Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
29 October 2014
On Intelligence and Hierarchies
Hierarchies are visible constantly in daily life, whether within jobs, classes, or society. There are always factors that lead to competition, and it is this competitive edge that drives human capacities for learning and understanding evermore into the depths of the unknown and unexplored. However, the Oankali within Octavia Butler’s “Lilith’s Brood” disagree wholeheartedly. Although incorrect, they argue that the very hierarchical structure that defines everything humans know, is actually the greatest downfall to their society.
According to the Oankali, the two fatal flaws of humans are intelligence and the hierarchies that are so natural and present in the environment. One alone, they say, could be useful and possibly even successful, but the two genetic characteristics combined are a terrible mixture. This all comes down to the fact that both lead to further competition between peoples. Intelligence allows a person to perceive when he or she is being cheated by belonging to a lesser hierarchy, and therefore stimulates that person and gives them the desire to climb the ladder of society and go as high as possible. Through intelligence, people are given the ability to ignore the flaws in the structural hierarchy. This could possibly be the most dangerous aspect of the structure because it prevents individuals from seeing the inequalities that are the results of a hierarchy. By always providing people with a dream of being more successful, those very same people will then compete for better jobs, therefore impacting their friendships and relationships with other people. These two characteristics only lead to more strife between people and factions. In this way, it is almost like humans are the perfect species to kill themselves because society is always trying to one-up its competitors. By constantly attempting to out-do one another, tensions can rise and lead to conflict.
The views of the Oankali are presented through a message of warning conveyed in the shape of simple observations. This cautioning information advises to tread carefully where intelligence and hierarchies are mixed, as it can lead to the destruction of human society and humanity as a whole. However, this is simply not true. The Oankali are extremely biased due to their inability to relate to humans. They believe it to be a downfall to humanity if intelligence and hierarchies are intertwined. Contrary to what they think, intelligence and hierarchies are the foundation to every major change in human history. There are certainly downsides to both aspects of the characteristics, but without them, people would neither have the desire to progress, nor the ability to do so. Intelligence gives people the chance to climb the social ladder while the hierarchical structure makes them realize where they are and gives them the drive to get to where they need to be.
Although the Oankali believe that the two genetic characteristics of hierarchy and intelligence are fatal when put together, they are simply incorrect. Without these two features of humanity driving each other, progress could never have been made. Conflict may arise, but the overall benefits of a competitive environment are necessary to further growth and development, and therefore outweigh the potential dangers. In this way, the limitations of a hierarchy and intelligence are not ignored, but accepted.
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith's Brood. New York: Aspect/Warner, 2000. Print.