Saturday, February 16, 2013

Revision 1

We Are Living in a Material World, and I am a Material… Android

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.” (Marcuse Ch. 1). 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? But why is it a strong motivator? After all, false needs are merely material possessions. What does it the mindless perusal of specific material possession say about the characters, or better yet, how does this reflect upon the real world?

The world of the novel has been devastated by another world war that has killed off the majority of the world’s animals including all of its flying birds. Despite all the suffering, one of the first things to audience learns of Rick 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 owned 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. But if it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is the problem? “The sine qua non of materialism is the use of possessions to signal and ascribe individual essence. Whether to project an image or to judge others, possessions serve as primary indicators of personal substance for the materialist.  To such a person, people are what they have; in Sartre's (1943) terms, being is defined by having.” (Hunt 65). By this standard, the authenticity of possessions, in this case of animals, reflect your own authenticity. Like your animal, you are the genuine article. If two girls stand side-by-side wearing the same outfit but one was wearing designer and the other cheap imitation, the imitator would be labeled “poser.” Despite looking the part, or acting the part, or in all intents and purposes filling the part, she can never be more than a copy.

This particular example may seem a bit unrelatable to the middle class masses, who probably cannot afford a wardrobe outfitted by Gucci, Coach, Dulce and Gabbana, and Brooks Brothers. Yet, there is still the obvious class of acceptable and unacceptable labels. Taking a note from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, technology shall be used as an example. In today’s first world society, there is an unspoken difference between people who have smartphones and those who own a basic, people who have iPods as opposed to Zunes, those who possess a lab top, tablet, and desktop over someone with just one of those items. It is a free for all, who can have the most stuff. In some areas, you could be among the noticeably poor, and still spot a dozen iPhones. You can be broke, destitute, uneducated, sick, tired, broken down, and look like the elite. Possessions give the illusion that you are not less off than anyone else, even if you need to pay a price to achieve it. Deckard “retires” six androids over the course of a twenty-four hour period. He finds himself feeling a kind of empathy toward certain androids, causing him emotional pain and personal reevaluation. Yet upon the death of the first three androids, he drives off and buys himself a real goat, and imagines buying himself a sheep with the money from the last three android death’s. In reality, he is living in a post-apocalyptic world, spending his days in fear of becoming genetic undesirable, and killing beings that only want a chance at living their own lives as his job. But at least if he could own a real animal, then everything might appear to be as gratifying and honorable as his Penfield directs him to feel. He is using the false need to possess an animal as a means of fulfilling a human need for acceptance. In this way, Philip K. Dick shows how the need to own animals meets the three central themes of materialism. “The first theme is that acquisition is fundamental to the lives of materialists… Acquisition serves as a set of plans and goals that directs and guides day-to-day endeavors. The second theme is that acquisition is a means of achieving happiness. To the materialist, both acquisition and possession of goods are essential to satisfaction and a feeling of wellbeing… [the] third theme… is that materialists employ possessions to indicate success or status.” (Hunt 66-7).

Even interpersonal interactions must follow a certain thread in the novel. Human-to-human relations are curt, to the point, without feeling, except when connected through something purchased. The pervasive religion of Mercerism could show elements of the false needs mentality partially outside of outright materialism. 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. 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.” (Marcuse Ch. 1). This quote is an accurate description of trend culture (to love and hate what others love and hate), which is greatly fueled by materialism and consumerism. But in the case of Mercerism, you are not buying the newest fashion or device, you’re buying human connection. Even Isidore, a man who’s dust-impacted IQ limits his understanding of many things, finds it odd that Pris Stratton does not participate in Mercerism, and does not even possess an empathy box. “The materialist's constructs emphasize the physically observable correlates of the value cluster, rather than any internal qualities that might otherwise reflect that value state.” (Hunt 71).  What Hunt is saying here is that materialists need tangible, observable items to express their values, opinions, and thoughts. But in a world where the population is devastated by war and disease, and personal relationships seem almost discouraged, brandishing your life in a collection of possessions is not as feasible. Through the power of Mercerism and the empathy box, you can “share” your happiness at everyone. I say “at” and not “with” because despite Mercerism’s goal of unity, often times when someone achieves a happiness, they do not share it with others so that they may join in, but that they might feel envious that you appear to have something they do not. When Rick buys the goat, Iran immediately wants to share her pleasure with everyone, reflecting on a time when another fused person shared their joy at buying an animal. Yet Rick seems to notice the material exchange of emotion present in fusing with Mercer. “’They’ll have our joy,’ Rick said, ‘but we’ll lose. We’ll exchange what we feel for what they feel. Our joy will be lost.’” (Dick 152).

