Listener Email: Morality and Mindwipes
25 Jan. 2019

Listener Email: Morality and Mindwipes


Sam sent in some thoughts about the season four episode of Supergirl titled “Suspicious Minds”!

I’ve always been a fan of stories about ethical dilemmas and moral gray areas. Those are the kind of stories that make me think and get me engaged. I’ve never really liked stories that are straightforward morality tales that tell me “this is right and this is wrong”. I prefer to decide that for myself.

For me personally, a lifetime of thinking about ethics and morality has led me to the conclusion that people just do the best they can and it’s not always possible to know what the right choice is.

A popular anime series called Attack on Titan had an interesting discussion between a captain of a squad and his subordinate about when to follow orders/trust what others are telling you to do versus doing what you feel is right. The captain basically told his subordinate that he didn’t know what was right. Follow orders or do your own thing. Either way you cannot always predict the consequences of your decisions or know for sure that you have made the right ones.

There’s a lot of things about this episode I could bring up, but I wanted to draw one thing to your attention and hopefully get your thoughts on it during your podcast.

This is the scene of J’onn altering Colonel Haley’s memories without consent. J’onn himself acknowledges it as form of violence and I would be curious to know how sever a form of violence you consider it to be.

I go back and forth on this but sometimes I think tampering with someone’s mind without their consent is just as bad if not worse than sexual assault or even rape. It deprives a person of their agency on a level even deeper than a physical assault. On the other hand, the level of trauma or suffering a person experiences can often be less than that of a physical assault because they don’t know what has been done to them.

The closest real life comparison I can think of is actually someone being slipped a date rape drug and sexually assaulted. In that instance, they have been violated physically and mentally and often have no recollection of it. In some cases, I imagine it is possible that someone who has been assaulted in that way could go their whole life without ever realizing it. So they never experience the trauma, but a crime has still been committed against them.

For a long time things like telepathy and mind-altering powers or machines have been treated like fantasy/science-fiction and not something we can equate to real life crimes. They are too abstract and removed from our real life experience. The ability to alter someone’s mind and/or memories in the way depicted in this episode may not be technologically possible for decades, if ever. However, substances do exist that can alter peoples’ minds and have been used on people without their consent. Drugs such as Rohypnol.

So for myself, at least, I can imagine a time where there may be such a thing as “mind crimes” where violating someone’s mind is treated as severely as other crimes of today.

Regardless of whether or not I think J’onn did the right thing, I like it as a story point. I like that J’onn doesn’t always live up to his own principles. That when the people he loves who are his family are in jeopardy, he isn’t as good as he aspires to be. It’s very human.

I like that the whole situation was very uncomfortable and that the characters were uncomfortable.

I will point out that the writers drew a distinction between altering a persons memories and altering their personality. For example, Haley is still trying to figure out Supergirl’s identity because J’onn didn’t change her intent when perhaps he could have done. It’s food for thought. Does that make what J’onn did a lesser violation/crime?

Someone who I think was violated in a far worse way was Dick Malverne. To alter his memory of Supergirl and Kara being one and the same, J’onn would have had to alter not only his present day memories, but his childhood ones as well. It’s the same thing with Alex but she gave her consent.

– Sam

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