Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Prompt 6: Humanity and stuff

Samuel Li
Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
28 October 2014
To be Human
For some people, being “human” is a sore spot, yet for the majority of the human race, it’s a source of pride. We judge others and the value of their lives based on how human they are: to be “inhuman” is to be “lesser”. It’s a term we use to describe the evil, the inferior, the hideous. As an extension, we also judge based on something’s “naturalness”, where we tend prefer the “natural” over the “unnatural”. These two inclinations share a theme, in that humans tend to prefer a lack of change, where things stay in their original state. It is justified, in a way, because change forces us to adapt. It forces us to deal with the unknown, rather than the familiar. It forces us out of our comfort zones, and can be observed everywhere, from not wanting to try something new at a restaurant, to a refusal to accept a type of new media, to changing the foundations of our society and beliefs. It presents humanity and the natural as sacred. The Oankali challenge this.
In Lilith’s Brood, Lilith acts as the audience surrogate. We see what she sees, and everything new to us is new to her. Thus, our concerns and doubts are hers as well. It’s not surprise, then, when she voices her fear and indignation when the Oankali casually talk about their plans with humanity, or more specifically, their plans to engineer and alter us. She, obviously, opposes this, on the grounds of fear of what they will become: “Medusa children. Snakes for hair. Nests of night crawlers for eyes and ears.” (Butler 43) Something unfamiliar, inhuman. Notably, her reason for this fear is not for humanity’s survival (seeing as how the Oankali’s solution would ensure it), but its identity as human. The Oankali provide another perspective on this matter, highlighting its flaws.
They’re steadfast on their goal for humanity: to change it “for the better”, and in this case, it means so that they can survive, live to their full potential. This is accomplished through an equivalent of genetic engineering, where humanity would eventually become “not quite like you. A little like (the Oankali).” (Butler, 42) In a sense, there’s a trade-off: if they want to live longer, improve themselves and their bodies, they have to change their very natures, become something unnatural. In this day and age, where this prospect becomes less and less of a fantasy, this conflict becomes increasingly relevant. Stem cells and genetically modified organisms, for example, have been proposed as solutions to the problems we face: poverty and starvation, cancerous diseases, and so on. Yet many people reject these prospect solutions, because of these things we hold sacred.
Humans tend to value the very concept of humanity sacred, and thus view the “desanctifying” of human life as deeply offensive, almost sacrilege. Issues such as abortion and stem cells, in which human life or something that resembles it is not protected at all costs, are touchy, nearly explosive. Genetic engineering and GMO food is viewed as toying with the natural order, spitting in the face of God. The viewpoint of the Oankali raises a point, questions what we should value. It makes the point clear, that putting these ideals first and formost put our necks on the line. The question is: Is it worth the price?
Works Cited

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood (Dawn). New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2000. Print.


  1. The idea of humanity being sacred to humans is interesting. I think that your introduction is clear and your viewpoint is clearly established.

    You mention the genetic engineering that the Oankali do in the third paragraph, but it seems rather vague to me. Maybe introducing a specific action they take (perhaps having to do with their study of cancer) would better serve to prove your point.

    The message seems to get a little jumbled toward the end and it is difficult to see exactly what stance you take. Your tone suggests more hostility toward the Oankali's values than you previously expressed, so maybe you could clarify your position a little bit more and apply it to what you think should be happening with genetic engineering today.

  2. Normally I hate this sort of introduction - big, general ideas connected tenuously to a text, rather than a clear argument about the text. Your is the exception to the rule - while it’s dangerous to put off your actual argument, your introduction still has a lot of potential.

    “Lilith acts as the audience surrogate” -- good. This is a common technique in good science fiction, of course, but bad science fiction often does bulk downloads of information instead.

    I like what you say about identity vs. survival. A focused revision could emerge from this conflict.

    You’ve done a lot of things well with your general, idea-oriented approach, until the very end, where you fall into the classic trap of that approach: refusing to say anything of your own. Ending by reiterating some of the questions that Butler is prodding us to ask, without trying to engage with a particular question (and ideally, beginning to think in terms of answering it!) shows the limits of generalizations here, and implicitly the advantages of engaging more directly from the beginning with *particular* moments and problems in the text.


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