Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Hope This Doesn't Come Off as a Conspiracy Theory…
As a libertarian (or someone who likes to call himself a libertarian), much of Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man was music to my ears. A dystopian cry for sanity and reason in an age that often forgets such things exist. I do understand that Marcuse would be considered by many to be a libertarian-socialist but, when one is pushed to third party politics, there is not much room to complain. Anyway, I digress. In his prologue, Marcuse says,

Today political power through its power over the machine process and over the technical organization of the apparatus. The government of advanced and advancing industrial societies can maintain and secure itself only when it succeeds in mobilizing, organizing, and exploiting the technical, scientific, and mechanical productivity available to an industrial society (Marcuse, 5).

Looking through the lens of this idea, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep makes sense in a totally different way.
            It is easy to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as an indictment of communism. In many ways, I believe it is. But remember that Marcuse wrote largely about potential for totalitarianism within democratic-capitalist societies. While he and I fundamentally disagree on the idea of socialism, he raises important questions about how developing technology can affect a society that is, in theory, free. In this sense, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep can be seen as Marcuse’s ideas, or warnings (?) put into practice.
            Within Philip K. Dick’s writing, the idea of mood controlling and selection strikes a particular chord with One-Dimensional Man. Specifically, it raises the question of who is really in charge. Are the characters who select their mood in charge because they choose how they want to feel? Or are the manufacturers and standard-setters (government) in charge because they choose how that mood feels? The question has disturbing implications for our own society. We crave the latest technological devices. And, in the context of a consumer based economy the like of which we have in the United States, such cravings tens to take on a more emotional tone. People speak of needing new phones, needing new computers, needing the latest and the greatest.  Never once (and I am as guilty of it as the next Joe Average on the street) do we question who is making the devices and, more importantly, who is pulling the strings.
            I do not think that Apple or HTC, or Dell, or any of the other technological titans of industry have hidden agendas (at least, not sinister ones) for no netter reason that their agendas are plain to see: make money. They are private businesses, free of government funding and therefore are driven by the desire to make a better product than their competitor and thus, take home a greater profit. Unlike the private sector, the government very likely has a more hidden agenda. Just to be clear, I don’t think that the government is covering up secrets about the moon landings, area 51, the JFK assassination, or 9/11. That’s not what I am saying. I am simply saying that our government knows how to utilize technology to its advantage and that we, as a society, need to be careful, discerning, and wary.
            We have seen how important technology is to freedom in a modern society. Without, for example, social media, the protest movements in Egypt during the Arab Spring would never have succeeded. Technology is fast becoming the only means people have left the, when necessary, subvert their governments. What Marcuse was saying and what Dick gives examples to is what can happen if the state gains too great of a hold in technology markets. Dick theorizes that, were this to occur, the very definition of reality might change irreparably. In this context, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep can be seen as something of a warning. 

Blog 3, Prompt 1

The False Needs of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In the first chapter of One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse describes what he calls false needs as “… those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice.” False needs could be described as those needs that extend past what is needed for survival toward what we believe we need instead. The desire for what a person thinks they need is a strong motivator in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The world has been devastated by another world war, one that could in fact be the “war to end all wars.” The earth is plagued by a radioactive “dust” that covers everything, mutates a person’s genome into something undesirably “special,” and has killed off the majority of the world’s animals including all of it’s flying birds. Despite all this one of the first things to audience learns of Rich Deckard is his desire for a real animal. If his need was solely to help care for the now preciously rare animals as a means of helping to maintain pre-war life, perhaps the need could not be described as false. But this is undermined by his possession of an electric animal, as well as the unspoken impoliteness associated with the questioning of the validity of another’s animal. “To say, ‘Is your sheep genuine?’ would be a worse breach a manners than to inquire whether a citizen’s teeth, hair, or internal organs would test out authentic.” (Dick 5). Animals, in their rarity, have been made into a must-have commodity, the most popular of products that must be owns by consumers. If you cannot get your hands on a real one, you need to get your hands on a fake to maintain the illusion of being on equal ground of real-animal owners. Animals have been reduced to the same false need argument of faux vs. designer, genuine vs. knockoff.

