Thursday, December 04, 2014

Why Your Super Power Sucks

When like-minded individuals get together, the conversation may turn (often after the fourth bong hit) to the following question:

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

This question generates some common answers, with most people having an idea of what would be the coolest power to have. Well I am here to put an end to all of this debate. Your super power sucks.

What follows are the ten most common answers to the question: If you could have any super power, what would it be, and my explanation of why having that power would really, really, suck for you.

This will not only free you up to debate more important things, like why most burger chains don’t serve hot dogs or why men don’t wear hats regularly any more like they did in the Fifties, but it will also save you a lot of time and aggravation should a genie ever appear before you and offer to grant you super powers. You’re welcome.

1. Mind Reading

This one is always near the top of people’s lists. How cool would it be to read minds? They say. You would always know exactly what the other person is thinking. You’d know exactly what to say to get that guy/girl to fall in love with you/sleep with you. Exactly what that interviewer is looking for in a potential hire. Exactly how low your opponent in a negotiation is willing to go.

Okay, reality check. First of all, just because you can read someone’s mind doesn't necessarily mean you’d be able to pluck the information you wanted from their brain like you’re doing a Google search.

You’d probably only be able to read what they’re thinking of at the current moment. Now, if you are in a negotiation, or a seduction, or an interview, what they’re thinking might be about you, but frankly, half the time I don’t know what I’m thinking until I think it.

I don’t necessarily know what will get me to agree to a deal or to pick someone for whatever I happen to need. In a negotiation, you might actually be worse off, since you’ll automatically accept the "rock bottom" offer you pull out of someone’s head, when a little pressure might have gotten them to change their mind and offer you more.

Beyond this, though, the ability to read minds would have catastrophic consequences. Here’s why. Everyone who is close to you, be it your parent, spouse, child or best friend, has, at one time or another, thought something absolutely awful about you. I mean, horrible. Not like, they wish you’d pick up after yourself more, but more on the order of, they wish you’d fuck off and die. It may be a fleeting, unwanted thought, they probably feel guilty as soon as it passes through, but if you happen to be looking in when that thought pops up, your relationship will never be the same.

That’s not to mention all the perverse, fucked up shit your people think about that has nothing to do with you. Do you really want to accidentally pick up your kid’s unspeakable sex fantasy? I don’t think so. Oh, but you’d respect the privacy of your loved ones and never take a peek inside their brains? Please. Don’t kid yourself.

2. Invulnerability/Immortality

Okay, you say, forget all that, how about I can just never be harmed, or I can live forever? Well, immortality sounds great, but it can quickly become a nightmare. First of all, you need to pair it with eternal youth, or else, like Tithonus of Greek Myth, you’ll spend an eternity in a living hell as a withered husk.

But let’s say you’ve got the whole package. Great. The first thing you’ll have to deal with is explaining to everyone who knows you why they’re aging and you’re not. Unless you want to spend the rest of eternity in a government lab, you’ll need to disappear and reappear as your kid every twenty or thirty years, and you’ll still have a lot of paperwork and fast talking to do. Furthermore, you’ll have to watch everyone you know, your wife, your friends, your kids and grandkids, get old and die. But maybe you can live with all that. What you won’t be able to live with is something called Time Dilation.

Have you noticed that the older you get, the faster time seems to go? It’s not just existential angst you’re facing. The older you get, the less time one day is in proportion to your life. In other words, when you’re 2, a year is half your life, which is a long time. When you’re 50, that same year is only 1/50th of your life, and you can feel the difference. By the time you hit 500, whole generations will pass by for you in the blink of an eye.

If this doesn’t drive you insane, consider what will happen when the sun goes supernova and the solar system is destroyed, leaving you to float out in space, alone, until the end of time, or some generous space freighter from Alpha Centauri picks you up.

Okay, you say, forget the immortality, just give me invulnerability. Nothing can hurt me. Also sounds great, but believe it or not, the ability to feel pain is an important part of your humanity. Without it, you can’t appreciate pleasure, or love, or even a sad song on the radio. You’ll also probably become extremely careless, like being on a permanent Ketamine high, and there’s a good chance you’ll hurt someone else this way sooner or later.

