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July 21, 2008

Comments

"And so the problem Batman faces is the same one Luther faced -- how to control the consequences of crossing the threshold."

The key is to avoid being taken over by Brainiac, even if you become President.

For some particularly knowledgeable and insightful comics/politics commentary, I point to this post.

Geez Publius,... Martin Luther as Batman???

I would say that Luther did not allow the Protestants to follow their own counsel. Instead, he allowed them to READ THE LAW. The Catholic Church was doing pretty well at following the Pope's own counsel at the time, which is what spurred Luther to protest.

I agree today, that most of the outlandish religious extremism in our country is of the Protestant wing of Christianity. But, selling indulgences to allow the Pope to live in splendor predates Luther.

My own sense is that Catholicism is held to the mainstream partly by the existence of Protestantism. There is something to which we can compare the Pope's Bulls. Before Protestantism, the Pope's word was all there was. If you think that wasn't often extreme, read "A World Lit only by Fire." It's pretty scary.

Otherwise, point taken.

I'm not sure what you mean by religious lunatics in America--are you restricting this to people who actually commit terrorist acts themselves? It might be true that those are all Protestant--I'm not sure.

Outside the US, I don't think so. Much of the violence in Latin America in the 70's and 80's had a religious dimension to it--you had conservative Catholics vs. radical leftwing Catholics, and you also had genocidal Protestants (I'm thinking of Rios Montt in Guatemala). And the Spanish Civil War in the 30's had this Catholic vs. heathen quality to it, I gather. It's a little hard to single out who the extremists were in that one, when both sides were happily slaughtering people at one time or another (and the left spent a fair amount of time slaughtering itself).

While these imitation Batmans are fairly harmless

We never really see that they are, though. We see them in action once, and we see them being easily dealt with by the super-outlaws (Batman and Joker both). But we never see any indication that heavily armed citizens, running about in body armor and bat masks, shooting at presumed criminals, are harmless... or aren't harmless. We just see that they're there, and that they have a "well, if you can do it why not me?" attitude. We don't really get an indication if they're doing harm by their imitation of Batman's lawlessness... or doing good. They're just dismissed as ineffectual compared to a proper Batman.

This is troubling, because the movie goes on about reputation and symbols, but never really examines this very logical consequence of establishing a symbol of "justice being done by lawless means, because the law can't do justice". If justice can be done by roving vigilante bands, should we condemn them? The movie elides this with its "a-ha, but they can't" shorthand; it implies they can't because they use lethal force, and shows they can't by their failure to stop the criminals in their one proper scene. The implication of this is that such vigilantism would be perfectly acceptable so long as the vigilantes 1) stopped short of killing their targets (as killing appears to be the "bright line"), and 2) were none-the-less capable of neutralizing them. The troubling aspect of this is that "bright line" doesn't stop them from doing grossly harmful things. This line doesn't stop Batman from doing Very Bad Things, and yet that's okay because, well, as we note, he's the Batman. But... if they adopt his "bright line", they'd have all the legitimacy he does, and still be able to be very harmful indeed.

Which is not really meaningful in relation to your thesis by itself. As long as we assume the film suggests that vigilantism is doing more harm than good, we need not worry about them, because they are necessarily not acceptable. But I disagree that the film really concludes this. It considers the notion, and may even profess it, but in the end, its actions belie this. Batman is needed, even if he's vilified. "Polite society" may be repulsed by his methods, he may be officially condemned and even hunted, but he's needed and must remain lurking in the shadows to dole out his lawless justice. He willingly accepts public outrage over his real and imagined offenses... and ignores it, as do the "realistic" contingent of those in power. He is "good", even if he must be a "secret good". The Dark Knight is not meaningfully repentant of his lawlessness, because in the end it is effective and the White Knight's lawfulness isn't. The overall implication of the film is acceptance of the necessity of the lawless Batman. It may wring its hands over it, but in the end, in Gotham efficient rule of man must trump the impotent rule of law. Which brings us back to the ignored vigilantes.

