“Magneto, Mutation and Morality”

The next essay in “X-Men and Philosophy” is “Magneto, Mutation and Morality” by Richard Davis, which looks at morality and in part at its link to evolution by considering morality and his moral positions.  What I want to talk about here is whether two positions Davis claims Magneto holds are in fact ones that Magneto holds:  moral relativism and a desire to genocide the human race.

While Davis talks about genocide first, I want to talk about moral relativism first because understanding Magneto’s views on moral relativism will inform whether he is advocating for or planning on the genocide of the human race.  Davis, relying on the movies, argues that Magneto doesn’t really argue morality with anyone, dismissing the arguments he hears in the Senate hearings as ones he’s heard before and refusing to debate any kind of morality with Senator Kelly once he’s kidnapped him.  But we have to note that the people he’d be refusing to argue with have one important trait in common: they’re all humans.  More importantly, they’re all humans that are looking to oppress, enslave, and potentially murder mutants.  Given his established history with the Nazis, he likens his human opponents to the Nazis and from that argues that there is no point arguing morality with them, not because morality itself is pointless, but because, as he does say, they simply won’t listen and simply won’t care.  Debating morality with Senator Kelly is simply not going to work.  Kelly is unlikely to listen, and even if he did, as we see in later movies, others will simply pick up where Kelly left off.  We must note that he does seem willing to debate the morality of his approach versus Xavier’s with Xavier, because he knows that Xavier can understand and appreciate moral arguments and hopes that he might be able to convince Xavier of the moral rightness of his cause and recruit him to it, even as Xavier attempts to do the same to him.

So it doesn’t seem like Magneto thinks that morality and moral debates are meaningless, just that it’s pointless to stand in front of human oppressors and expect that they will be in any way swayed by such arguments.  His attitude, then, is completely in line with those who advocated for “Punch a Nazi” or various forms of cancelling, as they argued that the people they were opposing would never see reason and so needed to be opposed by any means possible, including force.  It’s certainly not that they think morality meaningless that they refuse to debate them, as they are supremely confident that they are morally right and that morality itself demands that they not engage in pointless moral debate instead of taking the necessary direct actions to stop them.  Magneto is the same:  the human oppressors must be stopped by any means necessary, and the only reason he doesn’t use moral debate as that means is because it would be pointless and ineffective.

This, then, links up with his views on committing genocide against the humans.  The quote that Davis uses against Magneto is the one where he says that mutants are the future, not humans.  But Magneto, in general, believes that nature and evolution will take care of that and that therefore eventually mutantkind will supplant humanity.  In general, he’d be perfectly willing to simply let nature take its course, but what he’s seen is that humanity is also aware that mutantkind will supplant them and are not going to go quietly, and right now they have the numbers and the technology to possibly wipe out mutantkind in attempting to do so.  For the most part, Magneto’s moves against humanity are designed to forestall that threat.  If he could find a way to keep mutants safe from humanity in less violent ways, he’d use them, but in general he can’t.  It’s only when Stryker enacts his plan to wipe out all mutants and leaves Magneto with the ability to do that to all humans that he takes it as a way to keep all mutants safe from humans.  Thus, in line with the above comment, Magneto does not have the extermination of humans as a goal, as he sees them as a problem that will go away on its own as nature takes its course as long as mutants can keep them from enacting their goal of exterminating mutants.  However, he is willing to use the extermination of humans as a means to his goal, the goal of keeping mutants safe.  This doesn’t mean that we should consider his actions more moral — as exterminating any sentient species is morally reprehensible, especially if there might be other options — but it does mean that we must not consider Magneto to be someone who has a strong desire to wipe humanity out because he considers mutants the superior species.  He does consider mutants the superior species, but if the humans would let mutants achieve their destiny he’d have no real quarrel with humans.  Unfortunately, in the X-Men universe humans have no intention of letting that happen.

Ironically, Magneto is misinterpreting evolution when he believes that mutants are the future because they are a more evolved form of humanity.  Evolutionary pressures replace one species with another because the new species out-reproduces the previous one, and thus the advantage that species has is one that involves having more offspring than the other one.  Mutants don’t have any advantages that mean that they’d reproduce better or faster than humans will.  In fact, given that some mutations involve not being able to have close contact with others or make the mutants rather unattractive, it actually seems like their mutations would make them less likely to reproduce.  What mutant abilities tend to give is power, the ability to do amazing things that they can use to overpower humans.  Thus, the only way mutants would ever supplant humanity is if they became tyrants over them and dominated and even exterminated them.  The very thing that Magneto fears humans will do to mutants is the only way that mutants will ever achieve the destiny that Magneto believes they have.

Magneto is not a moral relativist because he thinks that he’s morally in the right and that morality demands that he take the actions that he’s taking.  Because of that, he’s also not someone who wants to exterminate humanity because they are seen as a lesser species or vermin or insects because he only ever feels the need to hasten the process of their natural extermination to stop them from doing that to mutants.  Rather than being someone who denies morality, Magneto is one who feels himself bound by morality to do horrific things in its name … which makes him the worst sort of “moral” person.


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