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