We need not speak of Jokers to condemn the consequences of lawlessness; the faux-Batmen are plenty bad enough. Those who torture prisoners for noble reasons are logical consequences of enshrining personal moral judgment over law; we needn't imagine a "less believable" person torturing prisoners for partisan gain to conclude that such unbounded executive power is unacceptable, even should we assume it's effective. It's not the possibility of Jokers that make a (presumably in-the-balance just) Batman a bad precedent, it's the inevitability of faux-Batmen.

Krakauer's book seems like it's probably the worst choice to illustrate your point. It deals with the Mormons, who are not Protestant, and whose religion is set up a lot more like Catholicism than Protestantism.

"In other words, should I (or anyone) be entrusted to decide which laws I can ignore for the sake of the greater good?"

But we do that, every day. True, running a red light is not on the same level as the contrived story line in batman but, then, it's a question of degree, isn't it?

a couple of points

1 - I basically define all non-Catholic Christians as "protestant." that name only means "not catholic," rather than some basic theology. but i do seem them all as less hierarchical than catholicism. and wasn't krakauer's book about some splinter mormon anyway? (I haven't read the book). there's no such as a "splinter" Catholic group as far as i know.

2 - as for catholic/protestant warfare, i think that's not really what i was getting at. northern ireland for instance is more about land possession and occupation and scarce resources -- the kinds of things all people fight over.

i'm talking more about americans. crazy nutcase religious people in america are generally not catholic.

I basically define all non-Catholic Christians as "protestant.

Urk! This totally ignores the existence of the various Orthodox churches, which Really Aren't Protestant. Protestantism arises from the Reformation. The Orthodox churches... don't. Likewise, I'd be very hesitant to classify Mormonism as Protestant.

Wikipedia gives a good crude overview of core Protestant beliefs in contrast to Catholic ones here, tho' I'd be quick to point out that 3 & 4 are not always agreed upon by Protestant churches. More generally, denominations are discussed here. There's a lot of diversity of thought beyond "Catholic or Protestant".

The reference to Fundamentalist Mormons as ‘religious crazies’ is offensive. People get worked up about polygamy but polygamy is natural. Warren Jeffs ran a self-sufficient compound that wasn’t hurting anybody. I have personal knowledge of the work that his group did in the construction field, and it was excellent and reliable. Hopefully they are still doing it.

Although I refuse to spend money to see Batman, their social model answers the questions you pose in your post Publius. The smartest guy is put in charge and answers to families units run by smart guys within the framework of a decent religion.

Granting the most capable men multiple wives keeps the stock healthy. Life isn’t fair for the compound Jokers, but life isn’t fair period. Even in liberal la la land. Look what Ledger’s enlightened social model did to him and his daughter.

I knew a Mormon guy in the service who handed me a roll of toilet paper and told me to read it. Inside the cardboard it said ‘the answers to life are not to be found inside a roll of toilet paper’.

An analogy, to clarify things or muddy the water a great deal more. This is like you're saying that if a Muslim isn't Shi'a, they're Sunni. They can be orthodox Sunni, they can be Salafist Sunni, they can be Sufi Sunni... oh, and they can be Kharijite, even... but it doesn't matter, since they're not Shi'a, they're all Sunni. To further stretch the analogy, the inclusion of Mormonism as "Protestant" would be akin to adding that, since neither Nation of Islam nor Druze are Shi'a, they both must be Sunni.

Warren Jeffs ran a self-sufficient compound that wasn’t hurting anybody.

The notion that it was self-sufficient is drawn into question by the FLDS history of subverting social welfare. The notion that it wasn't hurting anyone is drawn into question by its treatment of dissenters in the community and its Lost Boys, amongst other things.

