Tag Archives: political science

What Recent X-Men Comics Can Teach Us About Present (And Future) Politics

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Trying to make sense of politics is like trying to understand quantum mechanics while stoned. The process of governing humanity has always been tricky. Ever since we exchanged our basic hunter/gatherer ways for a more formal system of order, the process has only become more difficult over time. You don’t have to look far to see the complexities and the overall absurdities of politics.

I’ve tried to talk about politics before, albeit with a limited focus on hot-button issues. I never claim to be an expert or an authority on the matter. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. My understanding of politics is as limited as most people who don’t live, work, and breath these issues. Despite those limitations, I still want to make an effort to talk politics in a novel way.

As it just so happens, I’ve come up with just such a way and it involves X-Men comics. Considering how much I’ve written about X-Men and superhero comics in general, this should surprise no one.

More specifically, I want to take the events that have been unfolding in the X-Men comics for the past two years and use it to make sense of the current state politics. I also want to use it to speculate a bit on where these politics might lead us. Again, I am not even close to an expert, but I do believe that art and media have an uncanny way of shining a light on the real world and there are few narratives more uncanny than the X-Men.

The current state of politics, especially in the United States and Western Europe, has been dominated by polarization. More and more, citizens are becoming more tribal. On top of that, people are becoming more divided. That’s not just an anecdote, either. According to Pew Research, the public has become more ideologically split over the past 20 years and it’s only getting worse.

Rather than try to make sense of these decade-long trends, I want to apply it to the politics in the X-Men comics. More than any other superhero comic or franchise, politics are a major driving force for the X-Men, more so than killer robots. Co-creator, Stan Lee, stated that the inspiration for the X-Men was drawn from the ongoing Civil Rights movement that was in full swing in the early 1960s.

Over the years, this idea of mutants being an oppressed minority who were hated and feared for being different has been the driving force behind the X-Men’s story. It is also a big part of what helped them gain such a wide appeal. Some of the X-Men’s most iconic stories come from conflicts inspired by the hate and fear that ordinary humans feel towards mutants.

In the real world, hatred and fear are powerful forces that don’t need killer robots to cause upheaval. Hatred and fear is at the heart of debates surrounding migrants and immigrants. That same hatred and fear is at the heart of the political polarization.

Liberals hate and fear conservatives because they think they want to turn the world into one big plantation ruled by rich, wealthy slave-owners.

Conservatives hate and fear liberals because they think they want to abandon their heritage, punish people for the sins of their ancestors, and micromanage their lives.

In the world of X-Men, humans hate and fear mutants because they think they’re too dangerous, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. On top of that, if they truly are a new species, then that means their survival means humanity’s extinction.

The parallels aren’t perfect, but they are there. Mutants aren’t just a metaphor for any minority who has been oppressed, segregated, and denigrated. They represent just how divided two groups can be. Constant conflict ensures that hatred and fear will fester. However, it’s the events of House of X and Powers of X that the entire concept of X-Men has gained greater political relevance.

In case you haven’t been following superhero comics, the details of these events are many, but the theme is relatively simple. After years of fighting, running, surviving, and being marginalized because of movie rights, the entire mutant race has decided to reorganize themselves into a new society.

This isn’t some exclusive club or superhero team. With help from Charles Xavier and the powerful foresight provided by Moira MacTaggart, the mutants of the Marvel Universe have united within a new homeland, which happens to be a living island. They also have their own mysterious language that only they understand. They are essentially establishing themselves as a new political entity.

In the scope of the X-Men’s 50-plus year history, the idea isn’t new. There have been multiple efforts over the years to give mutants a homeland. One was called Genosha. One was called Utopia. Both enjoyed some measure of short-term success, but both ended up destroyed or abandoned. The reasons for this aren’t important. What sets them apart from Krakoa is the scale.

To understand it in a real-world context, think of Genosha and Utopia as enclaves within a community. They’re akin to neighborhoods in America or Europe that are predominantly populated by a particular ethnic group or religion. Many are quite successful in their own right. Others have become the sites of atrocities and tragedies.

What the mutants are doing with Krakoa in the comics is something bigger than an enclave. They’re not just seeking to be recognized as a full-fledged country, either. Charles Xavier, the X-Men, and every other mutant is building Krakoa to be a society that can function with or without humanity. It’s not land borrowed from humans. It’s land that’s theirs and theirs alone.

That’s not to say Krakoa operates in isolation, as Wakanda once did. They actually seek to maintain diplomatic relations with the world. They even have valuable resources with which to trade. They don’t have to make these kinds of deals, but under Charles Xavier, they do anyway. It culminates in “House of X #5,” in which Krakoa gains formal recognition by the UN.

This is where the politics of the X-Men comics add some necessary nuance to what we’re seeing in the real world. When people feel marginalized, they tend to feel unwelcome. Even if you are legally an American, a German, an Italian, or a Wakandan, being hated and feared by a large segment of the country makes you feel like you don’t belong.

