Lilith’s Brood seems to me a direct response to an idea posed on page 51 of Wilson’s Human Nature, “But even worse, imagine our predicament if we coexisted with a mentally superior human species, say Homo superbus, who regarded us, the minor sibling species Homo sapiens, as the moral problem.” This idea of course is not a totally new, even Dr. Seuss has suggested how life would be different if humans were the animals of the planet, but the combination of Wilson’s ideas and his statements immediately previously on our obligation to a mentally inferior brings me to this passage as a question to which her book responds.
Of course in Butler’s version, we are not cousins; we do not share a genetic or personal history with our alien superiors. For good or ill they have removed what history they can to start the human or what was human civilization anew. “’You'll begin again. We'll put you in areas that are free of radioactivity and history. You will become something other than you were.’ ‘And you think destroying what was left of our cultures will make us better?’ ‘No. Only different.’” (Butler, 34) They want us to hold onto nothing and become something new and yet they keep their memories of every merger genetically locked so they can never forget. As humans we no longer know why each gene we have nature decided made us more likely to survive and this is one of the things Wilson seeks for us to learn. The Oankali have this information genetically encoded. Is it this understanding of themselves which Wilson seeks that makes them such a peaceful if manipulative species? Is Butler suggesting we to could gain this harmony and cultural control if we knew our roots? The question for me then is why deny humans this information. Would our genetic history be too much for us to handle or is it merely the cultural history we normally see as civilized they want us to forget?
The Oankali seem to have a similar belief system to that of Wilson. They have a natural ability to reengineer the basic foundations of life, our genes, and feel compelled to do so with themselves and others to spread and change their genes. Although Wilson lacks the ability to change our genes himself, this is also the goal he believes we should explore and improve ourselves through. He, like the Oankali, delve into the possibility of guiding and engineering the evolution of another species as the Oankali do to us,“ Should we divide the world, guide their mental evolution to the human level...?”(Wilson, p.51) Wilson’s writing suggests to me that he would like to be the Oankali of our species understanding us, manipulating our genes and perhaps feels compelled to do so for us to make a better world. If he believed it was best I do not doubt he too would wish to improve are DNA with the DNA of other species as the Oankali do as well; however, what is different from him and the Oankali is that he could not make that choice for all of us.
Giving Wilson’s beliefs to the Oankali simultaneously makes the ideas of genetic modification and design more appealing and much more perverse. The Oankali make genetic engineering appealing because the beings are our saviors and their way of life if strange seems harmonious. While not our ways, their ways seem to peaceful and virtuous; they do not eat meat, and while they argue we do not see them coming to blows. On the other hand their manipulation of the genes makes what they do to humans inhuman. It was not decided on by humans and thus humans cannot use it to define our own evolution. It was done to us without choice. Our future has been taken away from us. Like the australopitecine of Wilson’s example (Wilson, 51) we are but the lower species for a higher to manipulate and care for.
I then see most of Butler’s work as a hashing out of On Human Nature with the Oankali taking the place of Wilson or the scientist, and the humans, Lilith and those she awakens are humanity responding to what Wilson has shown us. “’We pair off!’ Curt bellowed, drowning her out. ‘One man, one woman, Nobody has the right to hold you. It just causes trouble.’” (Butler, 176) This is how we tend to think we are supposed to be, paired. But we would like it to be by choice. Marriage is one of the “characteristics that have been recorded in every culture known to history and ethnography” (Wilson, 21) And females as the weaker sex, become home bound with the creation of agriculture and then something to be traded or taken. In this world of 43 humans everyone has been raised in civilization and yet we still revert to this need for a mate and, aggression which goes along with Wilson’s “crowding in the environment” is present and we revert to cave men.
The Oankali can help us to succeed, help us overcome what we are at our basic core, but at what cost? This is what we ask of the future; would cleaning our genes make us less human? Would the changing of expression or adding in of other species features diminish our humanity? Lilith despite the benefits for her child believes that humanity is what matters not the benefits but could we really turn down the possibility to grow limbs? To stop cancer and disease in our children? By using another species Butler is able to dramatize Wilsons dream into something we can either fear or dream of.