Sunday, May 2, 2010

Iron Man, James Madison, Prometheus, and Us

I recently picked up a copy of Iron Man and Philosophy.  One of the articles "Did Iron Man Kill Captain America" by Mark D. White recounts Iron Man's efforts to implement the Superhuman Registration Act, build a prison in the Negative Zone to house superheroes who refuse to register, and institute a Fifty State Initiative to give each state its own team of superheroes.  (I have no idea which heroes would be assigned to South Dakota.) In short, Iron Man was expanding the role of government, but he was doing it to provide for public safety.  Given that he built a prison in some alternate dimension, Iron Man's actions can be seen to be similar to building a supermax prison or instituting a national ID card.

Tony Stark, Iron Man's alter ego, may be a scientific genius, but he apparently forgot James Madison's injunction from The Federalist 51: 
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
 Perhaps some members of the superhero community need to be controlled; they have caused damage and civilian deaths.  Stark did set up a government to control the governed; he did not, however, oblige his creation to control itself.  Stark eventually lost his position to Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, a member of Spider-Man's rogues gallery.  It's difficult to see how the Americans of Stark's world are better off than they were before his foray into prison building and registration.

Stark claims to be a futurist.  He seemingly is like Prometheus, the Titan who gave humans fire.  Prometheus could see the future and warn Zeus that Thetis, a minor goddess Zeus wanted to bed, was destined to bear a son greater than his father.  The Titan, however, could not that giving humanity fire would result in his being chained to a mountain and having an eagle devour his liver.

In my mind, the superhero, mythological deity, and American founder are all making me wonder about many of the loud voices who fear the new health care but who support enhanced surveillance to protect citizens from terrorism or who want to build a fence to keep out illegal aliens. 

The national health care bill may turn out to be a disaster because it will mushroom out of control like the opponents fear.  If, as these prognosticators fear, this mushrooming is a natural result of government, what's to keep the government from turning the surveillance against innocent citizens or using the fence to keep citizens in instead of keeping illegal immigrants out? 

The fear about government seems to be selective and incoherently applied.  The same people who say bank reform will destroy the country often claim building more prisons and increasing the number of crimes that can be called terrorist acts will make citizens safer.  Six banks now have assets equal to 63% of GDP.  Shouldn't that fact scare one as much as a threat posed by a car bomb in Times Square?

Mythological deities and superheroes are imperfect futurists, and we mere mortals are not angels.  Everyone, therefore, should listen to Madison.  Iron Man and Prometheus show what can happen if we don't.

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