In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the Earth has been laid to waste from World War Terminus, most people have left the now wasteland to form colonies on other planets, however a small fraction of the population remains, still productive, and still socially organized through its government. Yet even though the actual government has mostly left the planet, it’s still a major influence on the few people who are still on Earth; in those small interactions the government’s agenda becomes filled. It has done this by creating desires and needs that fill this agenda, and these needs such as owning an animal and emigrating are constant thoughts for the main protagonist and all of the humans in the novel. The government also controls by suppressing the opposing ideas to their agenda, and they do so in any way possible that also allows for secrecy. These techniques can be understood and elaborated through Marcuse’s text, One Dimensional Man, and other sources that will give a broader understanding of how the government indirectly and directly controls the desires of its people and how it can bend the will of its citizens without them noticing.
The most prominent way that the government can control the humans on Earth is by creating a desire for animals. In this world we are shown that having animals, especially barnyard animals, are truly assets in asserting power and wealth on the planet. When the reader is shown this planet, the system is already in place, however when reading Marcuse and his ideas that “The intensity, satisfaction, and even the character of human needs, beyond the biological, have always been preconditioned” (Marcuse 1). This then aids the reader in piecing together the idea of how the government has instilled this behavior into its people. It began after World War Terminus when many species immediately went extinct and the government then recognized that there was a need for greater protection for its species, and this section of history can be noticed when Rick’s neighbor states, “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” (Dick 1996). This feeling that the text is describing is akin to active inhibition, which is a collective animal behavior which can be described as a behavior that can stop another behavior from happening, in which the texts example is that everyone should own an animal or the collective looks down upon them (Sumpter 2006). This active inhibition is so strong in this society that it has created a new industry in the response threshold that the limited number of animals created (Sumpter 2006). The collective group of individuals also works akin to a HiveMind structure, except that they are solving ecological issues instead of the basic computation that the paper speaks of; yet the effect of getting the desired behavior is the same (Singh et al. 2012). There was also another reason for the government to instill the idea of animal husbandry to the common people; it allowed them to create a standardized opinion about animals for their empathy test to detect androids. This allows the government to have better precision when conducting these tests, due to the extreme similarities of androids and humans. This was an added benefit that allowed the government to have a better control on its population.
There is also another factor in the government’s control, only a few people know that androids regularly come to Earth and all of them that are supposed to know are enforcing the law. At first it seems odd why this would happen, they act like normal citizens and want to lead lives that are normal and contribute to their respective communities. This is especially noted with the destruction of Luba Luft when Rick noted, “Other humans, having no knowledge of the presence of androids amongst them, had to be protected at all costs- even at losing the quarry” (Dick 1996). This suppression of knowledge allows the government to quickly kill these individuals when they are found without cause of rebel or moral dilemma for the common citizen. However, the government wants to silence these robots because they are supposed to be the slaves that are to work at the space colonies, and that is supposed to be their only role. This follows through with Marcuse in which he states that “Such a society may justly demand acceptance of its principles and institutions and reduce opposition to the discussion and promotion of alternate policies with the status quo” (Marcuse). This silencing of the opposition is happening in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the androids who are escaping are this opposition to the government due to the androids ideals about their own personal freedoms. The androids were originally, “the Synthetic Freedom Fighter, had been modified; able to function on an alien world, the humanoid robot—strictly speaking, the organic android—had become the mobile donkey engine of the colonization program”(Dick 1996). They are also the incentive to go to these other planets, every citizen obtains one of these, and Earth is not supposed to have this ‘luxury.’ I believe that this is the main reason why the androids are destroyed in the novel, if enough of the Earth citizens caught on that the androids were returning to Earth, which is supposed to be considered a wasteland, and then it would cause a change in belief of what the colonies actually are. The government wants to keep the possibly deplorable conditions of the area in secret so that they can essentially fool people and allow these rose colored glasses to fog their view on the actual reality of the colonies.
As stated in the previous section, the government has a certain amount of force and control on emigration to other colonies and the desire to emigrate. They were able to sway many people when they first began to push the idea with emigration, and now the only people who are left are those who are too stubborn to leave. Government propaganda was booming, there was a free government televisions show devoted to sway people to emigrate, and there were fliers with the saying “Emigrate or deteriorate! The choice is yours!” (Dick). This constant blaring of propaganda helps stop the idea of staying on the planet, as there is a health risk due to the radioactive dust, and many people are injured mentally and physically by the conditions of the planet. The people who are too damaged are no longer allowed to emigrate and these people are then looked down upon as scum of the Earth. This classification worries many of the citizens on Earth, even though many of them seem cemented in their ways and do not want to emigrate. The main character, Rick, only speaks about not emigrating one right in the beginning when he states, “But I can’t emigrate, he said to himself. Because of my job” (Dick 1996). There were many times when the main character thought about leaving, yet there was never a resolution of staying on the Earth for the rest of his life. This can be explained partially by inhibition in which one action can hinder another one from appearing, which is again common in collective animal behavior (Sumpter 2006). Therefore the government is doing an excellent job at not allowing the public to think about fully settling down on Earth without constantly being bombarded with propaganda about leaving.
It’s also interesting to note how emigration can conflict with the reality of living on the planet colonies. From the story line we understand that the androids are coming to Earth, and they are the only ones that come back to Earth that we know of. The world government paints a wonderful picture of the colonies, however, if androids, which are essentially human, are leaving and assimilating into a world in which failure to is to become ‘retired’ which is just a euphemism for brutally murdered, then there is a high probability that there are major issues with the colonies that the government is trying to suppress. One of the techniques that they could be using are the Penfield Mood Organs, which we know are used on Earth, but it would also make sense that these mood organs would be used on the other planets as well, which would aid the government in forcing its citizens to have this acceptance of their lives due to its emotional altering function. In the first chapter we even see Rick’s wife stating “My first reaction consisted of being grateful that we could afford a Penfield mood organ” (Dick 1999). This emotion helps to affirm the government’s agenda in controlling the general population by essentially drugging its citizens into states of emotion.
Through creating desires and suppressing ideas in the world’s population, the government in this post-apocalyptic world has a dangerous amount of power and can most likely bend the will of its citizens to fit the agenda that it wishes. Much of this power is efficient and has long lasting effects, the social organization on Earth with owning animals is tightly associated with success, while the opposite is associated with shame and embarrassment. Earth still does not know that it is under a constant bombardment of androids being on the loose, and the Penfield Mood Organs keep everyone at a stable emotional level. These controlling factors are then able to fix smaller issues within the society, such as keeping the ecological resources on Earth and forcing the androids to look like a present to new colony members; and as these controls are picked up in the novel, it forces the reader to think about their own government, and possibly find parallels in between our government and the imaginary system that Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep has. Even though their situation seems to be fantasy, if citizens allow the government to slowly take over their everyday lives, then a situation akin to this one could prevail on a particular country.
Dick, P. K. (1996). Do androids dream of electric sheep?. Del Rey.
Marcuse, H. (1964). One dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advance industrial society. Boston, 19, 48-55.
Singh, P., Lasecki, W. S., Barelli, P., & Bigham, J. P. HiveMind: A Framework for Optimizing Open-Ended Responses From the Crowd.
Sumpter, D. J. (2006). The principles of collective animal behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 361(1465), 5-22.