Ever the pervasive religion of Mercerism could show elements of the false needs mentality. Mercerism promotes empathy, human connection, acceptance, and the repugnance toward anything and anyone that could be described as a killer. All of these traits are admirable, and necessary for the survival for the species, because without human connection, how would we continue? But all of this can only be done and experienced by purchasing an empathy box instead of pursuing these virtues through actual face-to-face interaction. Instead the connection is virtual and fabricated, but treated as real. By including everyone, Mercerism effectively creates a docile nation, unable to make real change because they are fed the illusion of community without truly being a part of one. As Marcuse describes, “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.” (Ch. 1). The freedom of Mercerism helps maintain the repressed masses that Marcuse sees as the product of a dominant society.

The only source of motivation the characters of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? require is another false need to pursue. Never once does a character worry over bills, whether or not they’ll have enough money for food, clothes, or shelter. Instead of saving up their earnings to help fund a new life on Mars, away from the mutating dust, they would rather thumb through their Sidneys wondering if they’ll be able to afford a horse or if their electric sheep looks authentic enough, while sitting in their mostly abandoned apartment building surrounded by a build-up of kipple. It is unlikely this would change. In a world devastated by a physical war, it is understandable that the people of this world would be too emotionally drained to subject themselves to another overhaul. “The more rational, productive, technical, and total the repressive administration of society becomes, the more unimaginable the means and ways by which the administered individuals might break their servitude and seize their own liberation.” (Ch. 1). If anything, Dick’s novel could be seen as a “Where will we be?” account of what happens if our already false needs society were to become completely dominant.

The Government Wants You to Want Things - prompt 1- Karen Knutson

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the Earth’s population now has hover cars, mechanized animals, and the ability to emigrate to other planets. On Earth, the people live relatively akin to our time, they go to work; they try to have relationships, but there is one major exception. Almost all of the characters own an animal and many own multiple animals. This doesn’t seem odd at first until the reader realizes that the bigger stock animals are always desired by the population. Also, the main character is a bounty hunter who destroys androids on the planet Earth; androids that could be beneficial. This can be partially explained by Marcuse in his book, One Dimensional Man, which states, “The intensity, satisfaction, and even the character of human needs, beyond the biological, have always been preconditioned” (1). This can be understood to mean that all levels of needs have already been ingrained by the general population. By looking at the desire for animals, the destruction of androids and comprehending the quote from Marcuse, we can understand how the government and general populace have created this need.
It should first be noted that the government first created the need for the general populace to have animals. When Rick and his neighbor are speaking in chapter one, the neighbor mentions, “how people are not taking care of an animal… it’s not a crime like it was right after WWT, but the feeling’s still there” (p.13). This created the original desire for an animal, because although the punishment was never stated, it can be implied that the punishment for not owning an animal was rather terrible. From wartime, it has now gone into a full obsession and a mark of prosperity on Earth.  At the Rosen Corporation Rick is amazed at all of the animals that the company owns, however, once Rick realizes that their rarest animal, the owl, “is artificial. There are no owls” (p. 53). The company loses part of its value to Rick. The intense desire to own an animal and that satisfaction that happens from it all originate from laws in the past that were strongly enforced by the government.
There is also another new business on Earth, the destruction of androids. Androids are not supposed to be on Earth. Many citizens do not know of their existence as noted in chapter twelve, “Other humans, having no knowledge of the presence of androids amongst them, had to be protected at all costs- even at losing the quarry” (p. 108). This also seems odd, the androids, when not threatened, just try and live out seemingly human lives. They become police officers, singers, and other members of the community. However, these mechanical beings are not supposed to be on Earth, they are free slaves for the people who have decided to emigrate to another planet and are a major incentive to travel that distance. Those that do not travel to another planet to live on a colony are deprived of these robot slaves, but the robots are escaping these planets and are trying to live a new life. The government does not appreciate that and are willing to spend resources into making sure that the humans that are still on Earth do not have access to such robots Rick’s boss even states, “W.P.O. [world police organization] is enough interested in the new Nexus 6 that they want a man of theirs to be with you” (p.72). The government’s wish for androids to only be on the new planets is why Rick has such a strong determination to eradicate these robots from the planet.
From Marcuse, we can understand that conditioned responses drive most of the non-biological human needs that we see in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The need for animals is now driven by the general populace, but beforehand it was directed by the government and the major reason that androids are destroyed on Earth is that the government does not want them to exist on the planet because they are only supposed to be the slaves of the people who have decided to emigrate. So just as it is described in The One Dimensional Man, the majority of the society ha wants that are akin to the agenda of its government.

