Monday, August 31, 2015

Escape from Spiderhead

I found "Escape from Spiderhead" to be very disturbing, but thought-provoking and it brought to light the idea of how much ability we have to control our own feelings, and to some extent ourselves. Throughout the short story, Jeff's emotions are somewhat controlled by chemicals injected by a sort of science research company that uses Jeff in experiments to collect data. In some ways this reminded me of the book 1984 by George Orwell, where humans live in a future society where our very facial expressions and thoughts are controlled, which is the very extent of our privacy. In Escape from Spiderhead, Jeff's emotions are controlled during the scientific tests, but outside of those test rooms, or when he is not observing tests on other people and having to relay it back to the company, he builds and forms his own emotions, which eventually makes him choose of his own accord to escape through death. In 1984, the book ends with humanity not able to surpass a greater entity/society controlling them and who they are, whereas in "Escape from Spiderhead" you could argue that Jeff does gain control of who he is by committing suicide at the end.  

"Drip on?" "Acknowledge."

Something that stuck out to me in "Escape From Spiderhead" was the fact that Jeff and the other experimental subjects had to "acknowledge" that they were aware that Abnesti was about to send substances through their drips, giving them some agency and control over their feelings. Though Abnesti seems to have a fairly close relationship with Jeff and the other subjects and seems to be saddened by Heather's death, he frequently reminds Jeff that scientific experimentation is more important than his feelings and even Heather's life, and is ultimately in control of his mind. Abnesti recognizes Jeff as a subject but is forced to treat him as an object - a conflict that must be very hard to deal with. I wish the story had given more background about Abnesti's life and revealed how he got his job and why he keeps doing it everyday. Is it possible that Abnesti is performing these experiments as punishment for committing a crime? Or does he choose to do it and believe it to be ethical?

No Grand Finale

The end of Escape from Spiderhead was disappointing for me. I was expecting a big plot twist or a horrifying last paragraph, but it never came. I did like the description of Jeff flying up with the birds when he died because it made the story slightly less depressing, but it wasn't the ending I was hoping for.
However, I really enjoyed the rest of the story. Saunders' idea was unique and left me wondering about the events that led up to where the story began. It's weird to think that in the future this story might not be unrealistic.

A Truly Dark Escape from Spiderhead

Escape from Spiderhead was a fast read. This chapter had a binary between Jeff and Abnesti. Although Jeff resisted Albnesti's control every step of the way, similar to Allison from the chapter Victory Lap, there was no way to escape. That is, until Jeff takes the darkest and possibly the only way out of Spiderhead.

I consider a person's mind to be the one true thing sheltered and private from the outside world. The idea of temporary, but intense manipulation of feelings, perceptions, and even vocabulary is disturbing to me. One short paragraph that made my spine tingle was on page 64. When Jeff was undecisive about which girl to give Darkenfloxx Albensti asked him, "Do you feel jerked around because you still have feelings of love for one of the girls? That would need to be noted. Anger? Possessiveness? Residual sexual longing?". The word residual has a negative connotation and it made me think about how the scientists wanted to eliminate excessive feelings. Results replaced empathy. Overall I believe the chapter expressed the theme, scientific experiments are unpredictable in their extent of unethical data collection methods to get unethical results.

Power and Subjective Recognition in Escape from Spiderhead

"Escape from Spiderhead", by George Saunders, shows an interesting power dynamic between Abnesti and Jeff. On the one had, there is an obvious power binary in the fact that one is the scientist and the other the lab rat. It is quite clear who has the power and who doesn't. But, there are times when this power dynamic flips. The most notable one, in my opinion, is when Jeff refuses to say "Acknowledge" when Abnesti is trying to give him Docilryde. For a moment, Jeff has the power and Abnesti can't do anything about it until he gets the waiver.

But, I feel like there is also some mutual recognition between Abnesti and Jeff. One time where this mutual recognition is apparent is when Abnesti is talking with Jeff before giving Heather the Darkenfloxx. It seems that Jeff and Abnesti, in that moment, both subjectively recognize each other.

Sit Back and Watch the Fireworks

George Saunder's ¨Escape from Spiderhead¨ poses many ethical questions especially in the realm of scientific experimentation which is a huge issue currently as well as the philosophical question of free will. The prison that Jeff, Rachel and Heather live in essentially embodies the subject-object perspective that Freud poses. The one thing that I found quite interesting was the discussion of whether or not we are able to make decisions for ourselves or are we just manipulated in some way to accomplish an overall goal. Jeff ultimately takes the Darkenfloxx drug in order to stop the suffering he had endured through as well as to truly escape Spiderhead. However, a different perspective that could be considered is the idea that Abnesti actually manipulated the situation and got an answer to his overall question of whether or not a subject cared enough about the other to allow the Darkenfloxx to be administered because Jeff also had feelings of contempt for ¨the other man¨.

