Thursday, July 18, 2019

Children Never Get a Chance to Be Themselves

I didn't research anything yet. I also have a bias. I haven't heard a convincing argument against causal determinism. I believe determinism rules the universe whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not. My ideas are stemming from my denial of free will.
Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
A little more background, I have a 13 month old child. Observing her develop sparks many ideas about parenting, education, learning, etc. My daughter, Jamie, has been a hilarious baby. Jamie knows how to work a crowd. She picks up what makes people laugh and give her positive feedback. She loves laughing and positive feedback. I don't think this makes her unique or special; I'm sure it is universal.

Readers you should know what I mean by "true" or "own personalities." Writing philosophy is tough. Terms and words need to be unpacked, defined, and or explained. I'll try to be concise. I'm going to stick with the terms baby, child, and parent to sum up the interactions between children and whoever provides them care.

Today's Rant: Children are sculpted by their parents/caregivers/family/environemnt, so babies/children have no chance to develop their own/true personality.

The Argument (I'm working on this. It's a mess)

1) Genes and environment control behavior and personality.

2) If parents dictate environment, offspring cannot create their environment.

3) If parents condition offsprings' behavior, offspring cannot create their personality.

Conclusion: Parents and genes dictate offsprings' personality.

The Reasoning and Analysis


I'm not suggestions that people's behavior or personality do not change or evolve later in life. I also know that friends, society, profession, schools etc. have huge impacts on personality.  But by the time these events take place, offspring have been sculpted so finely by parents, environment, and genes that offspring have no agency in their personality or identity. I'm saying that, Jamie, you, and I have no influence over who we are. Our identity and personality is determined

My daughter is confirmation bias for my predisposition.

I watch Jamie, and she laughs because we laugh. My wife and I especially are creating her sense of humor. Something happens; Jamie looks to us; we tell Jamie if it is funny or not; Jamie laughs or doesn't.

One day Jamie randomly or accidentally made a noise. I don't know what the noise sounded like, but my brain processed it close to "was dat." Of course, I started mimicking and pointing to Jamie, which reinforced Jamie learning to say "was dat." It was hilarious and random, but it became part of her personality and our relationship. I could have ignored it. I could have heard something different. I could have thought that wasn't funny (maybe this sounds more like Chaos Theory or The Butterfly Effect).

Little things like this happen all the time. Now that Jamie is 13 months I can see how much I influence her. Jamie started head banging dancing last week. It's pretty awesome, and everyone loves it. So she keeps doing it. This along with everything else is teaching her what is funny.

I'll admit, I don't have full control over Jamie. I wish I did. When she gets hysterical, she has this unbearable screech. It's terrible and gives me a headache. But this behavior, and a few others, we try to change and condition.

Still I can't help think when I see her interact, how much "thank you"s, "no Jamie"s, clapping, cheering, etc shape her. She conditions us of course, but we condition her. Society conditions us, and we pass that on.

How much does each of my actions affect her? How many behaviors that I inhibit would have lead to what identity or personality?

There isn' a double blind study. She doesn't have an identity twin that we could not condition. And I'm not worried. My worldview doesn't care much. But it's a trip to think about. What if I was more compassionate or tolerant of her cries and screeches? Would she develop into a more "true self?" I don't believe in a true self personally, but it's a term that captures my idea best.

That's good enough. Please leave a comment if you're interested. I can add explanations where they are needed.

Jimbo out!

Monday, January 14, 2019

2nd Law of Thermodynamics

I have a close friend that is a Christian apologist (Christian apologetics is a branch of theology that defends Christianity against objections). For years he has been using the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics to prove certain ideas. The first time he used it, I was unfamiliar with the concept. Since then I have looked it up several times, and always had difficulty grasping and retaining what the 2nd law of thermodynamics is.

I think I finally understand it where I can briefly explain. This first pat is more informational than a rant, but I'll post it anyway. This is the slightly modified email I sent. My rant will be below!

