A Nation of Unethical Superheroes

Among some more substantive questions in the current Vanity Fair’s “60 Minutes”/Vanity Fair poll was this one:

“Suppose you could have THE POWER OF A SUPERHERO. Which power would you choose?”

The choices presented were super strength, flying, invisibility, the ability to read minds, and x-ray vision. When the votes were tallied, the largest group, by far, was made up of those who chose mind-reading.

It is just a silly poll based on fantasy. I still find it alarming that 35% chose the ability to read minds, an unequivocally unethical power. Invading anyone’s private thoughts is per se unethical, although it does beat waterboarding. In a distant second place, with 21%  of the votes, was flying, one of the two ethical powers among the options, along with super strength. The unethical powers—mind-reading, invisibility and x-ray vision—attracted 57% of the votes over-all.

There is nothing wrong with having unethical fantasies as long as they stay fantasies. Still, I would feel better about my fellow citizens if I didn’t think so many of them would choose to violate my privacy and learn my confidences if they had the chance. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I could trust Superman.

5 thoughts on “A Nation of Unethical Superheroes

  1. Personally, mine isn’t on the list. I have a feeling you’d label it as an unethical super-power, but I think it is like beauty…that is…in the eye of the beholder.

    I would choose Invincibility.

    I don’t say that because I want to go rob a bank and win all the gun fights on the way out. I’d want to walk the earth without a fear of being killed. Walk into Iran and experience their culture without the fear of being nabbed, tortured and killed. (Though, I guess I could still be nabbed.)

    • No, that’s not unethical. Any superpower CAN be used unethically, like super strength. That is true of all power. I think invincibility is one of the most benign ones.

      (I have a feeling I’m going to regret this post….)

  2. Why, exactly, is mind-reading unethical?
    You state that “invading anyone’s private thoughts is per se unethical,” but what if those thoughts would lead to actions that would themselves be per se unethical? Would it not be ethical to read someone’s mind in order to prevent unethical acts from being committed?
    Even removing the possibility of unethical actions, is there any reason that reading someone else’s mind is unethical in and of itself?

    • Without permission? You can’t be serious. Is someone reading your diary, journals, medical records and personal mail, or listening in on your private conversations without your consent unethical? Obviously. Privacy is a basic human right. So is autonomy. If someone wants someone else to know his or her thoughts, one expresses them, otherwise they are entirely that individual’s possessions to keep.

  3. Of course, if everyone had the ability to read minds, it wouldn’t be a super-power. And if that were an evolutionarily developed ability, I won’t what ethics WOULD be like then, as the concept of privacy, would in essence have never existed.

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