Rolling in Russian

Many students with a cosmopolitan bend tend to learn a second language in the course of higher education. There are plenty of great reasons that an American would want to learn a second language, and different motivations might move one toward different tongues. People who want to learn an elegant/trendy language seem to try their hand at French of German. Those who want something immediately applicable tend toward Spanish (a sensible choice). I am no exception to this, and since I have entered a more liberal arts focused school and program, I’ve had a chance to learn. What did I pick? As the title probably gives away, I have spent the last year learning Russian, the only Critical Language offered by my university and certainly the most difficult. My Slavic studying has not been easy, especially at the outset. Or the middle. Or recently as I try to maintain my linguistics over the summer. So, why am I putting so much effort into this? How about I start at the beginning. I have always been at least vaguely interested in Russia. Maybe it was the constant and cartoonish caricatures of Soviets and Russians that have persisted from my parents and grandparents childhoods into my own generation. Maybe it’s the interesting cultural niche that slavic identity fills as part of Europe that also resents the West. I don’t really know the exact root, but I can tell you that Russia was a point of interest when the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology helped me find a better path for my life (that didn’t involve Mines itself). While at Mines I was fortunate enough to have a class for International Security taught by Dr. John Dreyer, who himself has a background in Russian. The final project was an exercise wherein we role-played various international forces relevant to the Syrian crisis, and I lept at the chance to represent Russia. Okay, I wasn’t Putin here, but I had a lot of fun as Dmitri Medvedev and my typical compulsion toward learning threw me into way more information than necessary about the Russian Federation, and its history. So, while I realized the direction I wanted to take my life Russia was present. Being more specific, I realized I want to serve my country in the way my passions as an individual would work best, and right now I believe that will be representing American interests as either a diplomat or in the Intelligence Community. To get there it is extraordinarily advantageous to study abroad; however, I don’t come from a family background that can pay for my schooling, little loan studying in a different country. So, that got me looking straight toward an experience a friend of mine had, the Critical Language Scholarship. While she went to India for a year to study Hindi, a quick browsing of the scholarships available languages and their associated requirements sent me down a different rabbit hole. You guessed it, Russian. This is the part of the story that reveals the ambition in my nature, I took it because it seemed the best strategic choice to get a study abroad opportunity. By no means am I the only person from a working class background with high goals and good grades. So, if I want a shot at a competitive scholarship, I have to beat out a lot of people who are equally qualified. As I said, I was already interested in Russian history, but frankly I could say that about a lot of other countries and cultures; however, the Russian CLS requires at least two years of college study, the most of any language offered (along with Japanese and Chinese). Presumably, people without dedication will have been weeded out by that point (I know some from my own Russian class have done so already). I don’t hold this against anyone, Russian is really hard. They use a completely different alphabet. And grammar. And basically no Americans soak Russians so Preston is hard. Really, learning a new language is hard in general. Some research shows that learning a new language can literally change the physical condition of a child’s brain, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that long study sessions have led to extraordinary headaches like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s the thing though, I’m not just working because I want a career in that direction. This struggle to thrive has led me into a true love of the Russian language. I won’t lie, part of my enjoyment that is the status of intelligence I feel is conveyed to me; I have yet to see someone who is not impressed to know I am learning Russian. Beyond that, there is something satisfying and beautiful about the sounds afforded by the language. Russian is considered an angry language, but it really has an elegance reserved for a trained ear. I like to joke about the fact that you can’t actually write “Jordan” in Russian, which lacks a direct equivalent of “J”, so I have so substitute a “D” noise and a character (Ж) that makes a noise like “Zh” so my name sounds more like Digiorno than Jordan. That’s just fine because that noise is divine. It is often said that we appreciate the things that require a lot of work more than the things easily gained. I think that extends to knowledge as well. If I’m being honest, my abilities with the language are much closer to a schoolchild than Leo Tolstoy, but that’s okay. I think my favorite thing about learning a language is that I cannot hope to be done. My Russian professor (who I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned yet because Prof. Dulyanova is the absolute best) has been learning English since she was much younger than me, and she still slips up on occasion. That’s because even if one is able to speak at a native level, there are always words one doesn’t know and language never stops changing. So, I have undertaken a project one cannon hope to completely finish. But I have learned to enjoy the struggle.

Take a breath

If I might quote the immortal words of Baymax in Disney’s Big Hero 6, “I am not fast.” To be clear, I am not saying that I am incapable of bursts of speed or consistency, but by nature, I like to take my time.

This has been made especially clear to me as I have been spending the summer with my girlfriend and her family. They are not slow. I don’t mean this in terms of just getting things done, a walk with my girlfriend ended up being less leisurely and more of a workout as our pace took us past people out for a jog. It is not that anyone is hurrying me or trying to get me to speed up, it is just that I have realized that I place much less value on getting things done quickly than either her family or maybe even the population as a whole.

So, let me get to the point, I don’t take much hurry with anything in my life. This isn’t by accident, there have certainly been plenty of points in my life of where I hurry from task to task to be the best worker bee I can, but that just doesn’t contribute to my current understanding of life.

