Humanity’s “Salvation”: What is the Price?

I too, like John, felt the human resisters to be dispiritingly disappointing, which has consequently been something that has thus far been one of the most difficult feelings for me to acknowledge while reading this series–mainly that of the pessimistic view Butler takes in regards to humanity. No one will argue that we as both an intelligent and hierarchical species are incapable of someday committing “humanicide” against our earth and ourselves and coming to terms with that realization the other day really struck me. This is a plausible, very likely predicament we may as a species someday find ourselves in, so how can one not agree that the humans need help? And, who better than the Oankali to salvage the fragments of what is left of humanity and the earth when they can save what we can’t and instead appear, as a species, to be intent on destroying? For me it is essentially impossible to disagree with the Oankali here, in that the human species really did and does need help if they are going to survive after this head-on collision of two world powers and the nuclear war that followed nearly destroying them– however, I am unsure as to how I feel about the price that this ultimately costs humanity in the end.

Their intentions may be well and good, like Nikanj illustrates for us in the first book, Dawn, when he states that the Oankali “revere life” (153) and that they claim “to know” the human species just as they want the humans to know them as well, but simply “knowing” ones biology and being able to create clones off of genetic mapping or blueprints doesn’t capture the whole of who that specific person is or the entirety of what that species is. As a person who is fascinated by biology, more specifically genetics, the abilities the ooloi have throughout the series both intrigues and frightens me. For one, they can use cancer for good and as someone who has been touched by the death of a very close family member to cancer and seeing the destructive, consuming nature of what occurs during this illness, that is, the rapid over-multiplication of cells, and the devastating effects that that has on a person, what the Oankali offer is life through this same mechanism, which seems in itself like a logical fallacy, but is nevertheless transforming something we only know as awful into something strangely beneficial and good. In Adulthood Rites, Lilith’s half-human, half-Oankali son, Akin, can literally focus his attention by not only studying the body but by using his sensory organs to explore down to the microscopic level of the cell, a single cell, and as he makes his way through its different parts he eventually investigates the DNA that resides within the heart of the cell, the nucleus, and sees the paradox of life and death that simultaneously draws him in to the humans as a species but what also causes him to draw back from them as a species out of the fear that such a contradiction elicits.

The Oankali treasure difference, but just because they do doesn’t mean others do as well, and, as we see, the Oankali do what they think is “best” for the humans, forcing their own need and love of change on the human species as a whole. Consent, like we discussed last week, requires both parties to be willing participants. The humans might have destroyed Earth and almost wiped themselves out but they never agreed to be captured, changed, and coerced by the Oankali; simply put, they never really had a say in that choice, it was made for them. And that is fundamentally what unsettles me the most about this alien species in the Xenogenesis series, as, I keep asking myself: does the end really justify the means? In regards to consent, Tino tells Nikanj that what the Oankali are doing to them isn’t technically “trade” because “trade is when two people agree to an exchange,” (289) and is thus free from coercion. So, like Tino, I am unsure as to whether or not I would agree with Nikanj when he claims that they are “trade-partners” because they had no say in whether or not they wanted to partake in the trade in the first place, and that does not constitute a “partnership” in my eyes.

Nikanj goes on to discuss the fact that we, as human beings, made our world utterly and completely hostile to and devoid of life, which no one would argue with of course, but he tries to justify the Oankali’s actions by saying the following: “We couldn’t let you breed alongside us, coming to us only when you saw the value of what we offered. Stabilizing a trade that way takes too many generations. We needed to free you” (290). Clearly they are doing this in order to save humanity from destroying themselves yet again, but I don’t really buy into the claim that what they are doing to the humans truly “frees” them. Sure, they have somewhat freed them from their hierarchical tendencies to destroy one another, which is great, but the Oankali are compelled by their genes which truly drives their species’ desire to “save” or “free” humanity, not acting so much on the behalf of the human species so much as they are for their own continuation– or to follow suit with today’s strain of botanical metaphors, to grow. Do they simply justify this by saying that despite the coercion and force used that it will in the end be “good for us” simply because they think that that is what is best for us? When were the humans ever really consulted on what was “best for them”?

I feel like the Oankali are essentially saying: “Hey, you might not want this but it’s for a higher good, and, you don’t know it now but this is actually what you want and you’ll like it later I promise. We know this because we “know” you. Forget about the fact that we captured you, tampered with your bodies and/or genes without your consent, forced you to either mate with us and create children that aren’t entirely human or have none at all and commit to a life of sterilization without any knowledge or say in the matter, and believe us when we say that this is all carried out for the sake of your best interests, human people. I mean, we did save you. You’ll thank us later. You’re welcome. Love, the Oankali.”

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