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WARRING SIDES: The Unified Theory of Ethics

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Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson proudly presents: an editorial civil war exploring both sides of the most controversial topic of our time—the Superhero Registration Act. Should masked vigilantes be forced to unmask before congress? Should all super-powered individuals be documented and controlled by state and federal legislatures? Is this an idea whose time has finally come? Only one thing is certain: whether we're super or human, we're all fiercely divided upon the answer. Making a stand for non-violent solutions is heroic fiction critic Dave Baxter.

The recent political and military developments concerning the Super-Hero Registration Act – the ridiculous level of violence that has broken out between its rebellious, powered detractors as well as its showpiece, costumed supporters – has given this writer a clearer perspective as to why he’s been so adamantly supportive of the SHRA from the offset. It has granted me a chance to weigh not just the philosophies behind the two warring sides but also the actions of those involved.

I am disgusted by both.

That said, bear with me; it’s going to take a while to get to the point of this.

Ideals are merely thought-processes, memes; they’re clusters of mnemonics, bundles of trigger-language that collectively spark within an individual (and work even more efficiently when individuals are part of a mob assemblage) far more than their constituent single-word understandings, which gravitate together in our minds and in our mouths to form into these spectacular bastions of romantic fortitude, startlingly gripping schematics of singular, concrete knowledge which topple men and women alike in their quest for firm, ethical absolutes. Much like cosmology, which purports to search for an elusive unified theory of everything, religion, government, society, and culture are utilized to seek the ideal morality, the philosophical placement of right and wrong in supreme, comprehensible, and cohesive design.

Science, however, brandishes this little thing called “scientific method”, to accept theories only so long as they hold up against rigorous, prolonged testing both manifest and mathematical. Sadly, our search for moral truth aligns not with the speculative side of science, but with the practical: how much will it cost? Who will support it? Can we get funding? Does anyone care? Can we sell it? Will it increase national security? Or perhaps the honestly most important one – do I like it and do I want to believe in it? (Or will I have to?)

It may seem a shame that human beings don’t strategize based on what they can do but only upon what they must. Yet then again, I’d argue that – much like an aspect of physics that makes little sense until an understanding of the whole comes into focus – people are unkind and inconsiderate and selfish because the whole is that they care. We care so much to live in a world which we can love, one that we can enjoy and can happily share; yet equally we realize that we have little control over our surroundings.

We make decisions based on our concerns for family, friends, and ourselves; we care for them all and can’t help but become aggressive when any seem threatened, and, generally, with the bedlam inherent in the world’s complexity, they seem threatened every day. Nature and mankind and the sheer variety in which the both of them come are ever-present harbingers of standpoint chaos. This is the innate realization that only through vast stretches of time, wherein vast numbers of keen intellects dedicate themselves to the singular study of our collective evolution (and consequently exhaust this study), only then will any person wield the remotest possibility at recognizing in truth just what the hell is going on two feet in front of their faces at any given moment.

We cannot conceive what another person thinks, what they dream, what they desire. To return to the cosmology metaphor one final time: in science we can understand sections, forces – what moves what and why and even trace the preponderance of its history to understand the process. What we cannot know when even the smallest detail, the smallest inkling of knowledge is lost from the foundational design, is why we see things as we see them, why the workings of all things are, in fact, the specific workings that we so dissect and witness. If we ever do figure out this esoteric keystone of information, we will know more than just answers, more than just “why”. The inner child in us all would then know the why of the why of the why; we would know purpose (or, admittedly, the lack thereof, but I‘m an idealist and I’ll hold out for otherwise). Without such a perfect design to draw infallible answers from, however, things become murky, subjective, and when things become murky, people become emotionally tumultuous.

Scientists are much further ahead than the ethical moralist, who is severely limited in his ability to test his conclusions. Scientists don’t ask the sun if it is, indeed, mainly composed of hydrogen, thereby allowing Sol to guiltily shuffle its feet and say, “No…,” because its really only a small star and not a red giant, thus giving it all due cause to lie like a dog. If I punch a man in the arm and say, “There, did you like that?” He might say yes, he might say no, and I have no absolute answer as to why, exactly, he’d say either. I only have my own inner response to any theoretical moral conundrum, though even then I may not understand the why of my own inclinations. Mere months between scrutinizing myself about the same ethical quandary, I could give two very disparate answers. And those who do staunchly retain the same answer to any probed dilemma indefinitely? Well…those people are kind of scary.

