(Reposted from Facebook)
One of the major glaring differences between the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" and the movie Bladerunner was the excision of Mercerism. It was a reasonable choice given that it would have been difficult to convert an entire philosophy to the big screen, but without it, some difficult choices in the movie make no sense. The Voight-Kampff test, for instance, was entirely based on the empathetic response central to Mercerism. Why did the synth freak out when asked about the turtle being flipped over? Because he knew he'd already failed to exhibit the empathic physiological response that would have been expected.
I think about Mercerism quite a bit when I look around at the current state of our socioeconomic culture. In DADoES, emotions are completely artificially controlled. Mercerism is important because it reminds humans that the most basic aspect of humanity, the defining line used to separate humans from synths, is empathy. And when I observe the way we treat each other, I wonder how well we would all pass the Voight-Kampff test, because in common observation, we revel in schadenfreude. It is not enough that we win; our opposition must also lose.
One of the most disturbing things I've seen coming out of the current political climate is a certain furious glee in the suffering of your opponents. That, more than anything else, makes me fear for the future of this country.
Wilbur Mercer would walk up a hill being teased and assaulted by disbelievers. And his adherents would connect to a machine which let them feel his emotions and pain. As rocks and epithets were thrown at him, he struggled on, struck by the blows, but committed to climbing to the top of that hill, and by connecting to him, we were all reminded of the pain of others.
He was revealed to be a fraud in the end, of course, but the lesson carried on anyways. Deckard and Roy explored it at the end, with Deckard facing his own inhumanity, and Batty demonstrating that by every metric Deckard measured it, he was worthy of empathy, and capable of it.
We cannot claim humanity without empathy. And our tendency to revel in the defeat of our opponents is a demonstration of the failure to live up to our potential. I'm sure there will be a significant amount of logical explanations for why schadenfreude is appropriate, even arguments I've made myself previously, but I wonder if we forbear our own victory in seeking the defeat of our opponent. What would we truly have to do to achieve something that looked like world peace? How would we have to change? Is the population actually capable of making empathy a primary driver in our motivations?
I don't know. And probably not. But if I didn't indulge in a little Utopianism now and then, I think I'd lose faith in our species.