I thought the film is ultimately, if ambiguously and complexly, neoconservative in orientation - the velvet glove of the rule of law requiring the iron fist of vigilantism and state of exception politics. The realities of the necessity for brutal and illegal policies must be kept from the masses through the noble lie even as the gentlemen understand these necessities (Batman must be discredited to maintain the myth of Harvey Dent).

It was the authoritarian Catholic Carl Schmitt that came to my mind while watching the film. Extraterritorial abduction, coercive interrogation techniques, extra-legal violence are all necessary for the functioning of the rule of law. The state can no longer alone exercise the legitimate use of violence. A state of exception obtains where the survival of the society is in question. Perhaps there is a similarity between Batman and the brown shirt? In his review, Keith Uhrlich makes the point that one never has a sense of the citizens of Gotham outside of spectatorship of horror or the perverse prisoners' dilemma at the end of the movie. The logic of the aesthetic choices of the movie and its plot, ultimately, channel the politics of the movie towards a neoconservative vision (regardless of the personal politics of the filmmakers). A movie that wishes to avoid this end will have to include a sense of democratic deliberation and show a way of linking it to the choices of these extreme situations. The slam-bang plot and 24 style pacing preclude any such link. We await the right aesthetic form that can display, in a popular and entertaining form, our present political predicament.

I should say that I found the film entertaining.

NV - not to get too deep into the weeds on this, but yes, you have a point about the Orthodox traditions.

But at the same time, there aren't many people (relatively) who practice those here in the States. It's overwhelming a protestant/catholic nation.

phil - i could see the neocon angle. i just don't think it's clear they're romanticizing that view.

but reasonable minds could disagree on that

creeee.eeee..eeeekkk....

That was the opening of Pandora's Box you just heard.

"Granting the most capable men multiple wives keeps the stock healthy."

And thus those nasty genetic defects are avoided.

Every time I think BOB's hit rock bottom . . .

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/86/story_8626_1.html>This article says there are 250 Catholic splinter groups.

My experience with American Catholics and Mormons is that the LDS church in the USA is considerably more effectively authoritarian than the Catholic Church is here.

The notion that any church that is not Roman Catholic is "Protestant" has already been sufficiently debunked.

Is Eric Rudolph extremist enough to meet your definition? He was apparently raised and currently identifies as Catholic. His mother http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=161> reportedly seriously considered taking vows as a nun.

Although your thesis is perfectly logical, It's hard not to conclude that the more you know about religion and religious extremism in America the less plausible it becomes.

It's wrong to lump Mormonism in with either the Protestants or the Catholics. It's hard to know how to classify them at all, especially considering that Mormonism isn't -- strictly speaking -- part of Christianity at all.

i won't claim to be a Mormonism expert, but maybe the point still stands in a different sense.

Within Mormonism, aren't the craziest ones the ones that break away from the more centralized hierarchies and do their own thing?

Protestantism, in the US, is much more schismatic and just plain buck-wild, than Protestantism in European countries, because there was never one US Church to chase off the competition. Protestantism, in general, is prone to breakups and fights, much like Publius notices, but the US context just amplifies this phenomena.

Every Protestant and non-Protestant impulse could find a market in the US.

A book on the matter:
A HOUSE DIVIDED: Protestant Schisms and the Rise of Religious Tolerance by Steve Bruce

The Mormons I know on a personal basis are not the Fundamentalist types, and are some of the most decent and stable people I know. They don’t tend to OD, leaving their daughters fatherless. The reason Krakauer, and by extension a writer here, calls Mormons ‘religious crazies’ is because they can say so safely.

Krakauer was born in Surburban Boston, attended Hampshire College (founded 1970, wants to do away with SAT scores, etc.), and majored in Environmental Studies. He then spent his life flying around in airplanes and climbing mountains.

After 9-11, he obviously took an interest in organized religion, and wrote a book accusing Mormons of being violent in 2003.

Krakauer is a flawed individual. This web-site needs better references.

I don't think it accurately characterizes Joker's motivations that he is breaking the law for reasons that he thinks is right.