Does the novel spell our doom? Is the drive for animals and fabricated human connection these characters face describe the inevitable destruction brought about a consumer-driven society? If it does, I do not think it is the animals or the empathy box that shows it; it is the kipple that does. “Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail… When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself… Kipple drives out non-kipple…. the universe is moving toward a final state or total, absolute kippleization.” (Dick 58-9). Think to back to the junk in the back of your closet, underneath the bed, and tucked away in the garage or attic. Materialism feeds into this ever-growing pile of junk, and yet we need to acquire more. There is always something new or updated that must be owned. By showing the kippleization of these abandoned apartments, Dick is metaphorically showing how things can take over our lives. Kipple drives out non-kipple, like picking a career that brings in the highest income over one that would give you personal satisfaction, or choosing to buy yourself and iPad over getting your child some new shoes. Our attachments to our false needs drives out the true ones. “The judgement of needs and their satisfaction, under the given conditions, involves standards of priority…” (Marcuse Ch. 1). Needs are meant to be based on priority, highest comes first, but when those priorities are influenced by society and the need to be accepted by it, then what should come first is driven out by what they want to come first, by the kipple. Deckard manages to finally achieve his high priority need of owning an animal, only to have it replaced to owning a second.

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.” (Marcuse Ch. 1). But does that mean it is hopeless? Deckard seems to be a ray of light in the end. His animal is dead, the mystical toad he has found is a fake, yet he is not upset. Earlier, he may have been completely devastated or angry at such a discovery, but instead he says, “The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are.” (Dick 214). Perhaps, by finding value in something he previously thought valueless, he might stop his endless quest to own an animal, the highest status symbol in his society, and then maybe he will slowly feel the need to seek less and less until he finally is satisfied by his true needs. “The only needs that have an unqualified claim for satisfaction are the vital ones – nourishment, clothing, lodging… The satisfaction of these needs is the prerequisite for the realization of all needs…” (Marcuse Ch. 1). We can only hope.

Work Cited
"1: The New Forms of Control." One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1991. N. pag. Print.
Dick, Philip K. Blade Runner: (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). New York:             Ballantine, 1982. Print.
Hunt, James, Jerome Kernan, and Deborah Mitchell. "Materialism As Social     Cognition: People, Possessions, and Perception." Journal of Consumer             Psychology 5.1 (1996): Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I'd argue that a defining characteristic of false needs is that they are external imposed, through indoctrination/advertising.

I love the discussion of authenticity in relationship with Deckard, and I also loved the (brief) discussion of how the migration from the true need of preserving and protecting animals has migrating to the false need of possessing and flaunting them. This is all nicely done.

Your discussion of the role played by possessions in our society is pretty good, as is your discussion of how it works in Deckard's society. The whole, though, manages to be a little less than the sum of its parts: it's a little unclear what you're doing with the fictional society and the real one put together, or used to interpret one another. The writing in this section could use some clarification.

One oddity of your discussion of false needs is the examples you provide. While they are fully correct (the ipad vs. the shoes, for instance), they're a little tone-deaf, too, because for Marcuse false needs aren't primarily about individual bad choices, but about the problematic structure of the society as a whole. This isn't a big deal in itself, but I did want to point it out in passing.

I liked your ending a lot. I don't find it to be anywhere near complete, but the argument that Deckard has at least set foot on a path toward valueing true needs over false ones is very interesting. This is an argument that could have emerged much more clearly much earlier in the essay; it's also something that demands investigation from some additional angles which you aren't currently pursuing. For instance, you make some interesting claims about Mars (migration as true need) which don't take into account any of the things we find out about life on Mars through the course of the novel. It's also untrue, for instance, that characters don't worry about paying bills - Deckard and Iran worry a lot about money, because they're worried about paying for an animal! Isidore also blows a whole paycheck on tofu and peaches. My point isn't that your direction at the end isn't good - it is good - but that you haven't considered all of the important parts of the novel in relationship with that argument.

Short version: you begin with interesting ideas especially re: materialism, form a good and very worthwhile argument at the end, but you could have used one more draft, to rework the earlyier parts of the essay to fit the final argument that you end up with.