Saturday, April 28, 2012

Final Post

Amy Friedenberger
Narrative and Technology
Adam Johns
Final Paper

Me, Myself, and My Empathy Box: Loneliness and Technology through Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Modern Technology

Mercer isn’t fake. Unless reality is a fake.
– Rick Deckard

Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth in California. World War Terminus destroyed Earth and left it nearly uninhabitable, resulting in the mass migration to Mars or another colony. Androids are added into the mix as an incentive for people to move to the new colony, but the androids are so sophisticated and nearly indistinguishable from human beings, calling into question the consequences of enslaving a human-like machine. However, another key piece of technology that is deeply embedded into the daily lives of the people is the empathy box, a device that allows people to connect to it then create a sense of mass empathy with all of the others attached to it through a single thing, such as a man struggling. The empathy box aligns with the attachment people have today to their different tools on the Internet, as discussed in Hubert Dreyfus’ On the Internet. This, like in Dick’s novel, should make us question how dependency on technology and how it has melded into expected social behavior. In Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? technology drives the actions of the characters. From Rick Deckard’s drive to kill androids to the characters’ overwhelming reliance on the empathy box, technology is what drives society, including people today who depend on certain aspects to dictate their everyday lives.
From the start, the androids are created to give a sense of community by which everyone can attach themselves to an android then leave to another colony. Humans create the androids to try and guide the survivors back into a world they knew before World War Terminus. There are problems with humans enslaving what is essentially a human, so cue the empathy box. The empathy box is crucial so humans don’t lose sight of themselves and see one another as androids – empathy being a trait that androids do not possess. But the real problem with empathy in this novel is that humans are enslaving the androids through an old-fashioned technological hierarchy in which humans always possess over the instrument they created.
J.R. 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 the year 2012, people are dependent upon their computers and televisions among others, which they function as a form of escape from physical human beings. Isidore, who is not by choice isolated from humans, avoids the anxiety of the silence in his deteriorating apartment by resorting 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). According to Christopher Sims in his essay “The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’” humans use technology to merge their experiences with the consciousness of Wilbur Mercer by using the empathy box. “Mercerism fills the void of religion because, while it provides a source of comfort to isolated individuals, it also supplies a moral framework for humans to live by in the wake of the disintegration of former religious and governmental institutions” (Sims 82).
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. The people aren’t necessarily using the empathy box out of a sense that they feel the need to mold to the others in society. The government has made them feel the need to connect to the empathy box, so it has been a conformity issue among the people, but a force way of collectively using it without the people knowing that it was done to them. Because while both are done unconsciously, introjection seems to imply that the people naturally have conformed together, rather than an outside entity forcing that conformity. A more accurate word, perhaps, would be compulsion, with a force behind it – that force being the government.
We see this form of introjection currently in the form of the Internet. While it’s not something government-controlled, it’s something corporate-controlled, compelling people to see the necessity to use it for the purpose of interaction. But like the empathy box, the consequence is a sense of alienation. In Hubert Dreyfus’ On the Internet, he cites a Stanford University study that says that despite the selling points of the Internet providing an outlet for everyone to relate to one another and interact, it actually does quite the opposite. “… The Internet was creating a broad new wave of social isolation in the United States, raising the specter of an atomized world without human contact or emotion” (Dreyfus 50). He notes Second Life as one example in which the Internet does not foster genuine connectivity. In the game, the socially isolated users can communicate through avatars when playing a game of real-life activities. “However, there is a tension between the goal of the lonely people who are geographically isolated and who would presumably prefer to know the appearance of the real people they are interacting with, and the goal of those whose physical condition is a barrier to conversation and who therefore enjoy the possibility of acting as if they were in a masquerade…” (Dreyfus 94).
