Gather ‘Round, Padawans: Just Say No to a Philip K. Dick Worst-Case Scenario

Reading Time: 6 minutes
c. Marvel Comics 2016
c. Marvel Comics 2016

I think I’ve established at this point that there’s a lot to be learned from comics and plenty that can be taught using them as a jumping-off point. They remind us to examine ourselves, our society, our culture, the ways in which we instruct our children. It was impressed upon me anew, however, by this month’s Sam Wilson: Captain America how predictive comics can be. The Civil War II storyline was doubtlessly conceived of months, if not years, ago and individual issues of big titles like Captain America sent to print long before current events played out in gruesome reflection.

Knowing the above, the central discussion in Sam Cap #11, and ultimately the side Sam chooses in this second Civil War, is eerily prescient: Will he throw in with Captain Marvel, who insists the Inhuman Ulysses can see the is future? Or will Sam ally himself with Stark who, ever the scientist, explains Ulysses’ ability as an algorithm based on probability and risk assessment, statistical averages, “background markers, social media posts, race, religion… anything,” a highly evolved biological computer rather than an oracle.

After listening to both of the major players–mid-battle, of course, because how else would a comic character have a portentous discussion–Sam reaches his own conclusions regarding the nature of the Inhuman’s special skill. It is, in a word:

c. Marvel Comics 2016
c. Marvel Comics 2016

Profiling isn’t new. It’s been going on since time immemorial. As long as there’s been immigration, difference, other, humans have feared and sought to isolate it. And it’s been stupid as long as we’ve been doing it because people, while influenced by culture and by race and religion, are individuals. We are more than the sum of our parts, and to lump people together and extrapolate behavior from the sum total and law of eminently alterable mathematics is asinine. We are neither that reliable nor that predictable and we have personalities and brains and read and watch and absorb nuance from any number of sources.

Carol is asking Sam to endorse a Philip K. Dick worst-case scenario, a nightmare wherein people are tried and convicted not even for what they’re thinking about doing, but for what they’re thinking, full stop, and the statistical probability of their moving forward based on where they come from and what they look like.

Pain might be avoided. Death. Property damage. Perhaps even the apocalypse. From a certain point of view, from Carol’s point of view, she as a hero is obligated to act on the information Ulysses is feeding her because it’s the right thing to do. I can’t fault her for that view; if I could prevent my children from every experiencing hurt or pain or upset, I would risk a lot to make it so. Carol’s entire purpose for being has been to protect humanity from cosmic-level threats. She has shaped her identity with that purpose as a foundation. She’s lost friends doing so, she’s lost her significant other, but she’s persisted because the good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one, even if that one is someone she loves–even if it’s herself.

She is trying, desperately, to do the right thing.

But is her right just?

c. Marvel Comics 2016
c. Marvel Comics 2016

That’s another question entirely.

Some Muslims are fundamentalists. So are some Jews and a good number of Christians. To hate, or even be suspicious of, your neighbors from Lybia because they happen to share a religion and language with a proportionally tiny group of nut jobs from Iran is asinine. It’s racist, xenophobic, irrational, and a whole lot of other things we should be past in our development as a civilization at this point. So many people, however, do just that while, in contrast, fail to do the same with Christian or Jewish fundamentalists? Why is that? Because some (certainly not all, but a greater section of the total than is likely with Christians or Jews) Muslims are identifiable by the language they speak and the clothing they wear. By the darker cast of their skin and hair. By the same token, the majority of Americans assume anyone wearing a turban is Muslim, which is patently untrue: Sikhs keep their heads covered, as do some Baha’i, and a great number of other people. But the instinct is to lump ALL THE SIMILAR THINGS into a group, to file that group as “other,” and to mistrust it inherently.

In truth, very few of the individuals who make up the world Muslim population are fundamentalist. But we don’t often tout the good in our society, do we? The news loves sensation and tragedy because it brings them eyes and ratings and so they continue to feed us horrible exceptions and those who don’t, or can’t, make the effort to educate themselves, fall into the trap of believing that what CNN and Fox show us is an efficient summary of the truth. There are no more people of color who are “criminals,” but they are visibly apart and that makes their stories easy to exploit, gives fallacious assumptions a landing spot.

We were all reminded of this, of how prevalent profiling still is in our society when, last week when the lives of two black men were taken in tragic circumstances, followed by a massacre of police officers. Alton Sterling, according to the reports I have read–and I’ve tried to delve into diverse sources and get as complete of a picture as I can–was shot because someone called a robbery into the police and the responding officers assumed that Sterling was the subject in question. They also detained that Muslim clerk of the shop that had been robbed and confiscated his security footage without a warrant. Philando Castile announced to the police who initiated his traffic stop that he was legally licensed to carry a gun and that he was armed; he was shot while complying with the police request to produce identification because he fit certain officers’ mental profile of a cop-killer. The officers who were shot in Houston were, in turn, murdered because they were easily identifiable as being dressed in a particular uniform, not because they, specifically, had committed racist acts–they were representatives of a decent whole soured by a small proportion of tragically biased few.

In each case, an unjust profile led to death.

Are Carol Danver’s motives pure? I think so.

But is achieving them worth utilizing an unjust means?

Absolutely not.

Not if Ulysses’ power is, as Tony believes, the compilation of highly detailed profiles. Or even if the Inhuman is truly seeing future because as we all know, the tiniest of actions can change the course of history and, thus, the course of prophecy. The promise of salvation is not worth the death of justice. Not in a society that has fought wars in the name of a blindfolded metaphor for impartiality.

 

c. Marvel Comics 2016
c. Marvel Comics 2016

We have to risk Thanos. We have to risk Thanos and Doom and the Skrulls because to do anything else is to be certain that lives will be destroyed, or even ended, unjustly.

And, as much as humanity is wired for a group dynamic, we cannot follow blindly. We can belong and still be our best selves. If you care about the communities you’re part of, it’s your duty to speak out when you see them heading down a path that may lead to profiling others, to justice for few instead of for all.

So, as much as it galls me, I’m going to have to go with Stark on this one. I stand with Sam to say: “This may be right motivation, but it isn’t right action. It isn’t justice.”

The future is unknowable until it becomes the present. A man cannot be judged by the color of his skin (or how a woman chooses to cover her head or what language someone speaks) but by the content of character. Not by what someone who may have the same skin tone does, not by what he thinks, but by how. He. Acts. And he cannot be convicted before he does wrong, and, if he does wrong, he must be convicted no matter what color his skin, how she chooses to cover her head, or what language she speaks. Not by Ulysses, not by Captain Marvel, and not by any of us mere human beings.