Iron Man Needs a Little Publicity (No, the Other Kind)
Warning: Mild spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron
By Mark D. White
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, our assembled heroes tackle the artificial intelligence Ultron, created (in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) by Tony Stark in an attempt to protect the Earth from attacks from outer space or other dimensions (such as the Chitauri attack from the first Avengers film). As always, Tony is the futurist, believing that he sees better than anyone what is going to happen, and also the engineer, using his intelligence and creativity to make a better world in the future.
However, he doesn’t like to tell everybody else what he’s up to—and that’s a problem. The only person he confides in is his fellow “science bro,” Bruce Banner, who urges Tony to tell the rest of the team what he’s up to. Tony dismisses Bruce’s concern, claiming that the situation is too urgent to hold a “town hall meeting” on the issue, especially because he only has a couple days to examine Loki’s scepter (also from the first movie), in which he discovers AI far beyond even J.A.R.V.I.S., which he plans to use to guide his global defense system.
That global defense system just happens to be called Ultron, and as you can guess from seeing the movie trailer, Ultron has other plans. Before the Avengers engage in battle with Ultron, though, they take Tony to task—not so much for his plan or how it went wrong, but for keeping it a secret from them. In other words, Tony Stark, world-famous billionaire genius playboy, needs to learn a lesson in publicity.
Of course, we don’t mean publicity in the sense of having a feature in Vanity Fair—we mean publicity in the sense of making your plans public and submitting them to the opinions and judgment of those who will be affected by them. Political philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and John Rawls have long stressed the importance of publicity in liberal democracies. Following the basic principles of respect and fairness, governments should be open about how they are using the coercive powers granted to them by their citizens. This reduces the opportunity for deception and abuse of power—or even the reasonable suspicion of such—that can stem from secrecy in the government regarding major policy initiatives. (For example, think of the surveillance plans of the corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)
Most important in the case of the Avengers and Ultron, making complex plans public opens them up to discussion and debate and allows a wider range of opinions and viewpoints to be incorporated into them. Tony acknowledged that Bruce’s scientific expertise was indispensable when he took him into his confidence, but he discounted the input of the rest of the team, including the various moral perspectives that other Avengers—especially Captain America—could have offered. He also risked compromising the integrity of the team itself by keeping secrets from the other Avengers, a plot point repeated from the first film (and one that may well arise again in Captain America: Civil War next spring).
Tony Stark may usually be the smartest person in the room, but this doesn’t mean that other people’s opinions can—or should—be ignored, especially for the sake of expediency. Such a lack of publicity betrays the respect owed to his fellow heroes, threatens to foster divisions in the team, and could endanger the world itself. The Avengers have enough on their plate without dealing with problems caused by secretive team members. (For example, Cap wants to talk about language…)
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