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Dick's Dicks: The Future of Law Enforcement According to Philip K. Dick
by Tim Kenyon
Corruption, racism, arbitrary enforcement of laws and political favoritism are just a few elements within American law enforcement that became popular issues in the social and political mainstream during the 1960's and 70's. The American society found itself caught in the midst of a potentially crippling ethical and moral war with itself and with those people sworn to protect and serve it. Philip Dick found himself writing about this troubled society in the midst of a turbulent period commonly recognized as the predominant era of police crisis in America. This conflict which dominated the lives of law officers during the 60's arose because of the dramatic increase in community awareness and a desire for a professionalism that was unprecedented within the American policing system.
Two of Dick's novels, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, reflect on this period full of turmoil, greed, guilt, lustful intent and entropic tendencies of the bureaucratic system through the books' police-officer protagonists. Dick displays his characters, Rick Deckard and Felix Buckman, as models to define the men and women of the law enforcement profession who by position alone are constantly held to a higher standard—one that frequently conflicts with the nature of human psychology. Dick's policemen represent his interpretation of one inevitable outcome from a conflict between the high standard to which law enforcement officers are held and the realities of human nature. These characters possess these dual roles, separated by a fine line—personal aspirations on one side and society's expectations on the other. This separation causes a duality in their struggle to survive. Just like the police officers of the 1960's, Dick's characters find themselves forced to struggle with this duality. While both his characters and the law officers of the 60's seek to control and define themselves as individuals in society, it is this same society that forces them to conform to the ever-changing role of a public servant. As society's expectations change, the public servant must also change in order to function efficiently. This dynamic often results in an internal struggle within the public servant who is reluctant to adhere to these demands. Dick offers his version of the end result of this struggle enacted within his characters.
Both of Dick's protagonists begin with a solid grasp of their sense of professional duty balanced with a keen awareness of their personal aspirations and responsibilities. For them, expectation and dedication are both high. At the opening of Do Androids Dream, bounty hunter Rick Deckard possesses strong feelings about his duty and purpose. Dick writes:
Deckard has a clear sense of his responsibilities in the beginning of the story. This clarity is derived from his moral obligation to adhere to certain principles established by the empathic-based religion, Mercerism. At some point in his past he created a balance between the conflicting elements of the duality, a balance that is essential for him to successfully do his job. For him, the terms good and evil have been clearly defined. It doesn't matter whether this definition was set by personal choice or by professional directive, because Deckard has accepted his duty as a bounty hunter; and retiring androids, by his standard, is not a moral or ethical violation. Doing this job had helped to define him and he refuses to question the system. By performing his duty with this level of dedication, he has strengthened his drive and even legitimized his position, however unfavorably it may be regarded by others. In Jill Galvan's article "Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" she shows how Deckard does this when she describes the collective world in which he lives:
At the novel's onset…Rick has yet to rethink the dominant ideology of the juridical system that employs him. He accepts without contest the ontological categories of his culture, according to which humans' principal difference from their android look-alikes lies in their ability to feel empathy. This credo…helps to insulate the human community: if humans alone have the power to empathize, then their only emotionally profitable, mutually beneficial relationships occur with each other. The android's deficiency patently expels it from the collective…(414)
Deckard believes early on that since only humans can feel empathy, then it can and must only be shared among those humans. This philosophy keeps him from questioning the motives of his employer and allows him to successfully perform his duties, a trait quite common, and even required, with the law enforcement officers of our world.
Police General Felix Buckman in Flow My Tears takes a different approach, but feels just as strongly about his duty. His internal balance is achieved by power and intimidation, but his proclaimed self-importance still equals Deckard's. Dick illustrates this in Flow My Tears when he writes: "'Good evening,' Buckman said to her. He did not know her, but it did not matter: she—and everyone else in the [police department]—knew him. 'Good evening, Mr. Buckman.' She drew herself upright, as if at attention"(79-80). It is possible for one to think that Buckman is a self-absorbed egotist, but that is not so. His actions throughout the introduction convey a commanding sense of stability and confidence that many other characters lack. Running a strong police force demands a strong commander. Dick creates a character quite capable of commanding his precinct. Buckman is aware of his capabilities; everyone who works for him is also aware of it.