Brave New Spiderhead

Escape from Spiderhead reminded me a lot of the book, Brave New World. First off both stories take place in a futuristic world. Second, people in both worlds abuse drugs in order to make themselves and other people feel certain ways. In Escape from Spiderhead each prisoner in Spiderhead had a thing called a MobiPak. This MobiPak contained drugs to make a person feel anyway that Abnesi wanted them to in order to do his experiment. In Brave New World the people take a drug called soma to help them escape any dissatisfaction in their life. However, in both these cases, the people are being controlled by the government. Though the prisoners in Spiderhead consent to the drugs they take, the government still has the power to make them consent if they don't with Docilryde. The people of Brave new world have been conditioned to love the drug soma by their government, so they do not really have a choice of whether they like it or not. Lastly, in both worlds there is an abundance of sex.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Escape from Spiderhead

Overall I did enjoy Escape from Spiderhead. It was unsettling that in this world experimenting with people was okay and that they allowed it, but I also think that that's what made the story so interesting. The power struggle was the most obvious here than in Victory Lap. There was an obvious divide between the criminals that were put into the facility and the people that worked there and were experimenting on them. The criminals were basically prisoners in this place, even though they could feel like they had more freedom than they actually did. This illusion was created by not being able to give them various drugs without their permission. But, if they refused or didn't respond they tried to persuade them and change their mind. I think that that was what made me the most unsettled about it, that even with them having to get permission before administering these drugs they had to recieve consent, but they were willing to do whatever it took to get that consent.

The Bad of the Good

In all honestly, I really like George Saunders’s “Escape from Spiderhead.” While there are some creepy/weird events that occur, such as the experiments, I do think they make the story more interesting. One of the biggest themes that I see is good vs. evil.

 During one of the experiments at Spiderhead, Jeff is forced to watch Heather be given Darkenfloxx, a drug that causes feelings of despair, fear, and pain. The purpose of the experiment was to see if Jeff had any lingering feelings for Heather, a girl with whom he had recently made “love" to. At the beginning of the experiment, Abnesti, one of the scientists asks Jeff if he “acknowledges.” But the problem was that Jeff didn’t want to acknowledge. 

Despite Jeff being a convicted murderer, he has the humanity to point out that “Every human is born of man and woman. Every human, at birth, is, or at least has the potential to be, beloved of his/her mother/father. Thus every human is worthy of love” (Saunders, pg.69). It is interesting to see that Jeff has such feelings of humanity towards Heather despite his past. While on the other side of the spectrum, Abnesti, a seemingly good person is pressuring Jeff to participate in the experiment.  Abnesti even tries to make himself the moral one by reminding Jeff of the time when he got him athletic cream, how he remembers birthdays and has five children. Yet, he is still willing to give Heather Darkenfloxx. 

And when Jeff asks Abnesti if Heather is okay after the experiment, Abnesti tries to excuse her poor condition by replying, “This is science. In science we explore the unknown” and Verlaine, another scientists says “It’s not even us, its science.” The fact that the scientists are using science as an excuse to treat other humans inhumanely shows just how bad the “good” people can be. But I also think this story makes one rethink what is considered good. It seems that the heart of the scientists are in the right place. But they act so blindly. Jeff, on the other hand, sees the inhumanity of the experiments yet has killed someone. In my opinion, I believe that Jeff is morally superior. But, I also feel that my opinion is bias because the story is written from Jeff’s point of view. If it was written by, say Abnesti or Verlaine, the story might be different. 

Ahh! Moral Conflict!

"Escape from Spiderhead" felt, to me, like a warning of what our society could become. As technology advances at an exponential rate, we must ask ourselves when it becomes too much. Saunders introduces a world in which a couple moral dilemmas created by technology are presented. The first dilemma is that, if we have the ability to create drugs that could potentially help people by altering their emotions, should we? Wouldn't the aid of such drugs make every human interaction fake and non-genuine? But then, if the drugs could help people, like in the example Abnesti provided where the use of ED289/290 could stop a war or allow someone to experience true love, wouldn't it be wrong not to produce those drugs? And then there's the instance of Darkenfloxx- why was it created in the first place? If the goal of the Spiderhead project is to create drugs for the betterment of human society (which I'm guessing is the case based on ED765 and ED 289/290), then why was Darkenfloxx ever manufactured? The testing going on at Spiderhead might not be as much for the good of humankind as it seems.

