Superpowers and Michael Phelps: Is Sleeplessness Fair?

You know those get-to-know-you questions they have for new, awkward social situations? If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? If you could be any animal, what would you be? If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

That last one was always my favorite. I was never a big fan of flying, or invisibility, or x-ray vision. Don’t get me wrong – sure, those would be cool. But how practical is it, really, to be able to fly in my day-to-day life? Campus is pretty walk-able.

No, I always said I would go without sleep. It would be so useful! It bothers me that my body has decided it needs something for a certain length of time, and that it stubbornly shuts down, whether that night or the next day, if I don’t honor that need. (Ok, I realize that sleep is actually kind of a basic need, but that doesn’t mean I can’t harbor some resentment.)

Not a superhero!

So would I have a problem with people actually having this “super power,” like in Nancy Kress’ story “Beggars in Spain?” I’m not sure. Here’s how I see it: Yes, being sleepless grants certain advantages. And no, the Sleepless are not sleepless naturally (although their offspring are). But then, they’re also born sleepless – are they not allowed to have lofty goals because their parents gave them a greater chance at achieving them?

Let’s take a look a Michael Phelps. With proportionally long arms and short legs, he’s been called a “human fish” with a “freakish physique.” Did anyone tell Michael Phelps to stop swimming because his crazy proportions gave him too much natural potential?

I understand that the main difference is between choice and chance. If we intentionally created a race of Michael Phelpses (and what an odd world that would be), allowing the Phelpsclones to swim would likely be unethical. But because chance, nature, fate, what-have-you, gave Phelps this advantage, well, lucky him.

-Michelle C.


~ by Michelle Cohen on April 2, 2010.

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