3. Invisibility

Invisibility is a tempting power to have. You can sneak into the girls’ locker room or be a fly on the wall of the White House. However, if you gain this power, I hope you are prepared to become a criminal. 

We’ve all seen what happened to Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but the idea of invisibility bringing down even the most incorruptible goes back to ancient Greece, where in Plato’s Republic, Glaucon speaks of the Ring of Gyges, a ring discovered by a shepherd which confers the power of invisibility. According to Glaucon, Gyges then: “seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.”

Glaucon then goes on to explain the fate of any possessor of such an item:

 Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point...For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice. 

But maybe you don’t mind the idea of being a criminal. You’ll need to keep in mind that you’ll probably have to strip naked every time you want to take advantage of this power, since it’s unlikely your invisibility will extend to your clothes. Also, since invisibility from a scientific perspective means that light bends around you, rather than bouncing off you, you may be blind when invisible, since no light is striking your eyes.

4. Flight

Flight is one of the better powers to have, but it still sucks. But how freeing it would be to fly with the birds, you say, or to be able to safely jump out a window, or up to a rooftop? Maybe. But here are a few things to consider.

First, have you ever noticed what people look like when they climb a mountain? They’re wearing parkas and oxygen tanks, if they’re smart. That’s cause it gets fucking cold up there, and the air is thinner. If you think you’re just going to hop out of bed and go cloud surfing in your pajamas every morning, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Also, in your fantasy of leaping off rooftops, you’re probably imagining graceful spins and dives from roof to roof. Here’s some more news. If you can’t do that shit in real life, you won’t be able to do it just ‘cause you can fly. Have you seen what those Chinese divers do at the Olympics? If you can do that, flight might be for you. If not, you’re probably going to be a sprawling, crawling mess flying through the air, grabbing at handholds that don’t exist. And unless the wind is always in your favor, you’re probably not going to get where you’re going any faster than you would by walking.

5. Super Strength

Okay, super strength. Bad ass power, right? No one’s going to mess with you because you can knock them out with one punch. Thing is, you can also break someone’s spine with a hearty slap on the back, so you’ll have to spend your entire life focused on controlling your body so you don’t do any property damage, or worse, people damage. Your hands will become registered as deadly weapons, and if you do get into a fight, you’ll probably end up in prison on a felony charge. Also,  one particularly bad dream that has you thrashing, or one temper tantrum, and say goodbye to your furniture.

And with all that, super strength isn't particularly useful. Have you seen what they do at those World’s Strongest Man Competitions? It’s mostly dragging large vehicles around and chopping wood. Is that really what you want to do with your life?

6. Time Travel

Well, first of all, time travel is almost certainly impossible, as I've explained here, here, and here.

Secondly, time travel would really suck. It’s tempting to go back in time to meet your younger self and tell them not to make some of the mistakes you made, but you’ll just make other mistakes, and they could be worse. That’s assuming your child-self recognizes you and doesn't call the police on some crazy old stalker who says in the future everyone will carry tiny computers around in their pockets.

Let’s say you go further back. You want to see what life was like for your parents growing up. No you don’t. Seeing mom and dad in old pictures or videos is cute, seeing them in real life would be super creepy and possibly scar you for life, especially if they act as stupidly as you did when you were growing up.

Okay, even further back. Let’s see what life was like in the Fifties, the Roaring Twenties, the 17th century. There’s a reason they call them modern conveniences. Forget about not having access to things like the Internet, cable TV, or air conditioning, see how long you last without plastic. Or electricity. Or antibiotics.

Fine, let’s go to the future. Sounds tempting, even though you have no idea what to expect. We don’t know much about what the future will bring, but you know what it will almost surely bring? New viruses! Viruses that your 21st century body has had no opportunity to evolve adequate defenses for! That 14th Century Black Plague is starting to look pretty good now, isn't it?

