Well, I got my computer up and running long enough to load up my Jurassic Park document… to find the whole thing (all 3 single-spaced pages) had been corrupted to nothing but question marks, so I have to start it all over. So, that is getting delayed until next Monday, as I just don’t want to rewrite everything so soon. In the meantime, I’ll soldier on with part 1 of 3 in the Superhumans series.
Superhumans in the Real World, Part I: A God Among Mortals
Everybody loves superheroes. Characters with more-than-human powers dominate comic books, video games, TV, and summer blockbusters. We can’t get enough of them. If you’re a normal person (or at least slightly cool), you’ve had at least one conversation with someone along the lines of, “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?”
I’m no comic/superhero historian by any stretch, but it seems to be that superheroes used to be super with no strings attached. They were heroes in their stories, and the worries of real life never graced the page. In recent times, reality has inserted itself into superhero mythologies, and more stories are trying to establish what it would be like to be a superhero for real. Several movies do some things right, but I’ve never seen a movie, read a book, or anything else that I think hits the nail on the head for what superhuman life would be like, and I want to turn my knowledge of heroes and my sociological imagination on the issue.
Today, I’m working on the assumption that our superhuman is the only one of his kind. Absolutely nobody else is known to have any kind of powers. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to do things absolutely nobody else can? In reality, the answer is nothing could be worse. Forget fantasies of being cool, powerful, and well respected; I believe it’s far more likely you’ll be public enemy number one.
People fear what they don’t understand. One person out of all of humanity suddenly manifesting superpowers is a big question mark. The average person, if they find out about the superhuman, won’t know what they are capable of, and may be likely to exaggerate the threat they represent. As word spreads, exaggerations are likely to spread too. Ever played the telephone game? The more people a message gets spread to, the more the message gets distorted, virtually every time. If this superhuman has become noticed by the media, can you expect them to accurately report the details of what this person is capable of? Unlikely. “Eyewitness accounts” and fear-mongering are more likely than a factual, academic discussion of the superhuman’s powers. By the time these processes work to their conclusions, a person who could only read minds with that person’s permission would be feared for invading people’s minds and forcing them to do things. A kid with mild pyrokinesis would be labeled the “Human Inferno” and be the first suspect for any suspected arson.
Making snap judgments and treating stereotypes as fact are behaviors found across human history, and it wouldn’t take long for a set of assumptions about the superhuman to become cultural facts. Cultural facts are beliefs/assumptions that members of a culture by and large hold to be absolute facts, even if objective observations prove these assumptions false. I would argue, “America is the Best Country on Earth” is a cultural fact. Though it can be proved that other countries do numerous things better than we do (health care, education, standard of living, and more), how many Americans don’t think this is the best country on Earth? Another example of a cultural fact would be WWII era Japan, where the Emperor was the direct descendent of Amaterasu, the sun kami, and there was no doubting it. There’s little one superhuman could do to defend against a sea of popular belief about what they’re capable of. I’m sure most of you have heard someone espouse a racial/religious stereotype and talk about how they acted because of that “fact” sometime in your lives, and that’s just what people would be doing here.
So, prepare to be feared and misunderstood. Prepare to have public opinion of you shift forty times a day. Be prepared to be called a savior or anti-Christ by religious extremists. And, if you should ever lose control of your powers or even once use them in anger, be prepared to be a social pariah, and public enemy number one. Ever seen the movie Hancock? The level of animosity shown to him in that movie, the media reactions, and the fickleness of public opinion all seem pretty much in line with my expectations.
Those who don’t fear you will want to use you. The scientific and medical communities are likely to be fascinated by this development, and want to study you, with (or maybe without) your permission. As we’ve seen in numerous movies, the military would probably want to see the military effectiveness of your powers, and if they could be duplicated. The government has considered themselves above the law and disregarded human rights before, so if I was the superhuman, I would not feel safe from someone trying to take me in “for science,” especially if the general public is wary of me.
Another problem I could foresee is the threat of blackmail from gangs or larger criminal enterprises. You may be superhuman, but your friends and family aren’t. Do you think you could stop a determined group of people from kidnapping and torturing your friends and family to coerce you into doing work for them? Will law enforcement help? Would you try to break them out? Do what they ask?
Oh yes, my expectations for the life on the One And Only superhuman are quite dark. If you want to know if you’d have the constitution to live in society and the only one of your kind like this, find a group of people who hate you for what you are, and spend as much time as you can with them. If you’re black, hang out with a KKK group; if you’re Jewish, find a group of anti-Semites to hang out with. Homosexual? There are a lot of Christian Right groups to go to where you can bask in ignorance and hate. If you can endure this, you would do alright as a superhuman.
So, what’s my best advice to anyone who should suddenly wake up with superpowers? Tell nobody. Show nobody. Keep it your secret, and be ready to remove yourself from society and live the life of a nomad/hermit if social currents should turn against you.
TOMORROW: Part II: The New Minority – What would society look like if there are enough superhumans to form their own distinct minority group?