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DC, Marvel, X-men...etc style people, or things, exist. Great.

Now the existence of those people would definitely change laws and many legal practices. And of course the governments of the world would like to utilize the abilities of such individuals.

Only problem is this: How do you define a super person?

Yes. Superman or Thor or Hulk or Wonder Woman are clearly possessing of powers that make them super, good or bad is not the issue here. Iron man/Batman...etc are not. Being smart and rich and fit is not really a super power. They would be vigilantes. Most of those examples are clear.

But what about a person whose power is that they can turn slightly invisible? Translate all languages? really a good fighter like beyond the best we have. What about someone that is resistant to all forms of superpower but has no super powers. Like they can be mind read or moved by telekinesis...etc. What about someone who can see things in the past?

Basically those people are technically possessing things that are "supernatural" but not good enough to be in the same class of power/danger as the rest. It's clear.

But from a legal stand point we don't judge a person by that. Yes. In a particular trial we might. But laws and constitutions have a specific definition of a thing. Like house or car or human or chattel and so on.

This is super important since in my story there is a bit of a new world order. Super individuals are required to receive a special education, mandatory power training, can apply to special government agencies, and have special courts.

And like I said the complication is particularly obvious when it comes to territory of human limits. Breaking stone with your hands? Fastest running speed? Strength? Memory...etc.

This leads me to ask how would the world and especially governments define a super person?

Little extra.

Yes I'm aware that there would be different probable answers. But I feel the scope of the question is limited since we already have a more or less universal definition of a human. At least when it comes to actual practical laws. Which is what I'm constraining the whole issue to.

We also can all agree on the obvious cases, like the ones above. So. The question is more about what a group of law makers would propose as a definition of a super person?

In fiction we have a movie like Watchmen where it's not clear if anyone is super or not. Aside from Dr Manhattan of course. So. Again, this becomes about trying to figure out a clear definition.

And I'm not interested in anything else. This is not about evil governments exploiting people or how you can be useful without super powers...etc.


Every single country on earth has laws and clear definitions of things. And all of them agree on what humans are.

All I'm asking is what is the most likely definition that would be used to define a super person. Like if a bunch of law makers got together to amend the laws to include that, what would they come up with?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 5 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ "I feel the scope of the question is limited since we already have a more or less universal definition of a human. At least when it comes to actual practical laws" It is precisely that universal definition of a human (and their abilities) that you are changing; which means that the existing definition cannot be used as a justification for a scope boundary. I'm aware that worldbuilding is in general a "what if" exercise, but your question seems to be one of the type where defining your chosen scenario (which"super" abilities?) will inherently answer the question (what is "super"?) $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Apr 6 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater, let me give you an example: We had metal currencies, then paper currency, then something like bitcoins. We had no framework for bitcoins but now most places do. Nobody said: well that's opinion based, guess we can never figure out what to do with them. It's an example meant to illustrate a point not argue about it. Human still there. We just have something new that we need to define. We even might be needing to define an AI some time in the future. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Apr 6 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Seallussus: But the definition of "what is cryptocurrency?" would inherently depend on first having a concrete cryptocurrency that you can then legally acknowledge. The legal definition models the concrete cases, not some theoretical future hypothetical. Since you are creating the super powers; you inherently control the subsequent definition of those powers (and the bearers of those powers). That is my point. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Apr 7 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Flater I don't follow. This place is meant to speculate about things. True we don't have supers. But I provided the sort of super powers that exist. Highlighted the obvious cases and gave examples. With knowing legal system in our real world that exist how can we account for X. This the place. It's like we got an equation with 1 unknown and 1 known thing. Legal systems exist. We use them. They are a reality. If people think I did a poor job of explaining powers, that they can't approach it legally then fine. Crypto was only meant as an example for a new thing that we had to deal with $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Apr 7 at 17:28

12 Answers 12

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Ignore the power; focus on the action

Let's look at two real-world people I know:

  • Person A is an overweight middle-aged person of above-average intelligence and education with various chronic health issues who sometimes loses their temper and hits people in the head.
  • Person B is an occasional ultramarathon runner with a couple of decades combined of military and civilian training in small unit tactics, pistols, rifles, light infantry support weapons, explosive demolitions, mine warfare and booby trapping, unarmed combat, fencing and archery. Person B is basically law abiding (other than occasional low-range speeding tickets).