I used the three videos from Khan to refresh (I recommend watching all three for a better understanding), along with an occasion google search to confirm my understanding was mostly accurate. I recently read a book called The Order of Time, it had the best description of the 2nd law I had came across at the time. 

Info on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

The 2nd law of Thermodynamics explains that, “we don't see a spontaneous transfer of heat from cold areas to hot areas… What we do observe is that if [we] were to put ice water in the middle of a room at room temperature, [we’re] gonna see the other way. [We’re] gonna see transfer of heat from the warmer regions to the colder regions.” The law is based on the transfer of heat from warm/hot to cold.

The transfer of heat leads to entropy. The 2nd law explains that entropy in a closed system only increases. Most scientist would consider the universe a closed system (deist that believe God interferes with the universe would make our universe an open system, and the 2nd law wouldn’t apply). If we consider the universe a closed system, the universe is constantly increasing in entropy. As the space of the expanding universe increases, so does the possibilities of different states. Therefore, the greater possibilities leads to greater entropy. The average temperature of the universe decreases, but the entropy increases because there is more space/possibilities of ordered states.

Rant Time

Christian apologists love the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It gives them a scientific argument for their God. Here is a good argument by Jeff Miller, a Christian apologists who has a PhD in engineering, click here for his article it isn't bad. 

"There are only three possible explanations for the existence of matter in the Universe. Either all of the mass/matter/energy of the Universe spontaneously generated (i.e., it popped into existence out of nothing), or it has always existed (i.e., it is eternal.). Without an outside force (a transcendent, omnipotent, eternal, superior Being), no other options for the existence of the Universe are available. However, as the Laws of Thermodynamics prove, the spontaneous generation and the eternality of matter are logically and scientifically impossible. One possible option remains: the Universe was created by the Creator."

He is also referencing the first law of thermodynamics that states, energy cannot be created or destroyed. Miller's argument is still bad. He says the first two possible explanations are logically and scientifically impossible, but guess what? So is the remaining possibility. 

(side note) Lawerance Krauss wrote a book arguing how a universe could appear from nothing, and he is a theoretical physicist. So there must be some scientific possibility.

Miller makes a couple assumptions that are unsupported. The Big Bang theory describes the first moments in the universe, but it says nothing about what happened before. It's not that implausible to think the universe could have existed in some form prior to the big bang and rebanged. Also he describes the eternality of matter. Matter didn't exist in the first moments according to the big bang. Miller needs to explain more.

This is my problem with the few Christian apologists I know. They cherry pick science. Miller did too. He only applied scientific and logic to the arguments he was destructing, not his own. This is bad philosophy.

My friend who started my rant doesn't believe in science. Any science/theories that conflict with his beliefs he has these wild conspiracies by secularists and atheists. 


My rant is losing steam, and in all honesty, I don't care. I'm in some universe, however it started, and knowing how it started and who did or didn't create it, isn't going to improve my life. Ranted out!


Monday, April 30, 2018

Who Has the Right to Tell Stories?

Once again, my disagreement with Jessica Gao has inspired another rant. This time, who has the right to tell certain stories. Spoiler, I do have a personal bias. My podcast, Pilots and Petards Podcast, discussed this issue at the end of our Episode 24 The Crown. We ended up in a disagreement regarding Dana Schutz painting. This rant is my response to my cohosts Mo and Drew.

I'm arguing people have the right to any story they want to tell. It can be done in bad taste, but they still have the right. I fully support freedom of speech even for the most despicable speech. Let the audience decide how tasteful the interpretations are.

Tolstoy is famous for being a man who can write women characters. Should he have never written Anna Karenina because he isn't a woman? Should Harriet Beecher Stowe never have written Uncle Tom's Cabin? Or the king white men or telling other people's stories Howard Zinn:

"Whenever I become discouraged (which is on alternate Tuesdays, between three and four) I lift my spirits by remembering: The artists are on our side! I mean those poets and painters, singers and musicians, novelists and playwrights who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse." Howard Zinn

Today the times are different and there are a lot more diverse voices in the positions to tell stories. But still, I agree with Zinn, the artist are on our side. Zinn, Harriet Beecher, and Tolstoy were crucial in bringing empathy and understanding of other perspectives to countless people. Context counts, but who is to say other people taody can not make similar of impacts?