 So imagining that the empathy box is substituted with a computer, people are expected to connect through a vast network. However, the consequence is a sense of disembodiment because humans are not physically interacting, which sacrifices the ability of humans to comprehensively grasp a situation, because, as Dreyfus explains: “… As embodied, we each experience a constant readiness to cope with things in general that goes beyond our readiness to cope with any specific thing” (55). So, in relation to the empathy box, it just serves as another tool to attempt to control and otherwise unwieldy population.
Is it truly making the people better off? Iran seems to think so. “… I remember thinking how much better we are, how much better off, when we’re with Mercer. Despite the pain. Physical pain but spiritually together; I felt everyone else, all over the world, all who had fused at the same time” (Dick 171). This would seem to go against the sense of alienation that Dreyfus describes; yet, during this moment, Rick, who is physically present, notes that he feels a distance between them. She’s become dependent on the empathy box, like so many others, which has led them to become detached from reality with other humans. Rick, who doesn’t want to use the empathy box, also feels a sort of detachment then from those using the empathy box. At one point, “Rick stood holding the phone receiver, conscious of her mental departure. Conscious of his own aloneness” (Dick 174). By not using the empathy box, Rick is not melding with society. By using the empathy box, Iran is not alone, like Rick when he doesn’t use the empathy box. “This is what the experience of fusion docs for the practitioners of Mercerism; it creates an empathetic synthesis of every human mind. From within this synthesis each individual has the knowledge that he or she is not stumbling through reality alone, that there is in fact an "other" with whom we can actually connect and commiserate” (Sims 80).
But it’s this alienation that is the purpose of the empathy box – to inhibit the production of reality through social collectiveness. The people who tune into the box share the empathy and pent up feelings with the tortured Mercer, but they do so within the confines of their home. After they disconnect from the empathy box, their sense of wanting to take physical action stops. By making everyone feel like they have had a sense of collectiveness, there is no need to take action any further, because Mercer’s suffering can’t be prevented. Scott Bukatman, a cultural theorist and film and media studies professor at Stanford University, says that this “image addiction” is used as a tactic by a controlling government to segregate the people in order to prevent collective action.
In the society of the spectacle, all images are advertisements for the status quo. The commodity is replaced by its own representation, and the fulfillment of need is replaced by pseudo-satisfaction of desire. A citizenry alienated by the industrial-capitalist mode of production is granted an illusion of belonging and participation; the fragmentation of the productive and social realms is replaced by the appearance of coherence and wholeness. (qtd. in Galvan 418)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? shows how technology has ruptured the human collective due to the long arm of some organizational body. The result is alienation and a passive society.
Real-life risk and consequences are not there to incentivize people. Just like the millions who watched the Kony2012 video about the Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, they may have raised awareness about him and shared a common sense that something should be done, but an overwhelming majority accept that they can’t go beyond raising awareness because they feel that sharing the common awareness is enough to foster change. Public passion can only go so far in a virtual world, so while a mass group of people may display their displeasure about w war criminal and urge for his arrest, collectivity is sacrificed as there are not consequences to not doing more than just displaying the video on Twitter or Facebook. “Individuals can enter or leave a virtual community much more easily than they can move out of a town they dislike” (Dreyfus 140). Rheingold says it even more boldly when he says “that virtual communities might be bogus substitutes for true civic engagement” (qtd. in Dreyfus 140). There is a detachment from the group’s connection to something and what should be done, just like those attached to the empathy box.
Whenever Rick Deckard engages with Mercerism the first time comes after Buster Friendly blows the lid off the practice, which lends itself to an interesting segment of the novel about how Mercerism and Buster Friendly interact. They compete with one another as they continue vying for the control of the people. Not only are people relentlessly attached to their empathy boxes, their eyes are also glued to the screen when “Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends” is on for 23 straight hours. So the people are being controlled by this show, and it also fosters isolationism as people are obediently watching the show. Buster Friendly debunks Mercerism by exposing that all of the scenes and suffering are artificial, thereby throwing out Dick’s religious solution to capturing the essence of humanity following World War Terminus.