Both of these men show dedication to their profession; they are both strong-willed, highly motivated individuals—at least initially. Dick draws a distinct line between the duty owed to themselves and that owed to the people they serve. However, both sides of this duty are intricately tied together, and at the same time rigged to explode at the first sign of contention. Dick is successful at weaving this tension into both stories through the characters' significant others, each occupying the role of the "little" antagonist.
The opening scene of Do Androids Dream (the entire novel recounts a single day in Rick Deckard's life) leads immediately to a confrontation between him and his wife, Iran:
We have become immediately aware that Deckard's duty as a bounty hunter has caused an instability between him and his wife. She is not happy with what he does for a living and that strains his sense of duty. Dick brings her into the story immediately as an antagonist for Deckard. Although human, she does not agree that androids should be killed; doing so is a violation of her idea of human nature.
Deckard faces another collision between personal and professional duty when he considers his pet—an electric sheep. The fallout from a devastating nuclear war before the opening of Do Androids Dream has forced many species of animals into extinction. Ownership of a genuine animal is both prestigious and costly. Android manufacturers offer inexpensive electric substitutes; however, the discovery of its ownership can lead to extreme embarrassment and crippling social defamation. Deckard considers this early on:
Dick illustrates here that Deckard does not care about placing his reputation in jeopardy for owning an electric animal. In fact, he divulges the secret to several people throughout the story. Iran, on the other hand, cares very much what other people think of her. This fact pushes Deckard further into the vicious circle created by the abrasive connections between his personal and professional life. He feels that since their reputation is so important to Iran he must continue to retire androids in order to collect enough bounty to afford a genuine animal. However, continuing in his position strains and jeopardizes the relationship with the woman whose status he is trying to protect.
In Flow My Tears, Felix Buckman's sister, and wife, Alys, is responsible for generating his contention of duty. By allowing us to first meet Alys in the setting of Buckman's professional realm, Dick provides a strong illustration of the battle Buckman faces.
Buckman is acutely displeased when he sees and touches Alys upon their initial encounter within the text; the experience repulses him. He finds her asleep on his office couch drugged up and dressed in what he considers "whore's clothing." Buckman's contention of duty intensifies when Dick writes:
Here is where Buckman's two sides of duty clearly overlap. As a law officer, he is bound to apprehend those like his sister, yet he protects her, or rather allows her to use him as protection. Buckman is frustrated with her actions, but as always he protects his sister without questioning why she continually relies on him as a security blanket. He reassures Alys that her presence in the police headquarters does not threaten his position, yet his anxiety-ridden actions indicate otherwise. During the scene Buckman tries to hide Alys from the sight of others in the station house. Although she has a key to his office, she uses a secret exit to enter and egress—an exit she has utilized countless times before by his suggestion. Her lifestyle and status as Buckman's sister does not worry him, but this encounter exposes an uneasiness in Buckman which the scene itself does not fully define. For dramatic purposes, Dick delivers the full scope of their relationship in waves; first, Dick brings her into the story merely as Buckman's sister; later, he reveals that she is also Buckman's wife; finally, it is discovered that they have conceived a child together.
The overlapping of his personal into his professional life threatens him, not his sister's lifestyle, as the reader is led to believe in the beginning. Their incestuous relationship is a threat to his career and reputation. The product of that relationship also threatens his position. However, he relies on this same position to protect him from prosecution and persecution because of his multifaceted relationship with Alys. Dick not only binds this antagonist to Buckman by marriage, but also ties her to him by blood relation which, throughout the course of the book, tends to heighten Buckman's partiality toward personal over professional duty.
Both Deckard and Buckman face a challenge that has remained constant and universal within the law enforcement profession. To succeed in achieving a balance with both sides of duty one must often make sacrifices and risk possible infringement upon one's moral code, ethical standards, or human nature itself. Once these sacrifices are made a line must be drawn, a boundary established, thereby creating a code of professional ethics by which to live. Deckard and Buckman are both in search of means to establish such a precedent with as little infringement as possible upon their moral and ethical standards, and, if at all possible, without violation of their human nature. Upon their journey Dick's characters experience the eventual disassociation from themselves and their objectives. This process represents the same inevitable downfall that plagued the American policing system of the 1960's.
