Philosophy in The Flash (SEASON 1) Post 6
Ethics of Superhero Justice, Power & Responsibility
An Overview: Ethical use of Power & Responsibility in the Flash
Through showing the Flash’s unequal advantage over society, the obvious idea that a meta-human cannot be detained or stopped by the ordinary person, and unethical abuses of power, The Flash, raises the philosophy that those in high positions of power (or with superpowers for that matter), have a responsibility to be ethical and take action for the ‘greater good’ over their individual needs.
As the famous quote from Spiderman goes: ‘With great power comes great responsibility’. In the Flash, it’s a quote that holds true when examining the show and ethics. In order to maintain wellbeing, natural order and equality in their society, the meta-humans hold the ethical responsibility to use their powers non-lethally and for the greater benefit of everyone, rather than for their own benefits or goals.
Elaborating on that, due to the imbalance of power in the city; with the powerful meta-humans and comparatively helpless majority of everyday citizens, ethically, the meta-humans have the responsibility to equalize this power imbalance by making the ‘correct’ choices for their city and not abusing their power (e.g. by using your powers to get what you want, at the expense of others).
If ‘power’ is defined as a person’s capability to shape and impact the world, and ‘responsibility’ as how accountable a powerful person’s choices can be for the events that take place, then the Spiderman quote can also imply that ‘our responsibility increases as our power increases’. For example, the Flash gains the responsibility not to drastically alter time when he gains the power to time travel.
The Ethics of Dealing out your own Brand of Justice Without Consulting Authority
Fault, blame and responsibility are three closely interlocked concepts that play a large role in the TV show, the Flash and our daily lives.
As I previously mentioned, an imbalance of power that a superhero holds over society and others, can result in an abuse of power in the hero and a lack of correct blaming and punishment if something goes wrong. Who is responsible if something terrible happens while a hero is on the job, just trying to do good? In the Flash and other fictional universes, typically, it is the criminals who cop the responsibility for damage bills caused by the hero and any deaths or sad occurrences that happen due to the hero’s involvement.
Barry and his associates fight crime by dealing out their own brand of justice decided on their own ideals of right and wrong -without consulting any sort of authority. Are they any different from the criminals?
Superheroes often also incorrectly detail or misreport incidents for their own personal well-being, security and public trust, rather than owning up to a wrong they have committed- accidentally or with intent- whilst trying to help. In the Flash, Barry and his associates fight crime by dealing out their own brand of justice decided on their own ideals of right and wrong -without consulting any sort of authority.The ethics of keeping all of their metahuman criminals in the ‘particle accelerator pipe-line prison’ without any sort of trial or proper care, and their subjection to constant isolation, is extremely questionable and almost inhumane. Additionally, Team Flash continually hacks into police department
data and surveillance footage for their own purposes, in addition to developing weapons to combat criminals.
The philosophical question that needs to be raised: is it ethical to deal out your own brand of justice without consulting authority, even if you have the best intentions?
If the Flash consulted legal authority (was subjected to an official brand of justice), he could be penalised for his damage of city property in his crime-fighting and life-endangering vigilante activities, just as criminals are. In fact, the only thing that separates the Flash from the criminals in this respect, is the ‘moral’- yet brutal- brand of justice that he promotes. The use of violence in restraining super-criminals and the lack of people to answer to for any mishaps or injustices committed, is certainly unethical. Perhaps, if he had an authority to consult, less damage would occur in the Flash’s efforts and proper, legal and just trials would take place for the metahuman criminals.
In a way, the Flash and his affiliates are no better than the criminals they face, in terms of ethical responsibility and justice; as the criminals themselves can also be said to ‘deal out their own brand of justice without consulting authority’. The criminals simply deal out what is widely seen by the populace as an ‘unethical, unfair and immoral’ brand of their own personal justice; only seen to be unethical etc. because of the damage and corruption that they cause and their general disadvantageous effect on society. The Flash is only seen differently, simply because his brand of justice is regarded by the populace as ‘ethical and moral’. However, it appears Central City citizens only see it to be ethical and moral because of the results the Flash brings about by dealing out his justice; which appear to promote happiness for the majority and have a general beneficial effect on society.
Essentially, ‘the ends justify the means’ most of the time for the fictional Central City in regard to the Flash; if he killed a criminal to save them, they would probably still hail him as a hero. Further, as long as their hero’s brand of justice aligns to what the general consensus sees to be just, they will probably not even think about other ethical considerations.
When things get deep, they can also get quite dark. As a Flash fan myself, I know exactly how many of you may be feeling after that post:
Missed the last two posts on Philosophy in the Flash?