Thursday, October 30, 2014

Prompt 1

Brooke Kihle

Professor Adam Johns

English Composition


Determinism versus free will

                Free will is a basic human right. We, as a country value free will so highly it’s written into our constitution as the first amendment.  This being said it’s hard to picture a culture that views free will as a second importance, that determinism is better than allowing someone the choice of determining. One of the main beliefs of Oankali is to help human’s survive to inevitably interbreed and create a “better” generation. The Oankali truly believe that they are doing right by humans when they go against their free will and perform experiments that save their lives. However, where is the line crossed? When is it okay to perform on a human body without consent; even if it is for their benefit? Human society values free will above all else but the Oankali’s are blind to emotional connections and believe the science of determinism is best for survival.

                The first time we see the Oankali disregard free will is on page 6 when they perform experiments of Lilith Iyapo’s body. She awakes to find a scar on her abdomen and no memory of how it got there. In the beginning we are blind to what this experiment outcomes were and therefore look at it as cruel torture. It’s instinctual for us to view this type of experiment as inhuman and against Lilith’s basic human right. However, as we go further into the story we see that the Oankali surgically removed a malignant cancerous tumor. This was not entirely selfless but rather the opposite because the Oankali wanted this cancer to research and experiment on the DNA. Once Lilith is aware of the experiment she compares it to how modern scientist experiment on animals, “we used to treat animals that way, we did things to them inoculations, surgery, isolation- all for their own good. It scares me to have people doing things to me that I don’t understand” (Butler 33). Lilith draws the connection between the Oankali’s view of determinism as helpful and her human instinct to need free will. Following her experiment, Lilith undergoes consistent “awakenings” where she has no idea how she falls asleep, for how long, or what happens to her while she’s under. There are many examples when the Oankali continue to disregard Lilith’s basic free will such as their “trade”. The Oankali literally trade things that they value from humans with their DNA, essentially interbreeding between the two. Lilith’s immediate response is repulsion, “No. I don’t care what you do with what you’ve already learned- how you apply it to yourselves-but leave us out of it” (Butler 42).  Jhaya’s simple answer explains the Oankali’s view point, “We are committed to the trade as your body is to breathing” (Butler 42). The Oankali truly believe, instinctually believe, that genetic determinism is best for survival. They see the best traits of the humans mixed with their as the ultimate offspring and therefore helping humans to continue existence.

                It’s hard to view the Oankali with an unbiased eye but maybe that’s the point. Free will is the highest form of human or anything rights. Determinism is situation of course, but without the consent of someone to determine is it right? By situational, I mean not everything in life can be determined, specifically the main area of Oankali’s belief of determinism focuses on in Lilith’s Brood is genetic. In the world of modern science genetic determinism is a false theory. In Ideology of Biology, Lewontin’s main thesis is to disprove the common misconceptions of genetic determinism and overall the myth that genetic determinism plays a main role in our phenotype- who we are. Lewontin’s ideas correlate directly opposite of the views that Oankali hold so high. Where Lewontin sees genetic determinism as ignorant they see as the only possibility (this being said Oankali can make genetic determinism happen whereas modern science cannot). However, Lewontin’s point is that human characteristics are made from multiple factors including the environment in which we have no control over. When the Oankali completely disregard human’s basic rights to free will, they are ignoring the environmental factors that play into it, like stress of the unknown and fear of their surroundings. The Oankali justify their actions because they are “benefiting” human society but what of the individual. Is Lilith really benefitting from an unknown surgery that she never consented to? Is Lilith benefitting when she’s told she has no choice but to interbreed with this alien species she doesn’t trust let alone understand? The reason free will is an important human right is because it protects the individual. I believe that free will is more important that determinism even if determinism benefits that human’s health.

                In conclusion, the major conflict between Oankali’s beliefs and Lilith’s or more specifically humans is the importance of free will. Human society values free will as a basic right, one we are entitled to from birth. The Oankali on the other hand view determinism as the most essential way to survive and therefore the most important value. As long as determinism benefits the human or alien species and save population growth that free will can be ignored. This viewpoint however disregards environmental factors that are completely eradicate genetic determinism. The “trade” or interbreeding between alien and human species is not a guaranteed solution. Free will protects each individual on a more emotional, spiritual level and when the Oankali ignore basic free will they ignore these spiritual factors that will eventually descend throughout their offspring growth. Free will should be valued more importantly than determinism if not to protect the individual but inevitably protect the society.
Works Cited:
Butler, Octavie E. Lilith's Brood. New York: Aspect/Warner, 2000. Print.

1 comment:

  1. The first paragraph is a mess. Free will isn’t the same as political freedom, and it’s hardly true that all human societies value freedom equally - there’s too much generalizations here and too much confusion. Nonetheless, freedom is clearly an important subject when thinking about the Oankali.

    Do the Oankali believe that “genetic determinism is best for survival” or do they believe that everybody, including us, is controlled by our genes, and that our beliefs about freedom are an illusion which would be removed by better science? Your understanding of their viewpoint is fine, but you’re a little shaking on the reasoning behind it. To them, there *is* no such thing as freedom, at least as people understand it.

    In the third paragraph, your grasp of Lewontin is good, although it’s worth saying that not everybody agrees with Lewontin - his point of view might be rather different than Butler’s (and is certainly not the same as the Oankali’s!). There’s some important confusion here: “ I believe that free will is more important that determinism even if determinism benefits that human’s health.” Your approach isn’t so bad, but you use terminology incorrectly. A determinist is not someone who necessarily believes that people’s rights should be restricted: a determinist is someone who believes that we don’t really make choices, but our genes (or God, or our personal history) make choices for us. Someone who believes in free will isn’t necessarily an advocate for all forms of freedom, but someone who believes we *really* are free to choose. Now, it’s admittedly true that a determinist might have different attitudes toward, say, political and religious freedoms than a believer in free will - but you are mixing things up here.

    So you’re right that free will vs. determinism is very important here, and you understand the terms of the debate. But you write as if free will vs. determinism is a political debate (whereby we value political freedom to a greater or lesser extent) rather than a philosophical debate (do we control our own actions). I think this essay could be interesting if you sorted out your terminology and then extended your reading to additional, hopefully challenging parts of the book.


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