This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic California in which life is scarce. Androids, humanoid possessions of the newly emigrated population in Mars, escape to earth in hopes of blending in with the remaining human population. Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who targets “andy’s,” utilizes the Voigt-Kampff profiling test to determine whether or not the tested person is an android or a human. Written during the Cold War, Phillip Dick uses these androids to present his perspective of humanity in today's society to his readers.
Rick Deckard fails to see the ostensible similarities between him and his android counterparts. His wife calls him a murderer; however, he does not see himself as such and vehemently disagrees with her. The irony of this scene is the constant reference and usage of the mood organ, a mechanism that when dialed to a certain setting stimulates or inhibits various brain regions in order to make one feel whatever emotion they want. Rick’s wife, alarmed that she is not affected by the emptiness of her environment “found a setting for despair” and excitedly added it to her schedule of moods for the week (5). This sort of synthetic emotion brought about by technology depicts the exact nature of the androids. They are machines so advanced that they mimic human behavior and emotion by the sole use of technology. Similarly in the 60s, various pharmaceuticals such as Valium, a benzodiazapene that causes relaxation, were introduced and widely distributed in order for people to alter their mood based on claims of anxiety. People began to use these drugs at the time and dose of their choosing, which is analogous to the function of the mood organ. Despite these apparent similarities between the androids, the humans of earth, specifically Rick and his police department, believe that the main difference between humans and androids is that humans can empathize.
The basis of the Voigt-Kampff profiling test is to discern whether or not the subject displays any sort of empathy or moral code. However insofar, there has been much ambiguity if this is truly applicable in the current state of society. “The Leningrad scientists…think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale” (38). This reference alludes to the fact that there are humans that cannot experience empathy, and if there were a wide spread study done, one could expect a large population to not be able to pass. When looking at how Rick and fellow readers of the Sydney catalog objectify animals as status symbols, one can only notice the lack of empathy. They did not seem to care when the owls were falling from the sky during the beginning of the extinction, however once they were gone, they seemed to be the most prized of all animals. This lack of empathy can also be seen when observing how their society treats the “specials”. The specials are a group of low IQ individuals who have taken a toll from the radioactive dust on earth. They are outcasts in society, and are treated as if they were non-humans, like the androids. These seemingly fictional traits of their society can be seen in our society as well. Animals are dying due to deforestation, poaching and pollution, however most of society does not seem to care until they are at the brink of extinction. They are only prized once they become a rarity. This unempathetic attitude towards life, although attributed to the androids is seen also, almost more so in the humans.
Phillip Dick presents a society that although seems so disconnected from ours, is a complex allegory of our own. We in our own society have become so cold and unempathetic that we use drugs and other devices just to feel. We have become so accustomed to this type of life perpetuated by new technology and unattatchment that we ourselves have become the androids. “An android, he said, doesn’t care about what happens to another android. Then, Miss Luft said, you must be an android..because your job is to kill them” (101).