This essay reads Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as a critique of the American eugenics movement. Replete with historical allusions and satiric wordplay, Dick's novel condemns the eugenics movement as eliminating disability, diminishing human diversity, discouraging empathy, and ushering in harmful posthuman ideas before their time.
While posthumanist scholars have explored topics ranging from animal rights to science fiction, they have not closely examined the cultural implications of the American eugenics movement. Not to say that posthumanists have not studied the broad significances of eugenics, because they have; Paul Lauritzen's article "Stem Cells, Biotechnology, and Human Rights: Implications for a Posthuman Future" and Nicholas Pethes's "Terminal Men: Biotechnological Experimentation and the Reshaping of 'The Human' in Medical Thrillers" are two such examples. However, such studies tend to be too broad; they tend to focus on the bigger idea of eugenics—improving the human race through the science of eliminating the weak—rather than focusing on a specific historical and social context. Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? situates eugenics within a specifically American context. In doing so, Dick creates a satire replete with historical eugenic allusions, a novel that criticizes eugenics as a posthuman endeavour that emphasizes reason as the sole human characteristic while eliminating human diversity and empathy for others.
When Dick was writing his novel in the 1960s, the American eugenics movement was still lingering, fresh in the minds of the American public. Growing up in Berkeley, California (Sutin, "Philip K. Dick"), the teenaged Philip likely would have known about and seen the effects of the sterilization and segregation laws that state enacted. As Alexandra Stern states in her book Eugenic Nation, the measures the California government undertook, which included proposing bills to extend "the sterilization law to prisons, correctional schools, reformatories, and detention camps," in addition to the sterilization law itself, "illustrate the extent to which ideas about the dangers and costs of hereditary degeneracy pervaded California government and culture" (83). Californian eugenics discourse proved effective: of the approximately sixty thousand people who were sterilized in the United States, almost half of them were sterilized in California (Black 7). Through its use of the language of eugenics—that is, using language that creates a dichotomy between "normal" and "abnormal" while privileging the normal above the abnormal—the novel strongly suggests that this culture made an impression on Dick, who satirized this culture, undermining its harmful posthuman agenda.
That posthuman scholars have not closely examined the cultural implications of the American eugenics movement is puzzling for a few reasons. First of all, scholars of posthumanism often concern themselves with the margins of humanity: animals, others, monsters, and similar figures. In both medical and sociological discourse, people with physical and mental disabilities—referred to in this essay as victims of eugenics—have been described as others, animals, retards, monsters and anomalies, among other pejoratives. Writing for a 1950 edition of the American Journal of Mental Deficiency, eugenicist Leonard le Vann states that
Indeed the picture of comparison between the normal child and the idiot might almost be a comparison between two separate species. On the one hand, the graceful, intelligently curious, active young homo sapiens, and on the other the gross, retarded, animalistic, early primate type individual. (470)
Since victims of eugenics are identified as animals or as a different species, we would think that scholars of posthumanism would draw a precise connection between their area of expertise and the specifics of eugenics: the historical context, the propagandistic practices, the formal medical tests and procedures. Unfortunately, such scholarship is scarce.
The gap between posthumanism and eugenics also puzzles me because of the prevalence of science fiction texts that utilize eugenics in their narratives. Even though the science fiction genre consistently provides material for posthumanists to scrutinize, and science fiction authors have allegorized eugenics several times—Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax 1 trilogy comes to mind here—scholars have yet to place a detailed eugenics examination within a posthumanist framework. There have been articles examining the eugenics of science fiction—Anne Maxwell's article "Eugenics and the Classical Ideal of Beauty in Philip K. Dick's 'The Golden Man'" is one example—but none exploring the gap between eugenics in science fiction and posthumanism. Dick scholarship, such as that produced by Laurence A. Rickels (I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick), Christopher Palmer (Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern) and Eric Carl Link (Understanding Philip K. Dick) tends to discuss the general human/android division without linking it to a specific historical context. By reading Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as a criticism of the American eugenics movement, and by applying the posthuman perspectives of Cary Wolfe's animal-speciesist approach and Jeffrey Cohen's "monster" other to the novel, this essay will explore and fill the gaps between eugenics and posthumanism, and between eugenics science fiction and posthumanism.