Rather, I think the Joker represents the possibility that Augustine (and Velleman in "The Guise of the Good") describe: the person who takes the very wickedness of their action as their reason for doing it. If he positively thought that burning the world down was "good," then the Joker would be far less interesting as he would simply be making a mistake. No, he realizes the "good" and that is what makes him want to tear it down.

And that is why Batman and the Joker are engaged in fundamentally irreconciabliable projects. It is why dialogue with the Joker will not ever work. Only force. That was the whole point of the Michael Caine discussion of the guy in Burma.

pts - that's certainly consistent with the neocon interpretation. interesting comment.

one more thought on that -- while PTS makes a good point, i still think you could see the joker as acting for a plan. i didn't want to give too much away, but he's acting for a reason - chaos, anarchy, etc.

i agree he doesn't necessarily think it's "good" (maybe that's a word i should revise). but he's acting for his own reasons, and sees himself above or outside the order (like batman)

in this sense, i think he could be an outgrowth of batman -- batman has a different reason, but he too acts outside the order for his own reasons

Rather, I think the Joker represents the possibility that Augustine (and Velleman in "The Guise of the Good") describe: the person who takes the very wickedness of their action as their reason for doing it.

This isn't exactly right, as Pub points out. He's not immoral, he's amoral. He doesn't see good and loathe it, he sees "good" and doesn't believe it's real. Think of the boats. His goal is to cause them to give up their illusions of civilization, to cause them to brutally kill their fellows... to show that despite their pretensions to the contrary, they're neither different nor better than he. Same with his meeting with Dent after the accident. Or the squealer's bounty. He's a nihilist. He's not trying to do what he thinks is "wrong", he's doing as he pleases, and trying to drag everyone down to his level to prove his point that there is no point, just power.

I wouldn't agree that he's trying to cause chaos, either. He's not adverse to destroying social order, but when he does it he's trying to command the masses' attention, fear, and obedience, moreso than just doing it for its own sake. The fear part is especially important, because it helps him prove his point.

"Within Mormonism, aren't the craziest ones the ones that break away from the more centralized hierarchies and do their own thing?"

Can you define what you mean by "craziest," exactly, as regards a religion, or epistemology, please?

"Krakauer is a flawed individual."

Fortunately, BoB and his friends are unflawed. No genetic defects, either. Good stock. They deserve to have sex with many women, and father many children, for the good of the (pale) race.

"I don't think it accurately characterizes Joker's motivations that he is breaking the law for reasons that he thinks is right."

Ya think?

"No, he realizes the 'good' and that is what makes him want to tear it down."

Not exactly. Look, I thought the movie made it so heavy-handed as to beat you over the head with it, by overtly not just stated it unnecessarily, having made the point perfectly clearly over and over before that, but then restating it overtly, over and over: order and chaos, order and chaos, rather than lawful-and-unlawful.

It's as (not) complicated as a game of D&D, though it doubtless would have made Joseph Campbell happy: the trickster, the coyote.

"This isn't exactly right, as Pub points out. He's not immoral, he's amoral."

Of course.

"He's a nihilist. He's not trying to do what he thinks is 'wrong', he's doing as he pleases, and trying to drag everyone down to his level to prove his point that there is no point, just power."

The point is made pretty heavy-handedly, but apparently not enough so for everyone. It sure as hell isn't subtle, though, which is too bad.

To defend my view, I think I would be dangerously close to revealing spoilers, but I will say this: it is perfectly consistent with having a "perverse will" that one makes plans, does what one wants, or does it for the "pleasure of it" as long as you interpret his pleasure in a way more consistent with the ancients rather than the modern psychologizing accounts.

Anyway, I think that the Joker's reasons are to take the very institutions, beliefs, routines, and traditions that uphold society and turn them in against themselves (to mock the schemers). It is much like Sade, I think, in the 120 Days of Gomorrah. I think the most interesting way to look at Sade (as the writer, not the person as I don't think that the global perverse will is a real psychological possibility) and the Joker is to see them as sincerely accepting the society's claim that they are evil, perverse, or wicked and then using this to make their ironic point, or to revel in that perversity.

