Hyper-Humanness & Existential Consent

As “I awoke to darkness,” we– meaning, the unnamed character narrator and us, the readers, are both put in an identical situation (1). Custom and social tradition forgotten, Butler lays us in a destroyed world where “I was hungry– starving!– and I was in pain. There was nothing in my world but hunger and pain, no other people, no other time, no other feelings,” (1). Though Shori is not human, her hungers and abilities seem to exaggerate human qualities and needs– Butler “reduces to the absurd” human hungers in order to draw attention to details too small or unremembered that do, in fact, have enormous consequences.

This amnesic device mimics the “tactic trust” position that all human beings enter (or are taken into by older human caretakers) when they are born, having at first no intellect or experience, nor the ability to survive alone. A Lockean idea, tacit trust nonetheless is a good name for the way in which human beings tend to not only benefit from the system, but are assumed to be compliant, at least when they are “free” agents. But for a child growing up, or an amnesic, the journey from ignorant depender to a free agent cognizant of society’s many facts is a grey blur of a continuum.

Human beings tend to lack, despise, fear, or avoid the ability to think of ourselves as not completely willing and knowing agents, despite the fact that we are brought up in a specific culture by sheer chance, and that we, like others in different societies, tend to view our own traditions and values as the best, or at least as functional and ‘right’ to maintain.

In the narrative Shori is recalled back into a minority family, that of the Ina, a vampire-like species, and she herself is a twofold minority, being an experimentally-created black, half-human, Ina. Butler uses her amnesia to knock away any longstanding numbness Shori might have had to her ‘situation’ and the way people, specifically other Ina, treat her. She questions her “family,” and opens herself up to criticism, not willing to merely accept back an identity she can’t remember, both that of her own previous memories, and the identity of an abused minority others might put on her. She is a fresh mind to question the glaring irregularities of equality in her Ina society.

Given all of this framing Butler sets up– putting a conscious and free agent in media res of an unremembered life, her story more accurately symbolizes the situation of all human beings find themselves in, only coming “awake” to knowledge of social influences, power, and magnetism long after having grown up and cemented themselves socially, economically, and politically to these pre-existing systems, which, they might find later, they do not like or find fair, but that it seems too late– they are stuck, having given “tacit” [ignorant and nonconsensual] consent. Ultimately, Butler questions the “centeredness” or objectivity we all experience as fallible and oft-times [subconsciously] arrogant humans, thinking of our current culture and values as ideal, and being so long numb to the flaws that we cannot name them anymore. Among many thought experiments, it resembles Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in particular, where Shori’s “sun-darkened” eyes from amnesia first stun her to Ina traditions, then allow her to see in the darkness again, and try to lead others up and out of the cave.

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