Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Count Your Fears

What are you afraid of? Are your fears personal or universal? Temporal, or infinite? Is there any fear you can have which is not shared by at least some of your fellow humans? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.
  1. A fear of being forgotten, of having never mattered. Of knowing that no matter how hard I try, my art may never be recognised, and when I am gone, all that will remain of me is slowly rotting bones hidden beneath cold earth. That I may never achieve what I hope to achieve.
  2. That fear Number 1 is what I deserve, that it is my lot as a human. That my art is mediocre, not worth saving, not worth remembering. That I am ordinary.
  3. That all art is vain and nothing lasts forever. The loss of my work. The idea that, when my work is lost, and all those who knew me have died, I will be truly gone.
  4. A violent death. A painful life. Broken bones and surgeries. Illness and atrophy.
  5. That fear Number 4, of mere pain, will prevent me from living, from taking risks, from doing things which will thrill and excite me.
  6. The loss of cherished loved ones, family and friends; or their ire, disgust, or disregard. A life of solitary confinement, alone and ignored by friend and foe alike.
  7. That I will take risks and fail. That I will never know glory. That I will be damaged and discarded.
  8. That I will be injured and become trapped in my own body, unable to move or escape, unable to stir the hand that would provide the consolation of death and nothingness. That my mind will fail me and I will forget everything I am, all my memories washed away like stones worn down by the sea.
  9. That death is the end. That life does not prevail. That there is nothing more than here and now. That I will never see my loved ones again.
  10. That death is not the end. That there is something more, unknown and unknowable. Possibly more beautiful and brilliant than can be conceived, possibly more terrifying and horrible than can be imagined. That eternal suffering is real and palpable. That I may be divided from those I love forever.
  11. That I have wasted time, dallied, idled. Made excuses for laziness, spurned the gift of life with TV and boredom. That, knowing this fear, I do little to alleviate it.
  12. That I will die without ever really knowing true love. That I will never find it, am not made for it; that I will simply be unlucky and  never trip over it or dare to grab it. That I may try for it in vain. That I have been in love and not dared to realise it, or to speak it aloud, scared of what it might mean.
  13. That I am weak. Physically, intellectually. That there is evil in my mind I cannot fully control; that I am subject to basic biology which will betray me. That I am wrong about all the important things, despite my efforts to follow the evidence.
  14. That God is real. That he is real and is as evil, petty, and malicious as many of his followers would have you believe. That he hates us as much as his treatment of us on Earth would lead me to believe.
  15. That I fear too much, and it takes up too much of my time, so that at the end of my life I will look back and say ‘what a waste of energy that could have been spent on living’. That I worry about things I can control instead of changing them. That I worry about things I cannot control.
  16. That there are things I cannot control.
  17. That we humans will destroy ourselves. That we already have and we cannot see it. Lacking the will to ask the hard questions, that we do not see what we are and what we are capable of, where we came from and where we might go. That our nature will lead us to ruin, when it could have led us to the stars.
  18. That society will fail and justice be trampled by blind men of perfect faith or perfect self-interest, discarding compassion; and we will lose all that precious thought, all that we have gained through the labour of discovery accumulated over countless years of sweat and setback and the smallest of triumphs, day by day. That we will cast away all beauty and reason in the face of blind instinct, dogma, or prejudice.
  19. That we will be destroyed before our time by a universe cold and uncaring, without even the chance to say goodbye to things that really matter, to those we really love.
  20. That we humans behave so badly that we deserve to be destroyed. That our evils outweigh our acts of kindness. That everyday people of good conscience are nothing against the power of the machine-like indifference to both human and non-human suffering which seems to drive the world along. That we will someday be treated by other species the way we treat our fellow humans and fellow species here on Earth, that is, with contempt, disregard, and annihilation.

Your turn.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Superpowers that would actually suck

Flight (see: Superman, Wonder Woman, Thor)

Why it seems cool:

At first glance, flying seems like a barrel of laughs. You can get home without a car, so think of all the money you’ll save on gas, not to mention time spent stuck in traffic. No gridlock for you as you sweep up into the air, dodging buildings on your merry way. Who wouldn’t want to sweep a beautiful girl (or guy) into their arms, and launch away into the sunset? I mean, that’s gotta get you some way towards getting lucky, even you have a face like the back end of a bus. It’s also a pretty cool way to make entrance. While your friends are standing around wondering where you are, you’re smugly preparing to drop into their midst from above, fling your arms wide, and say ‘I have arrived!’ in a booming, sexy voice.

But actually…

But when you look a little harder, the flaws become apparent. Firstly, the assumption that flight equals speed. We’re spoilt by our Superman stories, but there’s no reason why this assumption holds for a regular guy granted the power of flight. I walk at a fairly brisk three miles per hour. If that speed holds for flying, I’m still not going many places which are in range of my house. And if I’m as tired after a long fly as after a long walk, more than an hour and a half is just going to be a drag.

Also, during winter, it’s going to be hella cold up there. There’s nothing to protect you from wind chill, or stop you being thrown around like a leaf. If you drop your woolly hat, enjoy sneezing and a runny nose when you get home. If you’re trying to do shopping, there’s no way flying is going to make getting those groceries or a new TV home easier. It’s a problem just stopping for a rest, because you’d need to find somewhere to land safely. And if you happen to drop something on unsuspecting passers-below, look out lawsuit or manslaughter charge.

Flight does not equal super strength, so good luck scooping anyone in your arms and carrying them off for more than a few minutes before you have to float awkwardly down to the pavement to rest your arms for a while. And again with the dropping: a person falling from height is going to be badly hurt or even killed. Nice going, buddy. Maybe just take the train next time.

