Last Friday I took my daughter to see Captain America: Civil War. Most people I know seem to be Team Cap. I’m not. Here’s why….
The plot of Civil War–and I don’t consider this a spoiler–revolves around the UN’s desire to control the Avengers. The justification is that their actions, like fighting off the alien invasion in the first Avengers movie, often result in a ton of collateral damage. The Avengers split, because Captain America doesn’t want to put The Avengers under international control, while Tony Stark (Iron Man) believes that this is a responsible course of action.
I had an argument a few years ago over the effectiveness of torture. My argument against the use of torture hinged on one key point: There was no evidence that any of the information gained by torturing inmates at Guantanamo Bay saved a single life. One thing about me though: I am a relentless researcher. I wanted to see if I could find any documented cases of torture saving a life. I found one: A thief stole a car in Australia in the summer. The car had a sleeping toddler in the back seat. Thief discovers baby, abandons car, gets caught by police. Thief won’t reveal the location of the car until he’s severely beaten. Toddler is saved with no long-term ill effects.
In this case, assaulting the thief was clearly illegal, but that didn’t matter to the police, because saving the toddler was more important than obeying the law. Had the police been charged–they weren’t, because their report claimed the thief volunteered the information and the thief decided it was in his self-interest to go along with that story–I doubt that they would have been convicted, and even if they were, I would expect that the sentence would be a small price to pay for saving a child’s life.
And that’s really the situation here. Captain America is an absolutist. He thinks that if the UN has to authorize Avengers missions that The Avengers cannot act without UN approval. Tony Stark, however, is a pragmatist. He understands that there are three types of situations:
- Interventions that will be approved by the UN.
- Interventions that won’t be approved by the UN, but are not cataclysmic.
- Interventions that won’t be approved by the UN, but are cataclysmic.
The Avengers would act in 1. and 3. In 3., The Avengers would be willing to accept the consequences for their actions because whatever punishment the UN could manage would be less important than saving the world. Saving the world does tend to make punishments more lenient. Tony Stark understands that it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Too many people today are absolutists like Captain America. Hillary Clinton has a 100% rating from NARAL, which would place her at the extreme pro-choice end of the abortion spectrum. Too many Republicans who expressed concerns about Donald Trump have declared their support for him, because they always support their party. There are gun activists who believe any American should be able to own a gun, including people with mental illness and convicted felons. There are people who believe in total communism, redistributing all resources equally among the population. And, of course, there are religious extremists of all shades who believe that anyone who doesn’t follow their belief system is evil.
I’m not sure there are any issues where I am an absolutist. I feel that in almost everything there’s a central position that will give most people about eighty percent of what they want, where the absolute positions give one extreme 100%, the other 0%, and a roughly linear scale down the middle. Most extremists see the world as a series of zero-sum games. I see the world as very often being a series of win-win situations. I never expect to get everything I want, but if I can get most of what I want, I’m pretty happy.
Listen, learn, and compromise.