Being the Green Lantern Might Not Be As Cool As You Think

Being the Green Lantern is probably pretty cool. You have a pretty sweet ring that you can use to pretty much whatever you want as long as you focus on it. You can make any solid construct you can think about, which is clearly pretty handy whether you are fighting bad guys or saving innocents. You can also fly pretty fast, which also helps with the fighting and the saving. Furthermore, you get access to this whole planet of other Green Lanterns that train you and back you up in battle. All you have to do is be utterly fearless. But that’s the problem: being fearless is really, really, stupid.

We know from social psychology literature that emotions are pretty important. They motivate behavior through the link between emotions and action tendencies, they serve as communication to others, and they are a pretty crucial part of the human experience, as we experience physiological responses often, and we need emotions to attach a label to those responses to help us make sense of them. Furthermore, we know from the literature that emotions are adaptive, as the action tendencies that come from emotions led to behaviors that either help your survival or your reproduction chances, the two most important things for passing your genes on.

Fear is one of these emotions. Fear lets you know that there is some sort of danger present that could possibly threaten your survival, so you better get yourself away from whatever would be causing you harm. Green Lanterns are known for being fearless; in the film, the character played by Ryan Reynolds is selected to be the next Green Lantern in Earth’s sector because he is a fearless test pilot. And the movie spells it out definitively: fearless isn’t just another way to talk about being brave, fearless is meant as the complete lack of fear. Unfortunately, that lack of fear is tremendously maladaptive; without fear, we wouldn’t have the impulse to get away from things with significant chances of causing our deaths, which would make our genes pretty short-lived. So why it would be pretty cool to be a Green Lantern and get the powers that come with the role, giving up the ability to have the fear emotion doesn’t quite seem like a fair trade-off.

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