Dana Schutz, last year, received a ton of criticism for her painting "Open Casket" of Emmett Till (Bob Dylan also wrote a song called The Death of Emmett Till in 1962). From the articles I read, the main problem is Schutz is profiting from black suffering. The protesters claim that the painting is wrong and should be censored because Schutz has no right to that story because neither her nor her family experienced Till's suffering or similar. Many protesters requested the painting be destroyed.

Schutz responded saying, she doesn't know what it is like to be black in America, but she does know what it is like to be a mother. Schutz paints, and as a painter she was inspired by Mamie Till's experience. Like Beecher or Zinn, her painting may reach people that wouldn't learn about this story, and those viewers may gain a greater understanding of race, injustice, and the cruel history for people of color. I see those potentials as positives.

I don't think Schutz painting was in bad taste. I browsed the Whitney Biennial 2017, (it appears they did switch Schutz's painting) but if you look, I think you would agree the diversity of artists is really well represented. This leads me to disagree that Schutz is stealing black artists jobs by painting Till's experience. I see her as spreading the story.

I'm with Zinn, the artists on our side, and Schutz is on our side too. If I had to display a Emmett Till painting, I would choose an African American artist. Yet if I had to display a Schutz painting, I wouldn't rule out "Open Casket" because she is white.

Here's the rub. I wrote a poem with a voice of a Mamie Till type character. It was inspired by my love of African American Lit, social injustice, and scientific speculation for a cure of aging. I could have made my characters white trash, but voices came to me from people of color. I tried to be thoughtful and respectful in my portrayal, and I spent several hours writing, revising, and thinking about my short poem to get it right at the time. I only shared this poem with a handful of people because of the issues addressed above.

I didn't live the experiences I created, but I have witnessed aspects of it. Poor people gain access when profits are right. My characters could have had any poor person's voice, even a poor voice my family personally knows. Maybe if I rewrote this poem today, it would. But at the time, I felt and I was motivated by the voice I choose. This is, in my opinion, my best poem. If someday I should publish a poem or collection, I'd hate to have to leave my best work out because I didn't have the right.

Final thought, I didn't even really argue my original point. But if you are here looking for guidance, write whatever story moves you, and attempt to do it in good taste. Research, empathize, think, and do your best to make a piece of art worth engaging.

Jimbo out!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Apu and "No Good Read Goes Unpunished"

The Simpsons finally addressed (kind of) the issues of Apu's character being racist stereotypes in episode 15, season 29, titled "No Good Read Goes Unpunished." The response is more than likely to the uproar from the 2017 documentary titled The Problem with Apu. NPR, along with many other sources, wrote articles condemning the simpsons' "No Good Read Goes Unpunished."

I watched the Simpsons episode in full; I read the NPR article, "The Simpsons To 'The Problem With Apu': Drop Dead;" and I listened to the latest Whiting Wongs episode called "He's Brown and Everyone's Yellow." I didn't see the documentary yet which I think is fine for my current purpose.

My responses were motivated by Jessica Gao's response because I feel she overlooked a few things from the episode. NPR certainly dropped the ball in their article. Below are my talking points that were ignored by Whiting Wongs and NPR.

The Title
The title is "No Good Read Goes Unpunished." The Simpsons know they are a good show, and they know they will not go unpunished by the media. Acknowledging their future or past punishment is not an apology, but it admits they know they were wrong. This could be even more problematic.

In general, the simpsons are implying that offending people is part of entertainment. I disagree. I do get the point and I think it is a valid argument that could be made. I will not be making nor defending that argument.

Throughout the episode there are several allusions to this topic from both positive and negative points of view. As Gao mentioned, the simpsons tried to be South Park, and I agree they missed.

