Oankali and Humanity

One of the main questions formed when reading Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy, is, “what does it mean to be human?”. Within this work, an alien species called the Oankali, find the Earth nearly destroyed by a nuclear war and try to preserve what is left of humanity. The Oankali do this by incorporating some of their own DNA into the remaining humans as well as what will become humanity’s children. By doing this, they are not only NOT saving humanity, they are making humans an extinct species.

Let me clarify as to what I believe to be the definition of humanity. This may not be in complete agreement with current scientific standards, but this is the definition that I have come to believe. Humans are the species of hominid called Homo-Sapiens. This term cannot be applied to closely related species as they have their own terminologies. Human is just the layman’s term for Homo-Sapiens and nothing more. There are other terms that allow us to apply humanity to non-human entities such as personification or humanization, but this only means that said entities are not human, but like humans. These are defined terms, regardless of the metaphorical implications our intelligence allows our being to become. Therefore, those who have been introduced this new DNA, grow tentacles/tendrils, grow “extra” senses, or various other new adaptations, are a newly evolved form of humans, whom if categorized, would most likely be given a different name.  For instances such as this, we would call this mixed breed of human and Oankali a hybrid species. They are not one or the other, but a combined genetic code of both species. This is similar to how we call the spawn of a tiger and lion, a liger. Maybe we would not call this new hybrid a “humkali” or a “Oanman”, but regardless of what we called this new species, it would still be a different species.

In terms of modern human evolution (outside of Butler’s work), we do not really apply to the “survival of the fittest” notion that our ancestors once had. With modern technology, most malignant evolutionary mutations that were once considered fatal, can be altered with surgery or medicine to help the afflicted survive. No longer does being born without arms hinder one’s survival. therefore, both the good and bad mutations survive in our genetic code; making the definition of genetic humanity a bit more broad. Therefore, people with these genetic maladies or advantages still share our basic genetic code. The fact that the Oankali are introducing new DNA that is completely foreign from our own, that has not evolved from our own DNA, their actions turn a human into a hybrid. They are no longer human, but they are not Oankali either. In my mind, this is the key component that separates the human/Oankali hybrid and the average human with a natural mutation.

This however, takes the question “what is humanity” a bit literally. Potentially, the hybrids can retain to human values or any non-physical applications of what it means to be human. This may become merged with Oankali values as well however, but values and morals change to varying extremes regardless. Therefore, the figurative forms of “humanity” can change in any way, but still remain human. It is really just the physical forms of humanity that will cease to exist. But this creates a new question all together. What is more important: remaining human physically, or retaining human values? Alternatively, is one more important than the other?

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