So far all of our scenarios have involved situations in which, for one reason or another, the state fails to enforce the laws it is expected to enforce or the political will to pass the laws which require enforcing. But for most of us living in America, we don’t have that problem. For the most part, we have good laws on the books, and for the most part, those laws are enforced with justice and compassion.
So what should you and I, superhero, do when we encounter vice and villainy in such a scenario? Leap into action? Find a phone booth? Pull on our high heel boots (that’s right, you ladies out there deserve recognition for those costumes)?
Let’s take a low-grade and plausible situation to test this out. You are driving down the street and hear an Amber Alert announcing the kidnapping of a child and the license plate of the kidnapper’s car. Out of simple concern, you check the license plate of the next car that drives by, and its the kidnapper’s car! And there’s a small child in the car, too! Assuming you have a cell phone, you logically have an ethical duty to call the police, describe the car, and follow the kidnapper giving periodic updates.
Now, let’s say the car you are following pulls into a parking spot and the driver goes inside a building with the child. Would it be ethical to pull your car up behind the car you’ve been following, get out of your car, and walk away in order to keep the kidnapper in one place? This is the least violent action I can think of to perform, and yet if you have faith in the police to respond to the kidnapping, it still seems excessive. Given that your action may result in harm to the child, yourself, or even the kidnapper, there seems no excuse to utilize vigilante violence in such a situation. Its still better to wait for the police before using any violence at all.
But herein lies the problem: if you are equally capable of enforcing the law as the authorities, you shouldn’t do it. Now, if the police were delayed or couldn’t come, that’s an entirely different story. But if you have any faith at all in the police to apprehend the villain, then you shouldn’t. Every hero I can think of uses their powers ethically because they are more effective than the police at dealing with the situation. Thus, in a scenario in which the state has enacted good laws and enforces them, it is unethical to use vigilante action. Vigilantism requires a situation in which a critical law is missing, evil, or not enforced. Once the state is appropriately dealing with evil, a vigilante should retire.
So, superheroes, as you look for ways to save the world, remember that before you throw that first punch, you need to ask if the police aren’t better equipped and able to do so. If they are, stop. You’re about to commit evil.
Coming soon on this blog: how to be a real life super villain, whether a hero should work for the government, and more! Stay tuned!