What punishment are the simpsons referring to? A punishment for past offenses? Or their current punishment after the airing of this show? Or even a future punishment to come?

Apu's Presence
Apu was in the show twice and both times was voiceless. This can be interpreted two ways: one he has no say in the matter (no agency), or two the simpsons are not going to do the voice anymore. Both seem problematic because they avoid the issues at hand, so readers make your own conclusion here.

The Art of War
The Art of War is one of the most iconic war books ever written. It is philosophical and I would argue very much a source of Asian wisdom. Both Homer and Bart read The Art of War in this episode. The simpsons writers could have chosen any book to solve Bart and Homer's fued. Was the Art of War picked because of its mainstream popularity, or are they focusing in on the deception idea towards Apu? The topic of deception is a focal point in the first chapter of the Art of War which the simpsons explicitly development through Bart and Homer.

This is almost a clever deeper meaning into Apu and apologizing, but the point is too ambiguous and undeveloped. Which viewer are the simpons trying to deceive? Are they implying that upset fans are deceived by the media? Again readers make your own assumptions.

With No Apologies
With No Apologies is a memoir by Barry Goldwater. Golderwater was a senator who ran for President in 1964. He is famously remembered for opposing the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

This is the 2nd worst joke or reference in the show, and surprisingly NPR and Ms. Gao missed it.

Lisa is reading this book prior to Marge coming into her room. This is a big foreshadow that the simpsons will not be apologizing. Using a book that represents an old racist white guy not apologizing (shit it seems a lot funnier now) is a very cheap shot. Associating with Goldwater is not good. Is this a form of owning their old white asshole crown?

Interesting idea: Is it possible a person of color added that in without explaining it to send a message????? If so, I got it! 

Marge's Rewrite
We cannot rewrite all the wrongs of the past. As viewers we can accept or reject the works in the context of their time and place in history and or society.

Marge's book is boring because the characters are too perfect due to her attempt to make the story inoffensive. This claim could easily be rejected, but I'll focus on what I think the simpsons were doing.

The simpsons are addressing the larger issue of not offending anyone. This simpsons think there is always someone who will be offended, that's a fair point, but not permission to go on offensive sprees. Writers, comedians, and entertainers have to decide how many people they are whiling to offend to produce their performance/product.

What is the balance between entertainment and offensiveness? How many liters of brown tears are worth x amount of decibels of non brown laughter?

I don't know the answer. People can and should be able to say whatever they want. If you or I is offended we should judge the person accordingly. If a show, such as the simpsons, we can ignore it if it is too boring or too offensive. If the simpsons cannot find the correct balance they will seize to be on TV in the future.

I don't think the simpsons have any moral or ethical duty to its viewers. So I can see their very generalized argument being valid.

Homer's Victory
Ironically, Homer becomes like Ned to win the war against Bart (this is almost the simpsons weak ass attempt to apologize). Ned is boring and inoffensive. Homer becomes like Ned. Homer bets Bart by being inoffensive. Is inoffensiveness the art of something?

This is where South Park would have killed it. Stan or Kyle would have made a soliloquy about what they learned. The simpsons just ended the episode without clarifying the many conflicting hints on the subject.


I thought the show was okay. I didn't think anything in the show was directly offensive. The "don't have a cow Apu" was a very tasteless joke/low blow, and not funny.

Was this show funny? I didn't laugh. The social critiques were the funniest parts, and those could have been developed better to be funnier without offending people or seeming even more intolerant.

Is this an example of clever or good writing? No. It is mediocre writing at best for a show like the simpsons.I don't usually watch the simpsons, so I am guessing they have been mediocre for a while now.

My biggest concern is how the simpsons wouldn't take a clear stance. Mr. Harmon was right about how much more offensive the show could have been. But they had to know that people already pissed off by Apu would get even more pissed. That does seem like a shitty thing to do.