If we view Sade and the Joker as people with normal wills but screwed up conceptions of the good, then we reduce them to people who have just made a rather stupid mistake about what makes life worth living. They present a much more interesting challenge that, and, as a result, they are much more disconcerting, challenging, and frightening.

Gary,

I, of course, saw the order and chaos theme, but this doesn't answer the question of what the Joker's attitude toward chaos is. Does he think that chaos, murder, and wickedness is good for its own sake or not? What is it about chaos that attracts the Joker?

And to claim that he is "amoral" doesn't really explain much to me. Does he view nothing as worth doing? No, that isn't it. Is he a rational egoist, simply seeking pleasure? Nope, not one bit. There is something frightening about the Joker's will, something strange and alien, but in a way that isn't simple amoralism.

There is something ironic about it. Something like an aesthetic appreciation of his ability to mock and turn order and morality in upon itself. But I think what makes that so interesting is that this aesthetic appreciation is deepened by an understanding of how that order makes life possible. Anyway, that's my suggestion.

I haven't seen the film, but Publius' discussion of religion seems fairly off-whack to me, because it doesn't consider the issue of authoritarianism in religion.

Since at least the eleventh century the Catholic Church has been structurally authoritarian. Ultimately, you are supposed to do what the man above you says, and if you question this you will get into trouble, historically, sometimes very extreme trouble.

Protestantism instead generally argued that the only authority one must obey was God's (as revealed in the Bible and one's own conscience). Authority (including the authority of church leaders) should not be respected if those in authority were doing wrong. Instead such wrongdoing must be actively opposed.

Such a Protestant view has several downsides. It has led to multiple church splits (in Europe as well, see e.g. the Wee Frees) as well as individual religious extremists, guided only by their own personal beliefs. And because there is a tendency to authoritarianism in all organisations (secular as well as religious) and some religious beliefs can amplify this tendency, some Protestant groups have also become authoritarian. When Protestant sects become authoritarian these generally become more extreme than Catholic ones, because there is no body of tradition to limit them. Even the Pope couldn't easily decide (for example) that it is the duty of the female members of his flock to sleep with him, as has happened in some Protestant sects.

But I would still take Protestant personal liberty of conscience over Catholic authoritarianism any day. Catholicism, historically, has normally been associated with right-wing politics, repressive states, an opposition to modernism and a lack of respect for human rights. And where there have been Catholic movements for social justice, such as liberation theology, the Church hierarchy has often been hostile to them.

Protestantism has produced more small groups of extremists, but some of them have been extreme for positive causes (like John Brown). They've also been responsible for a lot less institutional repression. I'd take Salem witch-burnings over the Inquisition anyday.

And, in more general non-religious terms, which is actually worse? People who think that their personal religion justifies them bombing an abortion clinic even though it's against the law, or those who think that if the President of the US passes a law allowing torture, that's OK because it's the law and he's the President? Vigilantes are a menace but it's evil governments who really cause mass killings.

I'd be interested in some information about the 'religious crazies' in Europe. At first blush, I think that the explanation using Protestant/Catholic explains too much. Isn't it possible that Europeans are a little more conscious of the problems of religious wars and so tend to do a better job of separating/ostracizing those who attempt to use religion as a lever for social change? (of course, if there are a similar number of folks in Europe using religion in such a way, that would shoot that notion down). Still, it would be nice to know about some of the flora and fauna over there.

there's no such as a "splinter" Catholic group as far as i know.

You've heard of this Mel Gibson guy, right?

Clarification, since that was a little opaque. Also, my mother-in-law and her husband are members of an evangelical/fundamentalist church that considers itself an offshoot of Catholicism and calls itself Catholic, although does not consider itself under the authority of the Pope.

