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.