Dick presents religion in an interesting manner in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with Mercerism. Dick seems to be arguing that Mercerism is a product of technology that has now embedded itself into humanity. The novel demonstrates how technology and humans are linked, and the empathy box is one example of how technology is no only dangerous, but possibly a path to the characters’ salvation. Mercer says that the “illusion of aloneness” has been dismantled, and that the empathy box shows the true nature of human existence (Dick 23). In Kevin McNamara’s “Blade Runner’s Post Individual Worldspace,” he argues that technology is a “dehumanizing” aspect in the novel, which I would have to agree with, and technology in the novel creates this false social attitudes with society when their illusion of collectivity as actually fragmented individuality (423). Mercerism fills the void of religion. It gives a source of comfort to the isolated people, it provides a moral standard everyone should abide by in a world lacking a governmental framework and drastic changes implemented such as androids. However, in terms of assisting humanity to rebuild, their identities are blurred, so they can’t come together as a group to take action outside of the empathy box.
Rick Deckard decides at this time to use the empathy box, to connect with the rest of society through the box. But when he does so, he fuses in a sense with Wilbur Mercer, not receiving the intended results from the box. “‘It’s strange,’ Rick said. ‘I had the absolute, utter, completely real illusion that I had become Mercer and people were lobbing rocks at me. But not the way you experience it when you hold the handles of the empathy box. When you use an empathy box you feel you’re with Mercer. The difference was I wasn’t with anyone; I was alone” (Dick 232). Instead of sharing emotions with others, he feels alone. Yet, he still fuses to Mercer because, even though Buster Friendly says he is a fraud, Rick believes that Mercer is reality (Dick 232). Religion was developed as a physical object, but the novel takes this a step further in saying that it’s not just an artificial object, but it’s also something being embedded into the followers.
Is there a way to overcome this dependence on technology. In Andrew Feenberg’s Questioning Technology, he discusses the separation of the technical and social domains of the essence of technology. He writers, “insofar as we continue to see the technical and the social as separate domains, important aspects of these dimension of our existence will remain beyond our reach” (viii). For in Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, it means examining the “natural” and “artificial” presentations of life. In the novel, the natural is valued more than the artificial, and technology is considered to be unnatural. The characters are bound to technology. The novel presents characters who do not genuinely want to be alone. However, this false attachment to technology creates an unrealistic sense of community.
It’s a depressing note to end on – that all of humanity is being controlled. People cannot go beyond the technology that are connected to because they don’t realize the problem they need to overcome. Even as I write this paper, I am gchatting someone on gmail, messaging someone on Facebook, and following a conversation on Twitter. Do I feel connected? Not really. At least, I don’t feel connected in a positive way. The person I’m gchatting with is someone I have to do via Internet more than in person because we’re both to preoccupied to set time aside to talk in person. Therefore, I know him more through the way he constructs words in a small conversation box than I would through how he may react to what I say if I saw his body reactions. The person on Facebook is someone I rarely talk to, but I wanted to share a piece of information. And the conversation on Twitter: I’ve never met the two people in my entire life, and the only thing I know about them is the cartoon of a cat the one man uses for his profile photo and the cartoon presentation of the other man on his profile.
Being connected to these people has not urged me to go beyond the technological barriers set up. That’s because I can minimize the conversations when I don’t feel like confronting a difficult topic, or I can simply ignore what others say online when they offend me or I don’t care. Maybe it sounds Malcolm Gladwell-esque, but people will not act as a group through Facebook. They will act when they all sit down together at a kitchen counter at a diner in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In bringing together the empathy box, Mercerism, and modern technology today, they are all intertwined in that they relate to how collective action cannot be possible for two main reasons. First, the technology is creating a false sense of community through which people believe they are relating to one another as individuals, when actually, they genuineness is lost in the virtual objects to which they are connecting themselves to. Second, because people are connecting themselves to a risk-free element, there is not commitment expected of them that can be called in question, meaning that ensuring action is not capable of checking. For those in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, they need to commit to a philosophy not contained within the empathy box and meant as a form of control. For those today, it means looking outside of the Internet for means of action. Outside of the empathy box and Internet is where the community actually lies that will take collective action together.