Essay 3 - Prompt 1

Can one really distinguish between the mass media as instruments of information and entertainment, and as agents of manipulation and indoctrination? Between the automobile as nuisance and as convenience? Between the horrors and the comforts of functional architecture? Between the work for national defense and the work for corporate gain? Between the private pleasure and the commercial and political utility involved in increasing the birth rate?” This quote is from chapter 1 of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and really identifies the benefits as well as potential downsides of new technology. This idea of technology serving multiple purposes, whether good or bad, helps to explain what Philip Dick is writing about in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The first major piece of new technology we encounter when reading this book is the Penfield mood organ. This machine gives the user the ability to dial any sort of emotion that they feel like. At first this seems like an amazing thing that people would only use to put them in cheery moods and ones that would help them be productive. Rick dials for “a creative and fresh attitude toward his job” before he leaves for work. It would seem that if everyone was using the mood organ for this beneficial purpose, no harm could ever come out of it. Soon we see however that moods such as rage can be dialed: “If you dial,” Iran said, eyes open and watching, “for greater venom, then I’ll dial the same. I’ll dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up to now seem like nothing.” Iran says this after a small argument she has with Rick over his job. Rick contemplates dialing to reduce his anger or increasing it to help him win the argument. This shows the power of the technology to either affect people positively or help to escalate problems. One more point about the mood organ I would like to make is that on the surface, it appears to be controlled by the humans. It is mentioned, however, that dialing a certain mood, namely, self-accusatory depression in Iran’s case, can be very dangerous. “You’re apt to stay in it, not dial your way out. Despair like that, about total reality, is self-perpetuating.” Iran says that she programs the mood organ to automatically dial another number after 3 hours, however, any sort of malfunction or even just forgetfulness may cause the person to dial a bad mood that they will never get out of. Also, I could easily see a scenario where humans would be dependent on the mood organ for their good moods. Technology like this has the power to have control over humans by causing them to be so dependent on them that they could not function properly without it.

Another piece of technology from the story with obvious good and bad qualities is the android. It is designed to be, essentially, a servant for the emigrants to Mars. Just about everyone chose to emigrate because they received one of these androids for free. The great appeal of an android was seen by almost everyone, and along with nuclear fallout, caused most of the people to leave Earth. Regardless of what is happening on Mars with the androids, these androids are clearly causing problems on Earth. They know they are hunted on Earth, and so they can become very dangerous when confronted by a bounty hunter. It doesn’t seem as if they are actively seeking out violence against humans at this point, but are monitoring the bounty hunters to know when they are being hunted themselves so they can be prepared or even proactive for their inevitable encounter. We can also see the androids on Earth beginning to exert some sort of control over the humans on a small scale. When organized, like at the separate android police station, they had the ability to take humans, like Rick, without the person being able to do anything about it. Because they were disguised as police officers, and people are generally raised to respect authority, they could have control over enforcing their own set of laws if they wanted.

The two sides of technology as mentioned by Marcuse are clearly seen in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I think overall, much like Bill Joy mentioned in his article, it should help the reader be mindful of the benefits as well as the harms that may come out of advanced technology. 

"Social Control of Mercerism and Planetary Emigration" - Taylor Hochuli: Blog Essay #3, Prompt #1

As I write out even this sentence, I have my iPhone at my side as I sip my Starbucks coffee while getting ready for a day at college. I have these things for various purposes; the iPhone to communicate with others, the coffee to wake me up, and a college education continuing to lead me toward a good job. However, a certain quality they maintain is one of social control. I have an iPhone because most of my friends and family have them. I could choose from many different brands and models of smartphone, but I was drawn directly to the iPhone. This was not because I personally needed it, but that it would make me more accessible to my friends and, in a way, fit in with them. I could certainly get a job and make a living without college with the right resources and opportunities, but there is a certain “need” to be a college graduate despite this. These are very minor examples of the social control presented by Herbert Marcuse in his book One-Dimensional Man. He asserts many points about our technological possibilities that are either repressed or turned against one another. During this analysis, Marcuse discusses technology and science used by society to put the societal concern above the individual concerns. At the time, in 1964, such a struggle was going on in the form of the Cold War in which the two remaining world superpowers put all their production and technology toward the outdoing of the opposing society. Such societal control is seen on a large scale in the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, written and published by author Philip K. Dick only four years after Herbert Marcuse’s  book. The world imagined by Philip K. Dick sees many societal controls on a global scale after a bitter war poisons the entire Earth with radiation. One can see Marcuse’s idea about social needs dominating individual needs in the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? through the religion Mercerism and emigration to Mars.

