Monday, January 30, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Narrative and Technology
26 January 2012
The parallels between Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? smack you in the face within the first four pages of Marcuse and the first three chapters of Dick. The most basic parallel of which being set with the statement that Marcuse makes is on page xli of the book, and the second paragraph of the introduction for anybody else. Marcuse states that “the political needs of society become individual needs and aspirations,” (p. xli, Marcuse). Whether or not I wholeheartedly agree with this is another question (which I will get to later on in this entry), but what we’re looking at in comparison to Dick’s novel lines up almost directly. The government on Earth and of the new colonies on Mars is trying to convince the citizens of Earth and the new citizens of the new colonies that Mars is the place to be. That if one does not inhabit Mars, then you are considered a “special” citizen, and not in the glittering way we typically associate with the word, “special.”
They invest in media outlets covering this in big, frontline articles and features on the news, in advertisements on every TV channel and billboard, and even in the manner in which they “allow” their citizens to manifest artificial animals. They do the latter since the real animals are dwindling with the toxins that now blanket Earth, but more subtly as a tactic to get the citizens to think and believe that they belong in the colonies. In doing this, they are forcing the citizens to live vicariously through the colonized citizens which, in theory, do have the real animals. In doing this, the government is in turn forcing the Earth citizens to recognize that they “belong” in a colony. Yet, they make these thoughts and notions seem as though they are purely conceived individually and altruistically while they are 100% intentionally planted, almost akin to the manner in which The Matrix lays things out for the viewer.
Another thing to look at here is the manner in which they label the Earth citizens as “special.” The government does so in a way that forbids the men and women from emigrating to a colony even if they wanted to. This is made obvious in chapter 2 of Dick’s novel as John Isadore describes his existence as a “special.” The forbidden emigration in turn only makes the emigration more desirable as the victim can no longer attain the hard-to-reach as it has now become the absolute unattainable. It is a tactic also done completely intentionally by the government to make the rest of the citizens on Earth desire the government’s band-aid for a mistake even further. And through the right amount and right mediums of advertising and propaganda, they can effectively get their message across that, in this situation, emigrating to the Mars colonies is naturally (I say that word, “naturally,” laced with sarcasm) every citizen’s wants, hopes, dreams, desires and more importantly, an absolute necessity to survive.
As stated above, whether or not I believe this notion of politics and society which Marcuse lays out to be absolute is another story. I think that many times the society makes their wants, needs and aspirations into what the government works for. Or maybe that’s what they want us to believe.
Throughout Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we are presented with several ways of looking at the novel. Whether it is at face value of a man trying to capture and “retire” androids or a more philosophical reasoning. During chapter 1 of Marcuse’s text, he says “intellectual freedom would mean the restoration of individual thought now absorbed by mass communication and indoctrination.” This can easily be used to develop a better understanding Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The first sign of intellectual oppression and the fight that is waged on throughout this novel is in the first chapter when Iran scheduled “a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” (p.2). This is a rebel act because they have the power to just skip emotions, and “dial” whatever feelings they wanted to enjoy. Iran, in contrast to the women of Frankenstein, is active in the process of rebelling against the societal norms. She recalls hearing “the emptiness intellectually”, when talking about turning on the television. This is critical in Marcuse’s thought that to obtain intellectual freedom, you must fight off the “mass communication and indoctrination” of our time. Once she felt this emptiness, she rejects the thought to use her “Penfield mood organ” to adjust how she is feeling(p.3); instead she decides to do something unheard of, she scheduled her six-hour depression session. Her rebelliousness startles Rick, for Rick himself is at this point completely enveloped in the indoctrination. He decides to “dial” her setting that indoctrinates her to have “pleased acknowledgment of [her] husband’s superior wisdom in all matters.” (p.5). So right from the beginning, the novel is started off in a war for intellectual freedom. As I mentioned before, Iran is not just a passive woman, she is willing to fight for what she believes is right for her. She clearly is on her way to becoming free, if not on the threshold already, for on page 83 when Rick phoned Iran, she was experiencing the “six-hour self-accusatory depression which she had prophesied”. This confused Rick, as he is not accustom to this rebelliousness that his wife is displaying. The beauty of this is not the fact that she is depressed, because that in itself is sad, but the fact that she is achieving freedom. If she wants to be depressed she is allowed to be depressed, she isn’t just going to be happy all the time, because that is not truly normal.
