Marcuse focuses a fair section of the first chapter of One Dimensional Man to describing an individual’s needs in a modern, mechanized society. He sums up his perspective on modern needs by saying:
“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.