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Batman as the ultimate capitalist superhero

June 06, 2008

Brecht once famously wrote, “what is the crime of robbing a bank compared to the crime of founding one?” Is this not the very sentiment that we must bare in mind as we watch Batman at work? By day he is Bruce Wayne, a wealthy industrialist, by night he is Batman, combing the streets of Gotham City for criminals to beat up and people to save.

His obsession with street crime arises as a direct result of witnessing his Mother and Father murdered by a thief. His Father was a philanthropist who attempted to help Gotham City by funding social projects and local charity work. Bruce, however takes a different approach and uses his wealth to fund a vigilante war on terror.

One could say that Bruce Wayne is fundamentally different from his Father in so much as the later concentrated on helping victims of crime while the former seeks to punish the perpetrators of crime. However, it would be more accurate to say that Bruce is merely continuing his Fathers business by different, but equally flawed, means.

Both are obsessed with the subjective violent eruptions that take place on the streets of Gotham City and both seek to address them. However, in the midst of all their activities neither pay attention to their own (sublimated) violence. This violence is that which has been objectified in the very economic structures that allow corporations like Wayne Industries to make such vast sums of money in the first place. Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else. It is not enough to hate subjective explosions of crime, one must turn ones attention to the ground that feeds these expressions.

Indeed one could say that it is the very philanthropic work of his Father and the crime-fighting of Wayne that actually provide the valve that allows them both to continue in their objective violence. What better way to feel good about yourself than volunteering at a local charity in the evenings (like his Father) or beating up on street criminals in the evenings (like Wayne). Such acts (like a prayer meeting, worship service or bible study) can recharge the batteries and make us feel like our true identity is pure and good when in reality it simply takes away the guilt that would otherwise make it difficult for us to embrace our true (social) self who is expressed in the activities we engage in for the rest of the week. The philosophy here is exposed as “do something so that nothing really changes”.

Perhaps then the next film will not have Batman running around beating up drug dealers and pimps (an impotent project anyway as there is only one Batman for the whole city), but rather dissolving Wayne Industries, setting up free health care and campaigning for radically different socio-political structures.

Mind you, it might not be as fun to watch (and I am very much looking forward to seeing the new Joker in action).

45 Responses to Batman as the ultimate capitalist superhero

  1. Kester says:

    Man, you really do watch FAR too much television.

    Isn’t this also a fine critique of preaching: say something, so you don’t have to do anything?

  2. admin says:

    Absolutely. It could also be applied to blogs… anyway, back to Jeremy Kyle

  3. peter says:

    “Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else.”

    While the capitalist system is by no means innocent in this affair, I think the suggestion that the crime is a ‘direct manifestation’ of capitalism is a bit misleading. To test whether this is the case, let’s try removing a capitalist system and seeing if the subjective crime disappears. I think attempts at movement away from this capitalist system to a more socialist bent demonstrate that this is the clearly not the antidote we were hoping for. Perhaps these underlying human responses (e.g. violence, crime, etc.) will find a way to be manifested regardless of the economic/ political systems at work. If ‘the poor will always be among you’ perhaps so too the violent, and the destructive. As Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” So too can we make the same claims about systems… if it were only about identifying the right and wrong systems, separating the wheat from the chaff and destroying that which ‘directly manifests’ that evil in man… then our task would be easy.

    That all being said, I do agree with your conclusions especially with regards to the role of prayer and religion as a antidote allowing us to feel more pure and continue going about our days.

  4. John L says:

    peter and peter – good points all, but dissolving Wayne industries would only create a vacuum for a potentially less benevolent corporation. Your second suggestion, “campaigning for radically different socio-political structures,” is on target.

    Ultimately, it’s not Wayne Industries’ fault. Public corporations are required by law to maximize shareholder wealth at the expense of all other goals. In our state (California), any corporate officer that knowingly dilutes shareholder profits by funding “unrelated activities” can be prosecuted.

    Many of us are campaigning for a new business entity called “B Corporation.” The BCorp (B = Beneficial) allows corporate officers to consider stakeholders, not just shareholders, without fear of legal action. Stakeholders include local community, local ecology, and the well-being of every employee.

