"It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." ~ David Brin
What Would You Do?
With age comes a few regrets of fading youth. For me, these are the occasional pangs of desire to flake out with a stack of comic books like I used to do when I was a kid. Nevertheless, although I resist the callings of my inner child, I have managed to get vicarious comic book fixes from two really good Spidey flicks.
There is something about reading about grown men in long underwear and their adventures that to me aren't what an adult should spend time doing. Young adults like me should move on to the real world and leave fantasy to children and those writers and artists who cater to them.
Of course, I don't really believe that. Although it is the typical response to fantasy in general, I, like most people, find value in fantasy and sci-fi precisely because it allows moral dilemmas to be presented and considered fresh from the commonplace world that we actually live in. After all, isn't the moral of The Lord of the Rings that even the smallest and weakest can defeat evil, not just the stereotypical mighty hero. And what is the moral of Star Wars but that evil can arise and triumph, but also can be defeated, from the most unlikely sources and opportunities. Liberty can triumph over slavery.
All fantasy is typically about a struggle between Good and Evil, which has obvious application to the real world (especially in these dark times). That, in extraordinary circumstances, the Good Man will not succumb to Evil, whether it's Evil Men and their works, or just Evil ideas, but will fight ever more enthusiastically against it. As all moral story telling teaches, every man (or woman) has it within them to do heroic deeds, to be more than what is expected of the average man, to be in a certain sense, supra-men, and superheroic.
Everyone knows the story of how Superman was born on the doomed planet Krypton and sent to Earth where he grew up as a farm boy in Kansas . Why has this character endured for now almost 70 years? With his super-strength, speed, indestructibility, heat, X-ray, telescopic and microscopic vision and ability to fly, he would seem to have little relevance to you or me and our daily lives and any challenges we may encounter.
The character of Superman was created by two Jews, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster (a Canadian!) leading many to identify several Jewish cues in Superman's origin. Like Moses set loose on a river in his basket, the son of a doomed people, Superman was sent to Earth in a rocket ship, and like Moses, was raised in a mysterious land. However, most people don't know that Superman's powers are the unforeseen byproduct of Kryptonian eugenics, although this was added decades later as part of the back story to explain why Krypton later exploded.
Famously, Superman uses these powers to defend 'Truth, Justice and the American Way ' and is considered in his comic books as the most powerful man in Metropolis, if not on Earth. Actually, the dispute over this status is the revised origin for Lex Luthor's vendetta against Superman. Originally, many decades ago, Superman inadvertently caused Luthor's hair to fall out, causing Luthor to swear revenge for this humiliation. This is a pretty lame origin story for a supervillain, but on the other hand, it shows how, as a rival to a super-man, his arch-nemesis is a small and petty man. However, when Superman was reinvented in the 80's, Lex Luthor was also given a tune up, so that their rivalry stems from Luthor's claim, as the wealthiest and most influential man in Metropolis, to also be the most powerful man in the city ' until Superman arrived on the scene. And instead of the humiliation of going bald, Luthor was now humiliated when he was sent to jail for staging a fake terrorist attack on his yacht in order to lure Superman into the open to meet him.
So, why is Superman relevant to today's world and to you and me? The key to the answer is that in fiction the reader is encouraged to imagine or identify themselves as the heroes of the story. Who hasn't wondered what they would do if they had all the powers of Superman?
The real, underlying moral theme of Superman, is the recurring unasked, but obvious question to readers, of what would you do if you were Superman in this situation? What would you do with the powers of Superman if you had them? Would you use them for personal wealth and glory? Conversely, what would you do if you had all the wealth and influence of Lex Luthor? Would you use that wealth to pursue petty vendetta's and endanger the innocent?
With all the powers of Superman no crime would be impossible for you. Who could stop you? What could stop you?
Of course, what makes Superman Superman is not his Kryptonian heritage and the yellow Sun of Earth, but his childhood in Kansas and his parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. It is his upbringing, the ideals and morals taught and lived out by Clark Kent that makes Superman a hero instead of the global conqueror that he was originally sent to Earth to be, sent to impose on humanity 'proper Kryptonian ideals.'
What does all this say about another person who is regularly called 'The most powerful man on Earth?' A man who endlessly lectures all within range of his voice of his noble intentions, his superior morality and the power of his corrupt office?
George W. Bush, sadly and frighteningly, is indeed the most powerful man on Earth, made so by the inhumanity of the U.S. military machine, able to rain death down from the skies on thousands, and potentially billions, with a flick of his finger and a tug on his Bible. And this is not mere hyperbole. When presented with the opportunity to use this awesome and evil power that he wields, he had a choice, to choose between the moral, Good choice, and the immoral and Evil one. Sadly, we know which he chose.
When the choice came, Bush choose to use his power to further the cause of Evil. The enslavement of the human race under despotism and war, and looting present and future generations to fund his cronies.
When presented with a crisis, Bush didn't hesitate to tip his power onto the evil side of the moral scale, promoting and extending a fearsome regime of perpetual war, torture, fear mongering, a burgeoning police-state, and crony capitalism.
When the public was clamoring for revenge, eager to strike out and kill any target that could be claimed to have even the faintest connection to the wound of 9/11, did George W. Bush urge caution and restraint? Did he recognize that with great power comes great responsibility for how that power is used (and abused)? Did he marshal arguments against the use of violence and the murder of the innocent? No.
When the choice came, Bush, like every depraved madman, embraced not the ways of peace, but any excuse to revel in the martial spirit and kill at will. Instead of arguing for the dignity of every human being, he seized the opportunity, like any other tyrant throughout history, to engage in human experimentation through violence. His whims would redesign societies both abroad ' and at home.
Instead of behaving like how we would all expect everyone to act, with restraint, patience and consideration for guilt and innocence, before considering a proportional response, Bush unleashed a wave of violence and murder. All because he had the power to.