American capitalism and the Protestant work ethic encourage work without complaint as not only a prime virtue but also the only way to avoid ruin and hell. Marx wrote about laborers estrangement from there work, I feel this obsession on work is the average human being estranged from something even more fundamental to our existence, time.

The modern American existence is often criticized at the ends, vapid values, the mindless pursuit of things, etc. but we don’t consider the problems in how it is achieved. I don’t think the way to solve these problems is to criticize the results, it is to change the process that brings this situation about.

It feels wherever I look in the world there are products, services, or ideas on how to be more productive. Because work and a job is assumed to be the only true way to happiness anything that can help get more work done is Good and anything that does not aid in the completion of tasks is Bad. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, work is very important to, well, everything. But is work it’s own inherent value?

Let me differentiate here between work of passion, and work of survival. For the lucky people that truly love their job so much they don’t want to do anything else, cool, keep being productive, but you probably shouldn’t be reading this. Because I don’t think you exist.

That isn’t to say that no one likes their job, I like to imagine we can all reach our dream job, but I don’t think anyone would like to do just one thing because that would be exceptionally boring. No matter how much someone enjoys their work, their is something else they also want to be doing more of.

The best reason to do work during leisure time is to either get more leisure down the road or improve the later leisure time. Most productivity that does not fall into the bounds of normal work could, as Mark Twain would put, can be put off til tomorrow. Maybe it’s bringing home extra work that doesn’t need to be done yet or checking your work email during an enjoyable event of any degree (from a dance recital to some simple TV time alone) but it is all just extra labor to maximize one’s perceived value within a capitalist society. It does not add value to life or experience, it just makes one a better producer/consumer for the market

But that is the affects of productivity worship just on how much time one might have. The problem goes deeper, and actually makes whatever time one is able to allot (whether willingly for my previously mentioned delayed gratification of compulsory from a demanding boss) worse.

If you are me, right now you want to watch the new season of Master of None, if you are my girlfriend you want to read more, or if you are my dad and want to coach softball, but you don’t want to have just one pursuit of work. Everyone has multiple desires, and the task of balancing everything is one of the oldest that mankind faces; because there are only so many hours in the day and most is taken by attaining necessities to satisfy the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the rest is of precious value and we try to get as much out of it as we can by the means allowed to us by our culture: consumption.

 

I just mentioned Master of None and how I haven’t finished it and some are probably surprised I haven’t watched it all yet. I am an avid binge watcher, and finished the first season in just over a day. But I’m taking this slow.

Hurrying through anything enjoyable, entertainment, food, or especially quality time with loved ones will only make the experience worse. In all fairness, I am often just as bad about this as anyone else.

As an avid podcast fanatic I have previously turned the speed of podcasts up to 2x normal so I could hear twice as much in the same amount of time. But I realized that didn’t make the experience any better. As for time with people I care about, hurrying through activities would seem to defeat the purpose of having it at all. So, I take things slow.

Of course, it is good to explore new interests, and we cannot always dedicate large amounts of time to things. It also goes without saying that sometimes haste is a good thing. But the relentless pursuit of “more,” whether it is more possessions or more complete activities is dramatically overvalued

We need to stop thinking of using time with no particular purpose as “wasting time” and start thinking of it as relishing life and living in the moment. Sure, I could eat faster and then be able to read more books, but then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the taste of things I enjoy. Because there is a hurry, both activities are lessened and my life is worse for it.

In that example, not only am I using an unhealthy ideology focused on things that don’t really matter, I did not allow myself to fully enjoy my time with the things that do. So, let us all commit to enjoying things more. Relaxation and free time are not signs of laziness, they are important to our health and well-being as well as our ability to live, experience and exist to our fullest extent as humans.

When we read, don’t skim the book or even just read it, absorb it. When listening to music don’t drift, analyze. When relaxing, don’t check your email, just find your inner peace. Use the limited time allowed by the clock not to accomplish the most activities or check the most boxes as complete, but to find the most joy and fulfillment. If you enjoy walking fast, as my girlfriend does, great. But if you’d rather just stroll by the river and look at the trees, do that too. Because the rest of the world can spare a few more minutes of your activity to really enjoy things.

Persona 5: Almost impossible to put down

As I probably made obvious in the title of this post, I am absolutely gaga for Atlus’s fifth entry into the Megami Tensei spin-off Persona series. Persona 4: Golden was undeniably a masterpiece, and I have been looking forward to P5 ever since it was confirmed to be coming to PS4 in addition to PS3. In fact, I faithfully awaited the launch through a series of multiple delays. Also, gotta say it was a bit mean to JRPG fans that they were going to launch on Valentine’s day.

Now that I’ve had it downloaded and loved for a reasonable amount of time I wanted to share some thoughts regarding thematics and overall structure of the game. While it should be noted that I am not quite through my first play through (what can I say, finals) I feel I am currently facing a confusing set of emotions that should be articulated at this moment.