That's my rant. Thank you Ms. Gao and Mr. Harmon for the intriguing and thoughtful conversation. Unfortunately your discussion motivated me to watch the show and I ended up with a typical white guy response to it.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


I heard a person on a podcast make the cliche quote about learning history or being doomed to repeat it. I was on my bike, but I couldn't help thinking what a stupid comment that is.

The first example I thought of was General Lee (thinking of two of his biographies I recently read). He was an excellent student of military history, especially Napoléon Bonaparte. He knew all about Napoléon's mistakes in Russia: trying to push his forces too far and during too extreme conditions, and still Lee repeated those same mistakes pretty well. Maybe an expert in military tactics and history would say I'm over generalizing the commonalities, and maybe I am. But I'm sure if we dug deep enough we would find historians make a ton of the same mistakes they have studied. That's my real point. History will not save us. Hindsight makes it easy to say, "history would have told us." But there are so many factors leading to any event, how could anyone know which factors to focus on or which ones to avoid? It is ridiculous.

I'd have to say, knowing history might make you less likely to repeat it at best, but definitely not exempt.

While looking for the exact quote to use I found the top google hit was an article with someone claiming the same idea I had. I have to say, the articles examples are weak. Not that my example is better, but it is more specific, thus better.

According to Nicholas Clairmont at Big Think, the phrase probably originated from George Santayana.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
I like that version a lot better because being a student of history is insignificant. Instead, the problem is memory and not the learning. With how unreliable our memory is, this phrase makes a lot more sense.

In the end, people and governments are doomed to make mistakes. Maybe super intelligent computers or super humans of the future will be able to know/remember so many things that they will be able to prevent mistakes of the past, but ntil then, us homo sapiens sapiens might just be doomed!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Email interview about The Punisher

I did an email interview with Abraham Riesman on the topic of "why so many soldiers and law-enforcement officers feel such an affinity for The Punisher." Here is the article's link. Below are his questions and my responses. Someday, I may revise and improve my responses into a more formal rant. 
Riesman: What was your role in the USMC, if you weren’t a grunt?
Me: I did supply administrations with an infantry unit. I always regretted not being a grunt. When I found out I couldn't switch, I volunteered to be sent to an infantry unit. I got to do more training than a typical supply Marine, and when we deployed to Iraq, I was a squad leader for a security squad for mainly resupply patrols.

Riesman: When did you first become aware of The Punisher?
I was a comic book and superhero fan growing up. So I feel like I always knew about him. I would have had Punisher trading cards and comics that had him. Although I collected comics growing up, I never read them until I became a reader in a late 20s.

Riesman: When did you become a serious fan?
I wouldn't consider myself that serious of a fan. But I really liked the 2004 Punisher movie. I especially liked how the character didn't make all the cliche action movie mistakes, or keep his enemies alive. The Punisher mini series titled Born written by Garth Ennis is one of my favorite comic book stories. Welcome Back Frank is another great story.

I especially liked The Punisher character in the new netflix series. I found the philosophical comparisons between Daredevil and The Punisher to be a lot of fun. The they did a great job sympathizing with Frank Castle without glorifying his actions.

Riesman: How do you show off your fandom?

Besides being part of the Punisher Body Count community as a memeber of their facebook group, I do not show off my fandom. People might see me reading a Punisher comic in public.

Riesman: What makes the Punisher interesting to you, especially as a member of the military?
His ethical code.

Riesman: What danger do you see in the Punisher’s philosophy of extrajudicial killing?
He is a character in a world of mutants, Spider-Men, etc. Within his story line there is a chance he could make a mistake and kill the wrong person which, in contrasts, the Daredevil/Spider-man character may avoid by using the justice system. Either way, I see all the super hero vigilantes' philosophies as unsuccessful in solving crimes or making their cities/world a better place. Criminals escape or new criminals arise. Within the Marvel Universe, it doesn't seem to matter.