                Religion has been known to have customs and beliefs that greatly influence the actions of others. The Holy Crusades and Muslim Conquest are examples of such religious influences. The religion of 2021, according to Phillip K. Dick, has a more societal goal. Most of the characters of his novel follow this religion with many practices which include an emphasis on empathy and animals. The empathy section of this religion focuses on sharing emotions and a constant struggle for survival in such a time of recuperation after World War Terminus ravages the planet. The second aspect of the religion has a direct link to a societal need rather than individual need. At the beginning of the novel, the main protagonist Rick Deckard notes that, “every family in [his] building…has an animal of some sort” (pg. 11 Dick, 1968). It is a societal norm to have an animal and is almost required of every person. Rick Deckard directly says that, “from a social standpoint it had to be done” in order to fit in. One might argue that it could benefit the individual in terms of food, but the population seems to get by without harming the animals with a more vegetarian diet. This seems to make the animals a mainly societal gain, recreating the once thriving animal life for the good of humankind rather than just personal gain. In fact, it detracts from the individual, limiting their ambitions and goals. Rick Deckard continually is plagued by the fact that he does not have an organic animal and is forced to have a robotic substitute. He spends most of the novel trying to make money to get a new animal, mostly putting his life on the line in order to make the money. All of this is done just to improve his societal standing rather than personal benefit. This social need imposed on the individual is explored in depth by Marcuse relating to the societies of the 1960’s. He notes that, “the transplantation of social into individual needs is so effective that the difference between them seems to be purely theoretical” (Marcuse, Chapter 1). A reader from the twentieth or twenty-first centuries can distinguish that all this work by Rick is wasted on fitting into society, but to him it is perfectly natural. This is just “how it is” in the future, showing the grasp of social norms onto normal lives. The animal seems to be, “the very embodiment of Reason for the benefit of all social groups and interests,” even though it does not end up giving Rick too much of a personal gain (Marcuse, Chapter 1). Marcuse also notes that, “all contradiction seems irrational and all counteraction impossible” to a societal need, and this is seen in the world of 2021. Having a mechanical animal is looked down upon and Rick tells the reader that, “Owning and maintaining a fraud,” of a robotic animal, “had a way of gradually demoralizing one” (pg. 9 Dick, 1968) It takes a personal, physical toll on Rick not to fit in, controlling his individual need and moving it to seek the ultimate societal norm; owning an organic animal.

                Another aspect of society in 2021 is the emigration from Earth including a free android for leaving. In this time, “The U.N. had made it easy to emigrate, (and) difficult if not impossible to stay” through several methods (pg. 16 Dick, 1968). Anyone who was effected by the radioactive fallout was required to stay on Earth since they were “biologically unacceptable, (and) a menace to the pristine heredity of the race” (pg. 16 Dick, 1968).  According to one of these special people named J.R. Isidore, people like him, “dropped out of history. He ceased, in effect, to be a part of mankind” (pg. 16 Dick, 1968). This is yet another social impact that distorts someone’s individual needs. Throughout the book, Isidore continually wants to emigrate simply for the sake of being accepted. On Earth, he is lonely and rejected, all caused by this social need of being clean from radiation. It is partially an individual need to remove yourself from radiation, but the Earth seems to be inhabitable since there are people living there who are still eligible to emigrate. It is a societal need to keep the human race clean of genetic mutation, but leaves individuals such as Isidore repressed and limits his potential as a worker on Mars or another colony. The flip side of the emigration coin are the robots given to each emigrant “under U.N. law” (pg. 16 Dick, 1968). The robots, although not used as often on Earth, are basically required up on Mars. It is for the benefit of society to have one since it generated the robot industry and made colonization easier. The androids are even compared to the “American automobiles of the 1960’s” in their industrial rise (pg. 16 Dick, 1968). However, the individual people run the risk with every new model that they might be killed by their robot. There have been many robot escapes to Earth according to Rick Deckard, an android bounty hunter. In each case, the owners were killed for the robot’s freedom. Although there is a danger in possessing one, it is against protocol to refuse one. Marcuse realizes this idea when he says, “The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment” (Marcuse, Chapter 1). The emigrants see this as a connection to their society and therefore ignore the dangers and get an android anyway. The government uses, “the android servant as carrot, the radioactive fallout as stick,” as an immense incentive to leave the planet for societal, rather than individual benefits of starting out anew on Mars. The social dominance of owning animals and leaving the planet outweigh personal benefits and control the lives of both protagonists J.R. Isidore and Rick Deckard as explained by Marcuse about our contemporary industrial society.

