Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Marcuse on Dick’s Post-Apocalyptic World (Prompt 1)

Marcuse on Dick’s Post-Apocalyptic World

The one-dimensional society that Marcuse describes in the first part of his book lacks liberty, a “product of a sophisticated, scientific management,” in which reason and rationality are “the ideological counterpart[s] to the very material process in which advanced industrial society silences and reconciles the opposition.” This reliance on positivism, adopted by the affluent class, quickly becomes “a way of life” (Marcuse Chapter 1). For Deckard and Isidore, society on Earth after WWT becomes as mechanized as androids, a miserable structure lacking empathy with an emphasis on total empiricism and technological progress.

Modern readers have trouble swallowing the post-apocalyptic world: How could certain humans actually be left to die? Isidore, unable to colonize because exposure to genetically altering, radioactive dust has lowered his IQ, and deemed him unworthy of reproducing, an undesirable left in complete isolation. “That had been the ultimate incentive of emigration: the android servant as carrot, the radioactive fallout as stick. The U.N. made it easy to emigrate, difficult if not impossible to stay…once pegged a special, a citizen, even if accepting sterilization, dropped out of history” (Dick 13). Here we see how a society run by one dimension of thought, one objective, leaves individuals unable to distinguish between their needs and the needs of their society (or race) to progress. Essentially, we see a “social division of labor” and a “loss of livelihood” among individuals swept up in the promises of industrial society, the “false consciousness” that fosters “the possibility of new forms of existence” (Marcuse Chapter 1). A technologically structured society existed on Earth that destroyed most life, and then that same society capitalized from that destruction through colonization and the production of android slaves. Earth, used to harbor “specials” and for corporations to produce and make profit, is now for kipple. A new, even more technologically-structure society run by mechanized slavery and capitalism (resources derived from manufacturing on Earth), will flourish on Mars and Proxima. It will only consist of superior members of the human race, but who will all accept the consciousness perpetuated by its society: mass media and the strict rationality of technological progress seeps into the “mind and body of the individual,” and through indoctrination and manipulation, the repressed class fails to realize the totalitarian tendency to use technology as a mode for social control (Marcuse Prologue). I Isidore, a “chickenhead,” has no choice but to abide by the laws of a society already in place. The individual must accept the oppressive nature and “repressive power of the whole” (Marcuse Chapter 1).

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, there are a few forms of media that give insight into Dick’s one-dimensional society: the mood-enhancing machine, Buddy Friendly, and the empathy box. The mood enhancing machine works like a happy helmet, keeping individuals content with their imminent death to radiation poisoning, which we see doesn’t work with Iran, who would rather “feel hopeless about everything, about staying here on Earth after everybody who’s smart has emigrated” (Dick 3). Society has alienated Isidore in a different way, “stupefying work where it is no longer a real necessity” (Marcuse Chapter 1). He repairs electric animals that were literally built to keep up a ruse of social importance, to make people look human and empathetic, but which serve no greater purpose. Isidore does a futile job, and as Marcuse suggests, realizes “the need for modes of relaxation, the spiritual, metaphysical…[b]ut that such modes of protest and transcendence are no longer contradictory to the status quo” (Marcuse Chapter 1). We see Isidore’s “need” for entertainment satisfied by Buddy Friendly, and spiritual need satisfied by Mercerism and the empathy box. He says: I think Buster Friendly and Mercerism are fighting for control of our psychic souls…Buster is immortal like Mercer. There’s no difference” (Dick 67). This quote embodies what Marcuse describes as “false consciousness,” the manipulated ideology—with ethical permission based on pure reason, rather than empathy—could only be perpetuated by a society that prospers from its acceptance by the individuals that make up that society. Buster Friendly, who Isidore explains airs twenty-three hours a day must be an android, meaning that technology, created by a technocratic society to serve as information and entertainment for humans, is meant to represent the objectives of that technocratic society, and does so by monopolizing the broadcast. Mercerism, a type of religion that emphasizes human empathy by telling the story of a type of post-apocalyptic Christ character through an empathy box, allows viewers like Isidore to feel the same humiliation and pain as this central “outcast” character. Rachel Rosen/Pris tells Isidore that she’s never heard of Mercerism, but implies that its acceptance of “specials” is “it’s only objection” (Dick 59). As an emotional outlet for disabled human beings or outcasts, the empathy box and Mercer’s story give eternal hope to individuals, or what Marcuse calls “harmless negation,” when “one-dimensional thought is systematically promoted by the maker of politics and their purveyors of mass information” (Marcuse Chapter 1). The manufacturers of the empathy box fuel the contentment of a repressed class of citizens, allows them to accept the “cycle of life” and the restrictions imposed by a technologically obsessed society. “Deceptive liberty,” as Marcuse calls it, causes repressed individuals to mistake the society’s needs for their own, accepting the oppressive circumstances. For Isidore, who lives in an illusion of contentment, “there is only one dimension, and it is everywhere and in all forms.” It is the same dimension of thought, propelled by scientific rationality, that catapulted the Rosen Corporation into wealth, destroyed all hope for life on Earth, and left individuals like Isidore without any kind of social agency. The world Dick describes in his novel seems to depict a textbook example of a one-dimensional society.


Caia Caldwell said...


The idea of a one-dimensional society in comparison with Philip K. Dick’s novel is a good one, but it is also a board topic with numerous possibilities. If you decide to turn this essay into a revision, I would focus on perhaps one or two aspects of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” that make it a one-dimensional society. After picking a couple aspects, you could expand on those topics. In your current essay you touch on many topics: first you discuss a brief history of the post WWT Earth and colonies, and then the three Marcuse topics of “social division of labor” “loss of livelihood” “false consciousness” and “the possibility of new forms of existence.” Later, you also write on the media and technology that also makes Dick’s novel a great example of a one-dimensional society.
I think a strong revision would focus and expand on one or more of these topics. With each aspect you name, you can then elaborate on your point by providing examples. There is a wealth of possibilities within this topic, it just needs to be narrowed down.

Adam said...

Following (I think) what Caia said, the thing that both most impressed me and that I found ultimately somewhat problematic in this draft is the breadth of your reading. You are working (with good understanding, and many details!) broadly within both texts. This has substantial benefits - moving freely about both texts, picking numerous examples, you do a great job of illustrating a wide variety of ways in which this future society is one-dimensional (which ultimately comes down to the flattening or elimination of alternatives).

But because it's so broad and, in some ways, scattered, there are various questions I'd like to see answered. Is there any possibility in the novel for a second dimension of thought (negative thinking)? Do androids offer an alternative? What about Iran's "rebellion", however incomplete, or Isidore's thoughts on Mercer, etc.

Even more importantly, or more fundamentally - what does it mean to you that PKD does such a thorough job of imagining a one-dimensional society? Does it make Marcuse's critique of our society stronger or weaker? Does it make you question or turn upon aspects of our world - or is this an imagined version of a one-dimensional society which did not, in fact, take place.

In other words, I would like, like Caia, for you to be somewhat more focused in showing the world of the novel as one-dimensional. But even more, I want to understand why the one-dimensionality of the world of this novel matters, or where you go from there.