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.