The Radiolab podcast brought to light a very interesting story, which at first glance seemed like a weird but trivial legal dispute between a multinational company & the US government, yet looking deeper it actually tackled the issue of what it means to be human:
Reporter Ike Sriskandarajah tells Jad and Robert a story about two international trade lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, who noticed something interesting while looking at a book of tariff classifications. "Dolls," which represent human beings, are taxed at almost twice the rate of "toys," which represent something not human - such as robots, monsters, or demons. As soon as they read that, Sherry and Indie saw dollar signs. it just so happened that one of their clients, Marvel Comics, was importing its action figures as dolls. And one set of action figures really piqued Sherry and Indie's interest: The XMEN, normal humans who, at around puberty, start to change in ways that give them strange powers.
So Sherry and Indie went down to the customs office with a bag of XMEN action figures to convince the US government that these mutants are NOT human. That argument eventually became a court case that went on for years. Joe Liebman, former international trade attorney for the US Department of Justice, helps us understand the government's side. And Ike, with help from director and producer Bryan Singer, reflects on the story of the XMEN, and tells us why this case is so poignant for anyone who’s fought to be different without being cast as an outsider.
Sure, we can all make fun of these tedious legal battles produced by ambiguous legislation over matters as inconsequential as toys. And you might also think that only a fanboy (or a lawyer) would find this particular story of any interest.
But I on the other hand, think that this case is a perfect allegory that exhibits the complete inadequacy of laws to define what being 'human' really means.
Legislation is only comfortable when trying to define things as immutable and static: Unmovable border lines, unbreakable contracts, unavoidable obligations. When a law is passed and integrated in a nation's Constitution, it is expected to be regarded and upheld the same way we're forced to obey the other which govern our world --such as gravity, for instance.
And yet this is a rather deficient way to understand the world. Everything is in a permanent state of flux, and the same goes for humans —'interacting processes' as Robert Anton Wilson liked to say.
A human never IS; we are in a permanent state of BECOMING.
Our laws are meant to assess events as single snapshots, which is as efficient as trying to evaluate the quality of a motion picture by just one single frame. And yet that's what lawyers and judges are paid to do all the time: put a man or a woman's entire life on a scale on account of one particular snapshot.
Which is why lawyers and politicians are always hitting a brick-wall when it comes to tackling terms which are the provenance of Science. When they discuss the theory of evolution for example, they want to be shown a picture of the 'missing link', when a scientist very well knows that there is no such a thing, just as there can't be pinpointed the exact moment when you stopped being a child and became an adolescent, or an adult.
The X-Men saga is an excellent mental experiment that allows us to explore the problems faced by people who, for one reason or another, are considered undesirable or dangerous for causes escaping their control. Mutants are not mutant by choice.
Imagine for a moment that in the years to come it is discovered that some members of the human population have a genetic ascendancy of non-terrestrial origin. In other words, suppose we learn there are human-alien hybrids living among us. What then?
Or maybe a growing number of the population will start showing abilities outside the norm —no pun intended— like clairvoyance, psychokinesis, or even telepathy. Would they be forced to be registered, like the mutants in the Marvel universe?
And suppose mutation does become a matter of choice. What will happen when technologies that are being developed today will allow our children or grandchildren to transcend the physical and mental limitations that are common to us?
I have the suspicion that the quandaries we face today in issues like gay marriage or abortion will be regarded as childish by the legislators of the coming centuries.
In which case I hope they get to include a course in "X-Men 101" in future law curricula.
[H/T Boing Boing]