An open discussion of moral heuristics and why killing Superman never works.
Some years back, I learned about a Pentagon project to implant devices into shark brains so they could be remote-controlled for military purposes. I could not understand how they could keep this project staffed, because it seemed intuitively obvious to me that scientists would quit the project as soon as they noticed they were making mind-controlled cyborg sharks. Because if you show up to work and you’re making mind-controlled cyborg sharks, you are a supervillain. That is diagnostic.
The above is an example of a moral heuristic, which is a rule of thumb that allows one to establish a principle regardless of circumstantial justification. I’m quite certain that there were perfectly good and logical reasons why the DoD felt it needed mind-controlled cyborg sharks. I bet there was, like, a really good Powerpoint presentation about how making mind-controlled cyborg sharks was reasonable, prudent, and necessary. Doesn’t matter. If you are making mind-controlled cyborg sharks, you are not the good guy.
Heuristics are, among other things, how we work around the problem that everyone always thinks they’re the hero of their own movie. They provide a quick outside check that allows you to determine the answer to one of the most important questions in life: “Are we the baddies?”
So real quick, let’s make a list of some of the rules of thumb that are useful to keep from being, y’know, horribly evil. The little tripwires that let you know to stop what you’re doing and seriously reevaluate it, no matter how good an idea it seems like. Maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that your reasons are good enough after all, but these are the red flags that suggest it’s time to stop and check your math.
If you’re saying “And there’ll be no one to stop us this time”, STOP.
If you’re saying “I’m not racist, but–“, STOP.
If you’re worried Captain America might find out what you’re doing, STOP.
If you’re explaining how it’s not bullying because of various reasons, STOP.
If any step of your plan is labeled “Kill Superman”, STOP. (Your plan is evil and also bad. Killing Superman never works.)
If your favorite part of the plan is how much you’ll enjoy seeing that bastard suffering like he deserves, STOP.
What are some more?
Image owned by Marvel Comics, presented under fair use. If you find yourself talking like Doctor Doom, STOP.