EDITORIAL: Batman's No Killing Policy - A Necessary Ideal or A Self-Serving Abstinence?
While it certainly is admirable for Batman to hold an idealistic sense of justice a midst all the ugliness in the world, does he sacrifice the the needs of others to maintain his biggest principle? Check this editorial to see a compilation of rational arguments for whether Batman should or shouldn't kill.
Killing, is perhaps, the greatest and most punishable offense according to many federal, moral, religious, and philosophical systems. As a general rule of thumb, the act of taking one's life is wrong as it marks an expedited and definite end to a life that would have otherwise lived longer had the action been avoided. Yet, there are many exceptions to this moral standard and it has become a heated topic of discussion. In the world of comics, to me, it is Batman who most strongly poses the dilemma of the circumstances where killing (or a lack thereof) does more harm than good and when it is acceptable.
Being the modern day equivalent of morality plays, it is understandable that superhero stories and their associated media often let idealism unfold and justice prevail by letting the hero triumph over the baddie in the most moral manner possible. In the case of Batman, he subdues his enemies without the use of lethal force. However, while we relish in the hero's victory, I think we often neglect the fact that Batman's moral absolutism can be an indirect cause of the loss of many (fictional) lives . For persistent and slippery villains like the Joker, an incarceration merely serves as a temporary solution to the problem, while killing may actually yield a positive result.
Like many people on the website, I acknowledge the fact that the immunity to death of the villains is attributed to the storytelling potential that those characters have to offer. If the writers truly wanted to eliminate the threats to Gotham, then they would've either let Batman kill, or have the villains incarcerated under the watch of the Justice League. However, obviously, writers don't want to eliminate the conflict that the stories oh so heavily depend on. After all, as James Oliver Curwood would say: "The greatest thrill is not to kill, but to let live". For the sake of intelligent and philosophical discussion, I ask that we refrain from using this argument when commenting below on your personal stance on the topic.
Also, please keep in mind that these are only some of the most reasonable arguments that I could come up with or find. By all means, if you think there is something that may be added, please comment below.
Why Batman Should Not Kill
The "Slippery Slope" Mentality
One of the most pervasive arguments for not killing is the "slippery slope" mentality that dictates that a small step subsequently leads to a series of more significant variations of the aforementioned action. To put it into perspective, action "A" is unlawful to begin with and will lead to action "Z" which is twice as bad. Thus, action "A" shouldn't be done in the first place. Despite the fact that the "slippery slope" concept is a logical fallacy, it is still something to be cautious of.
It is very much reasonable to believe that once Batman gets the ball rolling and starts killing, human life becomes slightly less valuable each time the action is repeated. The sad fact of the matter is that there simply isn't one villain that needs to be put down - there are volumes of them. To use killing as a means of bringing peace would require Batman to put an end to the lives of the endless names of psychopaths who plague Gotham City. Arguably, there may come a point in time where one day, Batman just has a blatant disregard for the sacredness of life.
In spite of Batman's numerous years of training and unparalleled discipline, he is still very much a human being, and such vile actions will take a toll on Bruce Wayne in some shape or form. Unfortunately, the effects of the constant act of killing may manifest in Batman being indifferent to taking lives.
Batman Is An Enforcer of The Law Despite His Vigilantism
A beautiful thing about Batman is that he works around the legislation in order to better uphold it. Seeing as the laws are either not effective enough to deter criminals, or aren't being adequately enforced, Bruce Wayne takes it upon himself to administer the justice to felons that the legal system simply fails to deliver. While his dark, intimidating, and aggressive methodology differs from that of Gotham's police department, the goal both parties are trying to achieve is congruous.
It is important to remember that because Batman works closely with the police, and has become somewhat of an unofficial law enforcer of his own, Batman must deliver justice within the boundaries of the system he is bolstering. Though he fights crime, Batman does not involve himself in the due process of the judiciary. What Batman does, is merely suppress acts of crime and allows the authorities to apply the appropriate legal action. Gotham's government didn't legally entitle Batman to the roles of judge, jury, or executioner. Therefore, much like any other person in Gotham city, Batman is expected to refrain from killing. If Batman wants to effectively uphold body of laws, then he must follow these rules in order to effectively set a standard for the citizens (and criminals) to follow. All body of laws apply to everyone without discrimination of race, wealth, or status - Batman will not be an exception.
Why Batman Should Kill
It Brings About a New Level of Fear
Bruce Wayne has familiarized himself in many disciplines that allow him to be an adept combatant and frightening opponent. Oftentimes, he manipulates the skills he's learned to approach crime fighting effectively whilst not relying on a murderous method. Of course, Bruce Wayne's extensive training in various martial arts allows him to suppress evil-doers without the use of lethal force. Additionally, the terrifying and grim "Bat" theme is a useful tactic in intimidating criminals off the street, altogether.
While this is good, how would he effectively deal with mass murderers who do not fear pain or the darkness?
Take the Joker, for instance, who is not only unfazed by Batman's non-lethal force, but actually thrives off of it. Part of Joker's persistence in escaping and killing innocents stems from the fact that he wants to see Batman forgo his no-killing policy. For people like the Joker, and other low-level criminals who are bound to realize that Batman's threat is essentially empty, there is nothing to fear or to deter them from returning to a life of crime. After all, physical injury may only serve as a temporary setback. As harsh as it sounds, killing may actually help Batman's intimidation factor escalate.
