Vigilante Scenario #2- The State has failed to enact certain good laws.

Greetings fellow super-chums!


I apologize for the long delay between posts.  There have been a number of situations recently in which it has been more heroic to do other things than write this blog.

Like meeting Stan Lee. Sorry, I couldn't resist.....

Now that those challenges have subsided, I hope to commit to writing a little more often.  But as superheroes, we all know that if trouble arises, we have to drop whatever we’re doing and respond to the call.  I know you guys understand.

Of course, sometimes you can't procrastinate too long


Anyways, we were discussing situations in which it’s ethically acceptable to be a vigilante.  Last post, we discussed situations in which the state has good laws, but fails to enforce them.  But what happens when the problem isn’t the enforcement but the laws themselves?  What happens if there are good laws that need to be passed, but aren’t?

5 seconds later, that kid was in the stratosphere

Between a state enacting good laws and a state enacting bad laws, there exists a point at which the state doesn’t do enough.  Imagine, for example, the fight of the Civil Rights movement, in which the fight was not against a national law but rather for a law which guaranteed voting and societal rights for a class of people.  Or imagine a state which looks the other way or passes overly light sentences for major crimes, such as refusing to punish murders or punishing murder through a mere month in jail.  In these cases, can a vigilante step up to provide care and protect to a vulnerable part of society while possibly even controlling rouge elements of their unregulated group?  Thankfully, there is a supergroup that provides an ethical base to start our investigation!

Not quite, but somewhat relavant in the current discussion...

The X-Men are a team of mutant humans who exist in a world in which the role of mutants has not been properly legislated by the governments of the United States or the rest world for that matter.  Each one has a mutant power, such as the ability to shoot lasers from his eyes or the power to control weather.  The X-Men walk a very difficult ethical line: they have to fight both efforts by the government of the United States to register and police them as well as efforts by rogue mutants to subjugate the human population.  The X-Men attempt to bring rights to the mutant population while at the same time preserving the rights of the human population.

The original vision of the X-Men was that they “defend both mutants and humans in order to show humans that there are good mutants as well as bad.”[1]  Their eventual hope was that mutants and humans would live in peace and without fear in order that both could achieve their full potential.  Certainly this represents one possible way for a minority seeking to gain rights to act.  For example, in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, organizations such as SNCC both resisted oppression while at the same time organizing local black sharecroppers into credit unions and other projects to alleviate their own poverty without relying on outside help.  Likewise, Caesar Chavez prevented employers from hiring illegal immigrants to break strikes by setting up a “wet line” to block illegal immigrants from crossing the US-Mexico border.  In both cases, the minorities independently acted to enable their own populations while simultaneously fighting on a broad political front for essential rights.  The message is the same: we take care of ourselves, we can take care of society, and we deserve the rights afforded the rest of the population.  This probably represents the best ethical action under the circumstances based on our criteria of inspiring further heroic behavior; this option not only inspires the minority but also inspires all people with their example.  Thus, when we look to the X-Men, we see them carrying out the most ethical action they can: policing their own minority while fighting against immoral attacks on their and others’ life, liberty, and property.

This image is not as insulting as it looks at first glance

The X-Men’s mission changed in early 2006 when an out of control mutant with the power to change reality uttered the phrase “no more mutants.”[2]Afterwards, mutants went from an oppressed minority to an endangered species.  The goal of achieving recognition as viable members of society means little when the totally number of mutants all around the world dropped from nearly a million to somewhere around 200.  The X-Men’s new mission became survival, which is an entirely different subject of ethics.

That gives us an excellent base to determine how we should act in the absence of appropriate laws.  But what should we do when there are laws on the books, but they are not only bad but evil?  What do we do when the laws are the enemy?  For that, stay tuned for the next exciting and upcoming Ethics of Superheroes!

[1] Ed Brubaker, “X-Men: Messiah Complex Chapter 1.”

[2] Bendis, House of M #7, 40.

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