I plan to write more once I am done with the game, and my feelings and impressions will likely change as a result. But really I must say that while this is undoubtedly one of the best video games I have ever played, mechanically, stylistically, and by story it still has some parts that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Let us be fair, there are a lot of issues with social representation throughout almost all media, and in video games particularly. By these admittedly low standards, the Persona series has always been a few steps ahead of the curve where social progress is concerned. I’d look at the open-minded view they take in exploring the dungeon themed around the undefined sexuality and sexual preferences of Persona 4‘s Kanji.

Persona 5 has some similarity deep themes in the very first dungeon of Kamoshida’s castle where his abuse of his students is displayed. Given that the physical and sexual abuse is with two members of your party, Yosuke and Ann respectively, this isn’t some issue presented in the abstract, but an actual act of defiance where the victims are pursuing justice. Maybe a lesser game wouldn’t nudge me towards criticism of minutia, but Personais downright hypocritical.

This first criticism I feel I am wading into dangerous territory, but I promise I have logic if you see the argument to the end. I am very bothered by the games continued hyper-sexualization of its young female subjects, and Ann in particular.

I understand that many feel the sexualization of people considered underage in America and other Western nations. I understand that the age of consent is lower in Japan. I really don’t want to be an imperialist who tries to impose my standards onto others, but this is a piece of media that was made for myself and my market and I feel my criticism is valid. That said, P5 seems to at least somewhat agree that this is a way of depicting young women that is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character of either gender, that is kind of at the heart of any visual storytelling. I’m not going to write anything about Black Widow’s appearance being sexual because that is kind of the point and power of the character. She uses her sexuality as an a person fully capable of making her own informed decisions to manipulate the more basic parts of humans and the male gender in particular.

The problem is that the of the game seems to agree that the way the girls are depicted and treated is fundamentally wrong. The first quest is centered around stopping the “pervy” teacher who is pressuring underage girls into sexual activity. In the final boss fight, King Kamoshida drinks from a cup of lust where he literally consumes the mostly-nude bodies of young girls.

With this evidence, I think it is undeniable that the game considers Kamoshida’s view of high school girls as wrong as I would. Whether that is right or imperialistic is a discourse for another day. Now, accepting this condition, it stands to reason that Kamoshida’s distorted worldview includes a sexualized Ann in a bikini.

By cultural standards, especially those in the West, a young woman in a bikini is downright tame; however, it is hammered home that coach Kamoshida is doing something wrong by viewing Ann as a sex object. So, what does the game do? Repeatedly and heavily treat Ann as a sex object.

There is a pattern of making moments where the male characters of the Persona franchise awkwardly encounter their female counterparts in bathing suits. Personally, I find these moments at least charming, if a bit awkward. P5 is no exception to this trend. While these swimming scenes are low hanging fruits for examples, there are repeated instances where Ann is sexualized….. because.

Though I would say Ryuji is the worst explicit offender, there are multiple instances where they just stare at her or else make strange remarks. This would be fine in isolation, but it just keeps happening and I keep feeling weird. Take for instance the drive to Futaba’s pyramid. Obviously things are hot in the desert and they are trying to keep as cool as possible, but every guy in the back seat can’t help but stare down Ann’s shirt. Not subtly, they make a point of showing both Ann not being upset by this and the men not seeming to care.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Ann is an attractive young blond who is a part-time model as the result of her rich parents being fashion designers. It would have been easy to treat Ann as just an object of attraction. Persona 5 does not do that.

Ann is a romance option, and while her specific story missions do involve some work to become a better and/or more successful model, that is far from the point. She is doing it for herself so she can feel accomplishment through work and ultimately finds greater self value by side-lining modeling again. I can say all of that because she was the romance option I pursued.

Persona 5 does an exceptional job of making well rounded female characters. They are intelligent, complex, and a great sign of progress in an unfortunately misogynistic medium. While I applaud Atlus’s two steps forward, we must also acknowledge there one step back.

The Nature of Androids and Humans: Criticism of Anthropocentrism and Class in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

 

Traditional literature and poetry can do a lot to help humans comprehend the meaning of minutia surrounding them, but some issues are to complex for a world that resembles our own. That is where Science Fiction comes in. SF (“SF” is a  common literary abbreviation for “Science Fiction” not “San Francisco,” the setting of the novel) serves as a means to take questions to the extreme for analysis at their logical (or sometimes illogical) final state. At the core of good science fiction is an examination of complex and real questions through a means that can not exist in the world as we know it. Indeed, we really should listen to Nigel Wheale’s statement, “[i]t really is time to take science fiction seriously” (297). By taking advantage of this newly validated suite of tools, authors can examine large issues about the essence of humanity and its interactions. One of the best examples of this is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, “a classic in the genre. […] It works on many levels and addresses a range of humanity’s most pressing concerns” (Axelrod, 84). Dick uses androids to examine the concepts of nature and artificiality in order to dissect the false privileged binary between the two.

A very basic question one might ask looking at Do Androids Dream? is whether or not Dick thinks of Androids as living things, but that question is far too reductive. Do Androids Dream? makes it clear that electric things are also alive through the protagonist Rick Deckard’s observation “The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are” (Dick 241). This sentence provides a good starting point for the scholarly work done around the novel. The issue of existence and of consciousness are taken as given. With the novel’s advancements in making robots more “human” there is no way to tell an organic human apart from a functioning android until they have expired to have a bone marrow test taken. Because it is so remarkably difficult to tell the difference between the two, the novel takes their consciousness and even sapiency as a given. The question is not whether robots are lives, but how they should be considered.