Works Cited

Dick, Philip. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Ballatine Books, 1968. Print.
Dreyfus, Hubert L. On the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Feenberg, Andrew. Questioning Technology. New York: Routledge, 1999. Print.
Galvan, Jill. “Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Science Fiction Studies 73.3 (1997): 413-29. Online.
Marcuse, Herbert. "Introduction, Chapter 1." One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964.
McNamara, Kevin. “Blade Runner’s Post Individual Worldspace.” Contemporary Literature
38.8 (1997): 422-46. Online.
Sims, Christopher. “The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in
Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Science Fiction Studies 36.1
(2009): 67-86. Online.
Ben Fellows
Narrative and Technology
Dr. Adam Johns
28 April 2012
Preservation or Destruction: A Middle Ground
In Herbert Marcuse’s book, One-Dimensional Man, he claims that in our modern society, technology is being exploited in order to imprison mankind. With this, he delves into the concept of how science is being used, as being oriented towards preservation, or towards destruction. With the way technology is being used today, this imprisonment not only gives man a false sense of freedom, but it also severely limits mankind’s intellectual potential. At first glance, it would seem imperative that aiming the focus of technology towards preservation instead of towards destruction would be the ideal choice; however both sides offer their benefits. In modern society, governmental funding backs a massive majority of the technological research and advancement. Of course, much of this is due to the ever-constant arms race between every major nation in the world. To say that technology could be directly aimed towards preservation and not towards destruction is quite frankly impossible in the immediate future. As such, almost all forms of scientific advancement will be partially aimed towards the benefit of the military, and therefore towards destruction. With science oriented towards destruction come motives by the government intended to keep society in the dark. This is a major element of the enslavement of modern technology. However, the advancement of technology in the direction of preservation certainly has obvious benefits towards society as well. Renewable energy sources may not be the prime concern of the military, however there is no denying that there will come a day that fossil fuels will run out, or at least reach critical levels that absolutely require new forms of energy. This direction of technology has the potential to release the chains that science aimed at destruction puts on mankind. If the focus of technology is oriented towards a middle ground between preservation and destruction, we as a society can maximize our technological advancement while simultaneously limiting our imprisonment from technology. In the foreseeable future, only a balance between these two outcomes will satisfy those who provide the funds for technology and those who should benefit from it most.
Science Oriented Towards Destruction
“In the contemporary period, all historical projects tend to be polarized on the two conflicting totalities-capitalism and communism, and the outcome seems to depend on two antagonistic series of factors: (1) the greater force of destruction; (2) the greater productivity without destruction. In other words, the higher historical truth would pertain to the system which offers the greater chance of pacification.”(Marcuse, Chapter 8)
It is here that the argument for preservation versus destruction begins. Marcuse agrees that there is much greater force behind technology aimed at destruction. In modern society, one of the major fields of technological advancement is in the field of engineering. Engineering applications can be applied to almost every facet of modern life. The origins of engineering are based on the fundamental properties of the world we live in, dealing primarily with physics. However, with the passing of time, engineering is concerned with much more than just physics. Certainly physics remains the basis of engineering, but engineering is primarily concerned with the applications of physics to the real world in such a manner that can generate wealth. And these applications are certainly successful in doing so. It should come as no surprise that many engineering-based careers have one thing or another to do with the military. Suppose a mechanical engineer works for a steel producing company. Who is the major customer from such a facility? The government. The steel purchased from the company is used to create weapons, ammunition, vehicles, etc. What about an electrical engineer working for a microprocessor producing facility? The government certainly has use for such technology, what with all of the electronic components in various military technologies, such as controls for vehicles, surveillance satellites, and futuristic electric-based weapons, such as rail guns, sonic weapons, or lasers. The list goes on and on. If an electrical engineering field is not heavily funded by the military, then it is heavily funded by some other governmental branch. For example, bioengineers work towards the modernization of health services. Enhancing the quality of life is and will always be a primary concern of mankind, and as such, it will always be funded. The point is this: if a field of technology has the capability to aid the government via the military or create profits elsewhere, it will certainly be funded. While one can certainly argue for the advancement of better health, is this obsession with advancement of military equipment for the overall enhancement of mankind? This is the root of science oriented towards destruction. While funds could be aimed at more productive research, instead it is aimed towards destructive methods, as this benefits the major provider the most. However, there is no denying that without this heavily funded research mankind would have many of the technologies available to us in this modern day and age. That is exactly why science oriented towards destruction is a powerful tool which is essential is rapid productivity in the field of technology.
Science Oriented Towards Preservation