Isidore is someone else who is not quite along the road to freedom that Iran is. In fact Isidore, starts his journey during the beginning of the novel. In the first few chapters while he is still alone, we learn just how confused he is, because of indoctrination and mass media. He believes in a religion of sorts called Mercer. Where he is connected with everyone, but because he is connected with everyone, he is in fact at a loss of intellectual freedom. We are introduced to him as a “chickenhead” or a “special” (p.15), which means his IQ is not very high. However, that is what makes him so impressive of a character. Throughout the novel, we see him very little, but every time we do he is making great strides toward breaking through the bonds of intellectual oppression. Isidore is a tool for us to see into the indoctrination of mercer, and the fight that mercer is having with Buster, the universal television broadcaster.Isidore provides us an interesting insight to how there is a war between the two when he has a conversation with his boss Mr. Sloat. Isidore believes, with good reason that “Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our psychic souls” (p.67). This is a direct relation with what Marcuse is saying about breaking free from the people trying to control you. At the end of their discussion, they come to a consensus that “Buster is immortal, like Mercer” and in fact, “There’s no difference” (p. 67). They are immortal, because they are trying to control the people of earth, and thus will continue on forever until the people of earth are able to liberate themselves from that bond they have created with Mercer and Buster.
Without Isidore, we lose sight of how bad it really has become on Earth and how much he is able to change in a short amount of time. As he is a chickenhead, the general populous feel as though he truly is below them. In fact when Mr. Sloat wants Isidore to phone the owner, even Isidore believes that he can’t do it because he’s “hairy, ugly, dirty, stooped, snaggle-toothed and gray” (p. 69). The thought of having to deal with someone outside of his normality, scares him into feeling like he is “going to die” (p.69). This is why he is so sensitive to the indoctrination of Mercer and Buster, however we see that once he calls the owner and doesn’t make a complete idiot out of himself that he gains confidence in himself. He then takes semi-charge and decides to “call them now before it starts to decay” (p.73). If Isidore can become more confident then, it shows that everyone on Earth smarter than him can start to shake the chains of oppression.
*note that my page numbers are slightly different than those we use in class*
January 26, 2012
Blog 3, Prompt 1
In Chapter one of Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man he talks about a time in which “continued progress would demand the radical subversion of the prevailing direction and organization of progress.” He goes on the say that, “This stage would be reached when material production (including the necessary services) becomes automated to the extent that all vital needs can be satisfied while necessary labor is reduced to marginal time. From this point on, technical progress would transcend the realm of necessity.” In Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? we find our characters have already reached this point in history, even their mood is programmed for them through their personal “mood organs”. (Chapter 1 paragraph 1) This lack of the basic human emotion is important because through the book it is hard to imagine these people as real because they “dial up” their emotions at will. They seem to lack the ability to conjure motions of their own because they are always reliant on a machine to do so. That would in my opinion constitute technology that is “transcends the realm of necessity.”
More importantly than that we see these “dialed-in” humans, that indeed are controlled to some degree by machines, hunting human-like machines. Who is to say that had Rick not dialed in the will to perform his job well, that he would even bother trying to remedy the problem. Had the androids been given a mood machine maybe they would be capable of feeling empathy, or in reverse people without the machines would find it hard to feel empathy at all.
Rick and other characters exhibit a lot of the qualities that Marcuse says defines a “one dimensional” person. For example they are completely dependent on the government as the sole provider of nearly everything. They have even taken control of the media “the government in Washington, with its colonization program, constituted the sole sponsor which Isidore found himself forced to listen to.” (Chapter 2 ~ paragraph 10) Rick works for the government and follows their orders to hunt and kill these androids, regardless of whether or not they are currently causing any harm.
Throughout Marcuse’s piece we also see a lot about this homogeneous society in which “The more rational, productive, technical, and total, the repressive administration of society becomes, the more unimaginable the means and ways by which the administered individuals might break their servitude and seize their own liberation.” Isidore is a prime example of this kind of thinking, he spends his time doing what it is the government has deemed him worthy of. There is even a “minimal mental faculties test,” (Chapter 2 ~paragraph15) that people are required to take that determines their worthiness based on intelligence that the prevailing government has decided is important.
(my apologizes for the odd citation I have an e-copy of the book right now and it does not have page numbers.)