Dick, Phillip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Random House Group, 1968. Print.
Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964. Print.

Animals Are Better Than Robots - RJ Sepich, Blog Essay 3 Prompt 1

In chapter one of his book “One-Dimensional Man,” Herbert Marcuse points out that the social hierarchy of modern society has become defined by technology. “The people recognize themselves in their commodities,” Marcuse writes. “They find their soul in automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.” He essentially is arguing that in today’s society we find happiness in how advanced our lives are, and we tend to look down upon people who have less technological instruments in their lives.

This pretty fair statement by Marcuse leads nicely into a completely different world that author Philip K. Dick portrays in his novel “Do Androids Dream of Sheep?” From the beginning of Dick’s science-fiction novel, which is set in 2021, the very opposite of Marcuse’s claim seems to be true: The characters value the lives of real human beings and animals much, much more than they value androids and electric animals.

In the opening chapter of Dick’s book, this concept is introduced when one of the main characters, Rick Deckard, is with his electric sheep when his neighbor Bill walks out to see his real horse. The two begin having a conversation about how Bill’s horse is about to have a baby and Rick offers to buy it. Bill, who believes that Rick’s sheep is real, seems confused why his neighbor would want to buy a second animal. But then Rick reveals that he doesn’t own a real animal, and Bill is too shocked to answer at first.

“You poor guy,” Bill eventually says, setting a tone for the entire book that technology is looked down upon in this world compared to the reverence the people have for humans and real animals (Dick 9). This tone continues with much of the storyline of the book following the characters as they try to determine who is real and who is an android, all while contemplating the possibility that maybe they are in fact androids.

By creating a world so respectful towards real, living life, Dick may be pointing out the lack of respect towards nature and humanity that we display in our current world. I believe Dick would probably agree with Marcuse’s assessment that “the prevailing forms of social control are technological in a new sense” and that those who refuse to live by these standards are simply left behind and scoffed at, or as Marcuse says, “The intellectual and emotional refusal ‘to go along’ appears neurotic and impotent.” (Marcuse Ch. 1)

The fact that in Dick’s novel there’s even such as thing as Sidney’s Animal & Fowl catalogue emphasizes this parody of modern society with how we look with pleasure at advertisements in magazines and catalogues for televisions, cell phones, cars, and much more, but for the most part, we ignore commercials about helping animals or starving children in third-world countries.

Understanding that these moments in “Do Androids Dream of Sheep?” where life is valued over technology and those who are human and posses living animals are viewed as being apart of a higher social class is important. Dick didn’t include these storylines and information just to keep the plot of the story going. They’re included because he is trying to make the exact same point that Marcuse argues in Chapter One of his book. While one is a novel and one is a book containing a stream of psychological thought, they both bring the same point about to perhaps get the reader to rethink what he or she values in life.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Weekly Response to Marcuse & Philip K. Dick - Week 1

As always, post your questions/comments/thoughts as comments to this post.

Prompts on Philip K. Dick & Marcuse - Week 1

Prompt 1:  

Clearly quoting or citing a location in Marcuse's text (just citing the chapter number, or prologue, is fine for Marcuse, since we all have access to the electronic text), identify an idea or concept, used by Marcuse, which you believe can and should be used to better understand some aspect of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Then, do exactly that:  show how and why that concept from Marcuse can be used to understand the novel.  Be sure to show and understanding of, and cite material from, both texts.  Our discussions of how Heidegger can be applied may be relevant here.

Prompt 2 (Research):  

Using academic sources only, probably from Pitt's library (that is, an actual book, or an article from a peer-reviewed journal), present research relating to Marcuse that you think would help the class, and that is at least moving toward an argument.  To put it another way:  it's fine to spend most of your space simply presenting one or several interesting sources, but you need to also, at the very least, show us the beginning of an argument, or to pose a question or series of questions which would lead to an argument.  A 75%/25% division between research and argument would be fine, although I'd be skeptical of a 90%/10% division.

Your sources should be obviously serious and substantive - at least 20 pages of academic writing, and probably more.  If you're using a book, you shouldn't necessarily read the whole thing, but read at least the introduction, and whatever material deals with a topic of interest to you.