What makes a human? Perhaps it would be easier to define man vs. not-man if we were able to communicate with things that are not human, but at this point such conversations are beyond the realm of possibility. So we, as a species, are forced to discuss the issue among ourselves. By only being able to experience the concept of intelligence with itself, humanity was led to an anthropocentric worldview. This is a belief of human supremacy Per Schelde best summarizes as the feeling humans are “specially created with a purpose: their salvation and final happiness. Tied in with this purposefulness is the notion of a free will” (125). The ability to actualize desires is a central point of differentiation between what makes something living with a conscious and what is not, and therefore lesser.

This thinking establishes three levels of privileged class: human, animal, and other. This notion is one of the traditional ways that man has distinguished himself from machine. Dick upsets this balance with the introduction of intelligent machines that resemble the top caste (humans), androids. Through this unsettling, androids seek to leave the lowest caste, the other, to function among the hegemonic beings. So, asks Wheale, “what would be the difference between a physically perfect android kitted out with memories and emotions passably like our own, and a person nurtured through the usual channels,” and furthermore “what is an authentic human psyche” (298)? For centuries, the question was as simple as attempting a conversation (Similar to the traditional “Turing Test” to differentiate between a human and a computer consciousness).

In the real world, it is fairly safe to determine an entity’s humanity by looking at it. In Do Androids Dream? it may not be enough to isolate humanity at a glance. Mark Axelrod notes the difficulty wherein “androids have been reproduced to be exact replicas of real humans; therefore, they are difficult to tell them from real humans” (86). By using such a simple test to determine what is human for so long, mankind constructed what Christopher Sims names the “binary [of] natural/artificial” (68), wherein humans can converse, animals can react but not converse, and that bottom class, the other, which has no ability to recognize humanity, plants and inanimate objects (At this point in reality robots, largely incapable of intelligent thought, would belong to this category). Why are animals privileged above the other? Tony Vinci explains animals are granted a special status “for their ability to register human existence, but non-intersecting gazes between humans and animals position them as objectified commodities” (100). Within this critical theory not all animals are equal in their value to humans.

For example, many humans would value a dog over a fish for its ability to interact with, and even assist in human life. Dog is “man’s best friend” because it possesses enough intelligence to directly make man’s life better, and recognize our existence in contrast to that of other beings. Still, they are clearly lower because virtually all cultures will refer to other humans as various kinds of animals (English examples would include: pig, ass, cow, bitch, etc.). Many humans become greatly offended that they could have some distant evolutionary relations to primates. Though not human, humans value animals for their ability to enhance humanity. This leads to the third class, the other. The party of concern in the novel are the electric beings, both the artificial pets as well as the human mimicking androids. This is where the natural/artificial binary starts to become apparent.

Up to this point this essay has focused on what differentiates between the three castes in relation to their positions in Do Androids Dream?. I will turn now to look at how humans in the novel reinforce their position atop the arbitrary hierarchy. An iPhone has more utility and use for the average human than an elephant. The prior can serve any one of millions of functions for any modern person with at least one functional hand, whereas the elephant is a variant of nature that some humans find aesthetically pleasant. Yet, anyone who would choose to save an iPhone over an elephant would be looked at as a monster. So, humans will place some value in the “other,” for its utility, but its inability to recognize humanity makes it a cut below animals. Sims explains that this is because “modern Western cultures hierarchize the natural and the artificial” (85). This “difference” is an illusion, there is nothing between the two but human opinion. Those concerned with preserving the high station of the natural can not stand to see this change in the ancient balance of power. So, what then of the intelligent android?

Rick Deckard’s San Francisco exists after “World War Terminus,” a nuclear armageddon that killed most life on earth and left the rest irradiated beyond reproductive capability or, for the rich, fleeing to the safety of Mars with android servants. Where many real-life humans cherish their animals as a friend and companion, a pet is less of a companion to the post-apocalyptic person and more of a prized possession to convey social status, in part because of their rarity. Because the radiation has made it impossible for any species to reproduce in a fashion that would keep up with demand, only the rich can afford to have a genuine animal and everyone else can get electric mimicries, such as Deckard’s titular electric sheep, to try and convey status. In this society, “crimes against animals which universally horrify humanity” (Wheale 300) are fundamental to the maintenance of status quo. If humans are unable to have their reaction to violence against another living thing, how would they know they are human?

Drowning in anthropocentrism, humans promptly place themselves at the top of the organic/inorganic class system, and make moves to bring greater hegemonic status. In explaining the violence of humans toward androids, Axelrod explains “There is a fear that [androids] will create some kind of havoc if not eliminated, […] what kind of havoc they would wreak is not exactly detailed though” (86). Because they can be so hard to spot, humans need something to draw a line with. To this end, the humans of Dick’s imagination develop the “Voigt-Kampff” empathy test, administered by the protagonist Rick Deckard to suspected androids. The goal of this test is to detect empathy, which is decided to be the paramount human virtue by post-apocalyptic society. The primary reason for this premium on both empathy and  the testing thereof is that robots do not feel empathy, or at least not in the way that humans recognize.