While Marcuse believes that the abolishment of science aimed towards destruction is the method for massive productivity, it is simply impossible in the foreseeable future for science purely directed towards preservation, without destructive tendencies. With that said, it is undeniable that steps need to be taken to preserve not only our resources, but the infrastructure of society, in all senses of the word. While much of government funding is aimed towards military production, it would be certainly much better aimed towards several field of science aimed at preserving not only nature, but the type of comforts experienced in modern society. This is not to say that there is no funding in such fields, but simply that they are underfunded. The National Academy of Engineering currently has a list of Grand Challenges for Engineering. Among these challenges, many are concerned with what Marcuse would consider to be dealing with preservation. The list of these challenges:
“make solar energy economical, provide energy from fusion, develop carbon sequestration methods, manage the nitrogen cycle, provide access to clean water, restore and improve urban infrastructure, advance health informatics, engineer better medicines, reverse-engineer the brain, prevent nuclear terror, secure cyberspace, enhance virtual reality, advance personalized learning, and engineer the tools of scientific discovery.” (National Academy of Engineering)
In the United States, the infrastructure of the highways, bridges, and many buildings are becoming very out of date. The maintenance required in order to upkeep them can be very expensive, and in order to minimize similar problems in the future, funding could be put into the development of new materials and structures that can withstand time and stress much better than those currently at society’s disposal. This is certainly a concern of engineering, particularly civil engineering; however when one considers the rapid advancement of military technology compared to that of all other fields, the possibilities of other fields are almost unimaginable. Another field of engineering, environmental engineering, is in the process of becoming one of the major fields, although it certainly one of the underfunded fields, which comes to no surprise considering it is not at the core of the military’s future. Currently, solar energy is a very inefficient form of renewable energy, but if the funding put into the military were instead invested in technology dealing with chemical solutions and new forms of glass and other materials, solar energy could certainly be a major energy provider. With any of the Grand Challenges, increased funding from the government could certainly jumpstart these challenges that would help preserve the earth and our modern society.
Two Forces Combined
With the immense funding and power behind what Marcuse would refer to as science oriented towards destruction, and the opportunities awaiting mankind with enough investment in the technologies aimed at preservation, it is easy to see that a middle ground between the two would be the most ideal way of progressing to a better future. However, the problems associated with such a combination are vast. There would need to be a motivation for the government to decrease their funding in military research. This is highly dependent on foreign relationships, which is never a certain future. As such, it is difficult to imagine lessened military funding. However, one method that could potentially meet preservation halfway is by finding new ways to relate preservation technologies to military technology, and to find ways to make preservation technology lucrative to the point that any investment the government puts into it, would come back with a profit. Just looking at the list of Grand Challenges for Engineering, it is not difficult to imagine ways for the government to implement the technologies that are needed to be met with military needs. Starting from the top, making solar energy economical could provide energy to military bases in and out of the country, particularly in areas where shipping fuel or delivering power plant energy could be highly costly. This should be more than enough of a motive for the government to invest in solar energy. Next, providing energy from fusion seems like it would be a major priority for the government. Nuclear Fusion has been proven to be highly efficient, safe, and economical, if the conditions could be sustained. Although many may be opposed to it, nuclear fusion technology certainly has a place in military technology. Going through the list, many challenges are much more aimed at preservation and are difficult to imagine military applications, such as carbon sequestration (reducing the carbon footprint by burying carbon dioxide underground) and managing the nitrogen cycle, however in the past many technologies invested in have produced uses that were unforeseeable, but certainly useful and profitable. Marcuse may argue that the concept of profit-driven research is flawed and what imprisons mankind, but the reality that we live with is that that is the only method of rapid advancement in any field, destructive or preservative.
In Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, he argues against what he refers to as destructive scientific advancement, claiming that it is what imprisons mankind in a seemingly free society. He argues for the Pacification of nature, claiming that only when destructive technological advancement is left behind will society be at its most productive. Although these seem like ideal conditions, leaving destructive advancement behind is not in the future as long as military technology remains as important to the government as it is today. As such, in order to head in the direction of preservation, there is a need to relate both destructive and preservative technologies together, so that the investment in one results in the investment in another. Without the powerhouse of research development that the government provides, preservative technology will always be left in the dust behind destructive technology. Although many, including Marcuse, may argue that this combination will not ease the un-freedom presented by destructive technology, I disagree. I feel as though any sort of leveling the field where destructive vs. preservative is conserved will help ease society into regaining control. Of course, simply reorganizing the funding into research will not have nearly as large of an effect on the consciousness of citizens; modern technologies that affect citizens more than military technologies alone can certainly help reduce the un-freedom that is subtly present. Although Marcuse would more than likely disagree that this method is the best for a society to adopt, I feel that he could agree that given the current social climate, this is one method of applying more preservation-based technology to a massively destructive technology market.

