So I've been listening to the audiobook of Do androids dream of electric sheep? on Audible.
Listening to this book many things reach out to me, and I am left wondering how much of the book is about the cyberpunk world that would go on to be beautifully realised in Scott's film, Blade Runner, and how much is about the very existential crisis that we live in our current world.
Ok so perhaps I've jumped a little to the end here. Allow me to back tread slightly.
For those unfamiliar, the plot of this book is about a Bounty Hunter by the name of Rick Deckard who hunts androids (referred in the film as Replicants, but in the book as Andies. As I am talking about the book, I will refer to them as Andies from this point).
Throughout the book there are many other themes presented, including but not limited to the topic of religion and empathy.
The last part is most interesting to me as for either environmental or biological reasons I have different empathic reactions to what is statistically normal.
One topic that is raised is the concept of being Human. It proposes three groups; Normal Humans, Special Humans (those exposed to radiation who's DNA itself has mutated) and Androids. The question is asked about are these human?
Now it would be easy to say that Normal Humans are Human, and that Special Humans probably are Human too even if their DNA has slightly mutated, but that Androids are not Human, after all they were not born, they were built. As an addition, it would be easy to see how someone who sees themselves as a purist would argue that the mutated humans are not in fact Human, but something else - a Special.
This simple methodology doesn't sit well with me. The reason is because of intention and the perceived self.
Let's put a spin on it.
One day you, the reader, you are walking to work when you stop off at a Blood Van, you know the ones, for donating blood. You get a needle shoved in your body and they take their blood. A little later you get a phone call, they've had to do some tests and the sample reveals that either your body has mutated so much on the inside that you no longer classify as a Human, or that you are made up of organic appearing cybernetics. That your memories are artificial, nothing more than a series of magnetic resonance implanted by a scientist in a lab.
Regardless of if you are a mutant or an android, you still feel like the same You you were that morning. You still feel like a Human. But instead there's some dude in a white coat telling you that not only are you wrong, but you need to have that thought programming of you changed. You need to have your false memories erased, or you need to take certain 'mutant meds' to stop you contaminating other people with your filthy mutation.
It sounds far fetched doesn't it? The idea of someone who thinks they are one thing, that their viewpoint on life is totally correct, but being required by authority to not only admit that they are wrong, but to have that in correction forcibly corrected.
Let's just compare it to something else: Psychotic Major Depression.
Now this is a very common disorder in our current culture where the person with the condition sees the world and themselves one way, and they think they are normal. They do not think there's anything wrong with them. They may be miserable, but they think that is just how life is. But how is this dealt with? The primary thing is medication. Drugs to force their brains into realising that they are not normal, that the world is not like how they view it. In other words having their conception of the world artificially corrected to coincide with what the statistical majority views as normal.
Despite all of this, we still administer these drugs to require this conformity, and with this in mind, how laughable is the android concept now?
If we can take someone who is a flesh and blood human, and tell them that their perception of themselves and the world does not match what is outside of their head, then why wouldn't we do it for artificial or mutated people?
There is one example however that I can see the opposite occurring, where we adjust the outside world to conform to the inside of a person's mind - transgender. In every other case like this we administer medication to force the predefined conformity, but with transgender people we do not.
Why is this? Why do we emphatically cling to the ideas that what we say is normal is what everyone must adhere to?
This is something that the book also looks at, and that is the concept of religion.
Yup, all of this is tied together, all wrapped up in one big bow of 'not my responsibility'.
The character of Deckard kills androids that have deviated from their set programming. Why does he kill them? Because the law states that any Andie that breaks it's programming and seeks out it's own meaning must be 'retired' as faulty equipment. Deckard himself has washed his hands of responsibility.
Determination of if someone is an android or not is via a VK test which is based on empathic responses, most importantly related to animals. In these questions it is expected that a Human will react to images of dead animals in a certain way and with a stronger reaction than that of dead humans. Why does it apply a greater weight to cruelty to animals than cruelty to humans? Because the almost universal religion of the time, Mercerism, states as much.
It's all part of the classic narrative, if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. If all humans are followers of Mercer, they will have a stronger empathic reaction to animal cruelty than human. Therefore someone who reacts stronger to human cruelty must be non-human, ergo an Android.
Deckard is not being required to pass any judgement, only collate the statistics. If that data says X then the subject is human and can live. If it states Y then the subject is an android and must be retired.
It's right back to the Reasonable Man Theory, that a Reasonable Man would act in certain ways (X) where as an UnReasonable Man would not (Y).
What are we looking at? A system that promotes it's own ideology while stating that everything that differs is abnormal and needs to either confirm or get the hell outta dodge.
How similar is that to the current situation we face in our politico-socio-environment? It is argued that any 'reasonable' person would not blow themselves up for their beliefs, that any 'reasonable' person would want to help refugees, that any 'reasonable' person would label themselves a feminist. And if you do not comply and agree with every single one of these unwritten standards, then you must be 'unreasonable' and therefore sub-human in some way.
Really? Is that really the world we want to live in? Where anyone who thinks differently to you is branded with a big YOU'RE JUST FUCKING WRONG!! stamp?
But what alternatives are there? To acknowledge that people who enjoy abusing small children are just as human as the rest as us? That their world views hold just as much weight? That someone who believes in one race being superiorover others may be right?
I can't see many people lining up to pop that pill.
No, instead we establish normals. We state that X is right, and that Y is wrong. The sky is blue, so if you see it as green you are wrong.
Let's go back to that android, the one who has just been told that they are not human and need to be reprogrammed so that they acknowledge this fact.
Why are we requiring that X be followed over Y? Because we need to. The moment we stop we allow for gaps in our protection and suddenly we have Neo-Hitler running for the White House and being welcomed with open arms as a 'free thinker'. We can't allow that, so instead we have faith in normals. That the statistical average is correct and must be adhered to. We believe this because we fall into that statistical average and it protects us, tells us we are normal while being unique, special snow flakes. It's just another form of religion, another form of X vs Y, an and out groups, Us vs Them.
Let's go back to the original question: A Normal Human, a Special Human, and an Android all believe that they are Humans - Which one(s) are Human?
Should the real question not be; what is Human?
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley