Jdahya tells Lilith humans have two “incompatible characteristics” (38). The first is “intelligence” and the second is “hierarchy” (39). The Oankali believe that the second characteristic is a “problem” and detrimental to the human race. Jdahya also tells Lilith: “(The Oankali) are not hierarchical” (41).
But are they really not?
I believe some form of hierarchy is necessary in any society for things to get done. That’s why I doubt Jdahya’s statement so much.
The Oankali never clarify what exactly they mean when they use the term “hierarchical.” With this level of unclarity, I couldn’t do much. I could only impose the human definition of the word. Merriam Webster defines hierarchy as: “the classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing.” I narrowed the definition a bit when applying it to Lilith’s Brood, associating hierarchy with displays of power in relationships. Basically, I was looking for imbalances of power in relationships.
If we use this definition, then I can see where the Oankali are coming from. The members of Lilith’s initial Awakening group reflected a hierarchical mindset. When trying to justify his decision to take Allison and pair her with one of his men, Peter states, “It’s her duty to get together with someone” (176). Peter’s “duty” is self-imposed. No one has made it law within the mini-society that men and women must pair off. The fact that he actually attempts to force Allison to obey his will indicates he believes he stands over her: I’ll decide this and you have to follow without any objections. He believes he can tell her what to do and have her follow it; he believes that, between them, he is (or should be) the one with greater power. When Peter tries to exert his “power” over Allison, he starts a brawl between his group and Lilith’s group. This is probably what the Oankali are referring to when they say hierarchy is a problem: it makes the humans in the group fight against themselves. It causes self destruction.
If we associate hierarchy with imbalances of power, then I do believe the Oankali can be considered hierarchical. Akin narrates in “Adulthood Rites”: “When he was an adult, he could speak for the resisters. Now, his voice could be ignored, would not even be heard without the amplification provided by one of the adult members of his family” (430). Akin lets on that Nikanj was given this type of treatment too: “(Akin) remembered Nikanj’s stories of its own childhood—of being right, knowing it was right, and yet being ignored because it was not adult” (430). The Oankali have a hierarchy based on age: the opinions of children or adolescents are ignored, no matter how qualified they are, in favor of those of adults.
I think the Oankali don’t think of themselves as hierarchical because they associate hierarchy with the term “problem” (41). I think Jdahya’s use of the word “problem” refers to how hierarchy leads to self destruction. If this is true, then the Oankali might not think they’re hierarchical because they don’t seem to be (or as I was reading I couldn’t find evidence that they are) fighting against each other.
Their system might not cause self destruction, but I think it does cause problems. In addition to importance by age, the Oankali operate by the will of majority: When explaining to Akin why he was left in Phoenix, Dichaan states: “ ‘There was a consensus’…‘Everyone came to believe it was the right thing to do except us. We’ve never been alone that way before’ ” (414). Compliance with will of the majority reflects hierarchical aspects in the sense that it declares that the opinion of a larger group is more important than the opinion of a smaller group. One group is given more say than another group solely based on numbers. The decision of a group completely unrelated to Akin, a group separated from the problem, has their voices weighed more than the group that the problem affects directly. I keep thinking back to what a lot of the Oankali said: “Keeping (Akin and Tiikuchahk) separated was a mistake” (459).
Or the Oankali could be referring to something entirely different when they say “hierarchy.” Who knows.