I wonder what BOB thinks of Mexicans. They do awfully good construction work too, after all. And I wonder why he is so obsessed with Heath Ledger, even though I can guarantee that he absolutely never met the man and cannot possibly know anything about him that wasn't gleaned from the Internet or Access Hollywood.

i'm talking more about americans. crazy nutcase religious people in america are generally not catholic.

Try taking a consecrated communion wafer out of a Catholic church without eating it.

I thought the movie (ironically, given its title) was deliberately challenging some of the doxa of Frank Miller Fascism. In the 1985 Miller comic, recall, the masses are not capable of doing the right thing; they need a superhero on a horse to restore order; they end up so awed by the Batman's transmoral stature that they no longer criticize him. In the current movie, both the populist and the heroic ethos get to make their case: the only perspective that's thoroughly discredited is the Joker's misanthropy. And it is, pace the brilliant Gary Farber, the Alan Moore Joker we're seeing, not the Arkham Asylum Joker.

Clarifications:

I am LDS. And while I think Publius is generally right about the structure of individualist vs. authoritarian organizations, his religious meanderings are way off.

Mormons aren't Protestant in the classic sense. We are restorationists - we believe that the truth of early Christianity was lost and then restored in these times. It is generally considered offensive when people refer to Mormons as non-Christian. (Think of the Jonah Goldberg labeling of the Democratic Party as Liberal Fascists.)

Interestingly, we have a middle-of-the-road take on authority. People tend to view Mormons as very authoritarian, but there is an underlying individualist aspect that is not appreciated by most outside the church. We believe that God will individually confirm the truth to each person and guide each person within their own life.

Mormons are hierarchical in structure, but each individual in that hierarchy is expected to go to God individually to make sure that what they are doing is right. We tend to act united not because we are forced to, but because we have a common vision of what is right.

Incidentally, Krakauer's group (and the FLDS) are not Mormon. They are splinter groups. One common aspect of these splinter groups, however, is that they have given up the individualist aspect of the LDS Church - the individual confirmation of doctrine - and have gone toward the all-authoritarian model.

I agree with BOB, the facts that John Krakauer needs to see a therapist and is an environmentalist are both definitive proof that fundamentalist Mormons aren't religious zealots.

I'd be interested in some information about the 'religious crazies' in Europe.

My generalisation is that the religious crazies are now far fewer and far less politically influential in Europe than in the recent past (pre-1960s). That is mainly because of the collapse of religious belief in most Western European countries. You can't build a would-be theocracy on a basis of largely nominal believers, whether Protestant or Catholic. (The British atheists who claim that the UK is just about to be taken over by an American-style religious right are talking rubbish).

The change isn't (unfortunately) due to any generally superior European wisdom about dealing with unsavoury religio-political movements post-WW2. In areas where religious belief has held up strongly (or done so until recently), such movements have often been prominent, whether in Catholic Eire (under De Valera etc), Protestant Northern Ireland (Ian Paisley), or Orthodox Serbia/Russia. But while there are still some Eastern European countries with very prominent religious crazies (like the Polish Law and Justice Party), I can't see Christian extremists becoming significant in Western Europe again, though they might form one small part of a xenophobic/anti-Muslim right wing alliance.

If the Orthodox churches are Protestant, then Martin Luther couldn't have invented Protestantism.

And if the Orthodox churches are Catholic, then the pope isn't the spiritual head of all of the Catholic church.

LDS, that's some world-class rhetorical ju-jitsu by which you can claim that Mormons are real Christians but FLDS aren't real Mormons.

I'd be interested in some information about the 'religious crazies' in Europe.

One recent incident of sectarian violence (which I'd idealistically like to assume represents "craziness") between European Christian groups that tends to get "overlooked" would be the Bosnian War. The conventional narrative is that it was between the Croats (ethnically defined), Serbs (ethnically defined), and Bosnian Muslims (religiously defined). This conveniently ignores that an equally valid description of the groups involved would be Croatian Catholics (religiously defined), Serbian Orthodox (religiously defined), and Bosniaks (ethnically defined)... but for some reason, that's never the narrative we hear...

