Entrusting the World to Supermen

Faster than a speeding Google-search, more powerful than the oil lobby, able to leap to judgment in a single bound! Ready to deal with any local, national or global issue! Instantly knowledgeable about all historical, current and future events! Able to discern hype, spin, bias, misinformation, disinformation, fraud, and lies!..... Look! It's a news-junkie! It's a policy-wonk! It's Supercitizen!

I try to imagine what it would take to be a Supercitizen, and can't To be thoroughly informed about the issues confronting a local school board is a Herculean task. To have good knowledge of state, national and global issues, and adequate understanding of science, statistics, economics, geography, history, politics, ethics, religions, languages, literature and arts, is impossible.

So that's why we elect Superpresidents, to handle all this for us, right?

Er ... no. As an old generalist who has aspired to know at least something about everything that passes before me, and who in 71 years has accumulated a lot of data, I am very aware of the difficulties of making sense of the world and being a responsible citizen.

I know I can't be Supercitizen, but I try to be a reasonably informed citizen. I rely primarily on print media and the Internet, and every day I find something I've missed, or find new light on an old issue. For example, one day recently I learned that:

- John Ashcroft stopped flying on commercial airlines in July 2001 after the FBI warned him they were unsafe. (CBS News July 26, 2001);

-IBM profited hugely selling the Nazis the Hollerith punch cards and machine readers they needed to expedite the extermination of Jews. (IBM and the Holocaust, by Edward Black, 2001)

The first didn't surprise me. The second did. I'd never given much thought to how, logistically, the Nazis had managed to track down, transport, and kill over 6 million people. Punch cards, that's how.

I read more: "Nazi Germany offered [IBM's] Watson the opportunity to cater to government control, supervision, surveillance, and regimentation on a plane never before known in human history."

Interesting. Watson was a respected citizen, adviser to Roosevelt, not a fascist. He was also a smart businessman who saw the moneymaking potential of an authoritarian government. "The fact that Hitler planned to extend his Reich to other nations only magnified the prospective profits, " notes Black.

What would a Supercitizen or a Superpresident make of this. Would he, like Bush, buzz off in search of bad guys to clobber? Or would she see a warning about "government control, supervision, surveillance, and regimentation."?

Then I read Senator John Kerry: "How does it happen that to be anticommunist we become undemocratic, as if we have to subvert our society in order to save it? Because the powers claimed by presidents in national security have become the controlling wheel of government, driving everything else. Secrecy then makes it possible for the president to pose as the sole competent judge of what will best protect our security. Secrecy permits the White House to control what others know. How many times have we heard a president say, "If you only knew what I know, you would understand why I'm doing what I'm doing.".... As Lord Acton said, "Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice." So in the bunker of the White House, the men who serve the president put loyalty above analysis. Judgment yields to obedience. Just salute and follow orders."

That was 1988. In 2002, replace "anticommunist" with "anti-terrorist".

The rest of the world sees our President zooming around in a Superman suit, declaring victory in Afghanistan, threatening war with Iraq, developing new nuclear weapons and trying to terrorize his own people into obedience, and the rest of the world is mostly unimpressed:

Joan Smith writes (Independent/UK 6/16/02) "... we are entitled, in a world where what the US President says may affect all our lives, to expect something better than the overblown claims and ignominious climbdowns that are the hallmark of this ignorant, inept administration. Frantic displays of patriotism, random round-ups of hundreds of foreigners and unverifiable claims about imminent terrorist attacks cannot conceal the fact that its members do not know what they are doing;"

We don't need a Superpresident, and we can't expect to be Supercitizens. But what can we, as ordinary mortals do, in a world that is enormously complex, comprehensively interconnected and changing at daunting speed? Can democracy even work in a world of billions, in which a substantial portion lacks adequate food, clean water, education, health care?

Not unless we make it work. And we'll have to reject all Superbeings and start from the ground up, both literally and figuratively. We must protect the earth, air and water that is our life -- not as Supercitizens but as neighbors on the only planet we have. We must work from the ground up to provide the essentials of a good life for every person on the planet -- again, not by having superpowerful entities swoop down from above and kill bad guys.

Most of all, we must ground our imperious Supermen in Washington. They've already used punch cards to control the outcome of a presidential election They have technologies far advanced over punch cards for "government control, supervision, surveillance and regimentation". In the absence of "gold kryptonite" (toxic to Superman) we'll have to use our voices and votes to strip them of their powers.

The hour is late. Remember, the Nazis thought themselves bermenschen -- Supermen. They made the trains run on time, to the death camps.