We can gain a better understanding of what influenced Philip Dick's vision of future police by examining the critical issues in policing leading up to and during the 1960's. An organized police force in one form or another has been active in America since the early nineteenth century. Even before that time, as far back as the Colonial era, political and financial corruption had found its way into the rudimentary law enforcement system. Law enforcement has never existed without harboring some level of corruption; however, the escalation of turmoil in the 1960's reached unprecedented levels, and with good reason. The struggle for police unionism and the continuous battle for financial support did little to overshadow the even larger, external problems plaguing the metropolitan police forces across the country. The relations between the police and the community were at an all-time low. Favoritism through political connections was running rampant and the departments themselves had little desire to affect control. Payoffs, protection, kickbacks and the turning of blind eyes were commonplace within nearly every metropolitan police force from New York City to Los Angeles. The police guaranteed to provide any service needed—as long as the price could be met. Numerous riots during the 1960's, mostly precipitated by incidents involving the police, drew national attention to the recurring problem that had endured for more than ninety years.
During this period the American society realized something needed to be done in order to bring police and community together. No comprehensive study of the American criminal justice system had been done since the 1931 Wickersham Commission completed and presented fourteen reports on various constituents which disclosed many potential problems. Even these early warning signs of potential problems within law enforcement did nothing to instigate better police-community relations. The crime rate had doubled in the thirty-year period, with a dramatic increase in violent crime. More extensive use of motorized patrol removed officers from the streets, virtually alienating them from ordinary citizens by allowing police to implement selective contact. Two unique elements generated particular attention during this decade within America—teen counterculture and anti-Vietnam war protesting. Both of these sparked heated clashes between the people and police, and contention within the police, since some officers agreed with the protests, yet were bound by their profession to react negatively to them.
Famous Supreme Court decisions like Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which invoked the exclusionary rule forbidding the submission of evidence gained through unlawful searches and seizures; Escobedo v. Illinois (1964), which entitled a suspect in police custody the right to counsel; and Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which required officers to advise suspects of their "Miranda" rights, challenged officer morale by limiting their roles and ability to effectively enforce the law. It also opened the doorway for introducing a third party into the conflict, the court system, which solidified their involvement with these controversial decisions, and received much scrutiny from the law enforcement community. In The Police in America, Samuel Walker writes:
These decisions widened the gap between police and community, and furthered racial tensions in regard to arbitrary enforcement and abuse of power, specifically the use of deadly force, for which no strict guidelines existed until the early 80's. Although these landmark decisions were intended to curb those injustices, their reception into daily practice challenged the positions of the men and women bound to abide by them.
All of these examples illustrate the growing conflict caused by the social gap that formed during the turbulent sixties. Dick addresses these conflicts brought on by poor police-community relations within the two novels. In fact, his emphasis on relations between police and community drives the eventual conflict that develops between Rick Deckard, Felix Buckman and their respective institutions. Both men are forced to cross the boundaries which they established early in their careers, immediately violating their code of professional ethics and human nature.
Dick strongly comments on poor police-community relations in Do Androids Dream by utilizing two viewpoint characters, each with polar-opposite views of the androids that illegally inhabit the world. The shifting points of view throughout the novel heighten the experience of police versus public perception (Rick Deckard's versus Jack Isidore's, respectively) of the androids who represent the "criminals" with the highest malevolence, those with a tendency to kill. Deckard, because of his duty, is bound to view these creatures as evil and criminal in their intent. Properly detecting the androids has become an important part of Deckard's job because they look and act human. Only by measuring empathic responses can one reveal an android's identity. Since a test must be administered before "retirement" can take place, this world's human citizens are put at risk. In order to conceal their danger from them, various departments around the world lie to citizens about the true state of affairs concerning the androids. The law enforcement agencies deceive the people to protect them, but at the same time escalate the tensions by withholding vital information.