Not to say that religion was the sole issue there by any means, but it certainly fed into the disparate national identities.

I can certainly understand the essentially "neocon" appraisal of the Dark Knight, but I'd like to suggest one reason why I think this might not be apt.

The context for the film is in the long established genre of the comic book superhero. All of these heroes share some of the themes that PTS identified - the necessity of extra-legal vigilantism to safeguard the institutions of society, etc. These are established themes that we take for granted because we know (a) that the hero is ultimately good [practically axiomatic] and (b) the bad guy is evil. Most of our concerns about power arise because these assumptions cannot be extended to complex, real life circumstances.

As part of this genre, generally speaking, I think it is right that these themes come up in the movie. But, at the same time, Nolan asks of the audience to evaluate the limits of (a). We know that Batman is ultimately good, in the 'he won't kill people' sense and that he only targets those we have antecedent reason to believe are bad guys. Fair enough. However, we are asked whether or not it was right for him to spy on Gothamites cell phones, we are asked whether or not it was right for him to brutally beat the Joker in prison. We are also asked whether or not the Batman is the right kind of hero, and what an unjust society requires to make it just.

If the "neocon" label ultimately applies, I think it is because it shares some of the tropes of the genre. Yet, at the same time, Nolan took a character we think we know as probably the iconic superhero, and using our expectations, challenges how easily we give our heroes the benefit of the doubt and how we extend those lessons to the real world. (I think a similar point can be made about violence, while on one hand, Batman employs violence liberally, we see in this film that it is not a cure all, but that's more of a tangent).

Heh. Nice try, but I ain't buying it. For every "he did it his way" Protestant moment there's a "refused to question the orthodoxy" Catholic moment in movies.

If you really want to see some comic/religion crossover, I recommend picking up the "Marvel 1602" graphic novel. It's a pretty fantastic piece of work, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the vision of Magneto as the Grand Inquisitor.

I'm not totally convinced that the Joker is amoral.

A tree is amoral as it soaks up sun, a dog is amoral even in its kills, the wind blowing down a house is amoral.

The Joker *could* be seen in that way, but I don't think that is what he is.

Calling him nihilistic is closer, but even that isn't quite right.

He understands the idea of good and either doesn't believe that human beings are actually good and wants to expose that 'fact' (a reading that the ferry plot can be evidence for) or believes in it but actively desires to corrupt it (a possible reading of the Dent plotline and a slightly trickier interpretation of the ferry plotline).

And while I thought the last 2-3 minutes were bad, the whole line of thinking behind Gordon's son saying "He didn't do anything wrong" and what the movie seemed to be saying if reference to that could be very interesting as well.

jm-

You raise some valid points regarding the neoconservative interpretation. I think that the film comes off ambivalent (or, less charitably, confused).

It seems to me that the aesthetic choices in the end overdetermine the politics. Your reading of the genre is absolutely correct. I can't think of a situation where the ticking-time bomb (or mushroom cloud is a smoking gun) scenario that isn't, in the end, going to confirm the neoconservative worldview (the gentlemen have to get their hands dirty in a chaotic world; Kagan's mars/venus/hobbesian/kantian/US/Europe oppositions). Of course the actions are morally abhorrent, but nonetheless, necessary (and it is this necessity that needs to be challenged). This is a reason why it's so popular among the neoconservative pundits and political class. It favors decisionism over the liberal interpretation of the rule of law. And of course, such scenarios leave so much out of the "picture." I wonder if it is possible to dramatize democratic deliberation in a way that is both powerful and popular? Perhaps Michael Winterbottom's film on Daniel and Miriane Pearl might qualify? Documentaries seem to work well, too. Cheers.