I have several aims in this essay. First of all, I will analyze the character John Isidore from Dick's novel, asserting that the novel can be read as a critical allegory of the American eugenics movement. As I construct my analysis, I will draw two key comparisons between the novel and the American eugenics program: how the victims are segregated, and how an animal-human speciesist approach was taken to justify mistreating the victims. The speciesist angle provides a segue into my post/human 2 critique of both the novel and the eugenics movement as a whole; Elaine Graham's book Representations of the Post/Human, Wolfe's book Animal Rites, and Cohen's essay "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)" prove particularly useful in that they help to frame John Isidore and victims of eugenics within a post/humanist discourse. After elucidating the irony of the animalistic term "chickenhead" and how it is applied to Isidore, I will examine the speciesist relationship between "chickenhead" and "special." I will then proceed with a post/human examination of the novel's speciesism, utilizing Graham's post/humanism as well as Wolfe's study of animal treatment and Cohen's notion of the monster.
Considered alongside the novel, the eugenics movement suggests that those people who prize logic and intellect above all else are really aiming for a world of androids, a world in which diversity, as signalled by animals and by persons with disabilities, has been minimized, if not eliminated. The androids I speak of are soulless, emotionally vacuous beings like those in Dick's novel as well as those that occupy our popular imagination: the Terminator and Robocop, among others. They may strive to understand and even empathize with human beings—which we see in Dick's novel and in Terminator 2, where at the end Arnold Schwarzenegger says to young John Connor, who weeps before Schwarzenegger's cybernetic character lowers itself into a bath of molten steel, "I now know why you cry. But it is something I can never do" (Cameron)—but they can never join humanity. On an ideological level, I argue for a re-evaluation of humanist values by pitting the quality of empathy against the post/humanism of eugenics and its values—namely logic. As Dick's novel shows, basing our humanity solely on logic proves problematic and even cruel, so a balance must be struck between logic and empathy. As a whole, this essay asserts a humanist agenda while pointing out the post/human errors made by those involved with the American eugenics movement.
Ever since science fiction emerged as a bonafide genre, its writers have consistently allegorized social fears. As Istvan Csicsery-Ronay argues, "'[t]he boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion'" ("The Science Fiction of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway," conference paper). Both film and literature have tackled subjects ranging from nuclear anxiety (1954's Godzilla, 1954's Them!) to scientific exploration (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, H.G. Wells's At the Mountains of Madness), and the western eugenics movement is no different. Writers such as Robert Sawyer and Mikhail Bulgakov have allegorized the difficulties and pitfalls of attempting to improve human beings through (often extreme) scientific measures.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick situates his discussion of eugenics in a specifically American context. As shown here in the novel's opening chapter, when bounty hunter Rick Deckard considers the precariousness of his current situation, the novel quickly establishes a discourse of normalcy, a common theme during the heyday of the eugenics movement:
So far, medical checkups taken monthly confirmed him as a regular: a man who could reproduce within the tolerances set by law. Any month, however, the exam by the San Francisco Police Department doctors could reveal otherwise….The saying currently blabbed by posters, TV ads, and government junk mail, ran: "Emigrate or degenerate! The choice is yours!" (Dick 439)
Four key American eugenics associations arise within this passage. First of all, the word "regular" indirectly establishes a dichotomy, on the other side of which is "irregular," or, as we see later in the novel, "special." Using similar language, eugenicists sought to separate "normal" and "abnormal" people: after World War I, American eugenic scientists undertook extensive studies to establish mental and physical norms for men and women, emerging with a "hypothetical" average American (Christina Cogdell 193). The "average" American man and woman were later represented in statues called Normman and Norma, sculpted by Abram Belskie and based on research by Dr. R.L. Dickinson (197). The dichotomy is emphasized by the phrase "'Emigrate or degenerate! The choice is yours!'" yet complicated when we consider the novel's characters. The choices of emigrate or degenerate speak to the normal and abnormal portions of the novel's population; ironically, however, the entire novel takes place on Earth, from which most of the "regular" population has emigrated. Deckard remains on Earth because of his job, choosing to subsist in the radioactive dust-choked city of San Francisco so he can hunt and kill renegade androids (439).