To answer your question I do not see a danger. As a viewer or fan, I have not seen any evidence to suggest that The Punisher causes any danger to society. Steven Pinker suggests that humans are becoming less violent. I tend to agree with him. I can witness progress in racism, aggression, and attitudes towards violence in my friends, family, and colleagues during my life. The generation below me, in general, is a lot more compassionate. People want to blame violent video games, movies, or characters like the Punisher for increased violence, but besides a few isolated places, like Chicago, violence statistics are down. It would be interesting to see data on the issue. But I would bet poverty, lack of education, and drugs/alcohol are much stronger factors in violence than interests in violent vigilant stories.

Riesman: Why do you think so many members of the military find the Punisher interesting?
The Punisher is more complex than most Marvel characters. The benevolent characters, like superman, are boring. In addition, The Punisher does not have super powers, another boring trait of Superman because he is too powerful. But these factors make The Punisher a great character for all people.

Frank Castle was a Marine, and the Marines have a motto of Semper Fidelis (always faithful), that might be something that would create a bias in Marines liking The Punisher. Marines share pretty strong common bonds with other Marines, even ones they have never met.

There is, or was when I served from 2001-2005, a culture in the Marine Corps that values killing. In bootcamp, we are constantly yelling kill. Everything we did was, "Kill. Kill. Kill!" We "attacked the chow hall" when we entered the cafeteria yelling "Kill" and making war cries. That's one way we were brainwashed to to support killing. War movies too. I think patriotic war movies brainwash young men to idolize war and killing "enemies/terrorists" more than fictional vigilantes ever will. I wanted to kill bad guys in war as a young man, I never wanted to hunt criminals even though I loved vigilante stories.

Sorry, but I cannot help but going back to these ideas about violent vigilant characters creating violence in fans or viewers. Military members are probably more violent and aggressive, I'd be surprised if data said otherwise. But I don't think that has to do with the superhero genre. I blame the media selling and supporting war. I can think of a few people I personally know who joined the military because they wanted to kill people, but that was rare from my experiences. Faith in American, fighting "good wars," and patriotic war movies made us want to fight in war.

I hope you are writing a non-judgemental piece. It would be very easy to write up a story about the Punisher's connections with military members, and or mass shooters, especially with the new series coming out soon and the Vegas shooting. That would make a good headline to sell, but that would be a shame and misrepresentation.

I hope my ideas can help. It was fun to think about these ideas.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Spidey Rescue Dilemma

I liked the Spider-Man (2002) movie when it came out. I was a Marine at the time, and deployed to Okinawa, Japan. We watched it. For whatever reason, I remember a conversation I had with my buddy after the movie. I thought it was BS that Spider-Man saved Mary Jane (MJ) before the cable cart full of people (see clip below). Even though MJ is super hott with charming personality, Spider-Man/Peter Parker, cannot choose Mary Jane over the cable car full of people, mostly children. That is unsuperheroly. Spider-Man needs to make the super decision and save the group of people before saving MJ. Although I'm not sure Spider-Man is consciously aware, he learns that his loved ones aren't more valuable than others. (Watch the first 30 seconds below if you don't remember the scene.)

To my surprise, after we watched this movie, and making my comment about Spidet-Man saving MJ beingBS, I found that my buddies disagreed with me. I was alone in thinking the right thing to do is sacrifice a loved one to save the many. One of my friends even said, "I wouldn't care how many people it was, I'd save my wife or mom over them." I thought that was so strange (sorry mom and Mrs Nameles, but you both lived decently long, good lives, especially compared to children). My reasoning was that the amount of suffering I would feel from losing a loved one would be multiplied (for the most part) for each person in the cable car. Therefore, I, and others, should consider the total amount of suffering from a choice. (I guess I've always had utilitarian beliefs)

Spider-Man makes the wrong choice but he learns from it!


If you remember the movie well or are more interested in the philosophy of: When is one person's life worth more than multiple peoples lives? Skip to the next section.