Between divided polls and America’s colorful electoral map, it’s not hard for anyone to feel out of place. The added polarization provided by the internet, social media, and cable news only adds to the divisions and the animosity. As a result, people naturally retreat into groups and tribes where they feel welcome. Whether it’s a political group, a religious group, or an identity, they seek some form of sanctuary.

In doing so, these groups essentially create their own little world within their community. It’s a world that might as well be a separate reality from what others see. It’s how different people can see the same facts, but have wildly different interpretations. Their brains are still working and the facts are still facts. It’s how they apply them to their world that’s different.

Each group feels they don’t belong. They may even feel victimized. It doesn’t matter if the group happens to make up the vast majority of the population. They still feel like they’re the ones under attack, not unlike the X-Men when they constantly confront fearful, hate-filled humans. They act as though they need to carve their own place in the world and defend it at all costs.

This is where House of X and Powers of X can provide some possible insights into the future of politics. To some extent, Krakoa is a natural byproduct of mutants being hunted, attacked, and denigrated at every turn. They tried isolating themselves on islands. They tried living among humans, sometimes in their most populated cities. Now, they’re trying something bigger.

It’s not exactly peaceful and not everyone understands it, which seems antithetical to Charles Xavier’s dream. However, it’s pragmatic in a very political sense. They have a homeland that they can control. They have barriers for entering and exiting that homeland. Nobody who isn’t authorized can enter it. It’s basically the ultimate immigration control.

On top of that, it has valuable resources that the rest of the world wants. The mutants of Krakoa are willing to share them, but only if they respect their new homeland and treat it like a legitimate country with its own culture, laws, and norms. In a world where people constantly attack others for not respecting their culture or norms, it feels like the ultimate endgame of sorts.

Those who want their culture and way of life preserved will only have more incentive to become more organized. If they keep feeling hatred and fear, they may look for ways to simply function without those they feel don’t belong. People won’t just become more ideologically divided. They may end up more divided in a very literal sense.

It’s the ultimate manifestation of our natural tribal instincts. We seek to join, maintain, and protect our tribe from others, be they real or imagined. It doesn’t matter if there are objective facts that show our tribe is somehow wrong or misguided. We still feel inclined to protect it at all cost.

This era of X-Men comics has been exciting. Writer, Jonathan Hickman, has turned the X-Men from just another superhero team into a blossoming community with its own culture, identity, and borders. As an X-Men fan, I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. As someone in the real world who can’t always avoid politics, it leaves me worried about just how divided we’ll ultimately become.

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How Artificial Intelligence Will Destroy Democracy (In A Good Way)

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Picture the perfect candidate for an election. I know the bar for politicians these days is laughably low, but try to stretch your imagination a bit. Try to envision the kind of candidate that embodies the best collection of values, abilities, and charisma for a civilized society.

Everybody looks for something different in a candidate, but a truly perfect candidate would appeal to everyone in a democratic system. This person would embody the highest values, championing human rights to the utmost and justice for everyone. Every decision they make is with the safety, sanctity, and rights of other people as their top priority. There’s no compromise. They do right by the people every time and all the time.

This person would also be the ultimate leader, capable of getting anyone to go along with them without fear or coercion. There wouldn’t need to be corruption of any kind. This person would be perfectly capable of navigating every level of government and making it work to the utmost. The people would trust in that government, believe in it, and even celebrate it.

Keep that perfect candidate in the forefront of your mind because when it comes to discussing politics, cynicism tends to rule the day. I don’t think I need to cite too many recent events to show how imperfect democracy is these days. I don’t even need to cite famous historical events that show just how bad government can be in this convoluted world.

It’s because of that cynicism, though, that the perfect candidate you’re thinking of could never win a democratic election in the real world. Even if they existed, the inherent flaws of the electorate and those of less perfect candidates would keep them from winning. It’s one of democracy’s greatest flaws. It’s not about who the best candidate is. It’s just about who can convince enough people that they’re worth voting for.

On the subject of democracy, Winston Churchill once said the following:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Time, politics, and the proliferation of has only proven Mr. Churchill right. I would even amend that quote to say just 30 seconds on 4chan will make anyone lose faith in the promise of democracy. That’s not to say democracy is all bad, though. Mr. Churchill also once famously said this about the alternatives:

“Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

It’s distressing, but frustrating fact of civilization, one that fuels mass protests, fake news, and lurid scandals. Go back to any point in history and scrutinize any government, be it a king or some quasi-democracy, and chances are you’ll find serious flaws in the system. I don’t just mean long lines at the post office, either. There have been times when democracy has not furthered the protection of human rights.

It’s not necessarily a flawed principle as it is a concept with flawed ingredients. While I tend to place a great deal of faith in the goodness of human nature, I don’t deny that people can be arrogant, irrational, and downright callous. We’re prone to overreacting and not thinking things through. We’re hard-wired to go with intuition over logic.

Even when we’re proven wrong, we stubbornly cling to our assertions. The prevalence of creationism is proof enough of that. Every election cycle is prone to bold promises, bloated melodrama, and major goals that rarely ever become actual policy. Some become full-fledged revolutions with Utopian visions. The fact that none of those utopias ever manifested is proof of how unsuccessful they were.