This fictional situation mirrors our own world and the dilemma faced on a daily basis by law enforcement officers. Collecting evidence and apprehending criminals is often a long and tedious process unbeknownst to a majority of society. In order to effectively complete an investigation which satisfies both state and public, often the police must infringe upon the public's privacy and/or freedom. In their zeal to apprehend the criminals, the police may tend to favor the wrong suspect, incorrectly interpret a piece of evidence, and in some cases send to trial those wrongly accused.
In order to eliminate that human error from his world, Dick envisions the Voigt-Kampff scale, a technological measuring device used to determine if a subject is human or android. Not only does this scale instigate tension between police and community as mentioned before, but it also grates upon Deckard's morale. The bounty hunters must rely on this technology in order to effectively do their jobs. Without it they are obsolete.
Dick's second point-of-view character, Jack Isidore, a worker of lower social order due to the effects of radioactive fallout, sympathizes with the androids and their situation because, like Isidore, they are also "specials" who must live by a pre-determined set of rules. He sees the androids as he sees himself, creatures of fate with no hope to achieve a higher status at any time in their lives. Their existence is static, their world stagnant. Excited to befriend them as equals, Isidore regards the actions they have taken to achieve freedom, i.e. killing their masters, as necessary measures to survive. Not until Isidore witnesses the cruelty of the androids—they cut the legs off a spider—does he understand and recognize them as evil.
Through Isidore's viewpoint, Dick symbolizes our society's tolerance for crime, which can have a profound impact on law enforcement agencies that rely on citizens for assistance. Mistrust of the police was heightened by the negative incidents of the sixties and has increased ever since, especially throughout the inner cities. Many low-income communities viewed landmark decisions like Mapp, Escobedo, and Miranda as the court's way of punishing the police for their unruly actions. People were less apt to become involved. Harsh police practices have often led society to empathize with the criminal—not "the individual as criminal" per se, but with the entire group of those who resist and oppose the police. However, empathy for the criminal and lack of citizen involvement only heightens the probability of the police conducting investigations with inadequate evidence and accusing innocents.
These acts of misconduct, whether intentional or accidental, can enhance tension and promote further empathy for the accused. Walker states in The Police in America that "An important distinction exists between…evidence of police misconduct—as a source of police-community tensions—and the perception of misconduct. The perception of misconduct is, in many respects, as serious a problem as actual misconduct."(198) This potential for misperception creates a distinct problem for the police where society may view or interpret certain actions as malicious—e.g., refusing to prosecute a public figure due to legitimate lack of evidence, or effecting the mandatory arrest of a domestic abuser who inflicts even the slightest of injuries upon his or her spouse. These incidents can lead to speculation and serious questioning if perceived improperly by the public. Concerned citizens could question the actions of the police: Why was the mayor cleared of drunk-driving charges? Why was this man arrested and jailed for merely scratching his wife during a domestic squabble? This misperception plays a large part in Deckard's world since everyone has a different view of the situation with the androids. The common boundary separating the opposing views places Deckard and the police on one side, and Iran, Isidore and the rest of society on the other.
In our constantly expanding technological world, many forms of crime have become less personal. White-collar crime has been rising steadily for several decades, especially since the creation of the computer. Bank robbery can now be committed with a keyboard instead of a gun. It has become more and more difficult for the police to recognize the face of a criminal. In order for them to provide adequate security, citizens must be willing to sacrifice part of their freedom. The rhetorical question asked with increasing frequency is, How much freedom is a person willing to relinquish to ensure security? Ideally, a delicate balance exists between the two. Unfortunately, the police find themselves posing as the fulcrum responsible for steadying that balance.
Dick creates a world in Flow My Tears that has chosen complete security by eliminating freedom. With the police ultimately in control, the citizens are guaranteed that as long as they abide by the laws of the state, as long as they do not "get noticed," no harm will come to them. However, this extreme example also has the highest impact on police-community relations. Dick illustrates this effect in a comment made by Buckman's sister, Alys, to an accused criminal: "'So you're…the man McNulty was trying to pin down and couldn't. I looked over McNulty's report…this time I wanted your side of it. The antipol side, as they call it.'"(144) It is shown here that Dick's police-state has fractured society—police and community have become two self-sustaining entities. Dick implies that the only ones who aren't against the police, are the police.
