July 03, 2017

Sociological Superheroes

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman (illustrations by Terence Moronta)

The world needs some sociological superheroes. Don’t get me wrong. I have great appreciation and admiration for Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Spiderman, The Flash, The Hulk, and the rest of our favorite crime-fighting idols. With their awesome strength and special powers these comic book creations help keep our world safe from evil villains and wrongdoers.

But the problem with these traditional superheroes is that that they are only equipped to deal with problems after they occur. They always enter a scene to stop some wicked scoundrel from carrying out a nefarious plan. When they become aware of danger or sense that someone is up to no good, they quickly appear to thwart the dastardly plot and save the day.

What we really need are superheroes that have the power to stop evildoers from concocting these plans in the first place. Instead of tirelessly running around the globe trying to extinguish or contain so many fires, wouldn’t it be great if we had superheroes who had the power to prevent these villains from setting fires in the first place?

Imagine if there was a new batch of superheroes that could swoop in and help misguided souls see clearly, think critically, and act humanely. Then, all of our favorite superheroes (who, let’s face it, are getting pretty old) could ease into retirement. What I’m suggesting is that we replace crime fighters with critical-thinking facilitators. This is why we need sociological superheroes.

I’m not sure how enthusiastic DC or Marvel Comics will be about my idea. After all, our favorite superheroes might be old and aging but they are still very popular (and very profitable). But at the risk of being somewhat naïve, let me pitch the following three new sociological superheroes. These three novices may not have the same sex appeal as our comic book friends but they are needed just as much, if not more, to prevent our world from descending deeper into violence, division, and destruction.

Factoid Fanatic

Factoid fanatic

The Factoid Fanatic appears on the scene to ensure that what is being said is accurate and backed-up by data. In a time when “alternative facts” and outright lies are peddled by government leaders, media pundits, and misinformed citizens, the factoid fanatic is here to set the record straight. She has an unlimited arsenal of data points and researched-backed insights to ensure that falsehoods and outrageous fabrications will not be tolerated.

Whether it’s about climate denial, economic policies, or the historical legacies of inequality, the Factoid Fanatic is there to help people understand why their thoughts and attitudes might be misguided and erroneous. She is also not averse to intervening in the highest levels of government to ensure that politicians do not use baseless assertions in order to enact legislation that is harmful to the planet and humanity.

Fans of traditional superheroes no doubt are aware of Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth. The Lasso of Truth is an impressive magical power but unfortunately it demonstrates why we need the superpowers of the Factoid Fanatic. There is so much misinformation swirling around that many people do not even realize that what they believe is based on faulty data or flawed assumptions. For these individuals, the Lasso of Truth will not be very effective because they don’t know the truth.

But once they get a visit from the Factoid Fanatic, they will see the error of their ways. They will realize how so much of what they thought was true and factual was actually based on invalid arguments and inaccurate information. The Factoid Fanatic is well aware of how difficult it will be to get through to some people. Nevertheless, she will persist because she is equipped with an endless supply of knowledge, charts, graphs, illustrations, studies, and statistics to get even the most stubborn rejecters of truth to come around and see the light.

The Reflector

The reflector

The Reflector appears when people need to be made aware of the biases, stereotypes, and prejudices that cloud their worldview. The Reflector will hold up her powerful introspective mirror so that you can experience true reflexivity. As you stare into her mirror you instantly become aware of biases you didn’t even know had. You are then able to see how these biases affect the way you perceive and interact in the world. Unlike Marvel superheroes Kamala Khan and Nighthawk who often fight against prejudice after it’s occurred, The Reflector extinguishes biased behavior before it rears its ugly head.

Most of us will not be too pleased to have a visit from The Reflector because we would rather not be confronted with our prejudices and stereotypes. After all, who wants to engage willingly in such introspective reflection of your own social warts and blemishes?

To paraphrase and amend a well-known quote from Peter Berger’s Invitation to Sociology, people who like to avoid shocking discoveries about themselves, who prefer to believe that they are good and pure, and who like the safety of the world-taken-for-granted should try to stay away from The Reflector because they will find her unpleasant.

Despite our resistance to her, the work of the Reflector is vital if we are to eradicate the –isms of intolerance that so deeply plague our world. Part of the reason why things like racism and sexism still exist is because few of us are willing to acknowledge the myriad ways that we are racist and sexist. Unless we can own up to our own social prejudices and biases these –isms of intolerance will continue to flourish. If we all had a visit from The Reflector, however unpleasant that may be, it would at least help us to understand that each of us needs to be part of the solution if we want to eliminate the problem.

Captain Interdependent

Captain interdependent

We might think of Captain Interdependent as the long-lost cousin of Captain America. Captain Interdependent helps us see that we all need each other to survive. Like a true leader, he reminds us that there is no “I” in team. He fights against rampant individualism, a dualistic mentality of us versus them, and he points out the myriad ways that we are all connected—and not just we as people but with all species and living organisms of the universe.

For over 70 years, Captain America has been fighting foes that threaten the American way of life: Nazis, fascists, communists, and terrorists. The villains who adhere to these ideologies are problematic and they do go against many of our cherished beliefs. But one of the main reasons why they hate us and we hate them is because we all place so much emphasis on our differences. Both sides have constructed a set of beliefs and perceptions that suggest we are different and separate species.

This us versus them mentality is like a collective manifestation of individualism. Both sides feel as if their way of life is threatened by the other side and so we need to eradicate their way of being to preserve our own. Captain Interdependence does the immensely important and challenging work of getting people to see that our survival is intricately dependent on each other. Once we understand his basic message we will be more likely to accept our ideological differences. Neither side will viciously try to impose their beliefs on the other; instead we will embrace more of a live and let live attitude so that we don’t threaten our mutual existence.

And if Captain Interdependent’s work is not difficult enough, he also sees it as his duty to ensure that humans respect their deep connection to and dependence on the earth. Climate change, pollution, and mass extinctions of flora and fauna are all attributable to people not recognizing that we live in a biosphere. Too many people for far too long have treated the earth as if it is a separate entity that we can use for our own selfish pleasures and purposes. Captain Interdependent is here to ensure that we understand our interconnectedness with all living things and that we live more harmoniously according to this crucial knowledge.

These three sociological superheroes may not provide the same excitement and action as our traditional superheroes but the work they do to save humanity is arguably more important. They are not interested in fighting the symptoms of evil; instead, they want to wipeout the cause of the problems that threaten our existence. Only time will tell if these sociological superheroes find a place in our world, but you’ll know they have when you see the words BAM! KA-POW! BOOM! SMASH! replaced with THINK! FACTS! TRUTH! REFLECT! CONNECT!

Comments

Your points about prevention is key to many of the problems faced my social sciences. I study Public health which a forefront of prevention is often cited and noted as a way to cure people's illnesses. In the field of medical sociology, health disparities lie in inequities and prejudices against specific minorities is another issue the Reflector could address! (http://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/eliminating-racialethnic-disparities-in-health-care-what/) Their health insurance status also comes into play here.

So excited for Daredevil season 3. I just wish they would hurry up and bring out the season as fast as possible especially because they left the last season with so many unanswered questions.
Really hyped to see Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock and Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page.

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