Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Power Corrupts, Super Powers Corrupt Superbly

It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least by my wife) that I’m an enormous geek.  Aside from the roleplaying games that I’ve already mentioned, I quite like comics.  I get most (but by no means all) of the sly references that are put into the current flood of superhero films, harking back to the comics (the original Human Torch in the first Captain America film anyone?) for people like me and even worse than me.  By some standards, my comic book knowledge is pale and shallow, and I can only bow to the encyclopaedic knowledge of others, and their dedication to the art form.  However, mine is certainly better than the layman’s.

Not all comics are about superheroes, but they are the best known.  Everyone’s familiar with the tropes involved; of (usually) ordinary people gaining, one way or another, amazing abilities which they choose to use for good, saving lives and fighting crime, protecting the world from a seemingly relentless stream of international, interstellar, intergalactic and inter-dimensional threats.  Opposed to them are the super-villains, also usually normal people in possession of super powers, but for reasons of their own have used them for evil or selfish ends, and who are reliably thwarted before the end of the comic/film.  Related to these are the wizards of fantasy and the Jedi of Star Wars, people with super-human powers, who have the choice to use them for good or evil.

And like most boys, I would dream about having amazing powers and doing all the usual super-heroic stuff with them.  However, as I grow older I am becoming increasingly grumpy.  The other night, we watched the 2003 Hulk film directed by Ang Lee, which gained a lot of deservedly negative reviews.  All I can say is that if you’re considering watching it, get the 2008 one instead.  It’s much better.  As you are no doubt aware, the premise of the Hulk is that a mild-mannered scientist becomes an enormous, incredibly strong and near-invulnerable green monster when he becomes angry, and goes on violent rampages, but often ends up using his strength and invincibility to fight evil.

I can empathise.  I wouldn’t want to become a giant green monster you understand; it seems a bit showy.  However, I do occasionally wish that I had laser beam eyes, a la Superman or Cyclops, or force lightning or the ability to create and control fire.  Even telekinesis or telepathy would be good.

However, I cannot guarantee that I’d use it solely for good.  I’d like to think that overall I’d come down more heavily on the ‘Hero’ side than the ‘Villain’, but there are some things that demand the judicious application of laser death vision.  People who allow their dogs to foul in public and don’t clean it up; people who smoke in bus shelters; people who don’t thank you, or even look at you, when you step out of their way; people who push into queues; people who sit behind you on the bus chatting loudly into their mobile phone for the entire forty minute bus trip, apparently without the need to inhale; people who write intermittent blogs without any clear focus or subject, and people who disagree with me on any given subject.  The list goes on.  These deserving recipients of instantaneous ocular immolation would be reduced to ash faster than you can say ZAP!!!

And herein lies the problem.  If I did have such powers, then every single day that I hadn’t had enough sleep, or enough to eat, or I was too hot, or things were working out exactly as I think they should, the population of the Earth would fall significantly.  This isn’t a case of power corrupting, merely allowing me to do what I would already like. Does this make me a bad person.  Well, yes.  Yes it does.

We’re told to judge not, but I can only refer you to the list above and ask what sort of chance I have?  Happily, the closest thing (as far as I'm concerned anyway) to super powers that anyone's had to deal with have been in the hands of someone rather more likely to use them for the best.  The statistically small number of lightning strikes each year is a testament to God’s comparative forbearance.  The fact that Jesus restricted his laser death vision to a single fig tree is practically proof of His divinity.  If it had been me, Israel would have been adrift in Pharisaical cinders and toasted money lenders.  Sodom and Gomorrah would have had nothing on the work I’d make of Milton Keynes shopping centre on a pre-Christmas Saturday.

So we can all be glad that I don’t have super powers.  I struggle to use the mundane abilities I do have in the way I know they ought to be, and I am more than happy to leave the super powers to a being who has and does make better use of them than I would.

To quote the Gospel of Stan Lee, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 
Happily, I lack the former, and so I’m spared the weight of the latter.


  1. That poor fig tree! I maintain Jesus was a complete arse on that occasion. Having a hissy fit because a poor fig tree doesn't happen to be producing fruit *out of season* is pretty daft. Major abuse of power right there... Maybe it's meant to encourage us with the thought that even Jesus was subject to human impulses.

  2. (And really poor impulse control)

  3. Lightning strikes roughly 100 times per second world wide, apparently.

    I'll have your share of super powers if you don't want them. I don't have your scruples.

    1. I meant the statistically small number of lightning strikes that actually hit people. Sorry, it wasn't that clear in the post. If lightning strikes 100 times per second, the fact that the entire human race aren't soot and smoking shoes by now just goes to prove my point!

  4. I was reading something about that fig tree the other day. Something about it being a metaphor for the destruction of the region by the Romans in the later revolt, I think.