Depressing News from the Superpower Poll

A poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion recently asked U.S. residents which superpower they would most like to have.  28 percent said they would like to have the ability to read people’s minds, the same proportion that said they would prefer the ability to time travel.

There is no question about it: reading minds is by far the most unethical power on the list. In fact, there is nothing ethical about reading minds, which is a violation of individual privacy and autonomy, disrespectful, unfair, and primarily useful for unethical purposes, like manipulating the behavior of others. It is an inherent violation of the Golden Rule, and uses other human beings for the mindreader’s benefit.

The fact that so many Americans would choose this power (the other options, other than time travel, were flying, invisibility, and the ability to teleport) is an indication, I think, of declining trust and trustworthiness, increasing suspicion and fear, selfishness, and a callous disregard for the rights of others. No wonder time travel is the co-favorite. People want to go back to a time when we could trust each other.

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.