Why is this? Why do absolutes when applied to human interactions terrify us? I believe it is because we are not meant to be unbending; we are meant to survive, we are meant to adapt, we are meant to advance and propagate the species and this requires flexibility, even (or perhaps especially) upon the conceptual level. No single, steady-state paradigm for mutual, loving coexistence exists that will be harmonious with every stage of human development; this applies both to individuals and to larger social structures such as communities, cities, states, nations, continents, and even global interactions.

On an average day, your average New Yorker is unstable by even the loosest of sanity standards; they’re foul, crass, and confrontational to the extreme. Yet I swear to all who read this, the comic book/Saturday morning cartoon stereotype of the loveable, thick, heroic Manhattanite figure who races to risk life and limb and even money when another stands in desperate straights is absolutely true. They’d curse your mother in ways Shakespeare never imagined if they wanted you out of their way and thought you were in it, but they’d turn and race into a burning building if they thought they were the ones that needed to do it.

In the wake of 9-11, a certain social mettle was tested and few who lived among people, few who were neither hermits nor complete drug-addled vegetables did less than they could, less than would risk becoming a hindrance rather than a benefit. When New Orleans was flooded, a very similar human turnabout was witnessed; and both of these moments of charitable majesty struck in the two of the three areas of human population in the American nation most proliferated to be “dens of sin and vice”.

People care. People care so much that they’ll strike out, they’ll bully and scream and cry and fight and they’ll never stop, not if they truly thought it meant a change they needed, a change they wanted, no matter how small the change (get out of the way!), no matter how large (saving lives!). The specifics between individuals – their differences – are rapacious, but the one similarity is that we care to have a world that works, a world in which we can live. Nothing in existence – not man, not man’s cultures or religions or societies; neither stars nor galaxies nor galactic clusters, nor even the universe itself – nothing remains stagnant, and this is because the universe cares, it changes and it molds itself into what works, what it needs to be (whatever its indefinable purpose may be).

The time of super-heroes is not gone, but it is time for change, and growth, and something different. Something that inspires hope in a modern world; call it modern hope, then; modern escapism is something that a modern man can escape into – a hope that relates to his or her modern standards.

And now, the point:

Captain America and his rebels are being obstinate. Congress and the cape killers are being unswerving; even though they, technically, instigated the change, they refuse to flow, to adapt with the responses from both the non-powered and powered communities. They have a cavalcade of heroes who have become underground fugitives because neither side is open to debate, to finding a mutual, middle-ground which, let’s face it, is the ground which any major change eventually reaches after long, painful, roiling conflict. I’m disgusted that both sides refuse to find this ground without said conflict, without blood, even in this age when this much of the ethical puzzle has long been solved. The rebels, who fight so that they may retain their right to help others as costumes vigilantes, are ridiculously belligerent in their refusal and response to the American nation, the overarching mores of the people, wishing for a different method. No one wants the heroes to leave, but they don’t want heroes who refuse their needs, their wants, their desires.

I’m still pro-registration, in so far as this registration isn’t a mere precursor to guerilla warfare between two unflinching powers. That’s no better than the uncontrolled violence that sparked the need for the SHRA in the first place. I’m hoping that what we’ve witnessed recently between the renegades and the federal heroes is the New Yorker mentality – the need to slap someone’s hand back in their face and strut and bellow and rage to make a point. Hopefully, when push comes to shove and one side or the other or preferably both are caught dying in a collapsing building, burning and asphyxiating and in need of rescue, both will near-instinctually move from aggressor to savior, from hindrance to implement, from borderline villain and back, at last, to being heroes for us all.

Neither side is right in this. We need change; we don’t need dead ex-heroes; we don’t need dead government storm-troopers, either, especially not when these so-called storm-troopers are acting more open to reason than the once-upon-a-time anti-violent supers. I want a world where costumed adventures are regulated, yes, I do. It’s amazing that we’ve had such a time when they weren’t, and I wouldn’t trade such a history for a different one. But I dream of a time when the people and the heroes are one. They came. They showed the way. But the initial method is not the only, nor even, anymore, the best, and for them to force their method of vigilante violence upon us whether we wish it or not is despicable to the extreme. It’s tyrannical. Just like our government is currently acting.

I hope for non-aggression, for peace talks that even third world countries are granted during times of strife. Until this episode is over, though, there are no heroes. Not one. None that are ethical, for there are none that care beyond their own fates, which is the very definition of a villain.

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