Friday, February 1, 2013

Blog 3, Prompt 1: Satisfying False Needs

In Marcuse's book, One-Dimensional Man, he expounds on the nature of what humans perceive as their needs. "The intensity, the satisfaction and even the character of human needs, beyond the biological level, have always been preconditioned. Whether or not the possibility of doing or leaving, enjoying or destroying, possessing or rejecting something is seized as a need depends on whether or not it can be seen as desirable and necessary for the prevailing societal institutions and interests." (Ch. 1) It's his opinion that man's needs, beyond the necessities for survival, are dictated not by us, but by society as a whole. This becomes clearer when you consider that Marcuse's definition of 'needs' can be either true or false, the latter being what society preconditions you towards. Distinguishing between these needs and overcoming the prejudice of your own preconditioning is a common theme found in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. In the novel, men satisfy their needs through caring for animals, machine assistance, and the new religion of Mercerism.
At the beginning of the novel we are told of World War Terminus, the war that wiped out a large portion of life on Earth. The population of humans on the planet has also been severely diminished. At a time where most people have left Earth for space colonies and the surface is left irradiated and gloomy empathy becomes one of humanity's biggest needs. To meet this need it has become standard for every person to care for at least one animal. By doing this they feel more connected to nature and life in general. On the surface this appears to be fulfilling one of Marcuse's 'true' needs. The reader quickly realizes, however, that caring for animals has become a class symbol where the size and quantity of your animals are more like indicators of wealth than they are of empathy. This is seen when Rick Deckard is having a conversation with his neighbor about the neighbor's pregnant horse. "[Rick] wished to god he had a horse, in fact any animal. Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article." (Ch. 1) Rick is pressured by society to care for an animal, and so feels upset when he's denied this 'false' need.
Empathy remains a need, however, and if animals aren't the key to fulfilling it then people turn to Mercerism and their empathy boxes. Through these boxes people can feel connected to one another regardless of where they are by merging themselves with Mercer. This also seems to be satisfying a true need, but it can be overwhelming and dangerous at times. When John Isidore reflects on this he thinks, "But he knew he'd take the risk. He always had before. As did most people, even oldsters who were physically fragile." (Ch. 2) People feel that they need Mercerism to feel empathy, but sometimes they go so deep into their empathy boxes that they get themselves killed.
On top of society (and in most ways the government) preconditioning people to care for animals and indulge in Mercerism, they also implant the idea that you need machine assistance to be happy. There are several examples of this in the novel, two being the Penfield Mood Organ and the android assistants. Everyone who emigrates off-planet is designated an android assistant to help them with their daily lives. The people left on Earth are then pressured through commercials and advertisements into believing that they need an android and the only way to get one is to leave. Those that do stay usually own a Penfield Mood Organ to dial different emotions for themselves as a shortcut to satisfaction. But these moods are artificial and, much like Mercerism, could lead to a dependence on the machine.
All of these things are society's way of fulfilling the human need for empathy among other things. While this is a real need, the methods used to achieve them may not always be the best. The people in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep are subject to the same desires that Marcuse says our society tricks us into wanting. It's up to us to recognize when this occurs so we don't get sucked into chasing after the satisfaction of fulfilling 'false' needs.


Roger Sepich said...

This is a very readable and detailed essay response to both of this week's readings that does well to explain how human needs are related to both Marcuse's book and Dick's novel, and the examples you use to support everything are spot on.

The main feedback I would give is that I don't think the argument goes far enough. Your current argument seems to be just that 'needs' are a common theme in both of these readings and that our needs can often be dictated by society. But what are the implications of this? What should we think about society telling us what is cool and what we should buy? Is it good or bad? Would these two authors think it's good or bad? These are just some questions I thought of that could be explored to strengthen your argument.

The very last sentence of the entire essay presents a stronger argument that relates to the modern world we live in, and I think that could be expanded upon much more throughout the entire essay.

Adam said...

The first paragraph shows a strong understanding of Marcuse. I also like the closing sentence, up to a point. It's a worthwhile approach to the novel, but it's odd that you aren't clear about what you're doing with the truth or falsity of these needs - the most central thing may be missing here.

The thing I like about the central experience is that you're showing (if not fully explaining) the transition between the truth and falsity of a need here. But is this an explication of Marcuse? A questioning of him? You nderstand the material, certainly, but what are you doing with it?

Is empathy a true need or false need? Maybe it's not obvious, but it sure seems worth discussion.

Really, after reading the whole thing I have only a couple things to say.
1. Your grasp on both Marcuse and PKD is strong
2. I'm really unclear on what you're doing with your strong understanding of the material. You end by making a comparison between our world and the world of DADES - but it's a vague connection, which doesn't *do* anything. Do you see (or want your reader to see) any false needs or true needs different after reading DADES? You see a connection between the novel, Marcuse, and our world. But what do we do with that connection? What do you want to convince the reader of?

Note that RJ says many of the same things as me, albeit in a somewhat different way.