But what if God himself can be simulated...
reduced to the signs which attest his existence?

-Jean Baudrillard, The Precession of Simulacra

In his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick suggests that in a world in which human life itself is simulated, the attributes which make humans human begin to break down. Jean Baudrillard suggests how this could happen in his The Precession of Simulacra. Baudrillard argues that simulation on a massive scale proceeds from a masking of a reality to a masking of a lack of reality- from hiding the truth to hiding the fact that there is no truth to hide. He suggests that religious iconography- originally created to represent a divine presence, has over the millennia become a mask for a shell- the images remain to hide the fact that the God or gods of the religion do not, in fact, exist- at least, not as they are represented. Dick uses the breakdown of humanity to suggest a similar outcome for God and religion, although he does include a touch of hope.

In Dick’s novel, this breakdown of simulation has begun to happen to humans. In his post-apocalyptic world, humans have designed androids, originally (and ironically) intended to operate as “Freedom Fighters” in the cataclysmic World War Terminus which poisoned the earth and destroyed the world as we know it, leaving the survivors to flee the planet, or remain at the eventual cost of their virility and intelligence. These androids, created by several companies initially, but now mainly by the Rosen Corporation, have become increasingly harder and harder to discern from “real” humans. As the similarity between real people and artificial people becomes more extreme, the attributes which make the genuine humans what they are, are breaking down, are succumbing to entropy, are in fact, falling victim to “kipple-ization.” Like the rest of the human world, human qualities are falling apart. Because “real” humans no longer exhibit human qualities, and androids are based on these people, androids have become what Baudrillard would call a “third-order simulation,” a simulation based on a simulation which hides the fact that what should be “real” is not.

In an effort to hide the fact that people are becoming increasingly distanced, disjointed, and solitary, the androids have been prohibited from achieving “empathy,” and therefore from taking part in fusion with true humans in Mercerism. This “deliberately built-in defect” in the androids, which prohibits them from fusion with the human race, is very cleverly hiding the fact that humans need a simulation box and a (false) god-figure to achieve a feeling of empathy themselves! (185) The andys are kept out in order to create a sense of unity in true humans, which seem to require an “other” entity to feel unified. They need something to exclude in order to feel included, but the sense of inclusion is false on several levels.

First, humans are in fact scattered across the solar system, and perhaps will soon begin branching into other systems as well. They are hardly unified, and any sense of wholeness or wholesomeness seems ridiculous when it comes from people living on a shattered earth, a nominally uninhabitable Mars, and on several barely-mentioned outlying colonies, most probably on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Humans could hardly be any less unified than they are. Second, Mercer himself is revealed to be an old man actually named Al Jarry, a bit-part actor and alcoholic whose walk up a hill on a sound stage in Hollywood has become the basis for a shell of a religion whose final revelation is that “the basic condition of life” is that you must “violate your own identity.” (179)

Another example of the nonempathy of humans comes from the use of Penfield mood devices. Our introduction to the mood organ comes in the first line of the book, and is mentioned even before the name of Our Hero, Rick. The settings of the mood organ range from a “businesslike professional attitude,” to “awareness of... manifold possibilities” (one of Deckard’s’ own favorites), to “self-accusatory depression.” We soon learn, though, that such mood devices are used as weapons as much as they are used as tools. During Rick’s morning exchange with his wife, Iran, she threatens to dial for “maximum venom” in order to win an argument with him.(3-7)

Penfield doesn’t only make household mood organs, however. The company also produces a “nondirectional wave transmitter,” an actual mood weapon, which Deckard uses in an attempt to knock Polokov into a cataleptic state. Roy Baty also uses a Penfield unit in an attempted booby trap for Deckard. Both sides, then, android and human alike, are able to use simulated mood as a weapon. Surely if either party were fully capable of the emotional level necessary to achieve true empathy, such weapons would never come to be.