Deckard is one character who blurs the lines of the regular/special dichotomy. Although he is physically and mentally a regular, his choice to remain on Earth suggests otherwise; continued residence on Earth is the telltale sign of a special, meaning someone who is too poor to emigrate or who chooses not to emigrate. 3 Even though he is not officially declared a special, Deckard fulfills the criteria. Another special, John Isidore, also blurs the lines between regular and special, as demonstrated below.
A second point about the above passage concerns the prevalence of the law. The phrase "the tolerances set by law" underscores the judicial reach of American and especially Californian eugenicists. Scientists, politicians, judges and the general public frequently discussed the legal boundaries of reproduction, seeking to promote strong unions between fertile, regular people and limit—if not totally prevent—the feebleminded, the insane and the criminal from reproducing. In California, such legal handcuffing arose in a variety of measures: in addition to establishing the sterilization law in 1909, a law which "granted the medical superintendents of asylums and prisons the authority to 'asexualize' a patient or inmate if such action would improve his or her 'physical, mental, or moral condition'" (Stern 99), the California government created several commissions and departments that gave eugenicists an imposing legal presence. Such commissions and departments included the State Commission in Lunacy (52), the Department of Institutions (87) and the Board of Charities and Corrections (87). Each of these organizations had their own agenda for controlling or manipulating victims of eugenics. The Department of Institutions was especially influential, as Alexandra Stern points out:
the implementation of eugenic programs would not have reached such extremes in California without the active involvement of the Department of Institutions, which led the country in the expulsion of foreigners and undesirables, the development of large-scale intelligence testing, and the sterilization of those deemed unfit. (113)
The government of California undertook these initiatives under the guise of improving life for victims of eugenics; in reality, eugenicists wanted to prevent the victims from reproducing in order to promote racial purity and avoid the financial and moral burdens these people supposedly placed on the state (88). All told, the eugenics program had a pervasive legal reach, a fact of which Dick seems keenly aware.
Thirdly, the passage reveals the anxiety that the novel's regulars endure: the anxiety that at any moment they may become sterile, and therefore useless. This anxiety arose in reality as well. Victims of eugenics faced derision precisely because they reflected the discomfort of the general population: "eugenicists tended to group together all allegedly 'undesirable' traits. So, for example, criminals, the poor, and people with disabilities might be mentioned in the same breath" (Davis 35). Because the victims were sterilized, they took on the additional association of impotence; as a result, they were often mistreated: "Psychologists persecuted their patients. Teachers stigmatized their students. Charitable associations clamored to send those in need of help to lethal chambers they hoped would be constructed" (Black xvi). Later in the novel, John Isidore takes on the stigma of impotence, adding to his stigma of being a "chickenhead."
Finally, posters, TV ads and government-issued flyers neatly coincide with how eugenics information was distributed in its heyday. Eugenicists employed aggressive advertising campaigns promoting racial hygiene and discouraging unwanted reproduction. Radio broadcasts and films propagandized a eugenics agenda all across America; one such film, originally titled The Black Stork and later renamed Are You Fit to Marry? "ran in small-town theatres between the 1910s and the early 1940s" (Cogdell 100). Not only did government-created eugenics societies show up at county fairs pontificating about the benefits of a pure society, but they also incorporated their messages into product advertisements:
Promotional texts and advertisements for goods related to streamline design could have easily been interpreted as resonating with eugenic concerns as well. Stacked horizontal lines, so prevalent in the [streamline] style, symbolized "speed and power," whereas…vertical lines symbolized the dysgenically familiar "retarding forces" and "drag"…. (60)
As American products became more streamlined, eugenics programs sought to make the American people follow suit. By introducing eugenics policies and using an aggressive "Emigrate or degenerate!" advertising campaign, the United Nations of Dick's novel has successfully streamlined and cleansed humanity. Those people remaining on Earth—Deckard, Isidore and others like them—are left to struggle.