In the movie, Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, turned into a power hungry schizophrenic after under going an enhancement experiment. His greed for power turned him to recruit Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Osborn, makes an appeal to Spider-Man's emotions after capturing and sedating Spider-Man. Spider-Man refused Osborn, and Osborn concludes their fighting will, "Cause the deaths of countless innocents in selfish battle... ...again and again and again until we're both dead. Is that what you want? Think about it, hero."

Spider-Man didn't think about the innocent lives yet. Instead, he set out to stop the Green Goblin and to continue saving the people of New York City.

Osborn, debating with himself as the Green Goblin, decided they should educate Spider-Man. He told himself, "Instruct him in the matters of loss and pain. Make him suffer. Make him wish he were dead... And then grant his wish... First, we attack his heart." This is Spider-Man's biggest flaw, his heart and his attachment to the people he loves.

At the climax of the movie, the Green Goblin put Spider-Man into a Trolley-like-Problem. The Goblin wanted to break Spider-Man by making him the cause of other people's deaths. The Goblin said:

"This is why only fools are heroes. Because you never know... ...when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice: Let die the woman you love... ...or suffer the little children. Make your choice, Spider-Man... and see how a hero is rewarded... We are who we choose to be. Now, choose!"

Osborn was teaching Spider-Man that he was wrong to reject his partnership. Spider-Man even fell for the trap and made the wrong choice. He saved MJ first. Luckily, because it was a Spider-Man movie, he saved everyone too. But his lesson wasn't learned yet. Spider-Man took a beating from Osborn. Right before Osborn finished him, he threatened Spider-Man with a slow death to MJ. Of course, this fueled Spider-Man to defeat Osborn and save the day, once again.

I want to neglect the idea that Spider-Man's attachment to MJ saved the day because it gave him the strength to defeat Osborn. Maybe this is true, or maybe he would have been better prepared to fight without a Trolley-like-Problem in front of him. Let us ignore this and focus on what Spider-Man learned.

At Osborn's funeral, Spider-Man came to the conclusion, "No matter what I do... ... no matter how hard I try... ... the ones I love will always be the ones who pay." This is why Spider-Man cannot choose MJ. Having that attachment and love for MJ or anyone else, puts Spider-Man into situations where he will have to risks larger quantities on life. This creates more targets to protect, and less opportunity to save people in need. By having loved ones, Spider-Man knows he will choose them over the innocent lives of random people. He also knows that more people will suffer and die because of his attachments. He can only stop so many deaths, crimes, and villains. This is why Spider-Man has to reject MJ and distance himself from his loved ones. At the end of the film, Spider-Man understands and states it best, "Whatever life holds in store for me... I will never forget these words, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' This is my gift. My curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man."

Philosophical Question: When is one person's life worth more than multiple peoples lives?

Are there times when MJ should be saved at the cost of multiple lives? Maybe even 100 people?


The Trolley Problem is a very played out thought experiment in philosophy and psychology, but it is fitting for superheros, especially Spider-Man. I am coining it The Spidey Rescue Dilemma. I'm replacing the people on the train tracks with potential victims from a supervillain. Instead the new problem is: should Spider-Man (a superhero) save MJ (a loved one or a single person) over a group of random people.

Let's say MJ is hanging from a cable, a cart with five random people is hanging from another cable, and the Green Goblin is holding onto both cables. In The Spidey Rescue Dilemma, Spider-Man can only rescue one of the two cable carts, see image below. He either saves MJ or the five random people. Who do you/Spider-Man save?

It depends, sometimes MJ and other times the random people.

Let's just assume for argument sake that if all lives are created equal, they do not stay equal throughout life. Is a child's life equal to an elderly person? Is a fertile young woman's life equal to a old violent sociopath? So who does Spider-Man save? And when should he save MJ over five other people?

We can arrange the people in the carts. What if MJ is a talented brain surgeon who saves lives daily? Should she be saved over the five people? Or what if those five people are patients living with Alzheimer in a care home?