Also in this novel, Dick addresses in a more straightforward manner the issue of misused discretion and arbitrary enforcement—elements that amplify police-community tensions. Jason Taverner, the "little" protagonist, is a television celebrity and a "six" (denoting genetic enhancement) which allows him privileges not normally bestowed upon average citizens. His class of rich elite have bought their way out of the toils of common life, thereby upsetting the social balance and promoting favoritism.
Another group of citizens connected with the pols in this world, further upsetting the balance of police-community relations, is the pol-contacts. These specially-trained individuals live and function within society as common citizens, but provide information to the police for personal gain. Since the police have completely alienated themselves from society, the only way to secure any assistance is to offer bribes and favoritism. Due to the lack of assistance offered by our own society, the police often resort to these same tactics to gain information and apprehend criminals. The police have resolved to exploit our increasing desire for personal gain, whether it be money, revenge, immunity or special privileges.
The police-community relations in both worlds—Deckard's post-apocalyptic world and Buckman's police-state world—impact highly on the protagonists' ability to function as both law officers and members of the community. The conflict that develops within them peaks at the climax, and both Deckard and Buckman must make life-altering decisions in order to resolve the inevitable dilemma created by the duality of their positions.
At the conclusion of Deckard's work-day he has retired three androids and is overcome by feelings of depression regarding his internal quarrel over duty and his fitness to continue with bounty hunting: "You're a good bounty hunter, Rick realized. Your attitude proves it. But am I? Suddenly, for the first time in his life, he had begun to wonder."(144) He considers these facts immediately after he gives himself the Voigt-Kampff test, which he recounts to his wife:
Deckard has realized that he is not the man he once was. The expectations set upon him by his profession have forced him for so long to alter his perception of his personal beliefs and aspirations. His sense of personal worth has suffered because of the role his profession forces him to play. Deckard furthers the contention with his professional duty later on when he has sex with a female android—an illegal act. He has approached a turning point after having intercourse with her. He begins to challenge his professional duty by questioning what is "criminal," and his personal duty by challenging the highly-regarded religion, Mercerism. Deckard considers: "My god; there's something worse about my situation than [Mercer's]…He suffers but at least he isn't required to violate his own identity."(178) In essence, Deckard has become a criminal, and allowing himself to make love to the android proves to himself that he is capable of loving them as much as loathing them.
During the climax, Deckard is pushed to the limit and violates his code of professional ethics and newly-realized human nature when his boss sends him to retire the remaining androids. He accepts the job, but considers the fact that it may be his last. Deckard says to his wife upon returning:
Although realizing he had crossed his boundary, Deckard desperately needs to finish his assignment in order to end his suffering. He has determined that he cannot continue to function as a dedicated bounty hunter and moral citizen with what he has discovered about himself and his true nature.
Felix Buckman experiences similar changes too. By the conclusion of Flow My Tears, years of intimidating his subordinates and concealing his past finally catch up with him. He fears disclosure of the secrets regarding his personal and professional corruption. In the past, he was responsible for forging the records at the forced labor camp, subsequently for the government's closing it due to lack of profitability. As Police Marshall, he also insured that a campus full of ailing students were fed and clothed, an action which was highly illegal. For that he was demoted to his current rank of Police General. These incidents made him unfavorable in the Police Commission's eyes, but the passage of time has allowed people to forget, and due to Buckman's intimidating position, no one dares talk about it. All these instances relate to Buckman's professional life and do not infringe on his code of professional ethics or human nature. What frightens him the most, what threatens him is the knowledge of his sister/wife and their son.