Example topics:  how was Marcuse's work received and used when it was published?  How did Marcuse use, and react against, Heidegger?  How can/should we understand Marcuse using either the history of philosophy, or the history of technology?  What was the role of Marcuse's thought in American politics of the 1960s?  Etc.

Recommended book:  Andrew Feenberg's The Catastrophe and Redemption of History, which relates Heidegger and Marcuse, and is even available as kindle book, if you're too lazy to go to the library.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

For Class Today

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Article on Internet Power Usage

“Human by Nature: Is Frankenstein’s Monster Human?” – Taylor Hochuli: Blog Essay #2, Prompt #1

                The difference between man and monster is deliberately addressed by Mary Shelly in her novel Frankenstein. A creature made of human body parts is put together to create what she refers to as “the monster” for the rest of the novel. Yet, we see this monster speaking fluently and telling a gripping story of how he came to live in a world that had only been cruel and inhospitable. The grotesque figure is balanced out by an emotional side seen through his long narrative and final thoughts before killing himself. However, this emotional being torments his master by killing everyone he cares for, yet in the end the reader feels pity as the monster recites how his vengeance was only spurred on by the scorn of his creator. The monster seemingly walks the line between man and monster throughout the novel, playing with the readers sympathies. This makes answering the question, “Is the monster human?” all that more difficult. Ultimately, Frankenstein’s monster is not a human by definition, but can be considered a human by his capacity for thought, morality and his emotional capacity.

                In order to develop a deeper understanding of what being human means, one must start with the simple definition of a human being. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines human as, “a bipedal primate mammal of the genus Homo” (“Human” 2012). In other words, a human must belong in the biological classification of a human in the animal kingdom. This includes being evolved from past species and being born from another human.  Even this is a shaky definition because scientists continue to argue whether the term “human” refers to more or less specific groups of the genus Homo (Smith 2012). For example, does a Neanderthal count as a human or does it just refer to the current human race? At what point is the cut off for being a Neanderthal or primitive man? This argument continues to rage on, and for the purposes of identifying the monster as human, it has relatively little importance. The drive of all these scientific definitions circles around the idea of evolving from another human. A good summation of what puts Frankenstein’s monster outside of the scientific definition of human is exhibited in the 1999 movie Bicentennial Man. When an android applies to become recognized as a human by a world council, one member denies him with the response, “We have to face the undeniable fact that no matter how much you may be like a human being, you are not part of the human gene pool. You are outside of it entirely.” (Bicentennial Man 1999). Although the monster is far from being an android as described in the book, he is undeniably outside of the human gene pool. The monster certainly has physical human traits since “his limbs were in proportion” and has internal organs like a “work of muscles and arteries” beneath his yellow skin (pg. 35, Shelly 1994). However, the monster is not actually born and is not completely genetically related to the human race. So the monster can be called human-like, but does not fit the strict, scientific definition of a “human.”

                Definitions are usually deeper than just the definition one finds in the dictionary. Whether it is a symbolic, cultural, or other meaning, the true definition includes much more than what is on the surface. One can correctly argue that Communism is a system of beliefs created by Karl Marx about the lower class overturning the upper class to create a fair society, but there is so much more to the term. It includes a rich history, bringing even more feelings and aspects of Communism that a definition could never completely cover. Such a concept is described by Martin Heidegger when discussing technology. He says that, “Technology is not equivalent to the essence of technology,” and goes on to point out that the definition of the word tree do not separate out all the different types or elements of a tree (Heidegger 1954). Dr. David Smith from the University of New England points out that scientific definitions are often not as accurate because terms like “human” are part of a “folk-category” (Smith 2012). The definition is unclear because it determined by people and does not have a strong tie to science. He uses the example of the term “weed” which applies to some plants but not to others. There are, “no biological properties,” that determine what is a weed and what is not; the definition is not so scientific (Smith 2012). Although the term “human” is rooted in science, there is a deeper meaning to the term that Frankenstein’s monster embodies. The reader sees the emotional side of the monster through his monologue about his first months of life and his confessions at the bedside of his dead creator.