With a dichotomy of normal and abnormal firmly established the novel turns towards an exploration of the category of the abnormal. In building his approach to John Isidore, Dick constructs Chapter Two very carefully. He begins with a total absence of life, "a giant, empty, decaying building which had once housed thousands, a single TV set hawked its wares to an uninhabited room" (Dick 444), presenting an almost panoramic view of how life on Earth has become brutal and nearly hopeless. Details about the fallout of World War Terminus, the war that wiped out most organic life on Earth and prompted mass emigration to the outer planets, arise in bunches: the suburbs have been vacated (444); the birds have died out (444); radioactive dust has descended and settled over the atmosphere (445). Just before we meet Isidore, Dick draws a crucial connection between absence and impotence:
Loitering on Earth potentially meant finding oneself abruptly classed as biologically unacceptable, a menace to the pristine heredity of the race. Once pegged as a special, a citizen, even if accepting sterilization, dropped out of history. He ceased, in effect, to be part of mankind. (445)
This build-up to Isidore, which takes place over two pages, has two effects. It suggests the connection between mental disability and impotence, and it suggests the apparent need to approach Isidore with caution, as though he is dangerous or unpredictable. When Dick finally reveals Isidore, he does so with telltale passivity: "John Isidore, being yammered at by the television set in his living room as he shaved in the bathroom, was one of [the specials]" (445). The active subject of this sentence is not Isidore; it is the television. Isidore is the object, the person at whom the television is yammering. This objectivity and passivity coincide with Isidore's classification as a special. He has difficulties asserting himself, as evidenced by his frequent stammering in decisive or stressful times; and he lets others decide his own fate for him. When later in the novel three androids arrive in his apartment building to take refuge, they hold a vote on whether to stay with him or kill him (552). Even though Isidore is the centre of the discussion and the three androids are essentially guests in his apartment, he has no vote. All of these notions combine to make Isidore an object, highlighting the fact that he is no longer considered human.
Isidore lives in an abandoned apartment building full of objects that, like him, do not work properly. He does "not own a working clock," which makes him wonder if he is late for work (446). His television is "partly broken, pick[ing] up only the channel which had been nationalized during the war and still remained so" (446). Isidore himself is considered defective:
He had been a special now for over a year, and not merely in regard to the distorted genes which he carried. Worse still, he had failed to pass the minimum mental faculties test, which made him in popular parlance a chickenhead. Upon him the contempt of three planets descended. (446)
Two key ideas arise in this passage, both of which parody how eugenicists justified their mistreatment of victims of eugenics. First of all, the victims were subjected to several tests to provide the medical rationale for their segregation and sterilization. Such tests included intelligence quotient (IQ) tests and the Johnson Temperament Analysis Test, which measured such qualities as sympathy, optimism, pessimism, aggression, submission, impulsivity and restraint (Stern 150). The range of eugenics tests does not end here, though. As evidenced by the following list, the tests often went to invasive and ridiculous lengths as they attempted to measure abstract qualities: the M-F (Male-Female) test, the Willoughby Emotional Maturity Scale, the Humm-Wadsworth Temperament Scale, the Kent-Rosanoff (free association) Test, the Bernreuter Personality Inventory, the Neymann-Kohlstedt Scale for introversion-extroversion, the A-S Reaction Study for ascendance-submission and the Rorschach Inkblot (Stern 174). That Isidore is only "'moderately special'" (Dick 481), and that he is useful in that he drives a truck for a false animal repair shop, suggests the haphazard, even arbitrary nature of such testing. Even further, the android test in Dick's novel, the Voigt-Kampff Empathy test, can be read as a parody of eugenics tests: "Kampff" calls to mind Adolf Hitler's memoir Mein Kampf, in which Hitler describes his ideas for racial purity, and "Voigt" sounds quite close to "void." Put together, Dick asks us to "void" the "Kampf," or resist or negate eugenics ideas.