The novel’s humans are very concerned with empathy, they even make it into a religion called “Mercerism.” In this newly founded devotion “Empathy is the paramount tenet of Mercerism” (Sims 74). That is where the value of animals is relevant. Vinci argues animals are able to produce empathetic emotions and comfort, but really “what humans are ‘with’ is not animals but the imagined lack of their own lack” (100). Counterintuitively, the humans of Do Androids Dream? rarely empathize with one another.

Axelrod describes the situation “Deckard’s thoughts, mediated by the narrator, are often insightful for Deckard himself; however, we know very little about his wife’s, Iran, thoughts and concerns on more than a superficial level” (91). By contrast, Wheale notes that in the 24 hours required for the novel to unfold, “Rick Deckard’s infatuation with Rachael [a Nexus-6 android]  is the most troubling instance of this problem. In the novel, bounty hunter and android sleep together” (304). Deckard has an intimate and emotionally meaningful connection not with the woman he has agreed to spend his life with, but a Nexus-6 model android he was sent to examine for signs of empathy just hours before. As Rachel notes, “You’re not going to bed with a woman […] don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t pause and be philosophical, because from a philosophical standpoint it’s dreary. For us both” (Dick 194).  In a world concerned with empathy on a religious scale, people don’t seem overly concerned with their fellow humans.

Wheale explains the “Do Androids Dream? employs this idea of ‘affect’ to distinguish between a ‘person-Thing’ and a human entity: humanity experiences affect (and affect-ion), robots don’t” (299). Some of those biological people don’t meet this definition of humanity as empathy. Wheale further describes this dilemma of people whosuffer from a ‘flattening of affect’, and in the test situation could be mistaken for robots” (299) because they are not mentally able to feel empathy. Though they are traditionally born and raised humans, they are incapable of the primary characteristic assigned to humanity by the global religion.

This isn’t the only criterion that can disqualify people from humanity, and empathy for these people seems to be in short supply. One of Do Androids Dream?’s major characters, John Isidore “had failed to pass the minimum mental faculties test, which made him in popular parlance a chickenhead” (Dick 18). Isidore is capable of some amount of empathy, as illustrated by his interest in animals and his android companions, but is not of high enough intelligence to be granted full and legal personhood which would allow Isidore to get a better job, own an animal, and/or flee the irradiated landscape of Earth for the safety of Mars. Both those with a flattened affect and sub-par mental facilities are biologically and genetically humans, but they are not considered such. So humanity isn’t even tied to biology as would be suggested by privileging animals over robots. Humanity is tied to power.

Having reviewed the negative consequences of using empathy as a means of differentiating mankind above all else, I will now show why this is a flawed test and a false construct. There is the “empathetic” practice of Mercerism itself. Iran Deckard demonstrates this in the novel’s opening scene when she connects to the Mercerist “empathy box” which shows the object of the religion, Wilbur Mercer going through trials and tribulations to spark empathy among his followers. Wheale describes this process as “tuning in to an ’empathy box’ each individual shares in the Ascent of Mercer, and shares the antagonism directed to their god-figure by some unknown enemies” (299). This allows for humans to share in the experience of suffering together with Mercer, virtually the definition of empathy; however, this experience is being delivered in an artificial manner. Galvan goes as far as to say “the empathy box, which despite its name more undermines than facilitates the experience of emotional community” (418).

Humans do not go to an event occurring live and/or in person, they are essentially watching a rerun on TV. It is still given to humans by the use of a human creation that artificially delivers an experience that is not actually happening in the moment. Optimistic skeptics might argue that it is inconsequential to receive in an artificial way because the “feeling with” of empathy is still natural. This would be a valid argument within the context of Do Androids Dream?, except the full experience of Mercerism, that world’s primary religion and inspiration of empathy, is fundamentally false.

Wilbur Mercer, believed to be an actual person, is revealed by Buster Friendly to be a man “named Al Jarry, who played a number of bit parts in pre-war films” (Dick 207) and then acted as if he were being persecuted for the scene before resigning to a secluded life in Indiana. This “empathy” was not with a real person or even a real event, but a purely synthetic experience Jill Galvan argues is primarily a means of the government to keep people from rebelling against the structure (417). Not only is the means of experiencing artificial, not only is the experience conveyed synthetic, the purpose of the storytelling is not organic and grassroots in nature, it is a means of the oligarchs within the hegemonic class to guard their power. This leads to the conclusion that either empathy can be artificial or is not any great virtue of humanity. Either way this outcome leaves humans without a jewel for their crown of anthropocentrism. Even worse, the androids are gaining ground in empathy. So, let us review the moral implications of differentiating humans as a uniquely superior and moral class.

