The problem of Superman
Yesterday, EcoGeek addressed one of the pressing issues of our times: inconsistent application of Superman’s powers. More needs to be said.
The ‘Geek points out that Superman himself is solar powered (as those who have seen Superman Returns know), but has failed to help humanity figure out how he converts sunlight to power — which might be a handy trick for us.
This is but one instance of a broader point: With Superman’s abilities — and his Fortress of Solitude, which contains all the knowledge of the 28 known galaxies — it’s simply unconscionable that he wastes so much time.
In the movie, he goes up into space, uses his super-hearing to locate some trouble, and then shoots down to earth to … prevent a bank robbery.
Dude. Think a little bigger, would you? How about helping humanity find a clean, unlimited source of power? How about speeding around India and China, delivering simple solar cookers to peasants so they can stop burning wood and charcoal? How about sucking some CO2 out of the atmosphere? How about building fast, clean, high-speed rail infrastructure for every country on the planet? How about rounding up and destroying all the world’s nuclear weapons?
Given Superman’s power and knowledge, the fact that he spends his time foiling petty crimes — and shows favoritism to one country, and particularly one woman (Lois Lane) — means that he is, in practice, incredibly evil. Having the capacity to prevent so much suffering and failing to use it is as much a crime as causing suffering. (Of course, moral philosophers will disagree on this point.)
Superman’s tale is not one of heroism. It’s one of serial sins of omission.
Damn you, Superman. Damn you.
(The theologically inclined will notice the parallels between this discussion and many similar discussions of God’s alleged omnipotence and omniscience, particularly around the problem of evil. Superman, like God, is an expression of humanity’s desire to escape the limitations and ambiguities of earthly life — and, like God, a demonstration of the inherent logical inconsistencies of that undertaking. Perfection quite literally makes no sense.)