The “folk” definition of being human includes the idea of being part of the human condition: mortality. A commonly used definition removing androids or gods from being defined as humans include the, “one defining human characteristic…our awareness of our mortality” (Vaknin 2001). Such is used to explain what a human is because the, “scarcity of time gives rise to ambition and creativity” (Vaknin 2001). The monster matches this definition, although just barely. The creation is mortal, but can survive in, “the desert mountains and dreary glaciers” and the cold Arctic which nearly kills his creator (p. 69, Shelly 1994). The monster does allude to the fact that he can die to take away the “spark of life” his creator gave him and he sacrifices himself in the end by burning himself alive to finally end his torment (pg. 165-166, Shelly 1994). With this mortality, he devotes his life toward revenge against his creator who abandoned him. Although it is a terrifying ambition, it is a true ambition caused by his mortality, making the monster human. Another identifying characteristic of being human is a higher intelligence. This is used to distinguish humans from lesser animals or creatures. The creature is certainly intelligent, mastering language and history in a year where it takes most humans at least a quarter of a lifetime to reach his level of knowledge. One might consider this over intelligence as non-human since it is above the levels of the regular populous, but it is intelligence much like a human’s anyhow. He is not smart enough to create life like his creator so there is a limit to his intelligence and makes him seem more human.  The final part of the essence of being “human” lies in morality and choices. This poses a challenge since humans are known for “their behavioral unpredictability” and moral shortcomings (Vaknin 2001). When acts of immense cruelty are performed such as the genocide in Germany or the Stalin regime in Russia, the leaders can be described as inhuman. Instances of violence and anger are seen as less than human, yet even the most human characters have such traits. Frankenstein has his own feelings of violence toward the monster to the point of trying to shoot it after the death of Elizabeth. Yet, Frankenstein is undeniably human. The monster has feelings of anger and rage along with appreciation of nature when learning about the world. His anger is promoted by the mankind’s treatment toward him and only makes him seem more human. His emotional changes from immense loneliness to rage to appreciation show he has the moral characteristics common to humans. Therefore, Frankenstein, although not of the human gene pool, exhibits the essence of being human with his mortality, intelligence, and clear emotional capacity.

Works Cited:

Bicentennial Man. Dir. Chris Columbus. By Isaac Asimov. Perf. Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, and Sam
                Neill. Touchstone Pictures, 1999. DVD.

Heidegger, Martin. "The Question Concerning Technology." Heidegger: The Question Concerning
Technology. Georgia Tech, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2013. <>.

“Human.” Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Smith, David L. "Philosophy Dispatches." What Does It Mean to Be Human? Psychology Today, 16 May
2012. Web. 21 Jan. 2013. <>.

Vaknin, Sam. "On Being Human." Malignant Self Love. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.

The Monster as a Human

Is Victor’s Monster Human?
               As times change, so too must our definition of things. We live in an age where the traditional idea of the family unit is being rethought, where our idea of what is and is not technologically possible changes every day, and what we view as acceptable in our society is in a state of constant flux. So, taking a more modern perspective, I argue not whether or not Frankenstein’s monster is human but rather, how could he not be? It is worth noting, I fear, that this argument may end up hinging on one’s political beliefs more so than any other factor.
               For starters, let us examine the monster as a sum of his parts. The monster is made up solely of human parts, “Scrounged,” as Shelley describes them from various graves. If one takes the argument that being human (not necessarily being possessed of “humanity”) means being made up of human flesh and bone and having a human brain, the Monster is decidedly human. I liken this to the practice of calling a dead body “he” or “she” rather than “it” as many societies are prone to do. Whether living or dead, the body still belongs to a human thus we, as a society, imbue it with a certain removed humanity, still referring to it by a gender specific, possessive name. If the Monster is made up of dead human flesh, it is no different than any other dead body (aside from the fact that it is something of an amalgamation) and should therefore be referred to as one.  
               Once Victor manages to imbue the Monster’s flesh with life, it is worth mentioning that what was once a dead human body is now, well, alive again. All of the Monster’s biological processes are functioning well enough to sustain his life. While his motor skills and mental abilities are not yet developed, this would be expected with any human who has just been brought to life or, “born.”
               Many people, myself included feel that what truly separates humans from animals is their capacity for high reasoning and complex emotion. As the Monster’s mind develops, the reader sees him display both of these abilities time and time again.  In chapter thirteen, the Monster asks, “When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, the, a monster, a blot upon the earth from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” (Shelley, 110). This particular passage is important for two reasons. He displays acute reasoning skills (all things considered) by deducing that he is the only “monster” on earth. It shows that he has observed and processed his surroundings with enough intelligence to conclude that he, despite being made of the same biological material as everyone else, is somehow different. In itself that is an intelligent deduction but does not display his full humanity. In calling himself, “a blot upon the earth from which all men fled and whom all men disowned,” he shows that his conclusions have had an emotional effect on him. He feels isolated. Lonely.
               As if this were not enough, in chapter sixteen, the monster provides a definitive declaration of existential suffering. “I am alone and miserable,” he says simply (Shelley, 129). It is possibly the simplest of quotes but it tells the reader everything they need to know. The Monster is intelligent enough to recognize his feelings for what they are and is eloquent enough to give voice to them.
               Taken as a whole, it is only logical to conclude that Victor’s monster is human. He is made of identical building blocks to all other humans, operates by the same biological principles (once reanimated), reasons the way that other humans do and to a level that not all are capable of. Most of all though, he feels the same existential pain that other humans feel. Such experiences are part of being a human. 

