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Why You Wouldn't Want to Live in a World With Superheroes
Sure Superman looks cook but how many people died?
What super power would you want?
What super power would you want? It's a popular (although to some, geeky) question. If “And why?” is added it can even give some insight into the psychology of the person you're asking. It's often depicted as being reduced to a binary choice like “Flight or invisibility.” When presented as a binary choice the powers presented may say as much about the questioner as the answer says about the responder. A question less often asked is “Would you really want to live in a world where comic book powers were real?” While it might be fun to imagine being the superhero (or villain) if such powers existed most of us would most likely not be the ones with powers. Would you really want to be one of the masses of innocent bystanders in a world where titans battled?
What would real supers do?
The idea that super-humans would be divided strictly into heroes (who act out of pure altruism with no recompense) and villains (who want money or are criminally insane) is unrealistic. Not everyone has the temperament to spend time saving lives and stopping crimes but that doesn't make crime their only other option. There are plenty of ways a person with super powers could make a living from their powers legally (the special effects and construction industries would benefit tremendously for example). Unfortunately, there are also plenty of reasons, ranging for desperate need for quick cash to radical ideology, for a superhuman to turn criminal. Although there would also be some people with powers who would want to be helpful (just as ordinary people become emergency responders) it's unlikely they would be permitted to do so outside official channels. Governmental agencies would have a legitimate interest in making sure superhuman responders were properly trained and their activities were coordinated with more conventional authorities. Baring a comic book style evil governmental conspiracy there aren't really any legitimate reasons for an altruistic superhuman not to work with the authorities.
How many civilians died?
Regardless of whether superheroes are working for the government or not, a world where these beings battle isn't going to be a safe place. Look at the collateral damage depicted in superhero movies like the Avengers or Man of Steel. Though the films never dwell on it, such incidents would result in thousands or even tens of thousands dead or injured. In the comics, with their need to reflect the real world, such devastation either happens in fictional cities like Metropolis or requires absurdly efficient clean up crews like Marvel's “Damage Control.” Fortunately, even in the comics, such high level devastation isn't an everyday occurrence. On the other hand a simple bank robbery involving super powered combatants is generally shown to depict horrific property damage at the very least. While a real world superhero would be hoped to actively avoid collateral damage their enemies might not. Considering what real world terrorists have accomplished with box cutters on September 11, 2001 the concept of superhuman terrorists should seem even more horrific. Unlike the comics and movies where the good guys always win eventually, heroes in the real world have no such assurances.
They want this in the real world what would they be after if superheroes existed
If superhuman powers were real they would interest the militaries of the world. There are already efforts underway to create the real world equivalent of Iron Man's armor. If other powers actually existed, most militaries would be looking for ways to duplicate them and recruit those with them. Many totalitarian regimes might wish to conscript superhumans into their service. This could lead to a severely unstable political situation. However richly they might reward their super conscripts service there will eventually be some who don't want to serve. Worse, some might decide that they should be in charge and have the power, individually or collectively, to make it happen. While super powered dictators make fine comic book villains their nations are not places most of us would want to live. Furthermore there is no guarantee that superhuman coup would be confined to tyranical nations. No matter how popular an elected leader is, someone is going to be dissatisfied. Would a world with superhumans have leaders who pandered to the most powerful supers as they do to campaign contributors in our world? It might be the only way for politicians to stay in office.
Who could you trust?
Powers that could change the world
Perhaps far more dangerous that the potential devastation that could be done to society by superhumans that can take on armies is the insidious effect of more subtle abilities. If beings who could control minds existed who would be safe? Any criminal would have an almost perfect defense. After all how do you prove someones mind wasn't being controlled? Could any contracts be enforced if someone could claim, “I was mind controlled into signing?” Could any photographic evidence or eyewitness testimony be believed if illusionists or shape-shifters were around? Would a legal system that relied on proof beyond a reasonable doubt be able to function among such beings. Even if such people were incredibly rare having proof that they existed at all would create room for doubt with a jury. A telepath might be able to scan memories to reveal deception but that leaves a legal system dependent on the honesty of the telepath. And such verification only works if there are enough telepaths to go around.
Could society survive these titans?
While not every superhuman might have the power to take on an army it wouldn't take much to make our world an unsafe place. This doesn't even touch on the beings in the comics who could destroy the world. In the comics, cartoons and movies the audience is assured that the good guys will always win and the lives lost and property destroyed are often downplayed. The hero usually saves his or her love interest and if any character who's been mentioned by name dies it's either a heroic sacrifice or a tragedy to motivate the hero. In the real world though, every death matters to someone. So, as much fun as they are to read about and watch it's a good thing superheroes only exist in fiction. If they ever became real the society we live in might be the biggest casualty.