The Oankali in Lilith's Brood are distinctly alien, in many ways â€“ but the difference which persists longest and is most troublesome is their culture â€“ or apparent lack thereof. The Oankali apparently take the view that biology is everything â€“ that, given the scale of a group of humans throughout a lifetime, the genes they have within them ultimately decide the fate of the entires species. They believe that they can predict the lifestyle of the children their ooloi mix before the children are even born. But this sort of dramatically confident view is also one-sided: it ignores the existence of culture, the influence of society, and what Hobbes calls "the Social Contract". The Oankali perceive a predictability in humans' genetic makeup that persists whether the humans exist in a "state of nature" or not. Granted, the behavior of the humans we see in the book seems "nasty, brutish, and short" except on account of the intervention by Oankali.
But there are also suggestions that the Oankali view is not all-encompassing. The Oankali claim that the "Trade" with humans is in part an exchange of cultural practices â€“ but it doesn't seem like the Oankali have a culture outside of their biology. They have no written records â€“ in fact, they do not wish for Lilith to have writing implements intially, either â€“ but instead rely only on their infallible memories. They have no tradition of fiction, myth, or lying. The closest they come to art is in the shaping of new creatures to serve their needs â€“ and even that seems painfully utilitarian. And even though they claim to be interested in human culture, they really seem to fear it. Take this episode, for example:
The Oankali willingly walk away from human culture, ignore it as best they can. They have no use for it. The reasons for this aren't clear: but my best guess is that it's not biological enough for them. It is as if the Oankali's ability to perceive biology so completely blinds them to the worth of non-biological practices. Their ability to communicate directly to one another through sense-tentacles could be related: Akin admits that acting at least is "like when [the Oankali and Constructs] touch each other and talk with feelings and pressures. Sometimes you have to remember a feeling you haven't had for a long time and bring it back so you can transmit it to someone else or use a feeling you have about one thing to help someone understand something else" (Butler 409). Actually, this description of acting resembles Ursula Le Guin's explanation of fiction as a method of "describing certain aspects of psychological reality in the novelist's way, which is by inventing elaborately circumstantial lies" (The Left Hand of Darkness, Introduction). So if fiction is a method for abstractly conveying difficult information, then Constructs should have no need for it, and in fact this is true. But at the same time, the Constructs enjoy music as much as humans. And even though natural Oankali are not musical, what the Ooloi do is "almost like making music â€“ balancing endorphins, silencing pain, maintaining sobriety... Ooloi made great harmonies, interweaving people and sharing pleasure" (512).
To the Oankali, then, biology does not simply replace art; biology is art, and other forms of art are unnecessary. They do not partake in the trade of books and paintings, and they seem to scarcely acknowledge their value, even though they also claim that human culture is greatly significant. In the end, it may be significant because it is the one aspect of humans they least understand.