A Philosophical Exchange between Professor X & Magneto
This piece of fictional philosophical dialogue was written for a philosophy course at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in September 2011. For this assignment, our professor instructed us write two characters, real or fictional, engaging in a philosophical dialogue.
After hearing about the “Is Batman a real superhero?” topic, I asked myself what other superheroes could be looked at philosophically. The X-Men were the perfect choice. In the 1960s Stan Lee created the X-Men, mutant teenagers growing up with the responsibility of having dangerous powers and protecting a society (human-kind) that hates them. Parallels were quickly made to the Civil Rights Movement, and more recently to the LGBT community.
Charles Xavier, often seen as the Martin Luther King Jr. of the Marvel world, teaches young mutants to control their powers, and preaches harmony between mutants and humans. Charles’ best friend and greatest foe, Erik Lehnsherr often compared to Malcolm X for his more militarized approach, believes mutants are superior to humans and teaches his followers to terrorize them. As a result, Xavier’s X-Men and Erik’s Brotherhood of Mutants are constantly at odds and in battle with each other, further deteriorating society’s impressions of mutants as a whole.
I took inspiration from the film, “X-Men: First Class” and set a real historical event as a backdrop for the conversation. My initial draft was missing a required thought experiment, so I worked the Ring of Gyges in there because I thought it related somewhat to Erik’s desires to use his gifts for evil and revenge.
At the root of it all, Charles and Erik are friends who both want mutants to be safe and free from persecution. Their respective methods to achieve this goal is where the conflict lies.
XAVIER INSTITUTE FOR THE GIFTED – LATE EVENING, OCTOBER 22ND 1962.
Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto), two of the most powerful mutants on the planet have just watched President John F. Kennedy address the nation following the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Despite being restrained to a wheel chair, Charles is a powerful telepath with telekenesis who can alter reality and his friend and colleague Erik, has the ability to control magnetic fields, and is able to manipulate any object with the slightest trace of metal in it. The two have devoted their lives to the maturation and preservation of their species, however they fear for their kind and how the rest of the non-mutant world will react to their imminent emergence in society. Is the world ready to comprehend that mutants live among them? Can they feel safe with the powers mutants are capable of? And should mutants use their powers to protect the very people who loathe them?
CHARLES XAVIER and ERIK LEHNSHERR sit in the living area of the Institute and ponder the President’s address. Erik pours Charles a glass of Whiskey and a glass for himself.
(Somewhat taken aback)
Erik, have you forgotten this is a school for young people?
(Pouring significantly more for himself)
No my friend, however stressful times call for stress relievers, no?
I would think stressful times are ones where we should strive to keep our minds clear, not distorted.
Sometimes I feel as if you’re the only one who can keep their minds clear, I mean you could get inside my head anytime you wanted to.
Who knows how many times you’ve made me believe I was a little baby without me knowing it?
You know I’d never do that Erik…
(Takes a sip of Whiskey)
Not unless you deserved it.
The two pause, and share a brief laugh. Both men have come a long way for themselves and for mutant kind but now they realize things are about to change for the worse.
(Looking more solemn)
Well, it seems as if the world is coming to an end, might as well get drunk. I mean it’s only a matter of time before these Neanderthals blow each other up with their missiles. I’ve seen this before, Charles. This is going to be war and it’s not going to be pretty. We need to be ready.
I agree, we will be ready, but we need to teach our students to control their gifts first. When the time comes for a mission we just can’t send them out into the field without any preparation.
You’re right, but I must confess sometimes I can’t help but feel like you’re holding them back. If the world had any idea of what we are capable of, they would tremble. The things Jean can do alone… But look at us here… hiding.
We are not hiding. This is the only place these kids are safe; some of them were shunned by their own families. You and I both know that this will not be easy, they will be afraid of us, but we have to show them that we will only use our powers for good.
I plan on using my powers to protect myself, brother, because they won’t see any good in us. And quite frankly, I don’t see any good in them.
(Putting his drink down)
Therein lies your conflict Erik; it can’t be us against them. Humanity and mutant kind will never prosper that way. How else are we supposed to coexist?
(Staring coldly at Charles)
Coexisting was never a concern.
Then what exactly are your intentions?
(Pouring himself another glass)
Go ahead. Read my mind.
You mean to tell me you don’t believe peace is the answer? Then what are you fighting for?
I’m fighting for us. For mutants. I mean come on, Charles, look at how they treat their own, based solely on miniscule facial features or ethnic backgrounds. Hank looks like a blue grizzly bear for goodness sakes! How can you honestly believe that they will show us any civility, when they find out that Kitty can walk through walls, or that the visor you made for Scott is the only thing between them and a 15-year-old unleashing energy beams as hot as the sun? They won’t want peace my dear friend, they’ll want to put us in camps. I’ve been imprisoned before, have you forgotten that too, brother?
Erik leans over and pulls up his shirt-sleeve to reveal the ID numbers tattooed unto his skin. Erik was born to a middle class German Jewish family, whom were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp where his parents and sister were immediately killed. Erik survived due to the manifestation of his powers, and was forced to help aid the construction of the gas chambers. After liberation he traveled to Israel where he met Charles and the two vowed never to let such atrocities happen to mutant kind.
(Staring at Erik’s tattoo for a moment, gathering his thoughts, and looking up back at him)
You know I have not forgotten, and you know where I stand. As mutants we hold great powers, and equally great responsibilities. We must have full control over our gifts, or else they will consume us, Erik. Would you rather be in control of your anger, in control of your powers, or succumb to them? In Plato’s Republic, there is the tale of the Ring of Gyges. In this tale a-
I’m not one of your students, save the history lesson.
(As Charles continues Erik pours himself more Whiskey)
A shepherd discovers a gold ring, which enables him to cloak himself, invisible to any one else. With such great power at his disposal, the shepherd takes the opportunity to commit adultery with the queen and murders the king. Now one might assume that the shepherd would be happy, but he’s still miserable. The point is that the shepherd is conflicted. Externally he is a man with extreme power and wealth, however internally he is at odds with his morality. His injustices are eating away at him, Erik. The man in control of his desires and abilities will always be the better man.
We already are the better men! My father scared them, so we were sent to the ghettoes. The Russians and Cubans scare them so they prepare their missiles! Black people, gays and lesbians, and so on! They will always fear what they do not understand… always have.
We must teach them. We both knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
Since we’re name-dropping philosophers, Socrates tried to teach, and look what they did to him… Do you think we will get a “fair” trial? Make no mistake Charles, they will come for us, then what will our morals do? You tell me, where were their morals when they starved us? When they gassed my neighbors?
Teaching our kind and these kids how to protect themselves is one of the reasons I asked you help me build this institute. The other reason was to help them have a sense of control. We must be better. You mustn’t let revenge consume you, Erik. Mutation has blessed us with great gifts, however they are not to be abused. If we allow ourselves to let hate, anger, and our impulses consume us, how are we any better than the Shepherd? How are we any better than those men who took your family and murdered all of those innocent people?
Erik uses his powers to raise a revolver from a locked cabinet shelf into the air, breaking it apart into all of it’s pieces and re-assembling it. The television is next, and soon just about every object with any trace of metal in it is floating in the room.
This makes us better. We’re gods, Charles, we can do what whatever we please.
We are X-Men, and we do what is right. The fact that we possess great powers does not grant us moral autonomy to do whatever we want. Society can’t function that way. We share this planet with humans, and we will protect ourselves as well as them from harm.
Perhaps you’re right. But when the time comes for battle they won’t hesitate, and neither will I.
Erik exits, and Charles cannot help but read his mind. He knows he and his friend will soon be taking very different paths.