Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mind control is the most troubling super power

Kahlil Gibran who lived from 1883 to 1931 was a Lebanese-American writer, poet, and artist. He has many famous quotes, but the one that I remember is this:
“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don't, they never were.”
But what does this mean? Well, aside from the fact that there is no force in the universe that can make someone love another, I think it also implies that freedom of choice is one of the most intrinsic and important human values. Fair enough, right?

However, as much as you might think this is beautiful and true, it flies in the face of actual human nature. We are internally programmed to seek out and reward those who agree with us, and to punish those who do not. In other words, in practice, we really don't like choice UNLESS that choice agrees with us. Allow me to explain by telling you about the research of Professor Karen Wynn of Harvard University.

Dr. Wynn has found (by studying babies) a kind of preferential mental processing that begins before the first birthday. As children grow older, things as simple as the likes and dislikes of food to the color of an individual's skin lead to decisions of inclusion and exclusion, growing ever more complex. These biases and preferences sometimes assert themselves in the rise of regimes that demonize and dehumanize "others" who are outside their own group. This lies at the root of catastrophic human events like social ostracism, genocide, and slavery.

On Monday night, I watched the newest episode of "Alphas." The lady in the picture at the top of this post is Nina, and her special power is mind control. Monday's episode was all about Nina, and how she abused her "mind control" power all of her life. As a young girl, her parents were going to split up, and she mind controlled her father to make him stay. The result was the fighting between mom and dad continued, and it eventually led the father to kill himself.
Charles Xavier is a mutant with powerful mind control abilities.
The boy she fell in love with disagreed with her and she "almost" mind controlled him but stopped herself just before she went through with it. But it frightened the boy so much, it damaged their relationship forever. She never forgot him and looked him up years later.  A young man, he had become a father and husband. What did Nina do? She mind controlled him again so that he would leave them and run away with her. She eventually realized that she had done a terrible thing and let him go. After that, she tried to commit suicide. "I am a bad person," she said.

No. Nina, you are not a bad person. Humans in general are bad. You just got an ability that accommodated your natural desire.

All week I've been shaking my head and wondering why mind control is even a super power? It's a curse. If you had mind control, the only result would be to use it to get your way. This is what all of us want. Yet it defies what Mr. Gibran would call one of the most important and intrinsic human values. Choice.

And the real rub in this thinking, is that many of us want both of these conditions at the same time. We want absolute freedom, yet we desire the company of those who share our same beliefs and visions.

In comic books, none of Superman's powers have drawbacks. Super speed, strength, agility, eyesight, hearing...all of these things are useful. None of them have a negative side. I think the history of mind control studies point to a clear fascination by humans who have desired this ability. In America, freedom has been packaged, sold, and labeled in red, white, and blue. But I ask the question, how many Americans would secretly love to have Nina's mind control ability if they could? And how many would use it while wearing t-shirts that tout "home of the free and land of the brave?"

I think mind control is the most troubling super power.

If you could have mind control as a super power, would you take it? And how do you think you would use it? Would you be able to keep it under control the moment you didn't get your way in something? I look forward to reading your comments.


  1. I never thought of it like that, but you're right. Mind control would be a pretty bad power after a while. Changing someone's mind is great if you do it through a solid argument, but changing it through force is just plain wrong.

  2. I might use mind control once, to make Billy Corgan marry me. Just kidding :) No, I would not want this superpower unless I was a sociopath I guess, in which case I'm sure I'd be just fine with it!

    Great post Michael.

  3. I'd take it gladly. Not to make people do things I wanted, but to make them stop doing things that were annoying.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  4. Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet is one of my favorite books. If I have something weighing heavy on my mind I ask the book a question and somehow when I randomly open a page, the answer is there. As to mind control, yes I would take it to control my own mind...I have enough trouble with my own mind, to be bothered with others as well, sounds like to much work to me :)

  5. Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet was used as a brainwashing tool at this school I went to, which is a shame, because it's a lovely book.