In some SF it is easy to spot an android, they just look fake to even the unobservant eye. As previously noted, this is not at all the case for not so in Do Androids Dream? where a living human and function android can not be differentiated fully. Where Wheale notes “the latest generation of Nexus-6 ‘andys’ approaches nearer and nearer to human” (300) it becomes more and more difficult to tell a difference at a glance. That is where the protagonist, Rick Deckard, introduces the Voigt-Kampff test. One of the first conflicts presented to Deckard is testing the Nexus-6s. In this scene, Dick reveals that the Voigt-Kampff test was not the first of its kind, it is part of a series of ever more difficult tests. So, the definition/idea used in defining empathy, and consequently humanity, is not fixed, it has changed over time as the hegemonic humans have moved the goalposts and keep the number of privileged people to a minimum. This is not merely a group of people sticking to what they know for fear of the new, it is a concerted effort to suppress groups, both organic and mechanical.

Tony Vinci writes “The post-apocalyptic culture depicted in the novel is based upon anthropocentric values constructed in such a way as to belittle and disempower human and nonhuman others (‘specials,’ androids, ersatz animals) by defining the human as a specialized category of being that has exclusive access to empathy” (92). In this situation, the androids are not treated as people, but slaves. Perhaps androids might reach the same status as humans if they can meet certain conditions, specifically meeting the current definition of empathetic, but every time they are able to meet these standards of humanity, the powers that be change their definition so they to keep their club closed from anyone looking to climb the ranks. This includes some androids that would classically meet the definitions of humanity with flying colors.

Luba Luft is one of Deckard’s android targets found at an art exhibition and posing as an opera singer, a very bourgeois art. To be deconstructionist for a moment, arts are also called humanities meaning that someone who can perform a humanity on a high level should most likely be considered human. Luft is operating as a very talented human artist meaning she is not only expressing her own form of humanity, but also potentially helping organic humans achieve a more fulfilling life. In this scenario, Luft should be considered a human, or at least something on the order of an animal; however, Galvan writes

In effect, it is not the scenarios that Rick posits that might prove Luba Luft guilty; rather, it the resolute relationship of signifiers and signifieds-the vise-like stability of the dialectical code-that proclaims the law’s authority and thus already brands her a criminal. Deputized to administer the test, Rick insists repeatedly upon Luba’s “response,” but in Baudrillard’s view, of course, that response would only confirm the operation of the hegemonic code (421).

What this means in a power structure is that the signifiers are being perpetually changed to keep specific signifiers held in a position of lower power. The androids are trapped as slaves by this hegemonic sign.

Typically, the androids do not do much to resist their bondage, but Sims says “Rarely, an android slave will kill its master and flee Mars for haven on Earth” (67). Throughout the novel, Deckard, a bounty hunter, stands as a forceful means of differentiating between the natural/artificial binary, humans and androids, respectively. Just as the Fugitive Slave Act permitted white men to hunt after escaped slaves looking for a way to leave their masters. Humans are very concerned to see their position challenged on the top of the pyramid, and so they assert the whole of their power to suppress the rising forces of intellectual opposition following the model of Marxist theory.

Androids are transformed into the other, and, as Axelrod notes even largely resembling a traditionally marginalized European ethnicity. “Unlike the nonandroids, each android […] has Euro-Slavic names or features” (86). The hegemonic forces are using their privileged rank to exploit and oppress the lower classes from removing their privilege. Istvan Csicsery-Ronan argues “Hypercapitalism labors to replace them with the ‘multicultural’ coexistence of irresolvable, irreducible, and intractable differences that must never develop into serious challenges to imperial sovereignty. The utopian ideal of universal right and law is replaced by the imperial practice of corruption” (242). Once again, even looking beyond the abuse of androids, there is a good number of natural-born humans, like John Isidore, that are not being allowed to interact with more respected humans recognized as intelligent, empathetic, and generally better. It is just another way for the powerful to oppress the powerless.

Class relations are a very difficult thing to discuss in America. Csicsery-Ronay states “This is one reason why some Marxist critics consider the genre to be inherently critical, despite the fact that careful social analysis rarely plays a central role in sf narratives […] the way global capitalism prevents dialectical historical awareness from coming to revolutionary consciousness” (242). No one likes to acknowledge that people of a higher station do not view them equally as a result of class. That is really the brilliance of Do Androids Dream?. In this instance, Androids are used as a powerful equal to stand aside organic humans to show the violent hierarchies mirrored in nature and human society. Regardless of whether or not the work is explicitly, implicitly, or not at all Marxist, Dick forces readers of Do Androids Dream? to confront the fundamental power structures and assumptions of human identity.

Works Cited

Axelrod, Mark. I Read It at the Movies: The Follies and Foibles of Screen Adaptation. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007. Print.

Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “Science Fiction and Empire.” Science Fiction Studies vol. 30, no. 2 (2003): 231-45.JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. New York City: Ballantine, 2008. Kindle.

Galvan, Jill. “Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’.” Science Fiction Studies vol. 24, no. 3 (1997): 413-29. JSTOR. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Schelde, Per. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Science Fiction Monsters: Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films. New York, NY: New York U, 1993. Print.

