Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Disloyal Cyborg

Cyborgs dominating humanity’s future is a very real possibility and most individuals envision their presence as a threat for one main reason: their inherent disloyalty. All of the robotic characters in Dick, Tiptree Jr., and Harway’s works tend to be selfish backstabbers. The androids work on a simple motto: Whatever benefits me, I will do it. Dick, Tiptree Jr., and Haraway all depict their fear of cyborgs in different ways, but the main theme is that cyborg’s cannot be trusted because they lack genuine, human loyalty.

Philip K. Dick’s androids are vicious creatures that do not trust anyone, even their fellow androids. After Isidore accepts the three androids into his apartment promising not to turn them in, Baty, the leader of the androids, says, “If he was an android, he’d turn us in about ten tomorrow morning. He’d take off for his job and that would be it. I’m overwhelmed with admiration.” (144) It is general knowledge among the androids that even among themselves there is an absence of loyalty. They would turn in one of their own kind in order to get what benefitted them. The androids epitomize the most selfish, disloyal person.

This is also displayed later in the novel when Pris dissects a spider, much to the chagrin of Isidore, the man who valued her as a friend. Dick writes, “Pris glanced up inquiringly. ‘Is it worth something?’ ‘Don’t mutilate it,’ he said wheezingly. Imploringly. With the scissors Pris snipped off one of the spider’s legs.’” Pris is merciless in the face of someone most people would respect in the same situation. She disregards the host’s requests to stop and mutilates the spider with pleasure. Her grotesque curiosity outweighs any sense of loyalty and this distinguishes her as an android.

In The Girl Who Was Plugged In, the protagonist is a cyborg controlling another cyborg body. P. Burke, the controller of Delphi, eventually associates more with Delphi than with her body trapped in a basement in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Later, she starts to resist the commands from the company that built her. After complaining about some of the products she has to endorse, the superviser, Mr. McCantle responds, “What does she think she is, a goddam consumer rep?” (31) The character’s rebellious behavior and her status as a former human allow the reader to empathize with the protagonist. She is still expected to show more gratitude and loyalty to her creators, but this story really draws the question, “Is it just for us to expect loyalty from cyborgs?”

Harrway’s A Cyborg Manifesto provides a direct reflection upon loyalty and robots. The author writes, “The main trouble with cyborgs is that they are illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers are, after all, inessential.” This is my main fear of cyborgs: they resemble humans, yet lack the loyalty that is common of humanity. They lack loyalty because they were created artificially, by people expecting to only gain from their creations. But as Haraway notes, the robot is born from the womb of selfishness and should be expected to embody those characteristics. She writes, ““In a sense the cyborg has no origin story in the western sense – a ‘final’ irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the ‘West’s’ escalating domination of abstract individualism, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space.”

The reason this theme of disloyal cyborgs pervading our society is so frightening is because it is already happening. In Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, she assures the reader that there is no separation between science fiction and reality. I feel that this is especially apparent now. If a prior generation was deemed the ‘Me-First’ generation, then the current generation should be deemed the ‘I can’t hear you because I’m plugged into my i-Pod, which is subsequently plugged into my computer’ generation. We, as a culture, are learning from our computers more than we are learning from our grandfathers. The indirect connection between humanity and computers replaces direct face-to-face interaction, a type of interaction which builds empathy and loyalty. Each child being taught by a computer is becoming the ‘ultimate self untied at last from all dependency;’ dependency on direct human interaction, which would lead to gratitude, loyalty to an instructor (like a mother or father). One by one, we become ‘a man in space,’ but space is the internet, the television, and any hollow void which makes someone grateful for their technology, rather than loyal to their fathers.


JamesGz said...

Ah Yes, this is my graded blog entry #8. I always forget!

Adam Johns said...

This is a great respond especially to PKD's paranoia (don't take it wrong if I call your post paranoid - I mean it in a good way...).

One curiosity in your analysis of PKD: you give the example of Pris's mauling of the spider, but other than that (which is directed against an animal, not a human), are you working with any _evidence_ that androids are disloyal as compared to humans, or is that just what all of the characters _assume_? Assumptions are dangerous in this novel.

Your brief discussion of Tiptree and Haraway is rewarding, and well connected to the ipod generation. Still, you might have elaborated on this connection more. While from one point of view, your generation (and mine, to an extent) might seem to be nothing but a bunch of "men in space," on the other hand what to people use all of this connectivity for but communication? You're right that this communication represents a break from the past, even a scary one, but I don't think you're working with your own response as much as you could. Why do you see this as a frightening development, and as a separation from those who have gone before? In particular, you might have said more about why the prospect of being more apart from our grandfathers (interesting that you say grandfather and not grandmother) so frightening?

This is provocative, but I would have liked it to go a little farther.