Works Cited
Marcuse, Herbert. One-dimensional man; studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964. Print.
“Grand Challenges – Engineering Challenges.” National Academy of Engineering. National Academy of Sciences. Web. 27 April 2012.

Final Draft- Patrick Kilduff

Patrick Kilduff
*some of the lyrics in the songs I used contain strong language*

Final Draft

            As long as I could remember, metal has been my favorite genre of music. My father and I would listen to rock and roll music all the time together when I was growing up, and progressively my taste changed. The talent that these musicians display is something that I have never seen in any other style of music before. We hear the guitars being played very articulately with mind-melting solos, the double base pedal of the drum booming in the background, and the lyrics of the lead singer really telling us what he feels and his ideology of many themes and of life itself. One of these themes that I find so interesting is the constant reference to Nihilistic ideology.
            This genre of music really articulates many philosophies and ideals of the band and the vocalist, and one of the prevalent themes is that of Nihilism. When listening to the lyrics, you can feel the passion behind a vocalist’s beliefs. Take this lyric from the song “Bay of Pigs” by The Acacia Strain. The lyric states: “Just because your breathing doesn’t mean that you’re alive. Just because you’re human doesn’t mean you have to die”. We see lyrics like this and many other ideals in lots of these bands. But what is a striking comparison to me is this belief, or moreover, theme in many of the books that were read in class, and that they reflect the same ideas and have overlapping similarities in that of metal music. But before going into that, what is Nihilism?
            According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated” (Pratt) The definition goes a bit deeper, and states: “a true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose, other than perhaps, an impulse to destroy” (Pratt) When one is interested in Nihilism, they would look at many different texts and statements made by philosophers, but the best-known and most famous Nihilistic philosopher is Freidrich Nietzsche.
Nietzsche is by far the most important figure in Nihilistic philosophy. To Nietzsche, he had the belief that everything was senseless in life; or rather that life had no inherent meaning, unless you were to give it meaning. In one of his most famous works, Will to Power, he describes Nihilism and conveys his own personal beliefs to the ideology. You could consider it the “Nihilist’s handbook”. In part 12 of Will to Power, Nietzsche gives us a definition of Nihilism, and how to achieve Nihilism for one’s self. He writes: “Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a "meaning" in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the "in vain," insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure--being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long. --This meaning could have been: the "fulfillment" of some highest ethical canon in all events, the moral world order; or the growth of love and harmony in the intercourse of beings; or the gradual approximation of a state of universal happiness; or even the development toward a state of universal annihilation--any goal at least constitutes some meaning. What all these notions have in common is that something is to be achieved through the process--and now one realizes that becoming aims at nothing and achieves nothing. -- Thus, disappointment regarding an alleged aim of becoming as a cause of nihilism: whether regarding a specific aim or, universalized, the realization that all previous hypotheses about aims that concern the whole "evolution" are inadequate (man no longer the collaborator, let alone the center, of becoming).” (Nietzsche). In reading this quotation, it seems apparent that Nietzsche is saying that Nihilism isn’t a lifestyle one is born into; it is achieved, realized, and understood. And the annihilation that he refers to might not be one of anarchy and physical destruction, but of limits that can hold an individual back from what they are trying to see and believe. These limits could be one’s morals, their religion, societal norms, or even government. It is anything that can control how one feels and displace an individual’s emotions.
To me this branch or idea of philosophy is very interesting, for the simple reason that this is a belief of “nothing”. We see many great philosophers of our time and back in older times come up with great and very intellectual thought processes, but this belief is so fascinating because it is a belief of nothing, or believing in nothing. Now that there is somewhat of a background of Nihilism, lets look at one of the literary works read in class and analyze its Nihilistic qualities.
            In many of the books that we have read, we see a constant reference to Nihilism. In these references we can see a striking comparison to many of my favorite metal bands and the lyrics that drive their beliefs. For instance and a little overview, let’s look at Jimmy Corrigan and see how it compares just externally.
            We begin Jimmy Corrigan with the main character, Jimmy. He is a middle-aged man with no real “purpose” in life. He wakes up, goes to a boring job, daydreams just like any other normal human being, and comes home to an empty house. Then the next day, the cycle starts all over.
            Jimmy is an interesting character because although boring and plain on the outside, we can see a man with a troubled past and a complex of emotions that are just hard to find. Not knowing the real identity of his father, Jimmy is always in constant contact with his mother, driving him very bonkers at points. A very socially awkward man, it is hard for Jimmy to converse with anyone without making the situation a bit uncomfortable. The thing about Jimmy that makes him so interesting is that I think he knows that he is alone, but does not have the courage to stand up for him, or even try something new (at least in the beginning of the story).