The false needs that Herbert Marcuse refers to in One-Dimensional Man are “needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, [and] to love and hate what others love and hate.”(Marcuse, Chapter 1) In my opinion, the most striking of these false needs is that of needing “to love and hate what others love and hate.” It is this false need that imprisons humans the most, rebelling against free thought. These false needs are what could bring humans to the end of what makes us human, and I believe that Philip Dick’s novel is a scarily true, although perhaps exaggerated, representation of what society could become if humans subject themselves to these false needs.
What I have identified as false needs presented in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are the material possessions of an empathy box, a mood organ, and animals, whether real or synthetic. None of these items qualify as “true needs” according to Marcuse’s definition. In fact, all three of these possessions relate to the primary examples of false needs described by Marcuse.
The mood organ is a particularly disturbing device in the novel, as it shows that society has gone even further beyond strangling free thought, and has entered the realm of allowing humans to sacrifice their own emotions in favor of selecting an emotion one believes best suits themselves at that particular moment. The creation of this device creates a new false need for humans, one that has the potential to completely manipulate people into being satisfied with how things are at any point in time, regardless of the actual circumstances. The need for such a device is yet another perfect example of one which “perpetuates toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice,” in almost perfect representation. This device literally can perpetuate such things via its control of emotions. However, I believe there is hope for the humans in Dick’s novel. After Rick successfully “retires” Polokov, he is capable of feeling positive emotions without the use of his mood organ. He is capable of slipping into “hungry, gleeful anticipation.”(Dick, 94)
Animals can certainly be considered as a false need in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. In this novel, everyone is familiar with their “Sidney’s Animal and Foul”, a monthly subscription to the costs of owning an animal. Owning an animal has become less of a privilege, and more of a need in this modern society. This is so true, that it is embarrassing to not own one, to the point that there is a major business in creating false animals that are designed to pass off as real ones. Rick’s neighbor Barbour explains how important it is by saying, “But they’ll look down on you…You know how people are about no taking care of an animal; they consider it immoral and empathic.”(Dick, 11) Barbour is a perfect example of a human that oppressed by his false needs, so much that he feels the need to explain to Rick that it is important that no one else knows about Rick’s artificial sheep.
The concept of an Empathy Box in the first place screams false need, as it is a commercial item that is used to link oneself to the feelings of others. This directly correlates to the false need of loving and hating what others love and hate. In possibly an even more blatant example of how One-Dimensional Man can be used in conjunction with this novel is that Marcuse states that false needs are “the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice.”(Marcuse, Chapter 1) The fact that this machine has the capability to physically harm those who use it, even occasionally to the point of death is mind-blowing, considering how John Isidore swears by it. Isidore claims, “an empathy box…is the most personal possession you have! It’s an extension of your body.”(Dick, 64) This excitement that Isidore has for the machine is even further explained by Marcuse when he states, “Their satisfaction might be most gratifying to the individual, but this happiness is not a condition which has to be maintained and protected if it serves to arrest the development of the ability…to recognize the disease of the whole and grasp the chances of curing the disease.”(Marcuse, Chapter 1) This practice of relying on the empathy box in order to feel these emotions IS this disease Marcuse speaks of. The humans in Dick’s novel have no chance of surpassing the need to use the empathy box if they never realize that the empathy box is in fact, NOT necessary in order to sustain life.
This desire to foster and express a shallow "empathy" in order to gain social status is a clear example of what Marcuse, in The One-Dimensional Man, calls "false needs." He defines false needs as "those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his
repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and
injustice." The false need to constantly express the outer signs of empathy keeps the members of Dick's society, first, working endlessly in order to afford new and better animals, and to maintain the ones they have. Second, contrary to the genuine emotion of empathy which the false empathy of Mercerism serves to replace, it actually instills aggressiveness by increasing the population's disdain for androids and schizophrenic "specials" who are incapable of expressing this kind of conspicuous empathy, due to their own biology or lack therof. Third, and most insidiously, it keeps the government's program of eugenics - the labeling, sterilization, and binding to Earth of specials - unquestioned. It does this through Mercerism's proud claims to include even specials into its fold, quieting any rebellious attitudes they might have by instilling in them a feeling of gratitude for being able to follow Mercer's messianic journey through their empathy boxes. This is made clear when Isidore accidentally reveals himself as a special to Pris:
Marcuse describes "false needs" as having "a societal content and function which are determined by external powers over which the individual has no control." This is absolutely true for the world Dick has created in his novel. The characters are bombarded, constantly, with media imploring them to move offworld, to practice Mercerism, and to care for animals. Buster Friendly's comedy program, which broadcasts 46 hours of content per day including both its radio and television broadcasts, is obviously not made by a real human being. Besides his impossible level of productivity, his recurring guests seem to have no other lives except to return to his program again and again. Mr. Sloat, the owner of the electric animal repair company, speculates on pagen 74 that this is possible because Buster Friendly is a superior lifeform from another galaxy. The more likely answer, of course, is that Buster Friendly is simply a name used by several actors (or androids) who produce the show under government direction (the government being the last remaining producer of media on Earth) for the purpose of instilling the mass of listeners with false needs via advertising and ideologically biased content.