The ridiculousness of such testing, emphasized by the Voigt-Kampff parody, serves to undermine the key ideas of eugenics—that is, the notion that all human beings should be similar, if not the same. Dick is reacting against such a philosophy. He is saying that human beings are too complex to be divided according to tests and categories. In other words, human diversity must flourish, unregulated.
The "chickenhead" label signals the second eugenics-related notion here. Being called a chickenhead places Isidore within a speciesist framework, which is consistent with the practices of American eugenicists. For instance, a 1929 display by the American Eugenics Society read, "How long are we Americans to be so careful for the pedigree of our pigs and chickens and cattle,—and then leave the ancestry of our children to chance, or to 'blind' sentiment?" (Cogdell 48). Leonard le Vann's "animalistic, early primate type" description mentioned in my introduction also fits in here, as well as a document that Christina Cogdell discusses. Entitled "Eugenical Classification of the Human Stock" and produced for the Second International Congress of Eugenics, this document separated human beings into categories according to their social worth, featuring categories like "Persons of Genius," "Persons of Special Skill, Intelligence, Courage, Unselfishness, Enterprise or Strength," "Persons Constituting the Great Normal Middle Class" and "Socially Inadequate Persons" (Cogdell 38). Such categorization forces us to recall the Sidney's animal catalogue in Dick's novel, which lists the monetary and hereditary value of animals. The value of a chicken is conveniently left out.
Two points of interest arise with the speciesist perspective: the irony of the chickenhead label, and the fact that "chickenhead" and "special" are used interchangeably in the novel. It is ironic that Dick uses an animal name as a derogatory label. As Sherryl Vint points out, "[a]nimals, almost or perhaps actually extinct, are sacred to the religion of Mercerism and the culture in general. Owning and caring for an animal is a sign of one's social and economic status and also an expression of one's humanity" ("Speciesism and Species Being" 112). Even though animals in the novel are highly valued commodities that symbolize true organic life, being called a chickenhead is a disparaging term meant to define both one's lack of humanity—as measured by a lack of intellect—and one's lack of value. As Isidore thinks to himself, "what do I know? I can't marry and I can't emigrate and the dust will eventually kill me. I have nothing to offer" (Dick 485). There is another, subtler irony at work here: as dictated by Mercerism, a religious doctrine in the novel, every form of life is sacred, which implies that there is no hierarchy among humans and animals and that humans identify (read: empathize) with animals (Vint 117). However, because he is designated a chickenhead, which in itself implies a hierarchy, Isidore seldom receives empathy and is hardly considered sacred. The only person who treats him with any respect is his co-worker Milt Borogrove, although Borogrove seems to act out of pity rather than empathy…and he, like Mr. Hannibal Sloat, Borogrove and Isidore's boss, also calls Isidore a chickenhead (Dick 490). By making the label ironic, Dick undermines eugenics-speciesist discourse by complicating the hierarchy that buttressed it. If animals are highly prized, then being called an animal should be a compliment. Even though "chickenhead" is a derogatory term, the animal associations in the novel allow us, at the very least, to question the strata put in place by the United Nations of the novel and the eugenics movement in America. The lines have been blurred, and the post/human implications of such distortion follow below.
Even though "special" and "chickenhead" are separate things, the terms are often used interchangeably in the novel:
And there existed chickenheads infinitely stupider than Isidore, who could hold no jobs at all, who remained in custodial institutions quaintly called "Institute of Special Trade Skills of America," the word 'special' having to get in there somehow, as always. (447)
The word "special" carries a number of contradictory associations. Being called "special" can be either a compliment, meaning someone who is precious or unique, or it can be an insult; both meanings arise in the novel, complicating how we must read the character of John Isidore. Is he an inferior, animalistic human, or a superior, empathetic human?