The police have some concerns about Person A because even a blow to the head from even an unfit, untrained person can cause serious injury or death. The police have no real concerns about Person B so long as they pay their speeding tickets.

The simple fact is that in any country with a well-trained military there are going to be thousands of serving or retired members of the armed forces at or above Person B's level of training and these abilities make them potentially more dangerous than 99.9% of the general population. These people could use their training to undertake criminal and/or terrorist activities. However, any of the multitude of drone operators could endanger hundreds of lives by flying their drone into the controlled airspace around an airport, or any car/truck driver could drive their vehicle into a crowd of people they don't like. It doesn't take superpowers or even superior training to hurt or kill people, just readily available tools and either malicious intent or - far more often - negligence.

The sensible approach taken by most governments is to mitigate the negligence through mandatory training and registration (eg tests before granting a driver's licence and vehicle inspections to ensure equipment is safe) and prosecute people who do bad things. Trying to register and classify every possible "super power" would be like trying to register every person's "combat level" by tracking their current personal fitness, ranking and ability in any and all violence-focused sport (eg boxing, MMA, HEMA, ice hockey).

What would happen is that already-regulated activities would include people conducting those activities through super powers or super technology - it does not matter if a flying person is using an ultralight aircraft, a thruster powered suit or innate ability, they would need to conform to flight regulations over built-up areas and in controlled airspace. If violence is used by a person with super powers then the same legal standards that apply to everyone else would apply to the "super" - allowable self-defence is minimum force proportional to the threat, vigilantism is illegal. The same principles would apply to violation of any other existing laws, for example, hacking is illegal whether it is done with stolen passwords or a computer empathy super power.

(The question is about governments defining/classifying people, so I am deliberately ignoring the issue of trying to enforce rules on a recalcitrant Superman-level being. Similarly, the issue of how to detect that some super powers are being misused is out of scope - for example a person with clairvoyance or X-ray vision looking at an attractive person in their shower or bedroom.)

The only place that I would expect there would be a more rigorous classification of super powers would be in organisations that deploy super-powered people or anticipate actively opposing them, primarily military and intelligence. Military organisations would focus on combat and logistics abilities, spooks would focus on intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence abilities. Without far more detail on what powers exist and their frequency I am not going to propose a classification system - there would be very different scenarios if there are less than 100 "supers" worldwide compared to if 1% of the population has some level of superpowers.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be the perfect answer, if we knew that superpowers are relatively "mild", that is, they are somewhat faster/stronger, can fly, etc. However, if they have really reality-warping super powers, it's another issue. People can't just randomly have nukes, or control over armed drones, and those who do, are supervised very strictly, and there are contingencies in place to prevent any single person to launch a nuke single-handedly. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 4 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz any person, super or not, must either be handled under the same law as everyone else (fine as long as they behave lawfully) or treated extralegally as a threat to national security and neutralised preemptively. There's no middle ground - if, without provocation, you treat a reality-warping super badly or attempt to kill them (and fail) then you have created a threat instead of mitigating a risk. Worse, you have shown the other top-tier supers what to expect from your country. Statistically, most people are actually pretty good, for a given value of "good". $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ "There's no middle ground" - there can be. Maybe should be, if it made the story more interesting or if it would make sense in the setting. For example, they could regulate the use of superpowers. Supers, if they don't use their powers, have the same rights as everyone else. However, using the powers might require licensing, or could be outright prohibited, unless you're part of a government's licensed team. Look up Worm, maybe the best developed work of fiction involving a logical and realistic portrayal of the societal aspects of superpowers and the laws created to handle it. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 4 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ I believe people with certain combat training are held to higher standards irl. Also, minors are given leniency for the same reason the feeble minded are, which indicates a rubric is already implied. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Apr 4 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ X-ray vision: grrlpowercomic.com/archives/comic/… $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 23:09
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The big questions are

For how long has your world had superpowers?

