Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The duty of the weak

Just finished watching Heroman, Stan Lee's vehicle for joyously celebrating a host of cliches, many of which he both invented and rendered cliche.

At the beginning (well, after a little bit of establishing that our protagonist suffers from the appropriate degree of youthful angst) aliens invade Los Angeles and cause a large amount of destruction. The US military, obviously, is on the scene in short order, but no amount of conventional weaponry- spec ops, tanks, or airplanes- has any effect on even the weakest alien foot soldier. The nuclear option is mulled, but in the end only the powers of our teenaged protagonist and the titular Heroman are either capable or necessary to save the day a few episodes later.

Then, after some intervening action, the aliens invade Washington, DC, apparently oblivious to how much better off our country would be without it. And we see that, even though twenty episodes and about a year have passed in which tanks and machine guns were proven completely ineffective, conventional weaponry is again employed and quickly destroyed until Heroman can pop along and save the day.

Now, I am not here to criticize that first decision to deploy troops to LA, since it was at that point a wholly unknown and obviously aggressive threat. Nor, perhaps, can we criticize conventional troop deployments in the smaller skirmishes right afterwards. But at some point, a point long since reached by the invasion of Washington, it has become abundantly clear to the thickest of politicians, bureaucrats, and officers that conventional weaponry is useless and that conventional attacks are suicide.

And there you are, a tank crewman on DuPont circle, as the aliens prance down the street, knowing with absolute narratively ordained certainty that there is not shit you can do with that tank to improve anyone's situation (all the civilians were evacuated) and that the one and only thing on the entire planet that can do anything against the threat is working at full bore on the other side of town. What moral obligation do you have to continue putting up the pretense of resistance? If we ascribe intrinsic value to every human life, is standing there like an idiot blasting away with your nerf darts not, on net, an evil act when accounting for the greatly increased risk of Redshirt Off-screen Death Syndrome?

Of course, the word impossible is nearly always nothing more than a failure of imagination. You have to get pretty creative to even imagine a situation in which nothing you do can have any impact at all, but what if we weaken the conditions a little bit. Suppose I am a citizen of Texas (not much of a stretch) and I have political opinions (still not straining ourselves over here). No matter how much I wish to exercise my political voice, there is not one single thing (nor any collection of things) that I can do to affect the outcomes of state level or higher races.

My vote will not matter, because even in the hypothetical of major race being one vote off the whole process will fall into a recount and then to the courts because the error bars on a statewide election are well into the hundreds, if not the thousands of votes. If any part of the process even began to threaten to allow my vote to count, it would be taken out of the hands of voters and placed in the courts to be decided by a judge.

My money won't matter because spending is generally capped, and even if I went in with all my own money as independent expenditure I haven't got and won't get anything close to what would be needed, and even if I did, money is just a subset of voice.

My voice won't matter firstly because I can't speak loudly enough. Even if I devoted my entire life to becoming wealthy enough to buy a voice (for which I lack the skill and drive) or to becoming influential enough to be a major media personality (for which I lack charisma, or even basic social skills, and drive) and ended up as the most watched media personality in the state, I still wouldn't have much push on an electorate that sees politics as a team sport more than a method of governance. Remember Dan Rather? I sure didn't, and had to google some indirect search terms to find his name. The people who already agree with whatever impassioned nonsense I have for them will continue to agree, and the people who disagree will continue to disagree.

What, then, am I to do? What, then, is our beleaguered tank driver to do? Do either of us owe a moral duty to take the stand and fight the unwinnable* fight, putting our time, emotions, and possibly even lives (in the latter, not the former case) on the line for a hopeless cause? When other children had their firefighter phase, I had a Don Quixote phase, so this conclusion saddens me doubly, but no, this sort of fight is neither wise nor moral. That tank driver needs to turn the fuck around and hope that those with the power can avert disaster. Most opinionated people need to calm down and shut up. There are fights that can be won, such as battles for self-improvement and struggles to raise a family, and there are things that are not battles on which those efforts can be expended, like comfort, entertainment, and exploration.

And even if Heroman fails to save the world and we are dominated for all eternity by evil alien overlords, that isn't a reason for us to direct any sadness at ourselves or at other similarly powerless mortals. The world is big, the universe is even bigger, and no one is guaranteed a hero or a happy ending. The only moral thing to do once a futile battle is identified is to walk away, ignore it, and focus on the good things in life.

*Google's spellcheck dictionary does not even recognize the word unwinnable, which perhaps offers a different perspective on the subject.

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