As I mentioned earlier, Isidore, like Deckard, blurs the lines between regular and special, allowing us to question the validity of such categories. While Deckard is a physical and mental regular who chooses to stay on Earth, Isidore is a mental special/chickenhead who has more empathy than any other character in the novel. Like animals, the quality of empathy is highly prized; the Voigt-Kampff test separates humans from androids based on their ability to empathize. When Isidore vows to protect the three androids Pris, Irmgard and Roy, the trio, desperate for shelter, lauds him:
"You're a great man, Isidore," Pris said. "You're a credit to your race."
"If he was an android," Roy said heartily, "he'd turn us in about ten tomorrow morning. He'd take off for his job and that would be it. I'm overwhelmed with admiration"…."And we imagined this would be a friendless world, a planet of hostile faces, all turned against us."….
"Well," Irmgard said, "I won't say anything more. But if we turn this down I don't think we'll find any other human being who'll take us in and help us. Mr. Isidore is—" She searched for the word.
"Special," Pris said. (Dick 551)
Even though the androids had previously derided Isidore for his chickenhead status, and even though they may be buttering him up so he will protect them (Isidore is a little suspicious about Roy Baty, but does not come out with it), they appreciate him for his empathetic qualities as much as they are able to. In this manner, Isidore blurs the lines between special and regular; he could even be called more human than Deckard, who must suspend his empathy so he can kill androids (Vint 120). Unlike Deckard, who "needs to overcome the idea of human self as separate from nature and master over it and the triumph of commodity logic as human's relationship to the world" (121), Isidore does not believe in hierarchy. Like Wilbur Mercer, the founder of the religion Mercerism, Isidore finds all forms of life, artificial or organic, sacred. With a lack of hierarchy, Isidore fulfills Elaine Graham's "[d]efinitive accounts of human nature," which "may be better arrived at not through a description of essences, but via the delineation of boundaries" (11).
With certain characters from the novel, we can construct a spectrum with which to measure humanity. At one end sits Isidore, the manifestation of empathy; at the other end lie the androids, who represent logic. Human beings like Deckard therefore stand somewhere in between, shifting their position towards empathy or logic as needed (such as when having to kill an android). In her article "Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Sherryl Vint introduces the notion that "Deckard and other humans in the novel…realiz[e] that they are already android-like, so long as they define their subjectivity based on the logical, rational, calculating part of human being," or what Descartes called the cogito (112). Since the novel privileges empathy over logic, Isidore is the novel's superior human, which, again, is ironic because he is seen as inferior.
By placing empathy above the cogito, Dick criticizes the very foundation of the American eugenics movement. Eugenicists promoted the power of intellect above all other things; people of genius or potential genius were endlessly praised and paraded about as examples of what eugenics could do. Dick discourages such discourse and instead asks us to simply relate to one another despite differences in intelligence and species. It is a very simple, humanist response to a posthuman idea. Theoretically, if eugenicists had followed their program to its logical conclusion (no pun intended), then, according to Dick, humans would have become androids, beyond-human, after-human, post-human. The human-animal hierarchy would be solidified, and human relationships would continue to be tainted, if not dominated, by speciesist discourse. We should therefore be suspicious of posthuman doctrines that attempt to categorize and dichotomize complex beings, human or animal. We must turn our attention to ideas that blur boundaries while recognizing the value—defined by whatever they can contribute—of each kind of being.