The longer, the more time they will have had to test solutions and figure out what works. Also, the more they will know about superpowers and such questions as whether a person who can be a bit hard to see will be able to develop the power further, or will just remain the same. The more clear the limits of a power are at first glance, the more likely that low-level powers can not qualify.

The shorter, the more clear-cut the definition: anyone who gained an ability that didn't used to be possible. But that may not prove useful.

The ideal solution would be to classify people according to the usefulness and danger of their powers. A longer term would give more time to sort this out, and also to find uses for powers. (You can generate diseases? Splendid, right this way to our vaccine development school, where you will learn to make vaccines.) Low-level powers will probably be sorted out of the system as neither, really.

They would classified into schools and programs according to what their powers are useful for. A person who grows plants is no more akin to a person who can turn invisible than a normal -- all three need different schools.

How and when are powers gained?

If you can tell when the baby's not born yet, you will have a much easier system than if anyone at any time could pick up a power when just walking down the street when something goes awry. Not only do you have to keep on classifying people, everyone's aware that they could fall under the classification at any time.

So it will be more rigid the earlier and more clearly you can distinguish such people.

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I think people who have some minor ability wouldn’t even need to be classified. There are already people who are remarkably strong from bodybuilding, or extremely intelligent from genetics or neurodivergence, or people who can see broader spectra of light. They aren’t classified differently by the government. If superpowers became the norm, I don’t see how they’d be much different.

I think the government would only bother classifying superhumans who stood a direct threat to society, but that threshold is fairly open to interpretation. I can see this being a similar political debate to gun control, in a way.

It’s worth noting that super or no, vigilantism is usually illegal, so they might officially be “criminals.”

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Make Extremely Specific Classifications, and have a test for all people who reach a certain age. Anyone who exhibits traits that are beyond the government's strict definition of "normal" is thereby "super"

World Governments and Organizations can solve the definition problem by being extremely specific with what constitutes "Super" or not. The best way to classify someone is to make a test for certain traits. Anyone that exceeds what the government considers normal is therefore classified as superhuman.

Tests could include basic things like Speed, Strength, and Intelligence tests as a baseline.

If you can lift more than X-amount of weight, then you are far outside the scope of human strength and are therefore super.

If you can run more than X kilometers in T seconds, then you are considered to have super speed.

An intelligence test is a much harder and more abstract, but if you are able to memorize thousands of images in a single sitting, calculate and multiply thousands of digits in your head without a calculator, or even more impressive feats, then you would be considered super smart.

Other anomalous abilities would be harder to test for, so the government would have to be creative and very thorough to avoid missing out on certain people.

To test for flight, you might ask a person to jump a certain distance in the air. To test for telepathy, ask them to read a person's mind and guess what cards they are holding from another room. To test for laser vision, ask them to stare at a piece of paper as intensely as possible. So on and so forth.

Obviously, you can't catch every power in a single go. If there's a wide variety of abilities you're always going to find one that's either incredibly rare or wholly unique. That's why I would suggest the governments should not only test for abilities but do so regularly and with great specificity.

Rather than classifying a human as "having no ability" it would be better to classify them as "having no ability that we know of yet". To the best of the researcher's knowledge, they could not find anything out of the ordinary with the person, but it might be something they have never thought of.

Obviously, there are going to be cases where there are false positives or false negatives, so the point of repeated tests is to make sure that the results are as accurate as possible, and the more scientists learn about the powers, the less likely they are to make a mistake.

Sometimes an ability will be so rare or unusual that it will fall outside the previous guidelines, or it is so specific that it's nearly impossible to scan for. For example, what if an ability only comes out when a person is in a life or death situation. It would be unethical to risk someone's life to test them for that, so what if you show them a jumpscare from a movie or something like that? A slightly more extreme idea would be to give people an adrenaline shot to trick their bodies into thinking they are in danger, forcing any latent ability to activate if it is indeed activated by fear.

That would be an example of a false negative. A person is super, but they didn't show anything on the test. Legally, they are not super because they have no ability on record. While they might have something hidden, the government has decided they have nothing unusual about them.