Dick's book, therefore, takes Marcuse's vision of a world dominated by false needs to an absurd extreme through science-fiction technology, and presents to us some of the clear dangers of allowing our emotions and our inner desires to be governed entirely by external, mechanized forces.
When reading the Marcuse text, I came upon a quote on the very first page of the introduction I thought to be very interesting that could be applied to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The quote stated: “And yet society is irrational as a whole. Its productivity is destructive of the free development of human needs and faculties, its peace maintained by the constant threat of war, its growth dependant on the repression of the real possibilities for pacifying the struggle for existence-individual, national, and international. “ With this quote, I feel that it sort of perpetuates societies’ post apocalyptic attitude on life it self, even though it mostly describes war. I feel that it also reflects on how terrible life is on earth, a place once abundant with life and buzzing with entertainment, now desolate and depressing.
Applying this quote to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, one takes a look at now the post-apocalyptic Earth while reading and can see how it affects each person’s/character’s attitude and outlook on life. We see Rick in the very beginning of the story, using a mood simulator to make himself feel better and prepare himself for the day ahead. Now his wife had one as well, but these machines help the characters simulate behavior, thus simulate their own attitudes for the day. We also see his wife simulate depression for the day. Why would one want to simulate depression when they have this technology at their disposal? This to me shows the decline in attitude of all the characters in the novel.
One other aspect we can see when it comes to interesting, possibly negative attitude is Rick and his obsession with wanting a real animal. Rick prided himself on having a real sheep in the past, but now tries to pass off his mechanical one as a real one. The obsession with animals in this book fascinates me, and it just shows that even though some people might be fortunate enough to have animals (Rick, Barbour), some crave for more, or for real animals. One would think that in a post-apocalyptic society that the factor of a pet wouldn’t really make too much of a difference, but Rick is willing to pay for a horse, one of the most expensive animals to buy, just to “fit in” or satisfy his desire. He could afford a house pet, such as a cat, but as stated on page 12: “I don’t want a domestic pet. I want what I originally had, a large animal.” Is it greed compelling him to want more? Is it just madness? An interesting point to think about per say when reading more of the book later on.
I like how Marcuse talks about “individual”, “class”, “private”, and “family”. He uses these in quotations because these do not exist in his “society” that he describes; they only “become descriptive, deceptive, or operational terms”. I agree with this statement, along with the declining attitudes in this story, we do not see any of these in the story, except the “individual”. I would not consider Rick and his wife to be a family, they are so distant and their relationship so “simulated” that I would just consider it to be Rick and Rick alone. I would say this contributes to Rick’s attitude greatly. He is alone on a planet that is almost inexistent, a world consumed by fallout, androids, and danger at every corner.
Another interesting proposition of the quote stated above about the “individual” or the “family” is could one say that there is even a “society” on Earth at the moment? We can clearly see on the colony planets that there is a booming and intellectual society, but can we say the same for earth. Of course there are jobs, and economy, and individuals to participate in all of them, but can we really call it a society? This society is comprised of normal humans, “chickenheads” (mentally deficient humans), and androids. Humans participate on earth, trying to live as normal as possible, earning a living and so on, but he other 2 categories of this society really have no other purpose to this society. The androids are in constant hiding, and the “chickenheads” are mentally insane. Sure, we saw the one example of John Isidore, a “chickenhead” who holds his own, but he is still an outcast, just like the other ones, not acceptable by any means. This “society” or the lack of would forcefully contribute to a declining attitude about life.