    Anyway, if I had mind control I would use it to make myself stop eating, and to exercise without feeling pain, so I wouldn't be such a fat ass.

  6. I guess I wouldn't use it. There's something deflating about knowing someone else does something because they HAVE to and not because they want to.

  7. What kind of mind control? Could you control more than one person at a time? Could you use the power from a distance or would they have to be in your line of vision? That's an important consideration. Either way, if I'm being honest, I'd probably take it and use it to get publishing houses to publish my dribble... :P Though in the end, this kind of power would probably make me miserable.

  8. Well you know, with great power comes great responsibility and all that noise. I'm sure if I could really do the Jedi mind trick I'd go to the nearest bank and wave at all the employees and say, "You do not see me." and then clean them out. I mean come on, humans are invariably flawed.

  9. Mind reading is just as bad, invasion of privacy but I guess without the nasty effects of mind control.
    I wouldn't want to know anyone with that kind of power - too easy to control me. If I had it then I'd be making a mess of it. I change my mind so often that controlling others would be tough...going up and down on a seesaw kinds. :)

  10. My brother introduced me to Alphas this last week. I need to catch up...

    As for the mind control thing, let me share a conversation I had with my 13 year old after watching Alphas the first time.

    Me: I want mind control! "You WILL clean your room."

    Daughter: I'd just use it back on you and say, "The room IS clean."

    Eventually humans would develop the ability to fight off the mind control because choice is so important to us. That's my opinion.

  11. @Jamie: Thanks for agreeing with me! *Using mind control on Jamie...

    @Trisha: I have no idea who Billy Corgan is. I'm off to google this hunk

    @Moody: At least you're honest.

    @Siv: That's interesting. So it's like Tarot cards almost, or a Magic 8 ball.

    @Matt: Really? I would like to hear more of this. I guess books can be used for all kinds of nefarious purposes.

    @Brinda: I like your use of the word "deflating".

    @Elise: I was thinking one person at a time. And yes, in your line of vision (much like Nina's power) staring into their eyes.

    @P.T.: Great honest answer. I guess we'd all do something crooked, wouldn't we?

    @Rek: Mind reading is as bad as turning someone into a puppet? Hmm. I agree that it's bad but to totally make someone a slave? I think that's more severe.

    @Charity: So your premise is that if this super power existed, people would eventually become immune to it? I don't agree with that unless we could establish that the M/C was based on a biological component. Then the immune system might be able to compensate over the course of many hundreds of years. That conversation with your 13 yo is funny.

  12. An interesting question. I don't think humans could handle mind control. We'd need to evolve quite a bit before we could handle it. I think mind control would be about as bad as nuclear weapons. We've barely managed to control those. If we did manage to manipulate people (in many ways we already do)the best way to benefit from it would be to not use it.

  13. Give me mind control that lets me decide if people call or fold. Anything else is too complicated for me to figure out how to use right.

  14. "In comic books, none of Superman's powers have drawbacks. Super speed, strength, agility, eyesight, hearing...all of these things are useful."

    Except that Superman doesn't spend all his time saving people -- whenever he's resting, someone is dying and if he's superstrong, why does he need to rest?

    And X-ray vision can be used to cheat every bit as much as mind-control.

    Superpowers, like all powers, are no better or worse than the people who use them. They're not like guns, which exist only to kill things and so should be outlawed.

    Even mind control could have beneficial uses. If I have the power of mind control, I could stop a mother from stabbing her 6-year-old daughter.

    Using mind-control to do that would be no more, or less, evil, than simply grabbing her and stopping her; she should not be allowed the freedom to complete that.

    So YES: if I could have the power of mind control, I would not hesitate to take it and to use it as I saw fit -- but I am a moral person and wouldn't use my power for bad. (That's why I don't sue people over technical violations, or hide evidence, or otherwise abuse the relatively mundane powers I have.)