A false positive would be a person who is either "peak human" or someone who passed the test either through strange happenstance or purposeful rigging.

By peak human, I mean a person who manages to, by sheer force of will and training, pass all the tests that they are given. They passed the strength and speed test through a near Olympic level of training, and they have a genius-level intellect they have honed through study and effort. They may never be able to achieve the feats of people who have superpowers, but they are immensely impressive in their own right.

The test could also go wrong either through accidents or manipulation of the results. A family of superheroes might not want to admit that their precious child has no abilities, so they bribe all the judges to have them right down that their child is in fact super. Or, a person could pay a superhuman to either pretend to be them for a day or act from the sidelines, either feeding them the results they need through an earpiece or using their powers to intervene. A telekinetic, for example, could make their friend pretend to fly for a while.

No system is perfect, and there are definitely going to be super individuals who slip past the notice of the system. There are also people who might be able to pass through sheer luck, remarkable strength, and talent, or by playing the system. Such people would be considered "super" even though they are not in actuality. Money could very well be a superpower if a judge can be bribed with some crisp hundred dollar bills.

Honestly, I love the idea of a person being able to earn the title of "super" through being an Olympic level athlete, a math prodigy, or a remarkably skilled musician, or any other vast talent that they could have.

So, what classifies a person as super? Whatever society or the government says it is according to their guidelines.

The idea and classification might be different between countries or even cities. It also might be suggestible to have levels such as S, A, B, C, and so on.

C is the lowest level. It is also referred to as the "common" level. You might have a power but, as far as anyone is concerned you are considered indistinguishable from a normal human being. Humans are lumped into this category too.

B is the next highest. If you're an Olympic level athlete or math genius, you might be able to get here, but you'd have to be incredibly talented.

A is even higher than that. The things they can accomplish are far beyond anything a normal person could be able to do.

S is even farther up the ladder, seeming mostly godlike to people of lower levels.

There might even be a world ranking system

Every person in the world could be given a certain "score" based on their tests, used to determine what their overall ranking as a superhuman is.

The person with the highest score is therefore on record as the most powerful person on the planet. This score is both an honor and a burden, because it means that person is arguably the most dangerous person alive.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting. And how would you handle unconventional stuff beyond mere strength and flying? Like getting people to agree to what you say. Like on the surface not a big deal. But can't that person stroll to a nuclear missile base and get them to fire them? Or just similar stuff, just an example. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Apr 4 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ That would be a legitimate problem for world governments to face. Some powers are difficult to define and hard to test for. It's hard to catch a person with mind manipulation powers because they can convince judges to ignore them. If the power is activated by their words, you might be able to catch them in the act by forcing them to order someone. Give them a script, and a test subject, and force them to say a command. If the person follows the command, then the one speaking might have mind manipulation powers. Researchers would be forced to get creative. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ There are two things that might make testing easier. 1-Get lie detector or a person with telepathic abilities. Have them scroll through a person's memories to see if there is anything they are hiding. If they've secretly got power and are intentionally hiding it. The telepath should be able to tell, and a lie detector might be able to trip a person up. Make very specific questions. "Have you ever shown signs of having powers?" 2-Watch people carefully and keep good records. Get witness statements. Ask friends, family, teachers, "Has this person ever done anything to suggest they have powers?" $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 10:59
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Rank each person from 1-10.

Each person will be ranked from 1-10. They'll be ranked on what is the minimum you need to handle them.

1 is someone with a power that's a threat to a untrained person.

2 is a threat to a trained professional.

3 is a threat to a team of professionals.

4 is a threat to a team of professionals with specialized countermeasures.

5 is a threat to a team of professionals with specialized countermeasures and a single super.

6 is a threat to a team of professionals with specialized countermeasures and a single trained super with special countermeasures.

7 is a threat to teams of specialized supers.

8 is a threat to a city, and needs multiple teams of supers to handle or heavy artillery.

9 can't be handled by normal supers, and should be avoided where possible. Elite supers and a specialized plan is needed to handle them.

