“Such a society may justly demand acceptance of its principles and institutions, and reduce the opposition to the discussion and promotion of alternative policies within the status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse).
When I began reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, I found myself fixated on the Herbert Marcuse quote listed above. While Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep presents the reader with a futuristic earth void of all we as humans currently take for granted, namely animals and non-toxic air, it also presents but another “status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). As accepted by its inhabitants as our current earth is by us, it perfectly illustrates the human tendency to follow the instructions of those people or institutions superior to us as individuals. It seems in our very nature to adapt to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Rather than changing, or adapting our societal hierarchies to fit our will, we change ourselves.
The first few pages of Dick’s novel confronts the reader with a reality in which one’s very mood is able to be manipulated to suit any particular circumstance that presents itself. While the concept of owning a “Penfield” mood enhancement device sounds like a dream come true, it also seems to perfectly illustrate the aforementioned quote (1 Dick). The character Rick Deckard and his wife have forgone emigrating to another planet along with the majority of the human race, and instead remain on earth, dependent on artificial mood enhancement devices to keep themselves from feeling the crippling despair that goes along with living on a ruined earth. Despite the crumbling, nearly abandoned city surrounding them, despite the toxic dust that threatens their very lives and sanity, Rick and Iran remain on earth rather than simply changing their, “status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). More appalling still is Rick’s reaction to his wife’s admittance of feeling, “hopeless about everything, about staying here on earth after everybody who’s smart has emigrated” (4 Dick). Rather than sympathize with her, or even admit any understanding of such feelings, Rick merely suggests that she adjust her “Penfield” (1 Dick).
A government employee fully capable of garnering work on another planet, he decides instead to stay captive in a dust-bowl ghetto of a city, more content to bask in the simulacra of a “Penfield” than to enact real change (1 Dick). He is happier to seek, “ alternative policies within the status quo”, than to rise above it (Chapter 1 Marcuse). What does this indicate to us on a broader scale about the nature of similar-minded societies? Within such a society, in which the only way to fit in is to carefully regulate one’s emotions via technology, why do members not recognize its obvious failures and scrap it for an alternative society?
Such behavior on the part of Rick indicates a pattern of stagnation, and it seems that such a pattern of stagnation is not an exception to the human experience, but a standard. How many years did it take for women to stand up for themselves and demand the same rights as men? How many years did it take for African-Americans to do the same? How many years did apartheid stand? How many years of tyranny were endured before the French Revolution finally began? History is full of indications that the human race is content to endure a great deal of suffering and stagnation before standing up for themselves in an attempt to create more ideal circumstances. Within the context of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Rick distracts himself from the lonely nature of life on a ruined earth by dialing idealized moods into his brain, and window-shopping, “in front of one of San Francisco’s larger pet shops” (25 Dick). A government employee fully capable of garnering work on another planet, he decides instead to stay captive in a dust-bowl ghetto of a city, more content to bask in the simulacra of a “Penfield” than to enact real change (1 Dick). He is happier to seek, “ alternative policies within the status quo”, than to rise above it (Chapter 1 Marcuse). Why?
One major factor attributing to this trend seems to be the ability of such a society, “of satisfying the needs of the Individuals through the way in which it is organized” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, the society is “organized” around the invention of the mood organ (Chapter 1 Marcuse). However, it is merely the placeholder of any number of devices which could be implemented by a modern post-Industrial society in order to control its citizens. One such organizational form of technology in our present age is the Internet. The Internet, while far from being capable of preventing us from feeling, “hopeless about everything”, is a powerful organizational tool which allows one to feel detachment from oneself by freeing he or she from the physical world (4 Dick). Without attachment to the physical world, one is free from poverty, pollution, and in some sense: pain (4 Dick). Just as with the mood organ, by using the Internet as a means of sustaining stagnation, “no one is trying to look ahead to what, if anything, we will lose by limiting ourselves to disembodied interactions” (50 Dreyfus).
While the Internet allows us to connect with friends and family even oceans away, it does not come close to challenging the “status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). It reinforces the “status quo” by giving consumers the opportunity to boost the economy from home with access to shopping on a global scale (Chapter 1 Marcuse). It is in this, “rising standard of living, non-conformity with the system itself seems to be socially useless” (Chapter 1 Marcuse). By both giving people the ability to communicate spend money quickly on a global scale, the Internet has appealed to nearly every demographic possible with its promise to, “bring a new era of prosperity” (2 Dreyfus). It has thus become to be thought of not as a luxury, but as a necessity for those in the work-force to utilize. In response to the pervasive nature of it, “the Internet, like the car, will have huge consequences both for good and ill that we cannot foresee” (124 Dreyfus).
Just as the mood organ present in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep became the only means through which Rick could manage the surrounding world, so too the Internet has managed to become just another aspect of the, “status quo” of our world (Chapter 1 Marcuse). Rather than challenging the Internet, modern society has accepted it with open arms. Just as Rick blindly buys into a mood organ, telling his wife to adjust her “Penfield” when she says she feels depressed, the public has accepted the Internet (1 Dick). Despite its promises to allow us to, “transcend the limits imposed on us by our body”, it has proven just as ineffective at changing reality as the mood organ (4 Dreyfus). Is there the possibility of a real upheaval of, “alternative policies within the status quo” (Chapter 1 Marcuse)? Can we move beyond the current trend of stagnation? As two studies, “suggest that living through the Net leads to isolation , and one of these surveys, in addition, that use of the Net leads to loneliness and depression”, can we call it out (136 Dreyfus)? Can we call it the “electric sheep” it is (Dick)? If so, it is possible for citizens to challenge the “status quo”, rather than playing into it (1 Marcuse).
Dick, Phillip K.. Blade runner. Reissue. ed. New York: Balllantine Books, 1990. Print.
Dreyfus, Hubert L.. On the internet. Second ed. London: Routledge, 2001. Print.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional man; studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Print.