Sims, Christopher A. “The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”.” Science Fiction Studies vol. 36, no. 1 (2009): 67-87. JSTOR. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Vinci, Tony M. “Posthuman Wounds: Trauma, Non-Anthropocentric Vulnerability, and the Human/Android/Animal Dynamic in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association vol. 47, no. 2 (2014): 91-114. JSTOR. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Wheale, Nigel. “Recognising a ‘human-Thing’: Cyborgs, Robots and Replicants in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’.” Critical Survey vol. 3, no. 3, (1991): 297-304. JSTOR. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

He for she for me

What do we value in masculinity, and, more importantly, why do we traditionally hold it as being of such great value? I think it is largely evolutionary benefits that have led us to prioritizing strength, hyper-independence, and the ability to provide specifically in the male gender. If we go back to Unk the caveman, the man who was those things was more likely to survive to pass on his genes and provide for the people who depend on him as they either mature (in the case of his children) or care for the products of their mutual genes (in the case of the female partner).

I do not mean this as any sort of encouragement it was just a largely practical division of labor. An ability to suppress emotions in the pursuit of short term practical goals made sense for the member of the species that was out hunting a large, dangerous animal while attentiveness and nurturing were more sensible characteristics to the one left with child-rearing.

While all parties share largely similar brain chemistry and functions making the spectrums of emotion available, encouraging certain behaviors just yielded early survival and therefore reproductive values. The thing is, evolution (whether biological or social) is a slow thing, and even relatively progressive societies still largely hold to these patriarchal systems. This isn’t universally a bad thing.

I grew up with a mother who staid at home with the five kids of her own choice (she did have a college degree) and a father who was the exclusive breadwinner for most of my life. Both my mother and my father are strong people who made this decision of traditional gender rolls mutually and are (to the best of my knowledge) very happy with the lives they lead.

There’s actually quite a trend of women in my family who want to be housewives and teachers. No one should force a person into a traditional gender role, I’m just saying that we also shouldn’t look down on people who do choose to pursue an option that would conform to norms. But we have come a long way since man hunted mastodons and we need to start addressing the long term necessities of humanity. I believe feminism is a large part of the solution.

It is of course worth noting that I am writing this as a man. At the risk of mansplaining, feminism does have a focus on female empowerment; however, by empowering both women and the very concept of femininity (or else, blurring the boundaries between the genders) is also a good thing for men because it makes traits that would traditionally shame or emasculate men acceptable and/or empowering. This rising tide raises all boats.

Part of the reason I wanted to write about this is my coming to terms with the fact that a lot of my demons are traditionally associated with haunting women. Specifically, I am thinking about mental illness. While the Mayo clinic reports the big one, depression, is significantly more common in women than men, the link is not that simple. The World Health Organization found that women are more likely to report mental health issues meaning there is a disparity in cases known which hampers both research in the field as well as the health of those not reporting.

What I am arguing today is that this is because of the negative effects behind holding to traditional masculinity. Asking for help is considered feminine, and femininity is associated with weakness. Knowing when assistance is required is no vice, it is a great virtue. So perhaps it is not bad to associate requesting assistance with the fairer sex, but one of the great goals of feminism (in my understanding) is to remove the association of women with meekness. So even if asking for help were to be a feminine quality (which it neither is, nor should be), there is no problem with a man admitting a part of his feminine nature for his greater well being and health, and the health of society. Right now, masculinity is quite literally killing a lot of men.

The last sentence is based on my core argument that pure masculinity is outdated and bad for both men and women. One of the stark differences where this is made apparent is in suicide rates. Like I said, women are more likely to report mental health issues, a common symptom of which is suicidal thoughts. So, reports from Forbes suggest the same research problem is present with suicidal thoughts as with depression, but it looks like women do suffer suicidal thoughts more often. On the flip side, Forbes also reported men are dramatically more likely to successfully kill themselves in almost every culture around the world.

Significantly, this isn’t reported suicide, which would leave room for the same error from self-reporting, but actual deaths that leave no doubt about whether or not this symptom of mental health was present. This isn’t some minor difference of a couple percentage points. According to Americans for Suicide Prevention, a non-profit that sponsors scientific studies about suicide, men are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women, with similar numbers coming from the UK in a report from the Guardian.

This makes sense because most successful suicides are done with firearms, and (like it or not) studies show that the presence of guns can increase the likelihood of violence. Think about it, it is an immediate, dramatic, and very effective way to end life, and Pew Research shows than men are more likely to own or have access to firearms. This is another essential part of masculinity.

If a willingness to ask for help is essentially feminine, willingness for violence is essentially masculine. Men are the ones who start wars, fight them, and kill each other. Certainly women kill, but it is no great secret that men commit violent crimes at a higher rate. Boys will be boys, and masculinity dictates that boys will be violent. Still, masculinity is privileged above femininity as “stronger” and “better” meaning that any man who would go through any act of femininity to get needed help has declared himself less of a man and therefore worse.

Men need to learn from women. I believe it is our duty to support the empowerment of our sisters not only for their sake, but also for our own. Or else we choose our own poison and live worse in our own pride.