10 evacuate where possible, and don't engage without approval from the white house.

They can be ranked on these scales.

Brute. Enhanced strength or toughness.

Thinker. Enhanced intelligence or precognition.

Mover. Enhanced speed or movement.

Tinker. Mad science creation beyond normal physics.

Shaker. Extremely wide area of effect.

Blaster. Long ranged effects.

Trumps. They alter the nature of powers, enhancing, removing or modifying them.

Master. Mind control or minion creation.

Changer. They alter their shape or form.

Stranger. They have some stealth or infiltration powers.

This gives you a good quick estimate of their abilities, and a good common reference as to how to handle them.

Examples

Someone like Batman or Iron man would have tinker abilities. Anyone who can build body armor centuries in advance of science is clearly supernatural beyond normal means. There's gonna be a strong interest in recruiting them.

Let me give you a few examples of common superhero rankings.

Iron Man. Tinker 7. Brute 4. Mover 4.

He's pretty impressive physically, and very good at inventing things.

Batman. Thinker 6, brute 5, tinker 4, stranger 6, trump 7.

He's very stealthy, very smart, very tough, and has a lot of super tech. He has counters to common superhero powers somehow and has taken down the justice league.

Anyone at 3-4 is likely going to be required to register and serve. Someone who is dangerous to a team of professionals is the equivalent to a loaded rocket launcher. You don't let them out in public without training. People with useful but less dangerous powers like universal translation will be strongly encouraged to serve, but not forced.

They would likely use a mix of common sense and their judgement of your powers. No two powers are necessarily alike. They need to guess.

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    $\begingroup$ I love this idea of making like classes. Kinda like video games. And level within the classes. Creative $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Apr 4 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yep. It lets you have standard protocols for each sort of person. Like say, for a master, you might secure a nuclear facility by only opening doors on schedule from calls between inside the facility, so that someone can't mind control their way inside. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Apr 4 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Seallussus Those classes come from Worm, which is one of the better fictional examples of how superheroes might work in reality. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Apr 4 at 10:36
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    $\begingroup$ One nitpick I have here is that the categories of 5 only mention a "super" but not the rank of said "super". A team with a single rank 10 super could probably defeat a rank 7 super, unless the 7 can somehow specifically counter the 10. I think after rank 5 (the first which can not be feasibly taken down by non-super individuals) you can only rank them relatively to other supers. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Apr 4 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Or perhaps rank them based on how much destruction they can cause with a single action (local->national->global->interplanetary->interstellar->intergalactic). $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Apr 4 at 15:39
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Boring medical answer

Well, it really depend on the source of those power. but for X-men for example, if i remenber well and it have not been retconned, it is a gene that give power. so therefore the line can be cut and dry "you got said gene, your a super". And you can immediatly screen baby born out of super familly.

yes it would require a real effort to ramp up testing as the new world order is established, but then you would just have to screen newborn.

also, if somebody is latently showing power you don't have to test them, just stamp it by default.

How does magic work?

but what interest me especially for those scenario is how power manifest themself. because there is no good explenation i remenber seeing about why some human can sudenly get magical power, as it is certain those power aren't linked to the biology, especially as most of those power violate so many law of. so there must be something that human can tap in to get those power working, and with some R&D you might just find a meter that at worst can detect you taping into those power, or even mesure just how much you can pull in.

then, you might put a treshold.

What if science fail

If you can't mesure power or gene at a widescale in a rationable way, you will have to resort to good old human judgment. And i think it is not incompatible with the other idea

A good factor would "disturbance factor" somebody who can change the color of his skin to nice but flamboyant color might very well be a mutant but is it really worth classigying him as such?

what should really matter and could be a category in its own is "disturbance/danger" potential and the amount of control they have.

the controle part is easy, how manageable the power is. if you can't help but be on fire 100% of the time, you can't help it and get a 0 in controle, reducing your liabilty or outright removing it from a lot of thing. if you just need to take a anger management class to not pull out your claw you get a 5 and anything linked to your power is assumed. in between notation would be for power that have colateral effect. or other effect that you can less controle. in those case you would need permit & authorisation to use

for the disturbance part on a scale to from zero to five:

0 would be no aplicable use (ie mild cosmetic change linked to the mutation) those are people you might classify as non mutant. if you just have a third eye you don't need special law for that.

