Thursday, January 31, 2013

"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.


Brian DeWillie said...

Your essay, for the most part was very well done and I enjoyed reading it. I do have a few issues, however that I wanted to address. Your introduction, while certainly relevant to the ideas of Marcuse, don't really add anything to the actual prompt of connecting Marcuse to Dick. It just seemed a bit unnecessary to have such detail about societal control in your life.

Your first argument connects to the quote about transplantation of social into individual needs which really connects well to the idea of owning animals, but you introduce the paragraph by referring to Mercerism. I understand owning and caring for animals may be a part of following Mercerism but you basically split it up into empathy and animals and then only mentioned one sentence about empathy while the rest was about animals. I guess my point is that you should just focus on the owning animals part to connect it to the Marcuse quote rather than include all of Mercerism (which is pretty easily accomplished by cutting out a few sentences). This would just make the essay seem more focused to me.

Adam said...

Taylor -

Structurally, the first paragraph is a bit of a mess. You discuss yourself (as an object of social control), and you discuss social control in both Marcuse and PKD - without really showing what you're trying to *do* here. Are you trying to understand PKD differently through Marcuse? Are you trying to understand your own life differently? What's the goal? It's rarely wrong to have a thesis statement - you're a little unfocused here, and a conventional thesis statement would help there.

Question: what's the difference between personal benefit and societal standing? You assuming that the two exist in tension, but that's not really clear to me. Or to put it another way - there is an assumed agreement with Marcuse here, which is fine, but should probably be made that explicit.

Really, that was a nitpick, though. Your reading of PKD through Marcuse through the end of the 2nd paragraph is very good. Good use of the details of the text!

I think your analysis of the way in which the androids combine usefulness, necessity, and danger is a little confusing. It gets less confusing toward the end, and I'm beginning to buy into your discussion. Still, it would have worked better for me if it was less abstract (is there a way to discuss Rachel Rossen here, for instance? Especially in a revision, you want something like that here, I think). The biggest problem with the third paragraph is that it almost stands separately from the 2nd paragraph - the two need to flow together into one argument (which reminds me of the fact that there was no thesis statement in the first paragraph).

This is great material, but it needs to be revised around a clarified single argument. The paragraph structure is a mess, too, which probably flows from the lack of a central argument.