The real key to this and what made it so obvious were the frames in which Jimmy makes soup for himself and sets out an extra bowl for a guest, although we know that he has no apparent guest. Maybe he was thinking about Peggy, his “crush”, because prior to putting away the dishes, he calls her to ask her about saving his mail, even though I’m sure he was trying to call her and talk to her, but his low confidence got the best of him.
Whatever the case, I believe this is the first prime example of Nihilism that we see in this book. We see the hopelessness that Jimmy exhibits, the aloneness that he lives with every single day. In the view of a Nihilist, this would be an okay lifestyle. There is nothing holding you down, no rules to live by except your own, and no one telling you what to believe and who to follow. One lyric from a band that really relates to this is scene in the book is Godsmack’s lyric from their song “I Stand Alone”. The lyric goes: “I stand alone inside. I stand alone. You let your string down inside me I’m not dying for anything.” Like a true nihilist, this song and this scene emphasize what it means to really be alone, and eventually embrace that you are the only one in control.
Another scene from Jimmy Corrigan that I would like to talk about is at the very end of the story when he finally gets back to his city and he looks up to his workplace building. After all the distress that he faced with his father’s death, he heads home in a very sour and terrible mood. He stands on the street corner in which the “superman” from the beginning of the story committed suicide. Jimmy then looks up to his building, the building in which he works in, and looks toward the top. If we think about it, this is the same exact view that Jimmy had of the “superhero” only reversed. And we can only infer that the same circumstance is running through Jimmy’s mind as well. This is by far (in my opinion) the most pessimistic part of the story, because Jimmy is contemplating death. In this state of mind Jimmy has, although it is not said, Jimmy is at his lowest of lows. To him, there might not be anything left to live for, his dad his dead, an important female figure is gone, and death might be the only way out. A Nihilist would see this situation in an interesting light. Death is a choice that one needs to make on their own terms. Since life is really not meant for anything, death might not be that bad of an option. But to the Nihilist, I would think that there would be no need to take their own life, for the simple reason that there is nothing to hold the individual down, they are free and on their own terms.
As we can see from Jimmy Corrigan, the scenes described and the apparent messages that are shown are very Nihilistic in nature. Also, we have seen from a few lyric quotes, that these scenes overlap with metal quite will. But what I would also like to take notice to are some cultural and societal factors that are found in metal lyrics that overlap in this story.
In this story, we see many instances of abandonment. Jimmy’s father abandoned him as a child, just like his older relatives before him. We see the daydreams of a man who wants to aspire to something great, something better than the status quo, but cannot muster up the courage to do so, dashing away any possibility of success.
In reading this story and comparing it to the world today, it is not far off from many of the metal songs that I listen to every day. Let us take for example a lyric from The Acacia Strain’s Song “Baby Buster”: “I don't sing fucking love songs because there's nothing in this world for me to love”. Now as pessimistic as this lyric might come off in the view of the common eye, this song has a lot of inherent meaning in Jimmy Corrigan. Jimmy was raised in a world without much love, assuming that his father left him at a very young age. Not to say that his mother did not love and care for him, but his childhood was shattered with the lack of no father figure to raise him. Along with this book, we see this problem in many families today. There are alarming percentages of single parent homes as well divorce rates being at an all-time high. This about society is really reflected in the lyric stated above. Could there be a little anger in this lyric: absolutely there could be, but I think the meaning that the vocalist is trying to convey is that he has nothing to love, because it has either been taken away from him or that he just simply has nothing to be happy about, due to his everyday struggles or potentially a troubled past.
Another lyric that I find semi-applicable to Jimmy Corrigan, more along the culture of today is a lyric from another song by The Acacia Strain. This song is called “Whoa! Shut it Down!” and the lyric states: “Sorry I'm not just like you. Sorry! Who are you again? Remind me cause I don't care”. What I find so interesting about this lyric is its reference to conforming and being what everyone wants you to be. Being very Nihilistic in ideals, this is lyric is stating that the vocalist is sorry for not being what everyone wants him to be, but he does not care what the world wants him to be, he is going to be his own person and live by his own philosophy. This is exactly what a Nihilist like Nietzsche would like, because there is no restraints on this individual whatsoever. I don’t think that Nihilism is about being different on purpose and just not conforming to make somebody happy, I see it as your personality breaking away from the norm without trying, and being happy with who you are, even if that is against the norm of society and what someone “says” you should be doing, without letting anything hold you down or tell you what to do. In essence, that is what this lyric is telling us.
Another direction I would like to take this paper in is analysis with Marcuse, the main philosopher we covered in class. If we read One Dimensional Man, we can definitely see many Nihilistic qualities in his work, or at least theories that Nietzsche or other Nihilists would agree with.