1 Human plus.you are still mostly human, but you got a quirky thing, like having a preshensile taile or wings. it give you a bit of an edge over a human, but you are still very much bound to the same reality

2 you can kill a person with it. any power that give you a real weapon available at any time or that can kill somebody easly is threat 2.

3 Material damage, peace disturbance, supernatural. this is a bit of the "put it all in" category. those are all the higly unnatural power that are fare exceding human capacity.Even if the power doesn't seem too powerfull at first glance, as it is far beyond human reach you need to monitor it in case the mutant can find a nefarious use for it. teleportation for example is a threat 3 because the nefarious potential of such power is huge, but at face value, you probably wont see this guy drop skyscraper on people. this category include all passive effect that will impact people out of social distanciation range with you. even if it's just making them sneeze , if your precense is enough to affect people you are higly disturbing to society

4 mass destruction potential. if you got out of control, you might level a block on accident. think of any power that you would say "imagine if the military could do this". it doesn't need to be dangerous to the whole city, but as long as you can blow up a house without too much effort, it goes there

5 country/worldwide threat. those are your doctor xavier and magneto. they got power that could qualify as godlike, and if used in nefarious way could spell doom for humanity as a whole a few example:

-cyclope: 4/5 Disturbance, 0/5 controle. he can level down a block if his sunglass fall of his nose and there is nothing he can do about it.

-docteur xavier: 5/5 disturbance, 5/5 controle. with their power they can be a threat to society as a whole, but it is entierly in their controle

  • wolverine 2/5 disturbance, 5/5 controle. he is packing weapon everywhere, but it doesn't force him to much

-mystic 3/5 disturbance, 4/5 controle. shapeshifting can cause huge amount of trouble, and she loose a point in controle as not using her power force her to have this strange apearance.

with all this you can have regulation that aplie to different level of power.

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  • $\begingroup$ You raise a good point with the control part $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Apr 4 at 17:40
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As authors or audience of speculative fiction, we would define "super" as "a person who can do something that's impossible in the real world". But the fictional world, there is no "real world" to compare to. For the characters, their world is as real as it can get. So when so-called "superpowers" are part of the world, then from the perspective of the characters there is nothing "impossible" about them. Some people in their world just can throw cars and fly.

So let's forget about the distinction of "humanly possible" and "humanly impossible". In a world where superpowers are common, that's no longer a meaningful distinction.

But fact is, there are some people in the world who can do stuff the vast majority of people can not, and that makes these people interesting and worth tracking. So how could we define those super individuals? By simply stating "someone with a one-in-a-million ability is a super". When you can fly, and less than one in a million of people can fly, you are a super. When you can lift more than one in a million people, then you have super strength.

This might put some people into the "super" category who would probably not classify as "super" according to our real-world standards. Like a math prodigy who is better at mental arithmetics than one in a million people. Or an olympic-level athlete. But from the perspective of an inhabitant of this fictional world, this difference might not actually be apparent. Why would a world which recognizes Hawkeye and Batman as a super not recognize Usain Bolt or Gari Kasparov as super?

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I would think this proposed scenario would eventually (d)evolve into nearly the same situation as outlined in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" - government, being government, institutes a "Department of Equality" (or some something equally 1984-esq) and spends all resources "leveling the playing-field" by ensuring everyone's talents are handicapped.

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The Legal Question

Firstly, a legal definition of a "super" will depend on the framework of the laws that require it. No government will define what (or who) is a super just because they want to -- There will some legislative need to define the term formally. Be it at a national level or a world treaty level.

The first big question is what is the purpose for this? Based on the question, it looks like the aim is to ensure that supers do not pose a casual threat to the unpowered humans. My suspicion is that such a system is born from a rise in superpowers in general and the unintended consequences of powers running amok. I also suspect that somebody with a uncontrolled and dangerous power caused a lot of damage unintentionally back in the past, solidifying the need for such a set of laws. Or somebody did this on purpose and there was no suitable framework to handle it.