Upon the accidental death of his sister in the course of the story, the possibility of someone discovering the true nature of their relationship and the existence of their son increases dramatically. Buckman now faces another instance where his personal and professional duties begin to collide beyond his control. Even more, he faces the ultimate challenge placed upon him by his sister. He can either remain true to his profession and report her death as accidental, or he can insure his safety and reputation by falsely blaming her death on rivals, hoping the lie will outweigh any rumors of their incestuous relationship. Buckman stands at the boundary of his code of professional ethics, and in deciding to protect himself he steps over it, knowingly violating his human nature. When the story reaches its climax he has realized the consequences of his actions. Dick illustrates this realization when he describes Buckman's encounter with an unknown passer-by, a man whom he does not know:
Violating his own human nature and overstepping his code of professional ethics has caused Buckman to question, even forget his identity. He has brought himself down to the level of all the people he has spent his life apprehending. During his service, their names were of no consequence to him. Now he cannot bear to recall his own. He has once again become an individual of the society, and is no better off for his years of intimidation. He admits to himself that his personal life has changed, that he can no longer hide what his professional duty forced him to keep hidden for so long. Buckman ponders: "I will go get my little boy…Have him with me from now on. The two of us together. No matter what the consequences. But now there won't be any consequences; it's all over. It's safe. Forever."(224) Buckman makes the ultimate decision—to surrender the raging battle between his personal and professional duty by resigning.
Some of those in the law enforcement field find methods of coping with the battle that can rage between personal and professional duty. Balancing the duality can challenge them as much as the job itself. Neither Deckard nor Buckman is successful at achieving a balance. Deckard, upon completing his assignment, becomes overwhelmed with the lack of personal satisfaction in his job. He soon realizes that he has devoted himself entirely to his professional duty, and the only way to reclaim any sense of personal worth is to resign. Buckman realizes that denying his personal situation did not prevent it from intruding upon his professional duty. He begins to question the integrity of the boundary separating his two lives, which leads him to question his own principles and self-worth. Consequently, both men have fallen victim to the duality created within them by the law enforcement profession.
Dick successfully addresses the clash between personal and professional duty and those who fall victim to it. The challenge of effectively performing the role of a law enforcement officer has become greater as the years have passed. In the sixties Dick witnessed the radical changes in the way society viewed and tolerated the police. Both Deckard's and Buckman's stories can be viewed from start to finish as the progression of a common law enforcement officer through his or her career. Many start out displaying either professional immaturity (Deckard), or professional arrogance (Buckman). However, relishing either extreme will cause officers to lose sight of their code of professional ethics and, as in the case of both Deckard and Buckman, may lead to an unintentional violation of their human nature.
Today, in a time where police are continually driven to strengthen community relations, officers face the greatest challenge of altering and forging their personal perspectives to meet their professional needs. Law enforcement is now forcing officers to face the battle with their duality head-on since the need for strong police-community relations is so incredibly high. The concept of personal-professional duality that officers encountered during the sixties was new and ill-defined. Officers choosing to ignore their new responsibilities did so. Deckard and Buckman are Dick's test subjects in that these two men fully accept the battle with their duality, whereas in the 60's so few officers would choose to face it, or even know how to recognize it. Unfortunately, Deckard and Buckman both fight a battle they are destined to lose from the start.
However, their loss provides the reader with an insight into Dick's vision of the future of law enforcement. Deckard and Buckman represent an unchanged, and unchangeable, institution surviving in a world that has become intolerant of their methods and ideology. Dick shows us that these institutions cannot survive without changing.
Deckard lives and works in a society that for the most part has accepted androids as part of life. They have gained a tolerance for the androids' presence that the police are not willing to recognize. Deckard had allowed himself to become part of an institution that is unaware or unwilling to see the changes that society demands of it. The department's steadfastness on its policy has led to the creation of a staff disassociated from the society for whom it works.
Buckman's corruption, intimidation and cover-up threaten everything he has become. It is because of growing intolerance toward these actions that Buckman decides to resign his post. His continual violation of moral standards and state law, and his refusal to change his ways—he eventually agrees to accuse an innocent man of his sister's death—constitute intolerable actions by the department against society. Buckman, like the corrupt institutions that enforced the laws during the sixties, cannot withstand the demands of a changing society forever. Especially a society that possesses an unrelenting desire for restraint and discretion, and at the same time an insatiable thirst for justice.
Both men, and the institutions they represent, fail because of this lack of change. Their inability to recognize the social demands placed upon them causes them to overlook and inadvertently violate their own moral and ethical code. In order to successfully meet this higher standard required by a changing society, the institutions as well as the men and women they employ must remain conscious of society's demands and possess the will to alter themselves. A static law enforcement institution will only produce stagnant law enforcement officers unable to cope with the moral and ethical demands placed upon them by their human nature.
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