Time to Stop Being Gordon and start being Batman

gordon-and-batmanI have a long history of mixed feelings about vigilante superheroes. I cheer for Batman, and I loved watching Dexter, but for a long time i was troubled by the idea of someone, anyone, deciding that they knew better than everyone else what was right and true and good, and could therefore break the law in order to serve their idea of justice. It wasn’t the breaking the law part that bothered me- I think civil disobedience is one of the most important parts of democracy. My concern was with the idea that one person could decide that they knew best, and therefore had the moral right to go above and beyond the system. I believed that, flawed as it might be, a functioning democratic system of justice was always better than one individual.

Over time, that view has shifted somewhat, though not entirely. I”m still fearful of the vigilante, especially the one who claims that they don’t need to be accountable to anything but their own conscience. (One reason I am more Team Tony than Team Cap, though I think both positions are deeply flawed.) But the stories that allowed me to see this in a different light were V for Vendetta, and the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, especially The Dark Knight. In those stories, the vigilante wasn’t presented as a good thing, but a necessary evil.  A check upon the system when the system had lost its way, with the eventual goal of repairing the system to the point that the vigilante was no longer needed. 

V understood that he could not enter the new world he was trying to create. Batman wanted to support Gordon and Dent in rebuilding the justice system so that he would no longer be needed. But both of them knew that before that could happen, they had to go outside the law.  Because the law, the system, the rules that were supposed to be keeping things fair and honest, weren’t working. And that working within that broken system couldn’t save it or rebuild it.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since Trump was elected.  I’ve heard so many on the left argue for taking the ‘high road’ and continuing to work within the existing system to defeat him.  And I have a lot of sympathy for that position, but at the end of the day, I have to disagree.

I think it’s time to stop being Commissioner Gordon, and start being Batman.

It’s time to stop trying to be good, and polite, and hope that acting righteous will convince others of how wrong it is to do otherwise. I think it’s time to get our hands dirty, to break the law, to refuse to cooperate, to refuse to pay taxes, to refuse to keep trying to play by ‘the rules’ when it’s clear that they no longer apply.

I should note that I’m speaking primarily of non-violent action, so the parallel to Batman is not perfect.  My co-host Paul and I will be discussing the ethics of violence, specifically punching Nazis, in an upcoming podcast. But there are so many ways to step outside the system, to refuse to give our consent to be governed, to throw every bit of sand we can find into the gears of government.  Civil disobedience, work stoppages, tax strikes, daily protests, boycotts of any and all businesses that support the Trump system. But it starts with the decision that we can’t play by the rules any more.

The first part of doing that is to accept that the system really is broken. For Bruce Wayne, it is not just anger at the murder of his parents that drives him, it is the recognition that the system is too broken to do anything about it.  That the police are too corrupt, the justice system too  ineffectual, and the good people too scared or apathetic, allowing criminals to roam free.  Bruce realizes that he can’t count on the system to make things right- he has to do it himself.

Today we  need that Bruce  Wayne moment.  To realize that we can’t keep hoping that if we point out when Trump or the Republicans break the rules, that some authority will come along and make things right again. Because it’s never, ever, going to happen.

Beyond the constitution and our laws, we’ve always been taught that there are unwritten rules that govern our politics and that make up the whole idea of ‘polite society.’ Step too far, insult the wrong people, get caught in the wrong kind of scandal, and you’ll be pulled down because you broke ‘the rules.’ Again and again Trump has broken those rules, has flouted every idea about what is acceptable in public discourse. Everytime, Twitter and the media have exploded, calling people’s attention to it in the belief that people would say he had broken ‘the rules’ and he would be properly held to account. But it never, ever happens.

While Trump is the king of breaking the rules because no one is enforcing them anymore, it did not start with him. The Republicans have spent almost a decade, if not more, doing things that the left and the media will decry.  We call out “they can’t do that”, to no effect. For a year, we read about how the GOP had overstepped by refusing to even consider Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee, and how badly they would be punished at the polls.  But it didn’t happen.

Think about how many things Trump did ‘wrong’, how many times something happened that we were told meant his candidacy was finished, once and for all, and how little it mattered in the end.   And for anyone holding out hope that coming into office would force him to mellow out and play by the rules- it has taken only one week to prove how false that hope is

So, we find ourselves in Gotham.  Penguin is Mayor, the lock on the gate of Arkham is busted, and the police are all on the take.  The question is, do we keep playing by the rules, and hope the teacher will finally realize Trump has been bad and enforce the rules for us? Or is it time to put on the cape and cowl, and go rogue?

