"Both Lilith and Tino knew that their Oankali mates would provide for all their physical needs, yet they could not easily accept being totally dependent. This was a characteristic of adult Humans that the Oankali never understood. The Oankali simply accepted it as best they could and were pleased to see that we constructs understood."(Butler, 555).Throughout Lilith's Brood, I have found myself viewing the Oankali as self rightous creatures. In previous books we see the Oankali making decisions for Humans because the Oankali "know what is best" for them. A prime example of this is when Nikanj makes Lilith pregnant the first time. Nikanj says "And you are ready to be her mother. You could never have said so. Just as Joseph could never have invited me into his bed -- no matter how much he wanted me there. Nothing about you but your words reject this child."(Butler, 247). However, with the developments between Akin and the ooloi construct Jodahs, the Oankali are begging to accept that not even their complex ability to read genes enable them to understand all parts of Humanity. They no longer seem to see themselves as infalliable. It makes me question why it is the Oankali do not have these characteristics, or if they had once had them and lost them through their many 'trades.' Also, I found it interesting the Akin and Jodahs were capable of understanding Human complexities. I wonder if Butler was using these devices in order to show that one must contain these complexities in order to sympethize with them, therefore had characters lacking this to make the contrast more noticable, or to show that Humans too could, like the oankali, lose what makes them unique.
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In Imago, the Oankali have developed far beyond what they were when they arrived at Earth in Dawn. They were beginning to experience something similar to human emotion. On page 611, it says that “But every time it touched me, all I could feel was stress. Distress. Its own and mine” (Butler). Butler is referring to Nikanj when it is referring to it. At this point, Nikanj has taken on a very parental role for the ooloi children. Shortly after that, it is stated that “My family never tried to control my goings and comings. They accepted my feelings whether they understood them or not. They wanted to help me, and suffered because they could not” (Butler 611). I found it interesting that Nikanj has taken this parental role. It specifically says that Nikanj and the others want to understand feelings, and they are upset that they cannot. In the first book, he impregnates Lilith without her consent, and now he is experiencing different feelings that could have never come before contact with humans. The Oankali have developed a much greater understanding and appreciation for the human emotions that they can’t feel. They have always been able to avoid emotional attachments in the past, but they have a sudden desire to feel these emotions. It leads me to wonder just what life could be like if emotional attachments are removed from our everyday lives? It’s a very involved question that I couldn’t possibly answer. I wonder if we would develop as a civilization like the Oankali where we just want a consensus? Or would it be something completely different?
“They couldn’t touch me anymore.” This is a line on page 540 in Lilith’s Brood that brings back to me a question that I have frequently had in my reading, “why make touch repulsive?” I might understand if humans and Oankali were still fertile on their own and their urges needed to be repressed but the Oankali, constructs, and humans are all free of such worries. Parents can touch their children when they are without sex, or can touch same sex mates and children, or ooloi mates so it seems only possible sexual relations that are made repulsive. I don’t understand what harm there would be in having mates be able to hold their opposite sex partners. Do the ooloi fear not being the center of the relationship or of being a necessity for procreation rather than the center of pleasure? This is the only justification I can think of for taking away the ability to hold and comfort your mates and if this is the case it puts a different spin on the decisions of the ooloi for they must have decided to ensure themselves pleasure rather than let others experience it between themselves.
Until Imago, they Oankali had seemed to be almost a faultless race. However, I definitely recognize some changes in this quality throughout Imago. "I should have noticed this...I should have...I constructed you to look very male-so male that the females would be attracted to you and help convince you that you were male. Until today, I thought they had. Now I know I was the one who was convinced. I deceived myself into carelessness and blindness"(Butler,537). In this instance, it appears that Nikanj has made a dreadful mistake concerning Jodah's development; it will become the first human-born ooloi. This could turn out to be a very deadly mistake for the Oankali; Jodahs will have many powers and may not be able to be trusted to not hurt others. Before the trading with human occurred, I do not recall the Oankali making serious mistakes such as this one. Is human nature starting to rub off on the Oankali? Are the Oankali going to be more susceptible to making dangerous mistakes going forward? If this is discovered, how will it affect the trade between Oankali and huamans?
“So with the information contained in DNA, there is no instance where knowledge of one’s genes does not further concentrate the existing relations of power between individuals and between the individuals and institution” (Pg 76 Lewontin). I don’t not agree with this statement and with Lewontin’ claim that the Human Genome project is such a fruitless endeavor. Lewontin believes that when a woman is told the fetus she is carrying has a certain disease or is of a certain gender, due to the evidence its genome presents, then they gain no power, they are just forced to make a choice on were or not they would like to carry the baby to term or whether to paint the baby’s room blue or pink. I would strongly disagree, I feel as though with that type of information parents can curtail their parenting styles and conditioning of the child in order to give it the most beneficial possible development. I understand that humans are a product of their genes and their environment according to Lewontin but if we understand exactly what the genes have the potential for producing can’t we then alter the environment in order to create the ideal developmental circumstances. Lewontin claimed himself that the environment is created and effected by organism and vice versa so why then does he not believe that we can alter our environment to our advantage with our genetic makeup in mind?