When reading the Marcuse text and applying it to our novel, we see many good applications of his theories. Marcuse knew what was going that occur before any of us, and we still have much more to go. As for the attitude of characters in this book, we can see that the first quote is a good representation of how the characters live. They are constantly in fear, stricken with grief, and hoping for a better tomorrow, although this is highly unlikely.
“We may distinguish both true and false needs. "False" are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice.”
Prior to this conclusion, Marcuse presents an argument that if society continues down the path currently set, our needs will no longer be the basics of food, water and shelter because all of these things can be handed to us through our mastery of delegating tasks to automated means. Our true needs will be to free ourselves from the political, economical and social machines that come from these great luxuries. He shows concern that simple freedoms like freedom of thought and freedom from government oppression may be lost because of our complete dependence on the machines provided to us. It is almost a sleight of hand by society; while we accept the benefits of our technology, the technology creates new problems and stress such that we are no more satisfied than when we were before. These problems, while certainly not as detrimental as dying from starvation, still create a riff in our own inner beings. An individual may feel isolated or inadequate due to the social pressures we now have time to implement.
This relates well to the near-futuristic society portrayed in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. This world has been ravaged by another, and likely final, world war. Nuclear fallout sweeps across the land and exposure to the surface over time transforms humans into “special” undesirables. The world is barely inhabitable, so a colonization of Mars occurred to save us as a species. Despite all of this, the people living on the surface live in extreme excess by our standards. Those with even a mediocre job can afford hovercars, radiation suits, and even a machine that automatically alters your mood to even the most specific feeling. Their technology is so incredible, that it can even force you to feel happy and fulfilled! Despite a scorching war, these people are better off than we are as a society today. Yet, there is still a sense of misery in the opening chapters of the novel. Rick Dekard, the protagonist, still feels unfulfilled and inadequate as a member of society. Some reasons are similar to problems we see today, such as fears that he does not make enough money or that his relationship with his wife is faltering. However, neither of these are his main source of stress and neither fully dictate his motives. The most important thing to him is to own an animal, most specifically a large animal, as everybody has one in this society and it is a sign of status. It is so important to him, that he even has a fake, robotic sheep made so that he fits in with his neighbors. As Marcuse wisely predicted, having enough food to eat, or a job, or surviving after a nuclear war or even a mood-enhancing machine does not satisfy Dekard. He can only be vindicated through animal ownership, because that is the common social pressure in his time and place. The precedent of owning a large animal as a status symbol is a completely unnecessary. It is not a true need, as Rick could survive without it. However, the social pressure and the issues that stem from it, such as disappointing his wife or being thought less of by his neighbors, cause him more misery and is a driving force for the narrative.
Most alarming about Marcuse’s predictions is that we as readers may not continually question Dekard’s motives because we have things in our society today that reflect the social measuring stick of animal ownership in Dekard’s society. It’s easy to identify with Dekard’s lust for an animal, as it could easily represent our own lust for an expensive car or a big house. Neither of these things affect our survival, we don’t need them. We are not content with our own shelter or standard of living. We constantly subscribe to the labor machine to trade our freedom of time for more physical goods. While it’s easy to judge Dekard for his need to “Keep up with the Jones’s” or possibly flat out greed, the reflection of his actions on us is both disturbing and thought provoking.
True and False Needs: Humans vs. Androids?
Let us cross examine Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” with Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Looking at both of these works, we see that they both take a good look at society, Marcuse examining systems like capitalism and topics like societal control, while Dick projects into the year 2021, examining human life in a post war climate where the earth itself is currently becoming less and less sustainable.
In Chapter One of “One Dimensional Man,” Marcuse introduces the idea of “true and false needs.” True needs being those that are absolutely essential to life, and false needs are those which are “superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice”(Marcuse, Chapter One). We can use the idea of false needs to examine some of the societal elements in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
The keeping of animals immediately springs to my mind. Because of the almost apocalyptic conditions of this nearly post-earth, many animals are rare or even extinct, and owning one becomes a status symbol. As early as the first chapter of Dick’s novel we see one of the main characters, Rick Deckard, fretting over owning an electric sheep rather than a real living animal. His jealousy over his neighbor’s pregnant horse is obvious, and while he is ashamed of owning a electric animal, he attempts to guilt his neighbor into selling him one of his horses since owning more than one animal would be considered a violation of the principals of “Mercerism.”