7. X-Ray Vision

Okay, people have wanted X-Ray vision since comic books popularized the idea in the Thirties. Comic book ads of the 20th century offered “X-Ray Specs” that could allow you to see through clothes. But X-ray vision is bullshit. First of all, X-rays can’t see through walls. But let’s say with your special vision you can see through anything. How would you control when you stop seeing through? Sure, you can see through a girl’s clothes, but why wouldn't you see right through her skin, or through her body entirely to the next room? Besides, if this is really the best power you can come up with, and this is the reason, you’re already staring at girls too much, you freaking letch.

8. Super Speed

Super speed isn't at the top of the list of popular powers, but it sneaks in there every now and again. Why does it suck? Well, for one, super speed is extremely destructive. Heat is generated by atoms moving very quickly, so running at high speed would generate a lot of heat. Enough heat to burn the runner’s clothes to a crisp, not to mention the runner.

But let’s say that like The Flash, you have a special aura that protects you from burning up, and you’re not running fast enough to cause sonic booms all the time. Your speed needs to come with fast reaction time, or it’s useless. It’s no good to run fast if you can’t avoid crashing into everything around you. If your reaction time were that fast, the entire world would seem like it were in slow motion to you.

To slow yourself down to the speed of everyone else so you could talk and interact normally would be agony, if you could even do it. On top of this, in order to feed your hyper fast metabolism, you’d probably have to eat as much as a stable of horses, which could get expensive.

9. Size Change

The ability to grow to great height or shrink to microscopic size also sounds fun, but in practice, you probably wouldn't like it very much. Let’s set aside the fact that size change is one of the most impossible of impossible abilities to have, since your mass would have to go or come from somewhere, as matter is never created nor destroyed. You’d still have to deal with the consequences of great height or small size. If you grew tall enough, there’s a good chance your body would collapse on itself, as bones, even giant ones, can only support so much weight.

Also, no one would be able to communicate with you, because the sound waves wouldn't reach you.

Shrinking is even worse. As shown in the classic comedy “HoneyI Shrunk the Kids,” being small can be extremely hazardous. Every annoying insect becomes a giant vicious nightmare monster. Also, you wouldn't be able to communicate with regular people when miniature either, for the same reason as above. You would, however, be able to live in a doll house.

10. Precognition

The problem with seeing the future is that it doesn't necessarily come with the ability to do anything about it. If you can see a future, it’s either preordained, or the future is mutable and it wasn't necessarily your future anyway. You’ll notice that when fortune tellers today predict your future, they predict things like new loves, money, or interesting opportunities. They never predict anything bad.

This is because they are scam artists. In reality, the future holds a lot of shitty things for a lot of people, and knowing about them without being able to stop them would kind of ruin the present. And you think you have trouble not giving away spoilers now…

So do all super powers suck? Not necessarily. Here are a few powers that you might actually find useful.

1. Energy projection
Strangely, in these philosophical debates, people rarely opt for the simple energy blast. These are great for protection, and as long as you’re discreet, probably won’t draw too much attention in your daily life in the same way super strength might, for example. Being able to fire blasts of energy can also be useful if you want to take out a wall in your house without paying a pricey contractor, too.

2. Transmutation
This is the ability to change one thing to another, like the classic alchemy of turning lead into gold. When abused, this power could get you into trouble, but if you use it for simple things, like turning garbage into steak, or an old rock into a diamond, it could probably prove extremely useful.

3.  Time Suspension
Traveling through time sucks. Stopping time is another matter entirely. Just ask this guy. Being able to stop time for a few seconds, to gather your thoughts, get out of a jam, or make sure you’re not late for work, is something everyone could benefit from. You run the risk of the invisibility problem with this one, but if the time suspension doesn't last long enough for you to get into any serious trouble, you should be all right.

4. Internal Life Support
Internal life support basically means you don’t need to breathe. This means effortless scuba diving, deep ocean swims without fear of drowning, and maybe even a stint as an astronaut. It’s not necessarily the most useful power, but it’s safe and fun.

5. Illusion Casting
This is another fun rather than useful power, and also one you need to be careful not to misuse. Also called projection, this is the ability to create realistic illusions, sort of like you’re a graphic designer who doesn't need a computer or a screen. As long as you don’t use it to prank all your friends into thinking they’re being chased by dragons (or at least, not too often), this could be a fine power to have.

Now you know why most super powers suck, so be happy you’re just an average jerk!