“The demand by employers for diagnostic information about the DNA of prospective employees serves the firm in two ways. First…employees reduce their wage bill by hiring only workers with the best health prognoses. Second, if there are workplace hazards to which employees may be in different degrees sensitive, the employer may refuse to employ those whom it judges to be sensitive” (Lewtonian 76). Beyond believing that the Human Genome Project is but a thinly-veiled ploy to divert money to certain scientists, Lewtonian argues that making genomes sequenceable, especially on an individual basis, is potentially harmful to the individual, as his or her own genetic defects – those without an as-of-yet visible phenotype – would be highlighted and weighed by the employer. We could actually be discriminated against for diseases we weren’t even aware we have. Of course, if companies can set up their own standards for genetic health, they could sneakily get away with quite a bit of racial profiling as well, as some races are more predisposed to certain disorders than others. In Lilith’s Brood, the Oankali seem to be doing exactly this (although nothing much in the way of race). Of the humans the Oankali have managed to save from the gigantic war, the Oankali have been very selective with regards to which humans they allow to wake up; much of this selection is based on the individual’s genetics. However, the Oankali are also able to manipulate the genetics of the afflicted individuals, much in the way of the gene therapy that Lewtonian mentions. So here we have two outcomes of sequencing the human genome manifesting themselves within Butler’s text. Lewtonian acknowledges both of these outcomes – although he is skeptical about the ability of a fully sequenced genome to be able to cure diseases, he does acquiesce that a certain number of diseases will most likely benefit (although this benefit will be quickly outweighed by his other complaints). However, if we are to both diagnose and cure diseases genetically, and this technology and gene therapy becomes extremely affordable, how will an inherent genetic defect, one that is able to be cured but is not, be seen as anything but neglect by an employer, how will it be any different than an out-of-shape, overweight diabetic? Regardless, both of these things exist in Lilith’s Brood, so how should be read this in the light of genome sequencing?
While reading Biology as Ideology I came across several "ah-ha" type moments, as I'm sure most of the class did as well. One of the most interesting to me in the second half occurred when Lewontin discussed the relationship between organism and environment, and the inevitability of both destruction and creation. He states specifically that "every living organism is in a constant process of changing the world in which it lives by taking up materials and putting out others. Every act of consumption is also an act of production. And every act of production is also an act of consumption...Organisms ruin the world not only for their own lives but for their children as well...We cannot live without changing the environment. That is the second law of the relationship between organism and environment" (114-115). Although this concept may seem overly simplistic, the more I thought about it the more profundity I found in its simplicity, particularly when he states that "we must do away with the notion that out there is a constant and fixed world that human beings alone are disturbing and destroying" (115). Although Lewontin is discussing organisms, such as plant life, soil, and white pines in New England, I started to consider this concept in connection to the notion of free will. I'm not sure if this is a stretch, but I think it would interesting to discuss the symbolism behind nature's definite and uncontrollable influence and force on human life and our environment, and how it influences the notion of a person being in control of their life. I would also be interested in what people would think the Oankali's reaction to Lewontin's viewpoint on the relationship between organism and environment would be, saying as so much of their focus has been on manipulating the nature of both their race and of humans.
"I would be the most extreme version of a construct - not just a mix of Human and Oankali characteristics, but able to use my body in ways that neither Human nor Oankali could. Synergy." (549) Genetic engineering has always been something that has fascinated me. This being said, I related much of the book to the process of human genetic engineering. Genetic modification (the use of modern techniques to change the genes of an organism) is yet another great example of human's attempt to play God, and to create perfection. The fact that we have this technology is amazing, and great things can be done with it. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and time after time humans prove themselves not fit to handle it. After all, this is human nature. We are greedy. We always want more, and are never satisfied. That being said, this book made me wonder about the future of genetic modification. Sure, it is seemingly "under control" now, but sooner or later, something destructive will be done. Will it be used for good, for example, forward progress in the medical community? Or, will it be abused, and used to attempt to create an entirely new race of perfect looking clones? All it takes is one person, with a vision. Someone like Doctor Frankenstein, who envisioned an entire army of his creations, all under his rule and command. "A flawed natural genetic engineer - one who could distort and destroy with a touch." (121) Also, is it always wrong to "play God" in terms of genetic modification, or are there circumstances that it would be acceptable?
In speaking about human sexual preference and its indeterminate scientific meaning, Lewontin writes "In an important sense, it is science because science consists not simply of a collection of true facts about the world, but is the body of assertions and theories about the world made by people who are called scientists. It consists, in large part, of what scientists say about the world whatever the true state of the world might be" (103).Science has, for the most part, and especially recently, been treated as a definite discipline. In other words, science is a field of study that leaves little room for error. For Lewontin to state that science has a less definite side, room for assumptions and theories, especially regarding something that is taught throughout the education system as fact, took me off guard. When someone wants to announce that something is precise or perfect with no room for error or question, he says it is an "exact science". Having been told and understanding my entire life that science is fact and the proving--not teaching--of mere theories, to have a geneticist say that science is not exactly an "exact science" makes me feel a bit awkward or off balance.
Throughout the course of reading the first two books of Lilith's Brood, my views on the Oankali were, for the most part, stable. They appeared to be these alien Demigods who had the ability to heal the sick, extend life, and create pleasure from experiences that normally would cause people pain. In Adulthood Rites, their authority and infallibility was questioned a little by Akin, but much in the same way that Lilith questioned them as well in Dawn. However, in Imago, one of the constructs, Jodahs becomes an Ooloi. The only way this has happened is through the "carelessness" of Nikanj. In addition, Jodahs states how Nikanj has always been "empty in some way--as though you were hungry, almost starving." (537) Is it a coincidence that the longer the Oankali are spending time with humans, the more human they seemingly become? Or is it the shifting perspectives, now we see the Ooloi and Oankali through one of their own, that makes the Oankali appear to be more fallible?