Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Philosophical X-Men

I saw the new X-Men III with my family yesterday. It was entertaining, but that’s about it. However, I did end up in a big argument with my sister about the purpose and limits of governmental authority, and the value of self-expression. (The appeal of comic-book universes is that they often flesh out scenarios of conflict between principles that couldn’t clash so severely in real life.)

More General X-Men Background: This all takes place in a universe wherein people have this gene, “Mutant X”, which is expressed in some of them and gives them mutant powers of differing kinds and degrees. The more powerful mutants have abilities that render them more powerful than a conventional army.

More Local X-Men III Background: In this movie, thanks to a mutant with the power to take away the expression of “Mutant X” in others, a pharmaceutical company has claimed to develop a ‘cure’ which will permanently (and otherwise harmlessly) transform a mutant into a non-mutant.

So the question: Would it be best for the world if such a ‘cure’ were administered on a large scale?

Of course, in the movie there’s a great deal of fear and prejudice towards mutants as being ‘diseased’. But that’s only the straw man to the thoughtful argument in favor of the cure. The President is speaking with Beast (that most intellectual blue-furred mutant) about the situation, and he raises the point that there can be no safety when one man can move a city.

I’m not a Hobbesian by any stretch, but it’s certainly true that the strength of the State needs to surpass the strength of any private entity within it, otherwise the State exists only at the whim of that private entity. In the world of X-Men, we see that the government is mostly powerless to protect its citizens from assaults by Magneto and his forces, and must depend on the goodwill of this private team of mutants to stop him.

The other side, of course, is that forcibly administering the cure to all mutants would be a drastic imposition, and would take away a dimension of innate uniqueness and self-expression from all mutants, regardless of their conduct or character. For this reason (and not a little because we have come to care about these particular mutants), the film’s heart is against the involuntary administration of the cure.

But as I see the film (hundreds of ordinary people die at the hands of mutants who fight the existence of a cure, and hundreds more simply because of the mental illness of a powerful character), if we are talking about human dignity, the right of all to live in peace ought to precede the right of the mutants to their uniqueness and self-expression. Otherwise, we might conclude that the mutants are “superhuman” in a way that makes their lives worth more than the non-mutants. I find this more repellent to human dignity than the other.

What do you think? Am I tyrannical for this? Are there aspects I’m missing?

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