The Human/Animal Boundary in the Patternist Series

Danielle’s post “Uncontrolled Contagion” really resonated with me when she stated, in the last paragraph, that the domination of the “lesser” peoples, mainly that of the mutes and the Clayarks, in the Patternist series should serve as a warning sign to the reader of what such intolerances between cultures might entail: which, in her words was doomed to result in “rip[ping] society and eventually the world apart.” This enabled me to think about the binary structures that we as human beings create in order to define ourselves as a species by means of juxtaposition. It is no secret that we, as people, fear what is different—we see or we read about something that is socially, culturally, and/or biologically foreign to our own way of life and ways of being, and, suddenly, as a culture, we conclude that this society, alien to our own, is in some way as threatening as it is antagonistic; as dangerously hostile as it is distinct. In short: we fear what we do not know. Therefore, what better way to greater solidify our own identity as a species, than to define what is not objectively “us” as “Other” and thereby, “inferior”?

When reading Sherryl Vint’s article titled “Becoming Other: Animals, Kinship, and Butler’s Clay’s Ark”, she brings to light such binary structures that we as human beings construct, particularly in regards to what she refers to as the “human/animal boundary,” set up in order to “define the human through an opposition to the animal” (Vint, 281). In other words, there are humans and then all of “the other” living things on earth that we consider suitable to be categorized under the umbrella term of the word “animal”, a word “that ignores the differences among all creatures within the category of non-human” (Vint, 281). If a group of persons or cultures differs from our own, like the Clayarks whose offspring are quadrupedal and sphinx-like and therefore different, we see the Patternists, another species of mutated humans linked to one another via telepathy, respond to such differences with hierarchy, prejudice, and discrimination (even within their own culture in regards to the “mutes” or those without telepathic abilities). While these may not be “real” cultures, they are nevertheless structures we see built all around us in our own culture today, and are not really as “alien” to us as they might originally present themselves as.

Throughout history, like Danielle pointed out, Westernization has often constructed the binary of the “West” and all that is not the West as “Other”, and because those that are “Other” are considered to be less “civilized”, in the Western sense of the word, they are rendered less human and more “animalistic”, thus giving us the ability to exclude them from the realm of ethics we keep amongst those who fit within our nice, neat  little boxes our what is “human” and what is “not human” or “Other”. Many past injustices to people who were not admitted into the category of human, leave our current generation wondering how atrocities such as the institution of slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust, and/or the history of early North American colonization and the subsequent treatment of the Native American peoples occurred and how such oppression can continue throughout the world today with the knowledge we have of these past instances of unjust oppression, prejudice, and discrimination.

As an Education major I have taken several courses pertaining to Disability Studies, and am currently working in a classroom with students who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities—something that, I am well aware, would never have been possible for these children fifty or sixty years ago.  Like those discriminated against because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical difference, or what have you, I also linked what the Clayarks were considered or seen as to what many of those before the Disability Rights Movement (DRM), had faced, and still face today too. Often times, these students are seen as less than, or more like “animals” than full-fledged members of society who deserve the same rights as any child and human being does. One of my roommates, for example, is an international student from Russia and there are simply no schools that exist there that allow children with disabilities to be integrated within the general education classroom setting with other children their age, because they are often seen as and deemed “unfit” for society. Therefore, because of their intellectual and physical differences, they are ostracized and shunted off from the rest of the culture there (much like the Claryarks) because many people view them as children who are not “normal”, and, as such, do not deserve to be treated and looked at as human beings who experience a different way of being, yes, but that are still human beings nonetheless.

In her article, Vint claims that “Butler is clearly aware of its role in supporting the systems of prejudice she is trying to dismantle, and in perpetuating the lie that each side tells about the other: ‘Not people’,” (Vint, 283). Just because the Clayarks walk on four legs as opposed to two, does that make them not human? And if not, then what physical differences do we admit and do not admit into the category of human? (A well-made trap by Butler in my opinion) While Butler explores physical difference throughout this series, I think she also urges the reader to challenge their assumptions to see that “human” and “animal” are part of a binary structure we must totally reconfigure if we hope for a future world that is not steeped in intolerance and prejudice. Not only does she change these peoples’ (The Clayarks) behaviors, but she points out the urgency and the need for us to be open to what Vint refers to as “a reality of continual transformation, an openness not only to the other ways of being, but a permanent openness to the possibility of change,” (Vint, 291). In refusing such narrow-mindedness, we, like Kiera, are able to survive in a world of difference, even if it may at first be difficult for us. As we come to see, Rane is unable to adapt her set and concrete modes of thinking, and, instead of seeing the Clayarks as those that represent a new generation of human beings, a new kind of self for herself, she is unwilling to conform to such differences both amongst her and within herself, and as a result, does not survive. Kiera, however, who was at first seen as not long for this world, thrives under a new kind of humanity because she is open to the possibility of change, and thus it changes her for the better and imbues her with life; a new kind of life, but life all the same.

Works Cited

Vint, Sherryl. “Becoming Other: Animals, Kinship, And Butler’s “Clay’s Ark..” Science Fiction Studies 32.2 (2005): 281-300. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

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