Thursday, January 26, 2012

Blog #3 Prompt #1- Ben Fellows

In Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man he states, “The most effective and enduring form of warfare against liberation is the implanting of material and intellectual needs that perpetuate obsolete forms of the struggle for existence.” (Marcuse, Chapter 1) These material and intellectual needs are classified by Marcuse as “false needs”. As I understand it, what Marcuse is saying is that one’s belief that they require things other than the most basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, is a belief brainwashed upon them by society itself. Although this concept was established by Marcuse in 1964, I believe it still holds true both today and in the future setting of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I find it interesting that Philip Dick’s novel was published only 4 years apart from Marcuse’s and, as such, it would make sense that concepts from One-Dimensional Man apply to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and help the reader to understand the Philip Dick’s novel in a clearer way.

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.


RJ said...

This is a good essay that touches on most of the key points. I think you could talk a lot more about Isidore beyond just his relationship with the empathy box, though. Also, I wonder if it's really a good thing that Rick feels those positive emotions after killing an android (which is an act that is extremely morally ambiguous in the novel itself). You could definitely clear that up more.

Adam said...

The implication of the second half of the first paragraph is that PKD was operating under the influence of Marcuse more or less directly: this would be an interesting topic to pursue, although not an easy one. The other thing to note about the first paragraph is that it doesn't really yet have an argument, although it's interesting enough.

One thing to note about the 2nd paragraph is that Marcuse's argument *is* that we subject ourselves totally to these false needs. You aren't obliged to think through whether we actually do or not - but again, in the absence of a clear argument, it's a possible starting point.

In the third paragraph, an actual argument emerges - although it begs the question of why the presence of these particular false needs is important to our reading of the novel - what changes when we recognize these false needs?

Taken separately, I thought your discussions of both the empathy box and the mood organ were well done, interesting, and clearly rooted in Marcuse. I especially liked how you worked with the hysterical irony of the idea that an object which erases differences between people actually is the most personal thing you possess.

While I think you have good readings of two objects in the novel, and I also think that most of the preceding material was interesting, even if unfocused, the whole is less than the parts. The whole thing needed to cohere better. The best way to do that, I think, would be to focus on either the empathy box or the mood organ (or, if you must, both) right from the very beginning, and from the very beginning clarifying what it means, or why it matters, that we can draw such clear lines connecting Marcuse with the novel.

There's a lot of potential here - but you can't do it all, and if you revise, you need to tighten your focus greatly.