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Is Superman Having an Alternate Identity Ethical?

Updated on January 7, 2015
Every second of Superman's time is valuable. CC BY 2.0
Every second of Superman's time is valuable. CC BY 2.0 | Source

Superman - Background

Superman is one of the most known superheroes on the planet. He's the last son of the alien planet Krypton blessed with god-like power from the affects of our yellow Sun on his body. He's able to do nearly anything with super strength, invulnerability, and a myriad of other powers. When he crashed onto our planet, he was raised by normal farmers to be a moral person.

Superman uses his powers to help people all over the world, saving the Earth numerous times, when he isn't living as Clark Kent. As Clark Kent, he is a mild mannered reporter who is often missing when serious trouble happens.


In the United States alone in 2011, there were 39,000 suicides and 17,000 homicides. In 2013, there were 1,240,000 fires reported in the United States. These fires caused 3,240 civilian deaths and 15,925 civilian injuries. The list of preventable deaths and injuries could go on ad naseum. This could consider the entire world over, including natural and man made disasters.

As Superman, countless lives are saved under his watch, the course of tsunamis are diverted, and supplies are transported to the needy. The fictional world that Superman protects is a better place because of him. However, for every moment that Superman spends as Clark Kent walking at a normal human pace, waiting for the subway to go to work, and generally putting up with peoples' dumb crap, there is someone in need whom Superman is not there to save.

Superman was raised as a normal boy for most of his childhood. His powers didn't start to develop until his teenage years, so he feels that he needs this time as a regular person to really be himself. In some ways, he can only be parts of himself as Superman, and in others, he can only be himself as Clark.

Should we ask Superman not to be Clark?

How many more lives could be saved with the time that he spends on these normal pursuits?

The average, full-time American job is 40 hours per week. There are 52 weeks in a year. Let's say we only work 48 weeks to cover holidays and vacation. That means that the average American works 1,920 hours per year. Let's say that Superman is extremely efficient at his job, and only has to attend mandatory meetings, make appearances, etc. and still only works an average of 4 hours per day. That means he works 960 hours per year.

Should we list the things Superman could do in one hour? Could we? Suffice it to say, this would probably equate to trillions of dollars in humanitarian aid and incalculable human lives saved. In Superman's super wisdom, he must see that it's wrong to live as a normal human given all the good he can do.

CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

"It's just a comic book."

Superman was here before you. Superman will be here after you. He's touched more lives than yours ever will!

Now that we know this is a worthy pursuit, we can look at the implication this has for us.The issue we have is that Superman could easily do more good but chooses to spend his energy in personal and seemingly trivial things. You might think that you would be a better hero given his abilities (I hope so), but what can you do now?

Well, the philosopher Peter Singer is an ethicist who succinctly describes the intuition that many of us have when put into this kind of context, "...if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it."

If you see someone unconscious in the middle of the road and a car is speeding down the road at this person, if you have sufficient time to move the person, it's a moral obligation to do so. The issue for Superman is that the road he's near is the planet Earth and the person is all life on this planet.

The common intuition is that not moving that person and then the car crushing the person to death is morally wrong on your part. You could have easily saved them with a little effort. Peter Singer also asks why does this change when the person is 3 meters away versus 300 kilometers? Right now, every 60 seconds a child in Africa dies from Malaria. The data shows that if we send families nets to cover them and keep mosquitoes out while they sleep at night, they will use them, saving lives for dollars at a time. How many of us could spare a few pounds even just once and save a life?

I don't want to say you're just like Superman being Clark Kent when you spend money on needless things, because Superman actually saves countless lives. You probably need to unburden your parents and move out. Your cats and dogs don't need wet food every damn day. Spending $5 less on kibble for one month could save a child's life.

Superman is a global force. CC BY-ND 2.0
Superman is a global force. CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

To see what life would be like under King Superman's rule, check out these great books!

So Superman is a bad guy?

Lord Acton said "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Who is more powerful than Superman? Flying above the stratosphere and seeing all the destruction humans bring to each other can easily lead someone with Superman's abilities to feel like the only way to save everyone is to take control. Who wouldn't want to end pointless wars if all it meant was forcing the leaders to back down.

The moment Superman forgets what it's like to be a weak human is the moment he becomes a totalitarian dictator. He becomes a force of oppression and invasion. I'm not sure that I would reject Superman's world, but the level of restriction of freedom it takes to ensure that everyone is safe and cared for can become an evil unto itself.

Superman needs to know what it's like to be a normal person. He needs to keep that human part of himself that his parents imbued in him, or he will become corrupt. There is also the question of whether it's fair to ask someone to sacrifice their life in the service of others. This goes back to Singer's statement of morally comparable actions. Maybe the amount of good that can be done doesn't justify sacrificing one's life. (*Note: This doesn't apply to donating a few dollars.)

So Superman is a great guy?

Well, dear reader, you may say, "but what about all the Kryptonian technology that Superman could share with the world and infinitely increase the quality of our daily lives, including medical technology, economic stability, and climate control?"

As an alien, Superman's presence is unnatural. He can only interfere so much before he's releasing a Pandora's box on a burgeoning species.

"But he already interferes all the time by saving the Earth and humans all the time. He isn't even hiding that much. He could just release the medical technology and save all these people like he does with his bare hands. He could just advance science by letting us study-"

Shut up! Just, shut up! Superman is a great dude!

If you had Superman's powers, would you be

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© 2015 Elliott Ploutz


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