Even though they do not explicitly address eugenics in their work, posthumanism scholars Cary Wolfe and Jeffrey Cohen present ideas easily relatable to eugenics. In his book Animal Rites, Wolfe calls our attention to the human-animal hierarchy which is so prevalent in Dick's novel:
the full transcendence of the "human" requires the sacrifice of the "animal" and the animalistic, which in turn makes possible a symbolic economy in which we can engage in what Derrida calls a "noncriminal putting to death" of other humans as well by marking them as animal. (6)
Here, Wolfe is discussing the system of language, the "symbolic economy" that justifies killing humans by labelling them as animals. Even though John Isidore is not put to death, he might as well have been, for he has "ceased, in effect, to be part of mankind" (Dick 445). His segregation is a symbolic death, emphasized by the lack of life surrounding him: his apartment building filled with "kipple," or debris (448), the oppressive silence that "assail[s]" him when he turns off the television (447), the radioactive dust, the general inertness of his apartment (446). Wolfe takes his point about hierarchies even further by distinguishing between humans and "others":
The effective power of the discourse of species when applied to social others of whatever sort relies, then, on a prior taking for granted of the institution of speciesism—that is, the ethical acceptability of the systematic "noncriminal putting to death" of animals based solely on their species. And because the discourse of speciesism…can be used to mark any social other, we need to understand that the ethical and philosophical urgency of confronting the institution of speciesism and crafting a posthumanist theory of the subject has nothing to do with whether you like animals. (Animal Rites 7)
With regards to eugenics discourse in/and Dick's novel, we can extract three notions from this passage. First of all, the "social others" reference has obvious applicability. Like the victims of eugenics, Isidore is a social other who is placed in a hierarchy of species to justify his segregation. Secondly, the wording of the "institution of speciesism" is absolutely fitting, since eugenics discourse is perpetuated by institutions, both in the novel (the United Nations) and in reality (medical clinics, government organizations and so forth). Thirdly, if a posthumanist theory of subjectivity is crafted regardless of whether we like animals, then a humanist counterpoint—that it does matter whether we like and empathize with animals—must be employed.
Placing Wolfe's speciesist perspective alongside the American eugenics movement as portrayed in both history and in Dick's novel, we see how the humanist morphs into the posthumanist. The humanist, categorized by Wolfe primarily based on his or her mental faculties, which include reason, language and tool use (Wolfe 2), makes no distinction between animals and humans who are labelled as animals. This practice takes place within a hierarchy that places humans above animals, taking for granted the supposed hierarchy that exists between humans and animals, subsequently assigning cruel, derogatory significance to the animal in order to deride and segregate the human. Wolfe comments further on this matter:
as long as it is institutionally taken for granted that it 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, to countenance violence against the social other of whatever species. (8)
The humanist discourse Wolfe speaks of here is extreme humanism, posthumanism, which focuses on the faculties of intelligence, a mere portion of human qualities. Eugenicists use posthumanism to rationalize the mistreatment of victims of eugenics, sliding towards the logical end of the empathy-logic spectrum I identified earlier. Because of this cruelty in the name of reason, which characterizes the androids of Dicks' novel as much as it does American eugenicists, the posthumanist loses his or her humanity and becomes anti-human. Against the anti-human we must install a post/humanist discourse.
It may seem contradictory that I am using posthuman studies to justify my post/humanist perspective. However, I ask the reader to remember the distinction I made between the two terms: posthuman is the field of study and the label assigned to extreme humanist practices such as eugenics; and post/human, because of the division between "post" and "human," implies a questioning of those values. Bifurcating the term suggests that we must examine of the two parts of the term rather than simply link them together; and, by examining the terms, we see that the "human" and "humanism" remains a vital field of study. Because Wolfe and Cohen seek to blur boundaries in the name of humanism—Wolfe in fact declares that "most of us remain humanists to the core, even as we claim for our work an epistemological break with humanism itself" (1)—and because this blurring of boundaries coincides with Graham's notion of the post/human, using Wolfe's and Cohen's ideas is appropriate. In his "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)," in which he outlines seven ways of thinking about the monster, or the social other (which Isidore is), Jeffrey Cohen neatly aligns the social other with Graham's questions of demarcation. According to Cohen, the other
resists any classification built on hierarchy or a merely binary opposition, demanding instead a "system" allowing polyphony, mixed response (difference in sameness, repulsion in attraction) and resistance to integration—allowing what Hogle has called with a wonderful pun "a deeper play of differences, a nonbinary polymorphism at the base of human nature." (7)
Graham's post/human allows for such a system, and using Wolfe's and Cohen's studies also situates my argument within the broader field of posthumanism, filling the eugenics-posthuman gap I mentioned in my introduction.