Teleportation (see: Nightcrawler, Solo, Deadpool)

Why it seems cool:

Teleportation is one of my favourite powers, and one I’d love to have. That is, if all goes to plan. Similarly to flying, it’d allow me to save a lot of money on gas, a lot of time on travel, and also there’s the very real if less quantifiable benefit of being able to freak out and scare a whole bunch of people. Depending on whether I went down the superhero or villain path, I could also save people from fires or out of control trains, or simply get away with stealing a whole bunch of stuff.

But actually…

The main drawback I can see to teleportation is the fact that it would probably end in my death, or at least a very painful materialisation into a solid object. That is bound to impair my life-saving and/or stealing abilities (hey, you save a few lives, maybe you deserve a free O Henry every now and then) quite dramatically. I know that various characters have various ways around this, for example, Nightcrawler’s ‘I need to see where I’m going’ deal, but to me that seems to defeat the purpose of teleportation. If you’re near enough to a place, you can probably just walk there. And all the bank vaults I’d like to materialise inside, how am I supposed to see inside there anyway. Ok, looks like I’ve chosen supervillain after all.

Invisibility (see: Sue Storm, Venom, Martian Manhunter)

Why it seems cool:

Apart from the rather juvenile desire to be able to spy on people changing in locker rooms, and the ability to eavesdrop on your friends to know if they really liked the banana bread you baked them, invisibility would come in handy if you needed to, say, hide from the police, or an annoying co-worker. If you’re the type who’s been wrongly imprisoned for killing your wife, and are now a fugitive from justice, or even if you’re just the kind of person who dislikes confrontation, this would be a godsend.

But actually…

There are a few practical considerations here. If you’re anything like Hollow Man (and here’s hoping you’re not), you’ll have to shed your clothes in order to be really effective. This is another ability that has limitations in Winter time, not to mention anywhere where the ground is covered in gravel, glass, or other things you generally want to avoid stepping on.

Even if clothed invisibility is an option, it still has problems. You might be able to put off awkward conversations about toner, but you can’t stay hidden forever. Real life had a way of catching up. Also, it’s hard to maintain a relationship if the other person is constantly worried you might be reading their email over their shoulder. You’d have to learn to be quiet as well as unseen, and that’s just a lot of ninja training most of us don’t have time for.

There’d be a lot of dogs barking at the thin air you’re occupying, too. This isn’t the worst thing in the world but could blow your cover, after which you’ve got some explaining to do, boy, before the military cart you off and experiment on you for the rest of your life. The biggest danger, though, is simply people bumping into you, cars barrelling down roads they thought were empty (there’s a reason cyclists wear those hi-vis vests), general collision with objects. Again, you’re going to have to get really good at dodging, and again, that ninja training is time-consuming (and probably expensive).

Super strength (see: Hulk, The Thing, Juggernaut)

Why it seems cool:

What’s not to love? The ability to pound your enemies to dust, to throw cars through walls, to catch the badly-designed globe from the Daily Planet as it plummets towards loads of squishy humans on the pavement. All excellent. It’d also be handy for renovation work. Who needs a jackhammer when you have hammer fists, right?

But actually…

Super strength goes a long way to helping you walk through Gotham at night without feeling scared, but it isn’t going to stop a bullet. For that matter, it isn’t even going to stop a slow knife attack if you don’t know it’s coming. You might be able to punch your attacker’s face in, but that’s not much good if he’s already stuck you. Without super healing, super strength is really an accident waiting to happen. Pick up a glass and wham! Super splinters. Throw a train through a sky scraper and then think ‘I’m an idiot’ as the bricks hurtle towards your skull. This strength of yours is going to get you killed,  either by making you more reckless in battle, or simply by making household objects more dangerous. Don’t go gripping on any electrical wires any time soon.

The ability also comes with a Rogue-like drawback. If you can’t even eat your dinner without bending the cutlery and smashing the china, you sure as hell better not be hugging Aunty Maude any time soon. And sex, well, forget it. ‘I can live without sex,’ you say? (Ok, no one says that, but if they did…) Wrong again. Self-love leads to the same shudder-inducing consequences. Super strength hands, stay away from my super-sensitive areas.

Super speed (see: The Flash, Atlanta Blur, Quicksilver)

Why it seems cool:

Another way to skip the traffic queues and get home in time to watch Judge Judy, as well as save on all those pesky train fares. It’d also be very helpful in cases of forgotten homework, or checking if you left the oven on. Oh, and of course the whole saving lives, path of justice kind of thing. Hell, it’d be fun just to be able to win fifty gold medals. I mean, super powers aren’t technically cheating, right?

But actually…

First of all, I think the cost of shoes would outweigh any potential savings you could make on travel. Seriously, you’d need to have your own warehouse full, and probably carry an extra pair around your neck like a hobo every time you popped out for milk. If your friends found out, that’d be hell, too. Can you imagine always having to be the one who goes to the lobby for extra popcorn just before the movie starts? Besides, it’s not like your significant other needs to bring a coat, because you can just run home for it if it’s needed, right? Super speed might turn you into the bitch of the group.

Also, if it makes you as tired as a regular person would be after a proportionate amount of activity, you’re going to be napping all day, kid. And eating. Think how hungry you get after a regular gym session, and then multiply that by, I don’t know, lots. You will definitely be shelling out for all the extra power bars and mac and cheese your body chews through on those little excursions.

If you don’t have the reaction speed of Bruce Lee, you’re also just plain going to run into things a lot. Even with a helmet (and who wants to carry one of those around all day?), that’s just brain damage waiting to happen.

You think speed impresses the ladies? Think again, old sport. Finally, the last reason is also the most easily explained, and it would occur in various daily activities for which super speed is not as suited as you might think. Let me sum it up in two words: friction burns. Oh yes, it does. Hope you have money for soothing aloe vera cream, speedy.