The second dilemma isn't one that can only exist in the world Saunders created. This one is the dilemma facing the use of criminals as test subjects. If the people being tested on in Spiderhead have committed terrible crimes such as murder, then why shouldn't they be treated like lab rats? But we also have to take into consideration that they're human beings too, and they should still be treated like people no matter how terrible the crimes they committed, right? I think Saunders was clear about his opinion on the matter- that using prisoners at test subjects was a major human rights violation.

tl;dr I came away from the story with a lot of questions.

Residual Feelings

Abnesti was super excited when he found out that ED289/290 didn't have any lingering side effects. And by side effects, he meant no lasting feelings of affection or love. However, the drug is not free from side effects. The drug left Jeff feeling "jerked around" as he put it. And while he has no remaining feelings for Heather and Rachel, Jeff does have feelings of contempt for the other men who also had sex with Heather and Rachel. Once Jeff found out that Keith was part of the same experiment as himself, Jeff mentions that Keith's teeth suddenly had a leering quality" to them. I think it's ironic that Abnesti was so excited about the drug's lack of side effects and then these unacknowledged effects caused Jeff to Darkenfloxx himself and ultimately ruin the experiment for Abnesti.

There's Not Much Data In Crying

"Jeff, stop crying. Contrary to what you might think, there's not much data in crying."

One of the major themes of this story is that we must be weary of letting jobs override our basic feelings of empathy. Abnesti sacrificed his empathy in order to better and more easily complete his work, but in doing this he put two people through so much pain that they killed themselves. His intent was to keep performing his duty no matter the cost of human life.

Jeff decided that he would rather kill himself that witness anymore people get hurt. In ending his own life, he dedifferentiated himself from Abnesti. He stuck to his ideas of right and wrong while Abnesti simply obeyed what the higher command told him to do. The quotation above is representative of this theme because it represents the polarized relationship of Jeff and Abnesti. Abnesti is looking for results to please his superiors while Jeff is genuinely sad because of what he is forced to witness.

All in all this story is a cautionary tale of what could happen to society if we abandon our sense of empathy and live only to please our superiors.

Death in "Escape from Spiderhead"

Although Heather, Rachael, and Jeff were all convicted murderers I couldn't help but feel sorry for them. In the end, it was clear that Jeff had changed since being convicted for his crimes. It also seemed a similar transformation occurred in both Heather and Rachael, who were oblivious to what was happening to them. In the end, Jeff could not go through with playing a role in Rachael's death after his "work with Mrs. Lacey." He was so against killing another human being, he took the only other option he saw. In the end as Jeff is floating upward, Omnipotent, we get to see the numerous other inmates waiting to play a similar role in the experiments.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Are Abnesti and Verlaine capable of subjective recognition?

In "Escape from Spiderhead" by George Saunders, Abnesti and Verlaine have been spearheading research that explores the human body and mind with great depth and detail. Their research has proven that chemicals like Verbaluce, Darkenfloxx, and ED289/290 are responsible for the traits that we believe make us human. These chemicals assume the decision-making/thinking function of the mind, ruling out the existence of an incorporeal or spiritual component. It is this component, that people believe bestows us with the gift of free will. Because its existence is negated in this story, so is the concept of free will. Is it then possible for Abnesti and Verlaine, with their advanced knowledge of the human brain, to exercise Benjamin's theory of mutual recognition of subjectivity?

After spending so much time with these chemicals and studying their subjects, Abnesti and Verlaine are aware of the mind's purely physical make-up. With that understanding, is it possible for them to truly view others subjectively? Is this why they seem to be unfazed by the blatant torture of their subjects? Without this free moral agency, do they consider their subjects to be anything more than lab rats?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Feel of Spiderhead

Escape from Spiderhead took on a very spooky post-apocalyptic, dystopian vibe to me. The mysteriousness of the experiments combined with the relaxed disposition the scientists took on only added to that feel. What is Spiderhead? What point is society supposed to be at where medicine is this advanced? The lines that really hit me were the ones that revealed Jeff was there serving time.

The story had made references of his past anger, and the progress he had made with it. But the lines: “Mom always looked heartsick when our time was up. It had almost killed her when they arrested me. The trial had almost killed her.” really got to me. The story then goes into describing all the emotional distress that Jeff’s mom went though throughout his trial and processing. Amidst all the science experiments going on, what I was mostly getting was the human emotion throughout it all. So once I knew that Jeff wasn't there by choice, and he was being forced to go through all this emotional manipulation like a lab rat, I was like “oh shit!” I was finally given more background about this main character.