Moving up

If it isn’t obvious already, I really, really like Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical Hamilton. I’m not the only one by a long shot, but I feel I am drawing more inspiration from the Treasury Secretary by the day. In particular, I really like The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Wrote My Way Out” by Nas, Dave East, and Lin. I’m certainly coming from a significantly better situation that a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, but I feel the burn of ambition in me every day.

In the Midwest it can be easy to fall in line. Not in an obedience sense, the Libertarian streak will prevent that, but just to fall in the rut of day to daily life. There’s nothing wrong with that life. Many generations and even more people of my family have done that very happily.

My parents are wonderful role models, and I think they are really happy with the life they made for themselves, but I would go absolutely insane under the same circumstances. The only time the family travels is for sports. Once again, they love that, and that’s awesome for them. But there’s a lot of world out there, and I can’t see all of it from the bleachers.

There’s a reason you can’t find a town in South Dakota where we know no one. If you come to the heart of our family, Whitewood, then everyone knows us, it’s hard not to. If I wanted to, I could follow in my dad’s footsteps, go to BHSU for a Business degree, and eventually take over my grandpa’s company, A-1 Construction, Inc. That’s a good life to live. I don’t want it.

Why do I work hard? My generation is more competitive than ever before. We are more likely to take unpaid internships, and we have a lot of serious economic issues in our future. If I want to get further than my parents, I have to work harder.

My career goal is to be a foreign service officer with the State Department. Basically I want to serve my country and travel at the same time. I speak conversational Spanish, and that is obviously a valuable language  right now, but it isn’t as strong of a higher point for me. Hamilton read politics and spoke French, I read politics and learn Russian. I started learning the tongue before we started cozying up with Putin and installed his declared friend as our Secretary of State, but it’s a critical language. And with two years experience, I can get sent to a Russian speaking country for free while also getting an in with my dream job.

Regardless of whether or not that works out, I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps, and they can send me to the Ukraine. It might be a warzone by that point, but whatever. I’ll get there. That will be a huge step toward my larger plans. Here’s the thing, none of those are easily obtained. Even if learning Russian was easy, all of those jobs are competitive to get into and even harder to climb the ladder. So I’ll keep on working. And eventually, I’ll write my way out of here.

Only a few bits left

There was a time not so long ago I was obsessed with media. Well, to be specific, I was obsessed with owning media. Boxes of books, movies, video games, CD’s (mostly of bad bands) and all other things I had piled everywhere just taking up space in the off chance I wanted to revisit Underworld: Evolution. Okay I did that a few times (I CAN MAKE BAD CHOICES) but still, the vast majority of my possessions were just things that never saw use.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hording things, I was happy to loan things to people I and we always were good about spring cleaning. I knew how to give up things, but I was really good at holding onto things that I thought had value. That’s started to change.

I couldn’t tell you the exact time I wanted to own less, but I think it is related to the desire I had to change myself after I left Mines. I was fundamentally very unhappy, and I didn’t know why. So, I basically hit resent and started making major changes to my life.

Step one was when I shaved my head. Say what you will, I looked good. Then I started to get rid of crap. I sold video games initially and then started to donate them because I don’t really value money. I donated books and movies. Not my usual two or three here and there, I got rid of almost all of them. I don’t own a DVD anymore, certainly no CD’s. No more physical video games. The word physical is where things really pick up here.

Who buys DVD’s? No seriously, the only people I know who buy movies are people who either don’t get the idea of streaming or….. okay they’re actually the only ones. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, I can cheaply watch more good shows and movies than I could ever possibly hope to watch. Music? Google Play Music is my personal choice. I’ve been on digital music for a while, but streaming is just frankly easier and more unified in a lot of ways. I still have physical copies of the Bible, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but that’s mostly just a bit too much nostalgia to give up. Besides that, Kindle books are cheaper anyway. As for video games, I’ve grown to prefer PC gaming anyway, and what chump buys physical PC games?

Here’s the thing, it feels truly liberating to have less stuff. Obviously I’ve been out of the house for some time now that I’m in college, but I used to just keep a bunch of stuff at home. I wanted nothing to do with that anymore. It’s seriously just stuff I have no intent of using anymore. I literally don’t have a room at my family’s house anymore (it’s not sad like it sounds, there’s just a lot of people in a small space).

Does any of this mean I am consuming any less media? Not at all. I don’t buy as much anymore, but I’m getting as much or more joy from entertainment than I ever have. I just spend less and own less. I really like it. I can get things I like anywhere I happen to be I have what I want. Travel has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and owning less makes that seem a lot easier. I’m hoping to spend a year in Russia soon, and if I were to go today, the computer I’m currently typing on already has everything I would possibly want ready to go. Nothing I’d have to entrust with people while I’m gone or try to stuff together. Just the freedom from being owned by possessions. It’s kind of like Fight Club.

I would not quite call myself a minimalist yet, but I’ve gotten to really enjoy owning less. There’s a great documentary on Netflix that is made by podcasters and bloggers who are hardcore minimalists. They didn’t get me started on getting rid of possessions but they sure have helped me along the way. The main idea that I am trying to embody is only buying things that add value to my life. They have a phrase I’ve been trying to keep in mind. “Love people and use things because the reverse never works.”