In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? , Phillip K. Dick creates a post-apocalyptic world that is crumbling from radiation caused by the nuclear war: World War Terminus. As a result, many humans escape to off-world colonies; though some people are left behind. On the off-world colonies, those who emigrate are promised a “custom-tailored humanoid robot — designed specifically for [their] UNIQUE NEEDS” (Dick 17). The more technologically advanced the androids are built, the more they understand and disagree with being treated as slaves.
Consequently, many androids begin to illegally escape to Earth and attempt to pose as humans. Bounty hunters, such as Rick Deckard, hunt down the androids to “retir[e] —i. e. , kill —” (31) them. To test whether someone is an android or human Deckard uses the “Voigt-Kampff Altered Scale” (Dick 46). This test examines one’s empathetic response to triggers — mainly relating to something that causes an animal to suffer— to determine if the response is being mechanically forced or is an automatic natural response. This empathetic response based on caring for animals is the main sign in distinguishing humans from androids.
These triggers are common things that would be overlooked in Western society: eating meat, hunting, animal fur coats or rugs. The need to distinguish humans from androids has caused people to be obsessed with caring for an animal. This concept of how animals should be treated — i. e. animal rights — are different from the rights which are in place in current Western society. Although it is still clear that animal rights are being exploited for human benefit. In this essay, I will argue that Dick is alluding to in our current society, animal rights are not progressing sufficiently, and what is impeding progress.
Post World War Terminus, animals are “no longer [being] divided into … categories of livestock, wild, domesticated, and food but …as a singular type of commodity; a pet” (Molloy 114). This is because of the rapid rates of extinction due to the conditions of Earth’s environment. Specifically, a radioactive dust has settled on the earth. This dust has killed off many animals, starting with owls then other birds (Dick 16). In the novel, society has adapted in a way that is divergent from Western culture; where many people have diets containing meat or of animal by-products, and hunting is a regulated sport.
Although there are regulations and laws focusing on protecting animals, many of them are ignored; showing ill concern for animal rights and the main priority is profit. Regulations and laws in Dick’s novel have greater consequences — because of the severe social and political punishments — on the public, leads to many people having greater concerns about animals. Socially, by caring for an animal, this demonstrates empathy. Often those who do not have an animal, are looked down on and seen as immoral and anti-empathic (13).
This evidence allows for the argument that people are more concerned about the social shame than animal’s rights. The social shame creates a hierarchical system of people. At the top, those who are wealthy enough to afford and maintain the health of their organic animals, following, those that have animatronic animals to pose as organic animals, and lastly, those who do not have an animal and therefore not empathize. By acknowledging the public shame which comes without caring for an animal, one can argue that really Dick’s society only appears to progress compared to Western society.
Humans have completely eradicated animals from their diets and his society is centralized around the care and respect for animals, however the reasoning behind this is not defined by real empathy. Claire Molloy refers to there’s animals are described as crying in the background when Deckard calls the Happy Dog Pet Shop; animals are only understood to cry in undesirable situations (Molloy 112). Demonstrating how capitalism has taken advantage of this hierarchical need, ignoring the real reason behind the initiative, and uses animals as a gain of wealth.
The treatment of animals as a commodity is something that is done in Western society, with only a few alterations. Many times throughout the novel, Deckard spots an animal he’s interested in, and immediately pulls out his Sidney’s Animal and Fowl Catalogue (Dick 14) to get the price of the animal. He is always fascinated with the idea of having a real animal. Deckard would never gain any emotional attachment as he cares for the animal. It can be seen as, when Deckard hears the news about how his goat is killed because Rachael pushes it off the roof, he is not upset with the new.
He continues along, not showing any emotion or empathy for his goat because he views it as a commodity. By recognizing the animal as a commodity “confirms the animals an object” (113), therefore it eliminates the belief that animals are creatures with the ability to suffer and/or enjoy life, eliminating the need for it to have rights (Singer 575). For example, at the beginning of the book when Deckard is out on his rooftop with his neighbour, Bill Barbour, the two are discussing Barbour’s colt. The conversation consists of talking about the colt’s capital worth, nothing about it’s emotional worth.
In our society, animals that are traded are talked about as a price, such as: the worth of cattle, pelts of wild animals, rising prices of beef and pork, etc. Now if either society were trying to achieve full equality between humans and animals, trading of animals as commodities would not be accepted; it would be similar to the trading of slaves before the 13th Amendment. Relating more to slave treatment, often the slaves were referred to be as intelligent or built like animals to excuse the poor treatment slaves received.
Similarly in Dick’s novel, the character Isidore is referred to as a “chickenhead,” defined as someone who’s not mentally intelligent enough to be considered equally human. By using this terminology, it implies he is as, or even more, as inferior as an animal in the eyes of other humans. This demonstrates the belief: “that as long as the humanist and speciesist structure of subjectivization remains intact, and … that is all right to systematically exploit and kill nonhuman animals simply because of their species, then the humanist discourse of species will always be available for use by some humans against other humans as well” (Vint 117).
In modern society, people continue similar actions by suggesting that a room is a pig-sty, suggesting that one is similar to a pig because of the tidiness level they keep. In a comparison of what both societies have achieved in developing animal rights, it is apparent that neither society has achieved complete equality. In Western society, animal activists work towards eradicating animal inequality.
For example, they promote Veganism similar to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. To achieve what has been done in the novel is difficult for multiple reasons, for example: cultural practices, religious beliefs, family traditions, and personal habits. With no exceptional reasoning to attempt worldwide Veganism, it would be near impossible to have people give up their way of life for animals, because animals are considered lower than humans.
It is clear in my comparison of Philip K Dick’s novel to western culture, that the animal rights movement has not progressed due to treatment of animals as a commodity and how they are used as subjects to describe someone inferior. By creating a stricter set of universal laws for animals rights, this would eliminate the uncertainty currently in place. These laws would be designed to limit as much suffering to animals while still ensuring that humans lose none to a very limited amount of rights.