His death at the end made me think about what freedom really means (he was in jail, technically, so was his death a way to mentally or physically free himself?). Overall, I thought the story was both absorbing and strange, and I liked the topics it made me question.

Enter Spiderhead

In George Saunder's "Escape From Spiderhead," Jeff wants to Escape Spiderhead. However, as the reader of such a fascinating chapter, I wanted to enter the situation. The text did a great job of drawing me in. It was a very interesting story that takes us in Jeff's shoes throughout his current situation in Spiderhead. It's a lot different from other things I've read in a sense that it contains strong, symbolic representations of the real world and humanity.

In a place where Jeff feels all alone, he has to encounter different people that put him to the test. His love is challenged when Abnesti and Verlaine constantly control him. Jeff has sex with Rachel three times as well as Heather three times. During the moments with the girls, he feels as if he loves them however, after the fact, he has no sexual interests in them. The girls also have intercourse with other men named Rogan and Keith. Yes, I haven't read a lot of things that take advantage of love and relationships like this story. But it's also symbolic considering the function of Spiderhead.

Not only do these characters connect on the basis of love and emotions, but they also see how one another responds to each other, Abnesti, the environment, etc. The place has code-like names for certain things that physically and mentally change the characters. Darkenfloxx is used a lot in this chapter and it's used on the two girls. Seeing Jeff's response to the Darkenfloxx on the girls and Abnesti's actions make him realize struggles he has as well as the people around him. He begins to miss his mom and he fights to connect with the surrounding characters, which he ultimately does by the end of the chapter.

Jeff's Fate

Escape from Spiderhead ends with a bittersweet note. Jeff had an enormous sense of guilt over his crime, to the point where the only thing that could bring him any solace was the assurance that he could never kill (or even hurt) anyone ever again. I believe his decision to kill himself stems from the realization that it's the only feasible option to attain the solace he desires. The entire flying scene was a visualization of the relief he had just attained. He didn't have to worry about who was getting the Darkenfloxx, or if he still possessed the capacity to kill. He was free, above it all, as shown by his flight with the birds. Is any of this really happening? No. In reality, he's probably laid down in the Spiderhead, Verlaine giving him CPR while he slowly dies. It's rather depressing, especially when one considers that the euphoria that Jeff is experiencing will slowly fade away to be replaced by... nothing. Which I guess he preferred to being alive and miserable, experiencing brief but convincing bursts of love before having it ripped away again. Most don't have the courage to take matters into their own hands like that.

Escape from Spiderhead: Cool Story!

I thought that Escape from Spiderhead was a beautifully written story that created a new world from an old one. In this story, Saunders shows Orwellian creativity and ability to write science fiction. He builds a world in which prisoners are controlled by substances that scientists put in their bodies. The scientists in this story are attempting to create drugs that have a wide range of effects, such as increasing vocabulary and producing love. I think Saunders does a great job of creating this scenario, because it like something that could possibly happen in real life. Saunders also does a great job of bringing up moral dilemmas, such as the ethics of testing dangerous drugs on people who have been convicted of terrible crimes. Overall, this story made me think, made me laugh, and enchanted me.

Start From A Clean Slate

"Every human is born of man and woman. Every human, at birth, is, or at least has the potential to be, beloved of his/her mother/father. Thus every human is worthy of love."

Jeff acknowledges the equality of all humans in this quote as he sympathizes with a struggling Heather.In the quote above, Jeff explains that every person has a baseline of opportunity and implies that the path of life may change the outcome, creating variations from person to person. By saying this, he accepts his differences from others and accepts that even though the people he meets in Spiderhead may not be the best model citizens, they originally were the same as everyone else. However, this variation is what makes us individuals which we should cherish. For everyone to be the same would be like a room painted completely white where everything would blend into it's surroundings, you wouldn't be able to tell where one person started and the other began. 

Escape From Spiderhead and Remains of the Day

Escape from Spiderhead presents a lot of ethical issues and questions of free will. It seems, throughout the story, Jeff is unable to freely make decisions as he is constantly drugged. Jeff is forced to spend time at Spiderhead, as a test subject, as an alternative to serving time in jail. A power dynamic exists between Jeff, as a test subject, and Abnesti who is managing Spiderhead and running the tests. This story relates in some ways to my summer reading book, The Remains of the Day, in which the main character Stevens is a butler under the control of Lord Darlington. Unlike Jeff, Stevens entirely accepts and even embraces his role as a butler. Stevens spends his entire life serving Lord Darlington and never considers his alternatives or tries to escape. As a result, Stevens loses much of his humanity and his individualism. In contrast, at the end of Escape from Spiderhead, Jeff attempts to regain his humanity by making an escape by committing suicide. Although Jeff does not survive, Jeff acts out of free will and is able to regain his humanity as he attempts to break from the binary.

