction, and dependence (on distraction; stimulation, sedation, hallucination) from mass media, entertainments and actual drugs.
As a relief, and to rationalise suppression, the BIP adds intoxication (pharmacological and social - eg riots).
Most recently, there is the general strategy of imposed social isolation such that individuals are single units within the official System; by means of 'untouchable'-style social-distancing, prison-style lock-down, face-concealment, driving all of 'life' into the remote, demotivating abstractions of online communications and interaction.