The Spiddy Rescue Dilemma not only asks who should be saved, but it also asks how should we decide. What should be considered when deciding if one life is worth more than multiple lives? Here are obvious considerations I find valid. I'd love to update my list if you have other valid criteria.
  • The amount of suffering a person's death will cause.
  • The remaining life expectancy of a person.
  • How old a person is.
  • What a person contributes to society.
  • What a person takes from society.
  • How much pollution a person causes.
  • The amount of natural resources a person uses.
  • The amount of violence a person creates.
  • The amount of abusiveness a person creates.
  • The amount of suffering a person creates.
  • The potential a person has to redeem themselves. 
  • How much will a person improve other people's lives.
In theory, let's assume that we could know and assign a valid life value (VLV) to each person in the two cables' life. Let us call this value the Valid Life Value (VLV). An all knowing god or computer could assign any person a real time VLV. Let's think about it using a numeric scale ranging from negative one hundred (-100) to positive one hundred (100). A negative 100 value would be a Stalin type person; while a positive 100 would be a Jesus of Nazareth type person; and a zero point one (0.1) value would be your average Jane Doe. And a person could never have a zero value.

My argument is that whatever cable supported the highest combined valid life value (VLV) should be the cable that Spider-Man saves regardless of the number of people involved.

Let's say MJ has a VLV of 1.1 because she's MJ. Let's say the other five people are Average Does and have a combined VLV of 0.5. This is an easy choice, save MJ! No questions asked. With these values, it would take 11 average Does to equal MJ's VLV.

The next dilemma would be what to do if the VLV were equal? In this case, saving MJ for selfish reasons could be justified following VLV. Although I might add that an all knowing calculation would be unlikely to produce nice round numbers, and therefore there would more than likely never be equal values.

This thought experiment gets more fun as we dive into more superhero situations.

What would a vigilante's VLV be?


To keep the ball rolling, for fun more than anything else, what about a Punisher or Dexter type character? Does killing or getting rid of negative people make you a positive person?

Certainly. As long as the deaths of those people contribute to more positive gains than negative losses.

Continuing from here my mind runs wild. From what I'm suggesting so far, the next logical conclusion seems to be to have a vigilante kill or imprison anyone with a negative VLV starting with the people with the largest values.

We might ever find that heroes who don't kill (Superman or Batman) have a negative VLV. Like Batman for instance, how much suffering does he allow because he won't kill The Joker? Or maybe villains like Thanos should be considered heroes and therefore might have a positive VLV.

Concluding thoughts

Heroes would never be able to know or accurately measure VLV, so they would have to make biased assumptions based on available information. Their personal beliefs and biases regarding people's potential to change would drastically alter their estimated VLV (eVLV). So a pessimistic vigilante would score people a lot lower VLVa than an optimistic superhero.

I believe most people would have a positive VLV, explaining this is for another rant. If we think about a bell curve, I'd guess it would take a few or even several standard deviations to get into negative VLVs. So that would put a very small population into a negative VLV. I will add, I cannot think of a reason not to lock up and even humanely kill people with a negative value, again I'll explain this is another rant as well.

I'm sure readers have already thought of the Minority Report or A Clockwork Orange. How could we trust such a system or government to do the right thing? How we would prevent a Kingpin type villain from abusing his power? Although I doubt a system like this could ever be accurately measured and or implemented.  If it was in place, I'd argue it would motivate even higher VLVs from its citizens. Maybe even a perpetual better world would arise each generation until resulting in an ideal utopia. Because higher VLV individuals would influence more people, and thus they would raise higher VLV offspring. This reminds me of a Peter Singer essay, Should This Be the Last Generation, and I'll borrow his conclusion:

"In my judgement, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?"
I could keep going with future people and sustainable utopias, but that's another rant too... Use The Spidey Rescue Dilemma to evaluate your heroes and villians, consider their VLV to speculate on whether they make the world a better or worse place. If they don't make the world a better place, why don't they change their philosophy? How do they struggle? How do we identify with their struggles?

Go where your mind wanders and wonder about the value of life, and who is worth saving over MJ.