Selflessness and the Utilitarianism
Pictured below, is a visual representation of the famous "Trolley Problem" first introduced by philosopher Philippa Foot. This thought experiment makes the person imagine that he/she is the driver of an uncontrollable and unstoppable cable car. At its current course, should it continue it's displacement, the trolley is headed straight to fatally ramming 5 people. However, there is another option where you (the driver) may pull a lever to another set of tracks that sets the trolley on a collision course with only one person.
Another variation of the problem (pictured below on the right) is a bit more morally challenging. This variation makes the person imagine that he/she is standing atop a bridge beside a fat man. Under the bridge, is an unstoppable cable car set to demolish 5 people. In order to prevent the death of the 5 people, you must push the fat man off the train and allow his body mass to (hypothetically) stop the train.
Regardless of the version of the moral paradox, the consequences of both problems follow the same form. To save the 5 people, you must take an action that will result in the death of only one man. The problem being that you will be held morally accountable for the participation in his death. However, if you don't take action, and allow the trolley to run its intended course, you aren't morally at fault in anyone's death as you are not the direct cause but the lives of many are lost.
Batman's situation with his villains (especially Joker) is a close mirror to this moral dilemma. Without fail, Batman continues to spare Joker's life during every confrontation. He will not kill the perpetrator because it contends with his biggest principle. Consequentially, this failure to cause his death often results in the death of many other innocent lives each time Joker escapes his imprisonment.
To make the situation more tangible, let's make the reasonable assumption that every time the Joker escapes, 5 people die at his hands. Joker's frequent escapes from custody, therefore, yields a constant (possibly exponential) increase in his body count. Furthermore, it is also worth noting that Batman does, in fact, hold himself responsible for deaths that he didn't even cause.
From a utilitarianist point of view - where a priority is set on maximizing happiness and minimizing suffering - killing the Joker is actually what you are morally obligated to do. By this way of thinking, the continuation and flourishing of many innocent lives justifies the end to one psychotic mass murderer. In a quantifiable way, Joker's death does actually provides less pain for the world. Whereas Batman grieves the continual loss of thousands of lives that Joker kills by staying alive; Batman will only grieve the loss of Joker and the people he has killed in the past if the Joker dies. Simply put, in this manner, not only do more people live, but less people suffer having to grieve.
As popularized by Christopher Nolan,there is a notion that Batman is whatever Gotham needs him to be - he is purely symbolic and his service is malleable to whatever is required of him. To not follow this would sort of negate this notion and the purpose he is trying to establish. Also, at this point, it could be argued that the refusal to kill an elusive mass murderer like the Joker would be a selfish decision. The indecision to make a hard choice like this means Batman is willing to put the longevity and safety of thousands of lives at stake in order to stay true to his individual and personal principles.
After all, isn't the hero expected to make the selfless act of sacrificing personal ideas or benefits for the greater good?
It is a Self-Imposed Responsibility
Though it is admirable to partake in work that is beyond your regular obligations as a citizen, one isn't given a free pass to perform those tasks half-assed. Along with the duty that you thrust upon yourself, comes certain quotas that need to be filled and certain needs that have to be met. Jobs are jobs regardless of the reward (or lack thereof) that you receive from doing it. Non-mandatory work should never be equated with perfunctory work.
Think of the people who performed or continue to perform volunteer work. While those people were never legally obligated to do such a thing, as a result of their decision to start the work, there is a commitment that has to be made - not only to continue the work, but to also do it to best of their ability. By undertaking in an obligation (even though discretionary) means that they are liable for any negligence or failure to perform at a given standard.
Batman's role as a vigilante is the same. To clarify, no one forced him to be Batman or a crime-fighter of any sorts. Duty wasn't thrust upon him. Rather, he forced duty upon himself, and to that, he must remain true to it. As mentioned earlier, as a crime-fighter, it is expected that there will be times where killing will be the most viable option in serving the citizens the best manner possible. The simple fact of the matter is that one should never accept a job if he isn't capable of doing what is required, or if he isn't willing. To refuse to do what is expected from the line of work means that Bruce Wayne either isn't cut out for such a task, or he isn't performing his task well enough.
Moreover, any time his refusal to kill inadvertently leads to the loss of lives, Bruce Wayne must be held accountable for his failure to act. It is negligence on Bruce Wayne's behalf when he continues to ignorantly spare the lives of psychopaths who he knows will go rampant every time they escape captivity. In doing so, Bruce Wayne is liable for any loss of life by the villain as the crime could have been avoided if he had , otherwise, taken the necessary step earlier. By always taking the ineffective half-measure of incarceration,it seems as if Bruce Wayne is intentionally willing to run the risk of the death of innocents as long as he does not fall back on his personal ideals.
So there you have it - a few rational arguments from both viewpoints of the issue. I do not claim for this to be a complete list because there is always another argument to be heard in the wide field of ethics. This is such a great topic to discuss, and I wrote this to create a sensible discussion and to learn more about the community's ethical standpoints. Therefore, please feel free to make a comment and share your thoughts.
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