Blog #2 – Prompt 2b.

The Passivity of Women in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s upbringing was unique for her era in the fact that she was raised feminist. She grew in a time where most of society would perceive her as the pseudo-property of her father or spouse. Naturally, Shelley would not wish to willingly perpetuate this opinion, nor sit idly by without bringing some attention to the passive position that women were forced into. It is highly likely that this political opinion on the lack of female standing in society is shown in the exaggerated passivity of the female characters in her novel. It could also be said that through these passive female characters, Shelley displays the characteristics women were expected to have.

A former student correctly stated that, “Justine Moritz is the most passive women in the novel.” Truly, a person who is unable to muster up any action to defend their own life would most likely not be able to active at all. Once it was clear that no man would be capable of proving her innocence, Justine just gave up. “I did confess, but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might obtain absolution.” (Shelley 90). This makes it seem as if she confesses because that would be easier than trying to find out the truth. Despite believing she is a good person, she makes the minimal effort to prove it. In her passivity, it could be said that Justine represents the assumption that a woman be quiet and humble, never bringing undo attention to herself, and to live with the grace of God. “I do not fear to die… God raises my weakness… I am resigned to the fate awaiting me. Learn from me, dear lady, to submit in patience to the will of Heaven!” (Shelley 91).

Elizabeth’s passivity allows her to fulfill the role of mother and sister, a source of endless support and caretaking, but not supposed to do much else. She goes along with whatever desire or demand that is put to her: she becomes a member of a family she does not know because they asked for her; she agrees to marry a man who is like her brother because she was told to; Victor tells her to calm down after Justine’s execution and she never again appears to be upset. Much like with mothers and sisters, Elizabeth is often referred to in a possessive light. People are always claiming their mother’s for their own everything time they say, “MY mother.” Although the entitled possession Victor expressed toward Elizabeth is perhaps more literal. “…I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally, and looked upon Elizabeth as mine…” (Shelley 26). Elizabeth being the passive individual she is, never combats this view that she is a mother and an object. She spends days taking care of others, and waiting for Victor to tell her how to feel. “Elizabeth seemed happy; my tranquil demeanor contributed greatly to calm her mind.” (Shelley 221). Naturally, she would seem happy, for she had no reason to believe that she could be unhappy on her own.

It could be argued that Safie is the only non-passive female in the novel, but I would argue for her passivity. It is true that she leaves her father’s tyranny in order to obtain religious freedom. However, she merely exchanges being the possession of her father, to that of her husband. Once her father, she had the power to go anywhere, be with anyone, do anything, but instead she follows behind the man she perceives as a protector. It is never actually said in the book that Safie loves Felix, only that he loves her. “…when he saw the lovely Safie… the youth could not help owning to his mind that the captive possessed a treasure which would fully reward his toil and hazard.” (Shelley 135). This shows his love for her was based solely on her beauty that he aimed to possess, which is another attribute passive women as supposed to have. It could almost be said that Safie competes with Justine for most passive woman. While Safie did take some control over her life, unlike Justine, she had the opportunity and means to take complete control over her life. Instead, she chose to put her life into another man’s hands. She chose to play the beautiful wife, rather than a beautiful self-possessed person.

Mary Shelley used her female characters as a way of revealing the plight of women in her time. She exaggerated their passivity in order to reflect the ridiculous expectation society puts on women. They are meant to be mothers (Elizabeth), beautiful and charming (Safie), and quiet and humble (Justine). It makes sense that Frankenstein is a horror novel. Shelley must have thought that the box society forced women into was pretty horrible.