When reading One Dimensional Man, we are immediately thrown into some interesting theories in Chapter One, titled “New Forms of Control”. Already, we can see that a Nihilist would be interested in this reading, do to what Marcuse has to say about control, from many aspects of life. The most interesting aspect of this chapter is the section in which he talks about needs, “true” and “false” needs. In this quote provided from One Dimestional Man, we can see what Marcuse has to say about these needs. It states: “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. 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 (his own and others) to recognize the disease of the whole and grasp the chances of curing the disease. The result then is euphoria in unhappiness. Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs.” (Marcuse).
Going a bit further from this quote, I feel that we need to recognize what are the “true” and “false” needs found in our stories. In Jimmy Corrigan, I feel that Jimmy has a pretty good sense of what these needs are and how they are differentiated. Although Jimmy ultimately does not find love and the story ends on, a pretty sad note, Jimmy does not gallivant around the story with things that he does not “need”, for instance, the flashy car, jewelry, the large house or anything substantial. We see a very modest life with not many expenses around him. In this sense, we see that the needs superimposed on Jimmy are not really noticeable in his lifestyle (other than government, and some societal norms). He owns his possessions, his possessions do not own him, and I think that is the main goal of Marcuse in this section, and to not be run by anything you do not feel comfortable with running you.
Any Nihilist would really enjoy Marcuse’s readings, because he talks about many issues in which the individual needs to be in control. Nietzsche would jump at an opportunity to read Marcuse’s theories, because some of them are synonymous with his own theories. Granted, some are a little different, but mostly they are the same. I wonder what Nietzsche would have thought of the technology in which Marcuse writes about (Nietzsche living in a time before such technology)? If you ask me, I feel that Nietzsche would not have like technology, because it would dictate many aspects of people’s lives. Some people are dependant on watching television to provide entertainment, thus the television has a hold on the individual and the individual relies on it.
Another interesting aspect I would like to bring into play is how metal music can also be applied to Marcuse’s theories, in a Nihilistic manner synonymous with some of our stories. Marcuse speaks of technology in Chapter 1, and he states: “Freedom of enterprise was from the beginning not altogether a blessing. As the liberty to work or to starve, it spelled toil, insecurity, and fear for the vast majority of the population. If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this kind of freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization. The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity. The very structure of human existence would be altered; the individual would be liberated from the work world's imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own. If the productive apparatus could be organized and directed toward the satisfaction of the vital needs, its control might well be centralized; such control would not prevent individual autonomy, but render it possible.” (Marcuse)
It seems here that technology could be detrimental to society if not channeled in the right manner. If we look at another lyric by The Acacia Strain, we can see the similarities between some of Marcuse’s theories and a band with Nihilism roots. The song is called “Unabomber” and the lyric states: “If your cable went out you would lose your fucking mind. If you lost all power you would end your fucking life. Dependency has come in place. Easy eradication of the human race. Technology has an iron grip. We are swimming against the tide in the sea of shit”. This epitomizes how a Nihilist would view technology and it also shows about what Marcuse is saying about how technology can be a bad thing and misguide an individual. This says how dependant we are on technology and how we need to break away, or technology could be the end of us (war or disease).
In conclusion, I feel that Nihilism can be found in many books and music that we listen to. Although this is not my main goal of the paper, we can certainly see many prime examples in the lyrics and text above. The main goal was to show the parallel between the novels we have read (specifically Jimmy Corrigan) and my favorite type of music, metal. We can see that through the lyrics that the vocalist expresses, the Nihilistic beliefs that he holds really do coincide with Jimmy Corrigan’s themes and the character Jimmy’s experiences.
It is really good to open your eyes and explore different philosophies. As I don’t necessarily believe in Nihilism, I can honestly say that it is very interesting and it does have striking similarities to the lyrics of my favorite songs and to the books we have read. I have really gained a lot of knowledge doing this paper, and I hope people can gain knowledge from my paper.

Works Cited

1.  Marcuse, Herbert. "New Forms of Control." One-Dimensional Man. Beacon Press, 1964. Web. 26 Apr 2012.

2.     Nietzsche, Friedrich. "The Will to Power." Athenaeum Library of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2012. <

3.     Pratt, A.. "Nihilism." Internet encyclopedia of philosophy a peer-reviewed academic resource. Embry-Riddle University, 2001. Web. 26 Apr 2012. <>.

      4. Prozak, Vijay. "Reality is Nihilism ." American Nihilist Underground Society. (2010): n. page. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.

      5.Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan. 1st. Pantheon Books, 2000. 1-300. Print.