    Your hero in Alphas IS a bad person; she happens to have better tools to express her poor choices and lack of morals, but even if she didn't have mind control, she'd be a bad person.

  15. I think Superman's superhearing could be a very bad power to have, especially if all you want is some peace and quiet.

    As for mind control, it depends on the agenda behind the person using it. For example, let's say someone is a smoker (or a gambler, drug addict, etc.), and they've tried for years to quit but haven't been able to. With a little mind control help, they can change their bad habit.

  16. I would want super speed. Honestly, I don't want to control other people's minds, because I don't want to have that much to do with them to begin with.
    Super speed, though, that would be fun!

  17. Uh, I need the power of mind control. Seriously.


  18. No. I'd be too tempted to use it--or if it became instinctive, unable to stop myself from using it. I'd feel terrible about it afterwards, but you can't un-control someone's mind.

  19. off course I'd take it! And use it to turn all people into angels :)

  20. I really enjoyed that episode of Alphas. I think most of us if we had that power would start out using it for what we thought was the greater good, but how could anyone deal with having that much power?

  21. Nope! No, sirree! Bad things always happen when people use mind-control powers or magic to control people. Also, it's just creepy!

    Now if you were handing out teleportation or flight, I'd be first in line.

  22. I wouldn't want to have mind control power. I can barely stomach asking people to go to a movie I want to see. (I'll go alone so if it sucks, I only wasted my time.)

    Of course, no superpower is completely good or bad. It's all in how it's used.

    There are layers to this, and I can't get them all straight in my head.

  23. Remember when Obi-Wan used mind control benignly in Star Wars? But he was a good guy who wouldn't abuse it, and with the superbad like Darth Vader it didn't work.

    If mind control could be combined with the psychic powers shown in The Minority Report, then a person could prevent horrific crimes, and that's something I'd want. But beyond this possibility, mind control would be too tempting -- sooner or later I'd take advantage of it.

  24. I would only use it to...oh, hell, I'd try to rule the world. You know it's true. I'd turn into Evil Galadriel in LOTR. Ha!

  25. @LG - Evil Galadriel! OMG! You are totally my new favorite person of the hour ;) Best Comment.

  26. Fascinating questions, Michael. I'd like to think that I wouldn't take it for the reasons you've raised here. There's definitely a good book in that idea!

  27. Choice. The illusive ideal which humans hold on to so dearly. It's a judeo/Christian idea, you know. The idea of freedom of choice does not really follow the pattern of evolution. At least that's a debate that is raging among come evolutionary biologists and atheists. But perhaps that's a discussion to be held on another day...

    No I wouldn't use mind control- that is the language of religion. I didn't even force my daughter to live with me when I divorced her father (she was 15). She thinks I should have forced her but I don't think she realizes that I gave her the freedom of choice... or did I?

  28. for chrissakes mike, if you wanna be believable, at least get the quotes right!

    as for mind control: sure... i'd send EVERYbody in for remedial english classes, myself included! :P lol

    also: check out all the stuff on mind control posted on youtube!

  29. I really liked the fact that Alphas shows to darker side of mind control.

  30. I'm pretty sure I would end up abusing that power. Still have not caught Alphas - but I will catch up shortly.

  31. I'd use mind control to make myself go to the gym, really stick to my diet, and write every damned day. Sure, it would be tempting to use it to get others to do my bidding but, if we're looking at the reality of life, every one already tries to do this in various ways. Parents manipulate their kids into behaving the way they want, couple manipulate one another to the same purpose, as friends do, as employers do, etc., ad nauseum. Mind control would merely grant assurance that the manipulation would work. Just sayin'. :-)
    Some Dark Romantic

  32. I think the problem with any superpower is knowing when to use it because you ultimately change the natural process. Rescuing someone who turns evil, robbing someone of the value and reward of hard work etc.

    I think if I had mind control I would have encouraged someone to buy one of Hilter's paintings. How different the world would have been if he had followed his first love.