3 comments

  1. Caution on several points:

    Legality is not morality. The legal system enforces laws, not morals. Morality and legality often clash.

    We are all bound by our own personal values and behaviors, regardless of legality. Hence, why there are criminals in the first place.

    The legal system largely punishes individuals for illegal actions AFTER they occur, not before. Thus, becoming an after thought in an action.

    You aren’t the first person to be upset by the political establishment, and I would caution abandoning civil rule for a cause that has happened so regularly in history.

    A good method is to surpass the system physically, intellectually. Transcend the system. Doctor Manhattan struggled with considerable ethical paradoxes, because his involvement as a god was, essentially unethical in many ways.

    Above all else, ensure any action is based on absolute truth that you have verified and can demonstrate at will. Ignore media, even the trusted ones. Ignore reports, commentary and opinion pieces. Do nothing unless you have read thoroughly the reports yourself. The legislation. The data. If you don’t understand it, endeavor to. If you are going to use yourself as a “Batman,” the best thing you could do is trust your own interpretation of facts, not the facts that are presented to you.

    Oracles will, at times, become the vigilante. Though it is never encouraged to break the law. We do, however, avoid politics as an organization on the basis that the individual progress is what pushes us forward. If everyone in a country can be smarter, stronger, healthier, less impulsive, and more compassionate…undesirable political figures will begin to look radically out of place. Our hope is that we raise the standard of expectation at the individual level, thus raising the bar for leadership.

    “Superhero Ethics.” What an intriguing topic. It isn’t far from the objectives of Oracles.

    It might interest you to know, there are those out there who take “superheroes” not as a fictitious recreation, but as an objective. There are people capable of very remarkable things.

    “It’s time to stop trying to be good, and polite, and hope that acting righteous will convince others of how wrong it is to do otherwise. I think it’s time to get our hands dirty, to break the law, to refuse to cooperate, to refuse to pay taxes, to refuse to keep trying to play by ‘the rules’ when it’s clear that they no longer apply.”

    Never stop being good or polite. Even to your enemy. Acting righteous inspires millions, particularly in the face of evil. Get your hands dirty, by all means. But you should not break the law. You. Your current identity. You should be an upstanding citizen. Exemplary. Perfect. Even as a facade. The rules do apply. Your rules. Just as they always have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, and its a really interesting take on this question. I 100% agree with you on the need to seperate legality from morality, the two are not the same and should not be treated as such.

      Something being illegal does not mean it is immoral. Something being legal does not make it moral.

      But what happens when the law is immoral, unjust, and you question the legitimacy of the system that created the law? At what point is it right to say, I can not support this law or obey it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The law is frequently immoral and often unjust. The system is demonstrably broken.

        https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/div-classtitletesting-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizensdiv/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B

        Use http://www.sci-hub.cc to unlock.

        You do not have to support a law to obey it. There are plenty of examples of people thwarting the law through loopholes, investing heavily in a company specifically to gain control of it, climbing political ladders to make profound changes.

        That being said, there is a reason Oracles operate anonymously.

        When you know the extent of the failure of your current system, the flexibility of it, and how it operates, you’ll find that laws themselves are highly subjective based on class, contacts, and currency.

        If a bully makes a rule “You shall only stand in THIS square,” and enforces it by aggression you can elect to disobey it. But at what risk? Is it disobedience for the sake of disobedience? Is it being revolutionary to break one arbitrary rule? The most effective method typically is subversion. Intertwine with the system, learn how it operates, be instrumental to its operation. Then, when the trust is earned, betray it for the sake of the people. If you think about current events, you may find a parallel.

        Your question…”At what point?” Comfortably, when aggression, bodily threat, is presented to you and your family. Or to an innocent, for the sake of what you deem (honestly, truly, demonstrably, and independently) as an immoral law, you have every expectation to disobey it.

        For example, if a law was stated to round up children with green eyes and exterminate them, it would be an expectation of a moral person to oppose that law. If the system initiates violence (and only then), it would be expected for a person to retaliate with violent defense. When the immediate threat is subdued, the violence should discontinue.

        Fortunately, there is no such law in place to harm green-eyed children. Feel free to message or comment and ask about a specific law.

        Like

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