Behavioral Norms and Species Inclusivity/Exclusivity

While reading Pramod Nayar’s essay, “A New Biological Citizenship: Posthumanism in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling,” I discovered that although Nayar succeeds in his argument—that Shori has biological citizenship as both a human and an Ina, and furthermore, Shori forms a new hybrid, posthuman species that erodes structural prejudices—the rhetoric of Nayar’s argument is seriously flawed in that the framework of his argument states that biological citizenship is achieved when an organism “performs a species memory,” (species memory meaning a culturally normative behavior) “that she has acquired not through genetic predispositions or her biology but through the apparatuses” given to her by the culture of her species. In other words, Nayar’s framework is based on the idea that an organism can be ontologically classified as a species when it follows the cultural and/or behavioral norms of the species. Nayar claims that Shoir’s identity is at first “uncertain because of her altered biology,” biology that “sets her outside of the [Ina] species border.” However, Nayar hypothesizes that Shori is indeed an Ina because of her subjectivity to Ina cultural apparatuses; to put it another way, Shori’s adoption of Ina cultural/behavioral norms—specifically, Shori’s adherence to Ina pedagogy and Ina ethics of care and mourning—is what makes her an Ina.

When the rhetoric is looked at in this direction, Shori being included in the species because she is subjected to Ina cultural apparatuses, the rhetoric seems to be inclusive in nature, but when the rhetoric is considered in another direction, it implies that a member of a species who does not adhere to his/her species’ behavioral/cultural norms is not part of the species. To be clear, I am not arguing with Nayar’s conclusion that Shori is a new posthuman species that erodes structural prejudices, I am simply pointing out that her rhetoric implies that a human who does not abide by humanities’ cultural and/or behavioral norms is not actually a part of the human species.

With this understanding of Nayar’s rhetoric, one can expand the ideas set forth in Nayar’s essay to include discourse of other Butler novels, such as Clay’s Ark. Implementing the rhetoric that Nayar inadvertently sets forth, Jacob’s status as a human becomes complicated. On one hand, Jacob adheres to many normative actions of a human child—his blatant dislike for Rane and his sympathy for Keira when she is tied up both display human, child-like tendencies, and what Nayar would consider to be the result of human cultural apparatuses that teach behavioral norms—but on the other hand, Jacobs non-normative body and preference to walk on four legs even though he can (uncomfortably) walk on two legs, according to Nayar’s rhetoric, works against human cultural norms and therefore posits Jacob as “outside the species border;” in other words, un-human. Even though Jacob is the child of two humans, Rane agrees with this rhetoric, and argues with her sister that Jacob is not human.

When the unintentional side-effects of Nayar’s rhetoric—that biological citizenship to a species is only acquired by performing cultural/behavioral norms attained through a species’ cultural apparatuses, and thus behavior not fitting within the division of cultural/behavioral expectations is considered non-normative—are applied to real life, the results are incredibly oppressive. Any behavior that is not considered culturally normal, such as homosexuality, interracial relations, and any mental illness that causes sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies, can be used as evidence that a person is not human, and instead a member of another, lesser species.

Luckily, this rhetoric is easy to combat in both the cases of Clay’s Ark and in real life: species behavioral norms are not the only way to, ontologically speaking, determine what fits into a certain species and what does not. In Clay’s Ark, the “Clayark” disease acts as an equalizer of sorts; the disease only reproduces in human bodies, thus distinguishing any body that reproduces the disease as human. As the text says, the disease kills dogs, and completely avoids cattle, but differentiates humans as the species in which the disease incubates and reproduces. This is not to dispel the possibility that Jacob, like Shori, has become a posthuman hybrid of both humans and the proxima centauri organism, but rather, that in the same way Shori is both Ina and Human, Jacob and other “Clayarks” still fit into both the human species category and the proxima centauri species category; thus, the disease acts as a means of discerning what is human and what is not, and repudiates Nayar’s unintentional rhetoric that implies that Jacob’s non-normative body makes him un-human.

Similarly, I find myself drawing a strong connection between the proxima centauri disease and the article Dr. McCoy showed our class about human genes consisting of bacteria DNA. How can certain human behaviors be considered “normal” if genetics determine behavior, and our genes are 99.9% bacteria DNA? To be more specific, each human body is made up of more than 100 trillion bacteria cells; with such incredible diversity within our bodies, I don’t see how it is possible to limit human behavior to a certain set of cultural and/or behavioral norms, and consider behavior outside these stratum to be abnormal, and thus evidence for discrimination. Humans need to remember that variation and “deviation from norms” is not actually deviation, but simply a manifestation of the diversity of our DNA—DNA that exists because of its evolutionary success—and although our DNA is made up from the DNA of trillions of microbes, it is exactly this DNA that links all human beings and indeed, distinguishes us as a single species.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.