So it seems that as Androids become more human, humans become less so, as if the two are growing toward each other to a gray point of not-quite-apathetic loathing. Deckard even refers to Androids as “life thieves,” suggesting that something about humans is being lost, and the androids are gaining it. They are stealing the life, the soul, the intangible humanity from “real” humans.(233)

The confusion over what is real is suggested early on in the story. J.R. Isidore picks up a real cat he believes to be fake, and the cat dies en route to the faux animal hospital at which he is employed. At the hospital, it is revealed that the cat was in fact a living thing. Just before he picks up the cat however, we read in J.R. Isidore’s mind another train of thought which is later revealed to be the inverse of reality as well. He thinks of Buster Friendly as “the most important human being alive except of course for Wilbur Mercer... but Mercer, he reflected, isn’t a human being; he evidently is an archetypal entity from the stars...” which we find out, of course, is wrong on both counts. Mercer is indeed a human, in fact, a rather sorry excuse for one, and Buster is in fact, an android. The fact that no humans realize that Buster must be an andy (or rather, several andys) to be able to work 46 hours a day says something about the common sense of humans in Dick’s world, but common sense does not imply empathy, so we move on. (69-70)

The increasingly blurred line between human and android also suggests a much larger breakdown, as it mirrors the line between reality and unreality itself. When Deckard comments “Mercer isn’t a fake... unless reality is a fake,” Dick suggests that although the object of Mercerism is not a fake, Mercerism itself and the false reality it has created might be! The iconography and dogma of a religion may have become more important to the humans which revere it than the actual object of the religion. (234)

Although Mercerism is a false religion which has become a hollow shell without substance, proven by Buster to be a fraud, this does not necessarily imply that God herself does not exist. If Deckard knows of God through Mercer, God will appear as Mercer. Deckard not only encounters Mercer outside the bounds of Mercerism (and after he has been condemned by Isidore, the keeper of Mercerism who allows Mercer to inhabit his apartment building) (220), but then becomes Mercer for a time when he walks up the hill alone near the Oregon border in the dead lands to the north, truly an example of Baudrillard’s “desert of the real.” (230-1 / 1733)

Rick Deckard, a man who has never “gotten the hang of fusion,” has had a firsthand experience directly with the object of human faith in a situation beyond the boundaries of that faith. This suggests that each human must be alone to experience God firsthand, without relying on a false sense of unity with other people. In each of Deckard’s intense experiences with Mercer he is truly alone. (174) Baudrillard says “We need a visible past, a visible continuum, a visible myth of origin to reassure us as to our ends, since ultimately we have never believed in them.” (1739) Once Deckard is outside the myth and continuum of Mercerism, he is able to truly meet and believe in Mercer himself.

The lesson of Mercerism is true, then, even if the methodology of the religion is false; wherever you go, you must violate your own identity. To truly relate to God, you must learn to communicate with God on your own, without someone else’s rules or dogma to guide you. You must believe what you believe. Once you are alone, without the guidance or impedance of others, you are suddenly not alone at all, because Mercer/God is with you (178). This could be seen as a subtle (or even not-so-subtle) critique by Dick on organized religion, modern christianity, or perhaps more specifically, Catholicism, or it could simply be a statement of Dick’s own beliefs. Or neither.

In either case, the story ends with the revelation of the falseness of the toad, which seems to have surprisingly little effect on either Rick or Iran. Rick simply says “I’m glad to know. Or rather... I’d prefer to know,” and goes to bed for some “long deserved sleep” without the aid of the mood organ. Iran orders some artificial flies for the artificial toad, happy that Rick is home and needs to be cared for, and happy for the artificial toad to take care of as well. It seems that what a thing truly is is far less important than the simple knowledge of what a thing truly is. Once a thing is understood, viewed from outside its own myth, its nature (and its value as imposed by the world) ceases to be an issue, and becomes far less meaningful.

page numbers reference the Del Rey edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

critical text: The Precession of Simulacra by Jean Baudrillard, as it appears (in part) on pages 1732-1741 of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism ed. Vincent B. Leitch, 2001.

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