Defining the Super

There are four parts to what Supers get in your question: special education, power training, extra opportunities to work for the government, and special courts.

The third, government work, we can exclude from this -- while a super can get these jobs based on abilities they possess, it is more like an extra skill that gives them a leg up. Unless there are worldwide treaties that set aside area for super vs. super battles, that they are a super is less important than their possession of a unique ability that the government can make use of.

The other three points seem to point towards the definition of a super being the possession of some manner of extraordinary ability that can potentially cause harm to the populace at large beyond a set threshold.

Defining the Definition

Sounds odd that one has to define the definition of what a super is. But the question then becomes when does an ability cross from ordinary to extraordinary? What are the thresholds of ability that create the line between Mundane and Super?

First check: Are supers genetically different from the mundanes, like the X-Men? If yes, then the definition would include the concept of an "active genetic marker or makeup that causes superhuman abilities" in it. It wouldn't matter if your power is harmless or not, if you have the marker and it is active, you are on the list. Alien biologies that cause superhumans in our world, such as Superman would also fall into this category, though possibly under a different technical definition.

This check is the most precise as it relies on a physical constant of the body -- its very genetic makeup. Magical beings that have a physical difference such as werewolves and vampires likely fall under this as they have defined physical makeup differences.

Second Check: Is there some kind of standardized testing that can be done to determine extraordinary abilities? If so, then the definition will include the concept of "abilities learned or expressed beyond a standard human threshold". If you have learned to do something a regular human cannot, then you're on the list.

A general case here is magical potential -- ones genes or family predilection might say that a person can use magic, but if they never actually study it or manifest it in some manner, then should they count as a super? Other energy-based skills also fall under this, such as martial artist ki abilities

For physical abilities, the premise will be that anything beyond a specified threshold of ability will be considered a super. These are thresholds that will have to be adjusted as the world around them changes -- not just the supernatural parts of it, but also the mundane.

This check will be trickier unless there is some consistency in the powers or power sets exhibited by the population at large, or an ability to measure them despite people trying to suppress them to avoid the designation. Not necessarily consistent in actual ability, but in how to learn and/or acquire them.

Third Check: Does a person regularly make use of technology to take part in the super society? If so, then the definition will include the concept of "utilizing external means to achieve superhuman abilities on a regular basis outside of designated environments", or something like that.

This covers the Batmans and Iron Mans of the world -- those who are only super because they use tools and have actively decided to take part in the super world. They will be the trickiest to legislate because they effectively are part-time supers unless they have decided to fully embrace the super life, with all the perks and drawback that such a decision entails.

The tricky part here is that some jobs, government and mundane, may have their workers use things that would qualify them as supers under this check. That is something else that will have to be dealt with.

There are more granular ways to go into those details, but those are likely the three main ways that people would be considered "super". The exact nature of the world will determine which options apply and how best to determine them.

Classification of Superness

This has been gone over, but it bears mentioning because of the laws around supers and your particular goals for these definitions. It will be up the lawmakers, and their special super consultants (may be actual supers), to determine if a super and/or their powers needs to be categorized beyond the fact that they are one.

This will mostly depend on the power level disparity that exists in your world. While any sufficiently creative mind can find clever uses for any power, it can be agreed that making a small object/area slippery and being able to control the weather in a several mile area are different levels of power. Nothing you have stated in the question suggests that a classification of powers is necessary.

  • All supers need to take the classes to know their rights, obligations, and laws that relate to being a super. Included are the laws mandating super/mundane relations.
  • All supers need to make sure that their powers are under control at all times, with mandatory training to ensure that it is under control -- not unlike some countries' firearm laws really.
  • All supers have special courts because lawyers and judges for supers need to take special powers/abilities into account when adjudicating cases and remain unbiased as they do so. Not to mention, the courts need to be able to physically survive emotional outbursts from potentially unstable supers.

