Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Batman: Utilitarian? Final Exam Post for Zach Hutcherson (H1G1)


All of us know the caped crusader that Christian Bale has made so cinematic the past few years.  Long movies that you watch three or four times, plot lines with twists and turns around every corner, developing characters, action packed scenes, and…..philosophy?  Believe it or not, yes! Batman is a philosophical character.   Whether talking about his actions, his origins, the villains, the plot line, or even the social context the story takes place in – batman is literally riddled with philosophy.
                Let’s start with the most logical place to begin: origins.  Batman was built off one promise: To make Gotham a safer place.  This stems from the death of his father and mother, but mainly, Batman is unique in the sense that he became a hero due to sheer determination of will.  Superman was unworldly, Spiderman was accidently bitten, and others use genetic modification…but not Batman.  Batman had a promise as a young boy, and he built his life around that promise.  Training to embrace his fears, strengthening his body and mind, and developing technologies to improve his abilities all lead to him becoming a superhero.  Some argue he never was a superhero due to his lack of superhuman qualities; he has not gene modifications or special powers.  Only strength and will do to change his world.  In this sense, he is just a hero.  An idol for others to follow, which is in part what Bruce Wayne wanted, a nonmasked figure.
                At face value revenge or retribution is his motivator, but that is an all too obvious answer.  Batman is motivated by an internal will and desire: his ultimate motif if will you.  This reflects the philosophical teachings that we are a slave of our free will, or in other words, we follow the will that we do not control.  His ultimate goal is to resecure the city, which can be interpreted as control.  Not control of city by himself, but of the people.  Some philosopher’s even take it as far as saying Batman ‘s desire to return control of the city to citizens stems from his internal desire to give up the Batman character because it would free him of his internal will and return him to true free will.
                But let’s break it down some more, should he have done this?  Why give in to what he feels, why become the Batman? Here is your answer: utilitarianism. Does Peter Singer come to mind? Because he should.  Batman is quite literally an epitome of utilitarianism.  He brings about the greatest amount of good for people or more appropriately, the least amount of evil for the greatest amount of people.  At the end of the Dark Knight, Batman becomes the villain.  He very easily could have revealed Harvey Dent’s intentions, been a hero, and kept on going about his Batmanning, but that would not have produced the least amount of evil.  He needed to maintain the hope in people even at his own cost. But wait, there is another issue we have not addressed.  Batman must keep up his façade of a billionaire playboy spending money and living fast in order to protect his identity.  Forbes has Bruce Wayne listed at number 7 in fictional character wealth coming in at 7 Billion dollars.  Bruce Wayne is not selfish obviously, but he cannot be a philanthropist in order to save his image. 
                Peter Singer would argue that Batman could have a more impactful difference by not dressing up in a cape and giving away his 7 Billion to starving and homeless.  Since Singer’s utilitarian argument gives no more “points” for home field advantage, Batman cannot say that he owes a debt to Gotham.  One starving child in Africa is the same as one in America, thus Bruce has a moral obligation to serve the millions of starving over the thousands of scared.  So while on the surface, it appears Batman follows Singer’s philosophy, they actually diverge when you break it down.
                There is one other thing that kind of haunts Batman, and runs the whole utilitarian thing down the drain: Batman looks to the past for inspiration (his parents).  A true utilitarian examines and takes into account the future.  Batman does take this into account in situations.  For example, in the comic series Batman leaves Robin in order to foul a plot by the Joker to kill hundreds.  Batman knows the Joker will kill Robin if he leaves, but he does so anyways to save the greater number.  So in essence, utilitarian’s would disagree with the origins of Batman, but can’t argue much regarding his actions (other than that he should give away all his money).
                This is not to say Batman is morally corrupt.  If you have a more moderate definition of giving, take into account he is honoring his parents, and that he is still saving lives and could be savings lives that have yet to be affected then it is obvious that he is morally justified.  I doubt Singer would actually judge Batman and say he is wrong, but more say, “That’s not how I would do it”. 
                As you can see, we have spent over 800 words just on his origins relating to Peter Singer.  Batman and philosophy go hand in hand, so let’s talk a bit about one last point I find relevant to the conversation.  Is it worth it for Batman?  Sure he’s saving the Gotham, fighting crime, helping people, and being a role model (debatable, but that’s an entirely different topic), but does his life have value?
                The concept of selfishness is frowned upon, but ultimately, aren’t we responsible for ourselves including our happiness? Batman has so much hate built up that he has let hate drive his life and his decisions…is that a way to live? To be so consumed by hate that you have to spend countless hours training you body and mind, millions of dollars developing technology, and sacrifice your personal life only to satisfy your need to act on hate.  Batman on the outside appears to have an awesome life of partying, but that’s only an appearance, and only happens just enough to keep his identity up, but out of the public eye. 
                Can you imagine 6 or 7 nights a week for 12 plus hours running, jumping, climbing, fighting, gliding, falling, getting hit, stabbed, pushed, and shot at?  Only to come home to an empty house injured, two dead parents, and no girl because either the joker blew her up or you can’t have one due to her being a target (movies vs. comics).  Then, just as you think you can give your Batman thing up and let Harvey Dent take over, he goes crazy, kills some cops, and now YOU are the bad guy….sounds like a crappy deal to me.  When does his self actualized happiness come into account? Some say it is heroic to sacrifice himself in that nature, but to what point do you draw the line?  His fighting of evil on satisfies his hate not his happiness, thus it could be interpreted that Batman truly cannot be happy unless he loses the cape (which he hinted at in The Dark Knight with Rachel).  Once Rachel died, it was pretty much downhill from there.  His hatred drive him so much so that I believe Batman can only actualize his hate and suppresses all other feelings after Rachel dies.

1 comment:

  1. Was really hoping my original misreading of your title was correct: "Batman as Unitarian"... was ready to learn all about the "interdependent web of all existence" etc. etc.