Agency in Escape from Spiderhead

Escape from Spiderhead revealed the binary relationship between Jeff and Abnesti. Jeff believes he has no options other than to follow the workers at Spiderhead. However, until the end of the story, Jeff "acknowledged" that Abnesti and Verlaine were adding various drugs to his MobiPakTM when they asked for his permission. Jeff acted freely when he chose to offer no resistance to the workers. Jeff willingly submitted, which upheld the binary relationship between him and Abnesti.

Abnesti attempted to make Jeff believe that they had mutual recognition by reminding Jeff of nice things that Abnesti did for him. Abnesti used giving Jeff time to talk to his mother and buying cream for Jeff's athlete's foot to show he was Jeff's friend, but Abnesti dominated the relationship in actuality. By rebelling at the end and giving himself Darkenfloxx, Jeff attempted to reverse the binary relationship and take power from Abnesti. Jeff believed that if Abnesti could not use him for test results, then he could no longer control Jeff.

Its a Bird! Its a Plane! Nah it's just Jeff

I enjoyed George Saunders' short story, "Escape from Spiderhead". I thought it posed many interesting philosophical questions such as the ethics surrounding science experimentation, the question of second chances, redemption, and ultimately the question of what happens after death. The themes are posed in an interesting manor. Saunders drops the reader into this new world keeping them on unsure footing for the initial portion of their read. Yet after the reader gets a grasp on this new easily relatable world, the themes discussed are brought to the forefront of Jeff's escape. The one thing that really stood out to me was Saunders' interpretation of what happens to us after death. I thought Saunders' usage of the bird as Jeff's reincarnation was especially interesting. The freedom intrinsic to a bird contrasted well with the prison that was Spiderhead and served as a bittersweet end.

The Downfall of the Puppet

This particular story focuses on how the strength of an ordinary man's emotional, physical and moral limits are put to the test. I was fascinated by the extreme ends of the spectrum that the ¨guinea pigs¨ experienced because of the drugs. It's strange to think that a tiny little needle can overcome the will and mind of fully grown adults. Abnesti's lack of regard for the lives of his test subjects was disgusting and even though suicide is a tragedy, I admired Jeff for sacrificing himself for the life of another who he had no real connection to. I hope his actions had an impact on the system of experimentation that occurs at Spiderhead.

Jeff's Escape From His Past

"I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would."

As reading this last sentence of the short story, I felt taken aback by it. As I read it, I read it that Saunders and Jeff saw death as a freeing, new life. I enjoyed reading his thoughts as he was drifting up into the atmosphere. It gave me a different perspective on death and what (if there even is one) the after-life is. Saunders wrote in such a way that death was a new journey and a clean slate to start on. I had never thought of death as something "freeing" or something that could make the dead person happy, but Jeff felt happy because in his "new" life, he had done nothing wrong, and was completely able to start over.

Return to Spiderhead: A Reflection

I didn't enjoy "Escape from Spiderhead" as much as "Victory Lap". I thought it was weird and didn't really think it had a point other than being a human guinea pig stinks, though I could see a future where this situation could take place. I think if you're saying that its about complete oppression of a person then I would reply that the facility in the book is pretty similar to our current prison system

Escape From Spiderhead and A Clockwork Orange- Similarities

When I read escape from spiderhead, the one thing I was thinking about was A Clockwork Orange-- a work of literature by Anthony Burgess in 1962. Similarly, it's about a semi-delinquent teenager who brushes with the law and then gets a lengthy sentence. Though a delinquent, he in reality is quite smart and heard about a new program that would get him out of jail in two years. He works his way up the ladder and gets himself into the program to find that it's much worse than he thought. He's become a psychological lab rat to see if they can reverse his criminal tendencies through intense psychological torture and institutionalization. When he gets out it seems like things could be good-- but that isn't quite the case. For sake of not spoiling, (because you really should read/watch it,) I won't go any further about A Clockwork Orange. In Escape From Spiderhead, there are clearly many similarities-- but it's almost a continuation, with multiple criminals being treated as lab rats for the sake of the state, rather than (almost) for their own benefit. Interesting.