These false needs repress Deckard, trapping him and leaving him unbalanced in societal expectations. “The prevalence of repressive needs is an accomplished fact, accepted in ignorance and defeat, but a fact that must be undone in the interest of the happy individual as well as all those whose misery is the price of his satisfaction” (Marcuse, Chapter 1).
We can construe the desire of owning an animal as a mere “false need” but the underlying issue at hand very much has to do with the true human need of affection. Rick craves a real animal because his electric sheep is incapable of reciprocity, incapable of empathy. According to Mercerism, empathy is what separates humans from androids, true life from false life.
However, the once black and white line between humans and androids becomes skewed as the story develops. There are characters like John Isidore who are considered “chicken heads,” humans that do not have the same mental capabilities as other humans, and are therefore lesser beings. Then there is Rachael Rosen, an android nearly capable of passing for a human being.
This is where the human idea of empathy becomes muddled. Although Rachael failed questioning from the Voigt-Kampff scale, her simulated responses were close to actual human responses. As part of the questioning, Rick tells Rachael his briefcase is made of babyhide. Her response is intriguing: “He saw the two dial indicators gyrate frantically. But only after a pause. The reaction had come, but too late” (Dick, 59). At this moment, Rachel herself finds out she is an android, and seems unsure of how to process the new information. She resists the comforting touch of Eldon, which can either be taken as a human or inhuman reaction. She is a new breed, a Nexus-6, one which at this point in the story we are incapable of fully discovering.
Perhaps in the coming chapters, as we examine Rachael in fuller detail, we can see if she is purely androidal, without desire of false, repressive needs, or if androids dream of their own repressive needs, maybe even electric sheep.
So Lonely: Technology Fostering Loneliness in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
After World War Terminus, it’s hard to imagine that people would be able to bounce back to normal in society. In the first chapter of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, “One-Dimensional Society,” he discusses advanced industrial civilization. Specifically, he addresses the concept of alienation that can be the product of technology creating a sort of societal control. Marcuses’ conclusions about how technology can result in an advanced form of alienation when they lose their identity and just blend in with society resonates with Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, with the best example being J.R. Isidore, whose story is interwoven within Rick Deckard’s.
J.R. Isidore is a special, or genetically damaged being who cannot leave earth, living alone in his apartment. When he turns off his television, he experiences an overwhelming silence that “supplants all things tangible” (Dick 18). The silence for him, which is something that also covers the earth now, consumes him.
He wondered, then, if the others who had remained on Earth experienced the void this way …He lived alone in this deteriorating, blind building of a thousand uninhabited apartments, which like all its counterparts, fell, day by day, into greater entropic ruin. Eventually everything within the building would merge, would be faceless and identical, mere pudding-like kipple piled to the ceiling of each apartment. And after that, the uncared-for building itself would settle into shapelessness, buried under the ubiquity of the dust. By then, naturally, he himself would be dead, another interesting event to anticipate as he stood here in his stricken living room alone with the lungless, all-penetrating, masterful world-silence. (Dick 20-21)
Silence is something that will eventually take over all of humanity left on earth. Isidore’s passage notes that the silence is entropic. In the novel, the characters sense the entropy of the earth as they almost destroy all of humankind. The silence that represents the alienation that people experience will prevent the organization of the chaos that resulted after World War Terminus. Marcuse calls alienation “questionable” a few times because it’s a more elaborate concept. The reality of alienation is at a further stage, one in which the subject is “swallowed up by its alienated existence” (Marcuse 6).
Isidore’s attachment to technology is his empathy box, which connects the people into a collective consciousness that shares the pain of Wilbur Mercer, who took an infinite walk up a mountain as people cast stones at him. Marcuse, before his conclusion about the definition of alienation, says when people are confronted with the advanced industrial civilization, they tend to “recognize themselves in their commodities” and that is how social control is anchored. In order to avoid the anxiety of the silence in his deteriorating apartment, Isidore resorts to his empathy box. “As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets. He experienced them, the others, incorporated the babble of their thoughts, heard in his own brain the noise of their many individual existences. They—and he—cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities....” (Dick 20). Marcuse discusses the concept of introjection within his discussion of alienation. He talks about the way that “introjection” is perhaps not the best description of how people perpetuate society’s controls. Because Isidore, and others, are consciously using the empathy box, maintain their own awareness, but are also aware of others. So it would be fitting to conclude that introjection is not the correct term to use because, like Marcuse says, Isidore does not have an inner dimension that is separate from the behavior of the rest of the people.