We are not a species built for democracy on a large scale. We evolved to function in close-knit tribes, hunting and gathering for food while fighting for survival. That kind of evolution doesn’t really lend itself to a functioning democracy. It doesn’t lend itself to a total autocracy, either. Whether it’s a free republic or a fascist state, humans cannot govern other humans without their flaws plaguing them in both directions.

It’s for this reason that I often lean libertarian in political debates, but given the complexities and challenges of modern society, even that only goes so far. Like it or not, large-scale civilizations populated a species not evolved to manage it requires some measure of authority. More importantly, it requires competent, incorruptible, compassionate authority.

It needs to be able to defend a population of people within a particular border. It needs fair and just laws that can be equally enforced. It also needs the confidence and trust of the people being governed. Sometimes, it’s done out of fear. Sometimes, it’s done out of free will. Both can work, provided the system has robust capabilities that aren’t prone to human error.

Unless a government is populated by a democratic council consisting of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Dr. Doom, that kind of functional democracy is physically impossible. Even though democracy is still the best we have from an exceedingly limited list of options, that may change in a big way thanks to artificial intelligence.

I know it seems like I attribute many superhuman capabilities to this emerging field, it’s hard to overstate its potential. Unlike every other tool humanity has created, artificial intelligence promises to rewrite the rules at every level of society. That includes government and it’s here where AI’s capabilities could go beyond superhuman.

Think back to that perfect candidate I mentioned earlier and all the traits that made them perfect. By and large, an advanced artificial intelligence shares many of those traits and then some. A sufficiently powerful AI would be beyond politics, pettiness, or demagoguery. In principle, it could embody everything people would want in a strong leader and a capable government.

For one, it would be smarter than any human. Beyond knowing more about every subject than any human ever could, it would be smart in a way that would allow it to persuade people to trust it. That’s often a skill that even smart politicians fail to refine. It certainly doesn’t help that many voters attribute intelligence with smugness. That’s a big reason why populist candidates of questionable merit gain so much support.

An advanced artificial intelligence, provided it has an in depth understanding of human psychology and how to persuade people, would be able to gain support from everyone. It wouldn’t be bound by the limits that keep most human candidates from appealing to everyone. With enough intelligence and capabilities, it would surmise a way to appeal to everybody.

Beyond just persuading the voters, an AI of that level could be just as effective at actual governance. There are plenty of candidates who are very adept at winning elections, but terrible when it comes to actually governing. A capable AI would be able to do both. If anything, one function would complement the other.

With enough emotional, logistical, and pragmatic intelligence, this AI would be capable of crafting and passing laws without the need for debate or controversy. The laws it crafts are already so refined and so well thought out that to do so would be redundant. In the same time it takes your phone to send a text, this AI could pass sweeping legislation that protects human rights, ensures justice for all, and promotes economic growth.

It’s hard to imagine because the only laws and government we’ve ever known have come from flawed humans. It’s just as hard to imagine how those laws would be enforced. Perhaps this advanced AI has nodes all throughout society that allow it to gather data, know where enforcement is needed, and determine the appropriate recourse. If it’s capable enough, people won’t even know it’s there.

Perhaps that same AI uses a mix of human enforcers and intelligent robots to maintain order. If the AI is sufficiently capable, every enforcer at every level would be equipped with perfect knowledge and a clear understanding of how to carry out the orders of the government. Since an AI wouldn’t be prone to corruption or prejudice, instances of injustices would be few and far between.

It wouldn’t be a totalitarian state of Orwellian proportions. It would be more of a “Star Trek” style, post-scarcity society where we wouldn’t have to be cynical about government authority. We would inherently trust it because it’s just that effective. We wouldn’t feel like we’re being run by a robot dictator. We would feel like we’re being run by the greatest ruler outside of a “Black Panther” movie.

To some extent, though, an advanced artificial intelligence of this nature would render democracy obsolete. If we created an AI that could effectively govern society at every level, then what’s the purpose of having elections in the first place? Why bother when there’s an intelligence that’s literally more capable than any ordinary human could possibly be?

History has shown that democracy and government can only do so much when flawed humans are in charge. Once advanced artificial intelligence enters the picture, the logistics of governance changes entirely.

Perhaps there will be a period in our history where instead of running human candidates, we start creating AI systems that compete with one another in a pseudo-democratic process. That would go a long way towards improving overall governance.

Unlike humans, though, technology evolves much faster than humans ever will and it wouldn’t take long for those systems to improve to a point where they’re just too good an option to overlook. Human-led governments, even in humans who are enhanced to some degree, will still have flaws. In a future where technology, society, and individuals keep creating new challenges, we’ll need a capable government to manage it all.

In the end, that government probably won’t be a democracy. It won’t be a dictatorship, either. It’ll be something that we can’t yet conceptualize. That’s the biggest challenge when contemplating something like an advanced artificial intelligence, though. It operates on a level that ordinary humans literally cannot comprehend. That’s why it’s our best option for governing our future.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, futurism, political correctness, Thought Experiment