To continue on my ideological tangent, Wolfe takes the other, a humanist casualty, and places him or her into the posthuman arena by subjecting him or her to speciesist discourse. The humanism that Wolfe discusses here (that which is based on mental faculties) must therefore be re-evaluated and re-instituted to include empathy along with logic, and to discourage hierarchies between humans and humans and between humans and animals. To summarize, humanism must become post/humanism. We cannot use "posthumanism" here because it is too conventional, too clean, and too streamlined. The bifurcated "post/humanism" is the other in the field of study, and fits with my analysis here. Furthermore, Graham's definition of the post/human is useful because it identifies an ideology that promotes the blurring of boundaries while keeping the vital questions of "humanism" separate from the "post" rather than suggesting, with a clean, streamlined "posthumanism," that we have wholly moved on from discussions of what makes us human and can therefore focus on how to make ourselves better humans by enhancing qualities that we take for granted as making us human. We have not moved on yet.
I call the other a humanist casualty. To be more specific, the other in this case is a casualty of a certain definition of humanism, that which is based upon logic. Like other victims of eugenics, Isidore is a victim of this kind of humanism, despite the fact that empathy is the highest human quality in Dick's novel and he is the most empathetic character. However, when the other becomes a humanist casualty, he or she also becomes post/human, a drifter, a nomad, existing without labels or firm definitions. Isidore can be classified in such a manner. He is post/human.
As an ideology, posthumanism calls attention to a border that its scholars suppose to be clearly defined: the border between humanism and posthumanism. The latter is separate from the former and yet has been built using the former, humanism, as a foundation; however, as demonstrated here, humanism still remains. We are still figuring out the borders of the human, if they exist at all. Eugenicists sought to define the human and failed, teaching us that we must be suspicious of extreme measures. The lesson implicit here is simple: we must be open. We cannot be posthuman because to submit to this label implies a hierarchy: the posthuman builds off of and is supposedly better than the human, taking him or her a step beyond. Such a hierarchy allows for the creation of a culture in which men like John Isidore are reviled and left behind. It allows for needless injustices. Humanism, like humanity, must be an open, balanced, polyphonic discourse rather than a dichotomizing, hierarchy-promoting ideology, and victims of eugenics, including John Isidore, must be seen as complex, dynamic people who resist easy labelling and who are valuable in their own right. We must diversify humanism's framework before we can ever hope to become post/human.
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- —. Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern American. Berkeley: U of California Press, 2005.
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- Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Dir. James Cameron. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong. Tristar, 1991. DVD.
- Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 2003.
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The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy is composed of novels named in a progressively evolutionary manner: Hominids (2002), Humans (2003), and Hybrids (2003). The novels explore the social, scientific and spiritual implications that arise between two alternate Earths: one populated by "normal" human beings and the other by Neanderthals.
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Because I use both "posthuman" and "post/human" in this essay, I need to elaborate upon their significances. I use "posthuman" to refer to the general area of study in which eugenics scholarship is lacking. By using the term "post/human," Elaine Graham goes against the convention of "posthuman" and uses the bifurcated term to "suggest a questioning," as "[t]he post/human is that which both confounds but also holds up to scrutiny the terms on which the quintessentially human will be conceived" (Representations of the Post/Human 11). I employ the term for similar purposes here. Because Dick's novel and the American eugenics movement both provoke questions of humanity, asking precisely what qualities make us human while breaking down the boundaries between species and different kinds of people, Graham's definition proves helpful.
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Even though "special" essentially means a non-emigrant, the term is used interchangeably with "chickenhead," meaning a person of inferior mental status, like Isidore. The various significances of "special" will be explored further on in this essay.
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