Dick’s presentation of Isidore presents the idea that technology has an alienating effect that causes humans to want to create a form of social collectiveness. “The manifold processes of introjection seem to be ossified in almost mechanical reactions. The result is, not adjustment but mimesis: an immediate identification of the individual with his society and, through it, with the society as a whole” (Marcuse 5). World War Terminus was the product of a lack of social collectiveness, with humans behaving toward one another as predators. But the technology that destroyed the earth now contributes to an alienation effect that Mercerism tries to solve by providing a void to isolated people. A failure to identify with others will mean that people will suspect one another of being androids.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
In the prologue of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse makes a particularly interesting argument, claiming that modern technological society, which demands rationality, is in fact irrational. He then goes on to note that “...The distinction between true and false consciousness…still is meaningful…Men must come to see it and to find their way from false to true consciousness, from their immediate to their real interest. They can do so only if they live in need of changing their way of life, of denying the positive, of refusing. It is precisely this need which the established society manages to repress to the degree to which it is capable of ‘delivering the goods’ on an increasingly large scale, and using the scientific conquest of nature for the scientific conquest of man”(Marcuse, Introduction). The statement explains a considerable portion of Phillip K. Dick’s San Francisco in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; specifically, the nature of man’s relationship with technology.
Throughout the entire novel, animals are a recurring motif, with real animals being significantly more valued than their mechanical counterparts. Deckard notes how “…The electric animal…could be considered…a vastly inferior robot. Or conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the ersatz animal. Both viewpoints repelled him”(Dick, 40). He views the living as having a kind of having a kind of quality that the “nonliving”, even when otherwise identical, does not have, reflecting the meaningfulness Marcuse claims with regard to living and nonliving consciousnesses. Deckard views the nonliving consciousness as lacking this quality, which leads to his complete and utter contempt for androids and providing him with a reason to hunt them down and terminate them. “…an escaped humanoid robot, which had killed its master…which had no regard for animals…epitomized the killers”(30).
The aforementioned quality that the novel explicitly states in its distinguishing between human and android is empathy. The Voigt-Kampff test relies on this important factor, as empathy, which is strictly in the domain of the living consciousness Marcuse describes, prevents androids from experiencing the same kind emotion a human being feels when increasingly-scarce animals are being placed in harmful situations. Empathy is both a natural and a human quality, like all other emotional experiences. Or so it seems.
Even if it may be explicitly “human”, Dick makes it absolutely clear within the first pages of his novel that emotions have become increasingly more artificial with the invention of the mood organ, which allows an individual to control feelings with the pressing of three buttons. Iran, Deckard’s wife notes at one point how she “…was in a 382 mood”, but “…how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life…and not reacting…that used to be considered a sign of mental illness; they called it ‘absence of appropriate affect.’ So [she] left the TV sound off…and [she] experimented. And [she] finally found a setting for despair”(3). The Penfield mood organ serves two purposes for Iran: it allows her to experience emotions at any point in time for any reason and acts as a coping mechanism to help remind her of normal human emotions that have been lost or damaged due to desensitization created by a post-apocalyptic society. She represents the “bridging of the gap” between human and android emotions, disproving any distinction in feelings between the true and false consciousness that Marcuse’s treatise describes as unproven.
Marcuse’s concept of irrationality in an increasingly-more-technological world becomes obvious when considering that humans created androids after an act of man, nuclear war, devastated the world and destroyed most of nature. They responded to the realization that technology can be powerful beyond the limits of human control by creating technology that could easily threaten the entire dominance of the human species. Then once governments realized that the new technology, androids, could pose this extreme danger, they ordered bounty hunters like Rick Deckard to hunt down the consequences of their failures. The complete and utter inability for humanity to learn from its mistakes casts extreme doubt on the idea of mankind as a rational species and heavily supports the notion that the more man is exposed to technology, the more he seeks to conquer nature, with disastrous results ensuing.
Marcuse’s ideas of real and false consciousness and humanity’s irrational relationship with technology can be applied to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in many ways. And in these ways the novel reflects the most important parts of this increasingly-important relationship as time goes on.