Any classification of a super will more be a general assessment level of ability so as to determine what an individual needs to do to comply with the laws of the land. Others have given better insight into this part than I could, so I would refer you to their answers for that should you choose to go that route.

Conclusion

Defining a super is going to be a highly technical and precise process. The common person may boil it down to a few sentences, or like our answers to a few specific points. The actual legal text may be ponderous and full of caveats, exceptions, loopholes, and patches for things found after the laws were drafted.

This does not even get into the potential human rights issues and can of worms that can be opened by such a set of laws, even if those making the laws have good intentions and the well-being of all citizens in mind.

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Decision on a Case-By-Case Basis

As pointed out by other answers, defining a superperson is hard. Even if there is a universal definition, proving that someone fits that definition is not straightforward. So your NWO government has a Department of Superpersons. Someone who exhibits a potential superpower has to apply for a Superperson status. After filling a mountain of forms, doing a bunch of tests and months and months of waiting, the DoS may approve your application. You then get a stamp in your ID document that grants you access to special education, courts and whatever else.

If a Superperson status is desirable in your society, if it gives such an individual privileges that other people do not have, this should work well.

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As it's your story you write the rules. So why not make superness a simple detectable test? You get your DNA analysed at birth if you've got the super-gene then training is made available when you start school.

The whole idea of a power scale is much too limiting when we think in an Eigen Plot manner. Sure maybe my only power is to make surfaces slightly slippier, but my number of assassinations via falling down the stairs in public is notching into triple figures.

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  • $\begingroup$ The issue is in the legal part. Not the super power parts. This is all about: What would a bunch of legal minds agree on as the definition of a super person. I can handle the rest. This is kinda like asking a lawyer friend here is my story. Giving our legal system what would legal minds choose to define as super person. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Apr 4 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ I understand that. Honestly if there is a clear cut DNA marker then legally I would still use that. It doesn"t matter if your power is weak or odd. Have the marker be a super. Just like today, be 18 and you are an adult no matter what else is the case. $\endgroup$
    – Jontia
    Apr 4 at 17:51
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They'd leave it to a committee

Every criterion listed on this page will be used at some point. The committee will change its criteria after every election, every scandal, and according to fads and legitimate research in academia.

The criteria will be poorly applied by a bunch of bureaucrats using guidelines full of subjective words. In the end, it'll be nearly impossible to give an answer beyond, " If you can do amazing things, you may be super, and the ministry will evaluate you".

Attempts to put the whole business on a sensible footing will simply add to the mess of competing local, national and international standards, and implementation thereof. People will write standards that seem to offer answers but actually assume perfect knowledge and/or infinite time and budget. ISO9001 will cost a fortune and despite decades of 'continuous improvement', nothing will improve.

If any sort of international standard ever does come out, the USA won't sign up. China and most third world nations will but will then renege and have even lower real standards than the US's low national ones. The EU will both sign up and apply them all but take 54 years to translate them and implement them and make them so volumnious and full of political concessions that you'll be back to square one. It'll collide with CAP. I don't know how but it will.

We live in a society that doesn't have a clear definition of 'rich', 'poor', 'smart', 'stupid', 'good', 'bad', 'child', 'normal', or even increasingly 'man', or 'woman'. What on earth makes you think they'll successfully define 'super'?

The one thing you can count on is that Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark will end up classified with the classification they want, because they're loaded.

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  • $\begingroup$ the problem with defining "rich" and "poor" (and many other things) is that they are highly relative to your surroundings. If the average cost of living in a country is $100 a month, someone who makes $1000 a month is quite rich. If the average cost of living is $2000, someone who makes $1000 a month is dirt poor. While those numbers are examples, this is the reality and why you can't say that someone in the US with $2000 a month is "rich" (he's not) while someone in Uganda with $200 a month is "poor" (though he may be) $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Apr 20 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting It's worse than that. You can't define it simply even based off average living expenses. They tried defining poverty that way (3 x cost of food) and ended up having to (or unwisely choosing to) apply all sorts of fudges and more complicated metrics. Being super is 100x harder to define. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ I know, I had to oversimplify because of the comment length limit :) $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Apr 24 at 7:48

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