The reference to Fundamentalist Mormons as ‘religious crazies’ is offensive. People get worked up about polygamy but polygamy is natural. Warren Jeffs ran a self-sufficient compound that wasn’t hurting anybody. I have personal knowledge of the work that his group did in the construction field, and it was excellent and reliable. Hopefully they are still doing it.

I am now convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that BOB is a spoof who is wasting our time with arguments not made in good faith.

A while ago someone posted a Firefox plugin that allowed you to hide blog comments posted by specific people, but I can't find it. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

Catsy: talk to cleek. He can hook you up with some pie.

"I can't think of a situation where the ticking-time bomb (or mushroom cloud is a smoking gun) scenario that isn't, in the end, going to confirm the neoconservative worldview (the gentlemen have to get their hands dirty in a chaotic world; Kagan's mars/venus/hobbesian/kantian/US/Europe oppositions)."

Ever read Miracleman?

Watchmen?

Think about it – when you see a true religious crazy in America, it’s almost never a Catholic.

Ok?? Unquestions evidence shows that for decades thousands of Catholic priests in America molested young children entrusted to their care with little oversight or condemnation from superiors. Some of those same leaders even went so far as to shield these creeps from justice by sending them away for a quiet retirement rather than expose them to criminal prosecution for their deeds.

And yet you claim Catholics are almost never capable of being a religious crazy? Hmmm. I'd like to see your definition of a true religious crazy. I guess it wouldn't include the propensity for all sorts of lewd acts with children. No, that's apparently perfectly sane and normal for a religious person. Only those bible thumpers from the country are the crazy ones. Whatever!

"And yet you claim Catholics are almost never capable of being a religious crazy?"

That's not what he wrote; you changed it be inserting "capable."

And, yes, while one can certainly discuss sexual attraction to children as a form of psychological disturbance, we don't generally consider all "crazy" people as interchangeable in category with "sexual molestor." You're rather shoehorning for effect here, with a specific ax to grind.

Though, to be sure, as I said, "crazy nutcase religious people" isn't exactly a precise or careful set of terms to be throwing around, either.

In other words, should I (or anyone) be entrusted to decide which laws I can ignore for the sake of the greater good?

I'm gonna sidestep the Batman and religious stuff and try to talk about publius' question directly.

It seems to me that we broadly consider people to be responsible for the moral choices they make. We expect people to "do the right thing", even if the law, or the state, or their church tells them to do otherwise.

I.e., Nuremberg.

We also demand that folks who do take illegal action in response to the prompting of their conscience to take on themselves the consequences of breaking the law.

I.e., MLK in the Birmingham jail.

Quite often it is the willingness of people to suffer punishment for acting on their conscience that persuades others of the rightness of their actions.

MLK again, and many others.

The challenge is that the person acting illegally on conscience is more or less on their own. The rightness of their actions may not be known immediately, or in their lifetimes, or ever.

Their actions might, in fact, not be right, and may do more harm than good.

The answer to whether illegal acts of conscience, especially violent or destructive ones, are "good" or "bad" may well be unanswerable, because we will never know what may have happened had the action not been taken.

Was John Brown right to kill supporters of slavery in Kansas, and attempt to start a slave uprising?

Were the folks who tried to assassinate Hitler correct to do so?

Are the Earth First folks correct to burn property that they believe contributes to environmental harm?

Was Jose Bove right to bulldoze a McDonalds?

With the possible exception of the Hitler assassins, I'm not sure you'll get a consensus on any of these.

The argument is part of how we figure out what "right" and "wrong" are.

Regarding the neocons, I do not consider them to be in the same category as folks who act illegally on conscience. They're fond of the "nasty world requires nasty action" argument, but they themselves are never required to do the nasty thing, or to pay the price for doing it. They make someone else do it.

Nor, to my knowledge, have any of them ever acknowledged, let alone expressed regret for, the many harms their actions have caused.

Thanks -

http://irc10.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/political-lessons-of-the-dark-knight/

Above is the oped I wrote about the dark knight. I have a different perspective on who the true hero that movie was and it wasn't batman.

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