How to Choose a Super-Team (or League, or Group, or….)
Greetings, fellow heroes.
In honor of the upcoming release of The Avengers and the recent re-forming of The Justice League, I thought I’d revisit an old topic- joining a super team. It’s pretty much a given that if you’re a superhero, you will, at some point, end up on a team. For example, the Avengers have had nearly 100 members, past and present, and the Justice League has had nearly 150 members. This means just about every single character in the Marvel and DC universes has either been a member, worked with a member, or fought a member of one of those teams.
So what does this mean to you? To the novice hero, joining seems like a contradiction. Many of them view a hero as an ethically superior person who stands apart from an uncaring and depraved society. But Aristotle, who is the Captain America of ethicists, argues differently. He points out that all reasoning starts from common opinion, which he defines as:
opinion held by everyone or by the majority or by the wise—either all of the wise or the majority or the most famous of them—and which is not paradoxical; for one would accept the opinion of the wise, if it is not opposed to the views of the majority (Topics 104a8-13)
For Aristotle, reasoning itself starts within the bounds of the community. This means ethics in its most basic form begins as part of a team, not outside it. Moreover, there are no superheroes that act as Nietzsche’s Ubermench- a “superhuman” who enters a fallen world and imposes new, superior values. Only supervillains act like that. Rather, the superhero comes out of a society and, after the evil is vanquished, returns control back to that society. If you want to rule a nation, I suggest you try to take over Latveria like most villains.
This still leaves the problem of which team to join. Fortunately, most supervillain teams are courteous enough to include the word “evil”, “sinister”, “terror”, or “Goldman-Sachs” in their titles. As a rule, try to avoid teams with names incorporating these descriptors.
But despite your best efforts, you may still end up in evil teams. It happens to the best of us- you think you’re joining a group dedicated to justice, and the next thing you know the doomsday virus is about to be released into the atmosphere and you’ve got to stop it. Its OK, we’ve all been there. But like the apostle Paul or Bruce Wayne from Batman Begins, you should abandon evil groups as soon as you can. Dante himself, who argued vigorously for keeping vows in Paradiso, Canto IV, changes his tune in Canto V by arguing that if keeping the vow results in a great evil, it should be abandoned.
Now that we’ve established which teams you shouldn’t join, it naturally begs the question of which teams you should join. And the answer, quite simply, is all the non-evil ones you can. You see, simply belonging to a group has repercussions that go outside the group itself, and no hero demonstrates that better than everyone’s favorite X-Man, Wolverine.
Everyone knows Wolverine. he’s short, dark, and muscular with facial hair that makes him the envy of teenage boys everywhere. Moreover, he’s the definition of the anti-hero. He’s tough, surly, and always ready to pick a fight with anyone in authority. But counter to what you’d expect from such a character, he’s also a member of multiple groups, as the comic on the right alludes. And these associations are not merely temporary expedients. Wolverine invests in the teams, accompanies them even when the missions are not in his best interest, and maintains connections with his former colleagues. As Robert Putnam, renowned sociologist, notes, this sets Wolverine apart from the American/Canadian society he represents. According to Putnam, Americans today are joining fewer organizations and investing less time in groups than they did even 2 decades ago. (source) But while American and Canadian participation in religious, political, social, and professional organizations dropped, more and more heroes like Wolverine have been teaming up. The reason is that joining is heroic; Putnam demonstrates that greater connectivity in society, aka social capital, is highly correlated with honesty, altruism, volunteering, and philanthropy.
And this is why we as heroes need to follow Wolverine’s example because joining as many teams (or groups) as possible is heroic in itself. Even if he never goes on a mission with those teams, because simply by associating with them he makes the world a better place. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is.
Naturally, there are several concrete reasons why we should follow Wolverine’s example beyond the need to increase social capital. And those reasons will be outlined in the next heroic post! Stay tuned!