    We are promoting a bill in the California legislature (AB2944) which will offer public corporations the “BCorp” option. One of our companies is a founding BCorp member and another is in process. http://www.bcorporation.net

    Some gateway resources I can recommend for those interested in beneficial / “triple bottom line” capitalism:

    http://www.xigi.net (mark beam / kevin jones)
    http://greensx.com/ (new social stock exchange)
    http://www.nextbillion.net/ (WRI)

    Herman Daly’s economic model called “Steady State Economics” is a more generalized approach to enlightened capitalism. Daly said 30 years ago, “I see the economy as an open subsystem dependent on the ecosystem for sources of raw material and sinks for waste material and energy. The ecosystem is finite, non-growing, and materially closed. Our economy has grown so large relative to the system that its demands threaten to overwhelm the ecosystem’s natural capacities to regenerate resources and to absorb wastes. To me, that means that the path of economic progress must shift from growth (quantitative expansion) to development (qualitative improvement). I am interested in the politics, technologies, institutions, ethics, and values that will be required if we are to make this transformation.”

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for this Peter. I actually totally agree with you that operating with a different socio-political system that was more equitable would not clear up all subjective violence. One could say ‘The psychopaths you will always have with you’. In other words, we will always have people who enjoy, or are indifferent to, the suffering of others.

    However, what I am interested in is what soil encourages the weeds and what soil discourages them. One of my motivations in writing this was in response to an interesting conversation I was having with a group of people I meet with on a weekly basis. We were discussing how violence manifests itself in the working classes and middle classes. It was much easier for us to see and discuss the violence witnessed among the working classes than middle class crime. And this, I think, is part of the problem. In the middle classes we can often feel ‘innocent’ of violence (beating our spouse, petty crime, etc.). But are we really innocent, or is our violence sublimated and directly linked with the violence we dislike?

    I remember when I first moved into my house (which is located in bad area of the city) some of my friends were nervous about visiting. Yet, I had to point out that they only lived in an area with a better class of criminal, one who wouldn’t rob you with a knife but with a handshake and smile.

    Yet this is not precise enough. For in a way the violence of the middle classes is no-ones direct fault. In terms of subjective violence we can point at someone and say ‘guilty’, but when the violence is sublimated and becomes systemic then we can’t point to anyone (the bank manager, the property investor etc.). Rather the violence becomes collective and is noramilised as ‘the way things are’. But is it really simply ‘the way things are’? Or are other realities possible?

    Thanks again, loved the Solzhenitsyn quote.

  6. admin says:

    PS it is my hope that faith collectives can show an alternative mode of living (perhaps an example would be in the rise of neo-monastic groups with people like Shane Claiborne)

    PPS Didn’t see your post until I had written mine John. What you say is fascinating – will check this stuff out.

  7. peter says:

    Perhaps this might be a way to understand the dynamic…

    What if it is not the specific economic system, but the coupling of that system with an ideological view of it as a free system. For example, common American rhetoric suggests that this is a system in which one can ‘pull oneself up by their own bootstraps.’ This mentality allows the privileged to feel justified in their position, in addition to being feeling both more talented and harder working than those in the lower classes (undermining empathy). In contrast, the poor are more inclined to see (and feel) the inequity in the system and the burden of trying to escape, thus undermining the credibility of the ‘pulling oneself up by their own bootstraps’ rhetoric. This then serves to justify acts which ‘even the score,’ making the victim either faceless (the crime is against the system writ large) or themselves touched by fault in the eyes of the perpetrator (for participating in the system). I think the same happens in a more socialist system, but the locus of blame shifts (towards the government) with the felt inequity minimized (though not the case looking intra-systems). So, in that way, the soil of a more socialist oriented system may perpetuate a different direction of response.

    The notion of faith collectives demonstrating an alternative mode of living though is important, and I am glad you raise it. I think I have been shown this more recently by my brother, who in moving to my town to teach in the inner-city (St. Louis), and has encouraged me to look for a place more in the inner-city with increased diversity, thus moving directly against the trend towards racial/ economic segregation, which further reinforces class division (e.g. ‘the american apartheid’). In this way, he was a representative of an alternative mode of living… a different ‘moral imagination’ in the words of Charles Taylor.

  8. Charlie Boyd says:

    What is the root of violence?
    Rene Girard the French anthropologist and modern thinker proposes that violence is the end product of desire instigated by mimesis.In other words I see what you have ,desire it through mimesis (i.e. wanting to be like you and therefore wanting what you have),leading to rivalry and the creation of monstrous doubles or a model obstacle.At this stage violence breaks out as a scapegoat is selected,the killing of whom leads to a form of communal ‘peace’ often leading to the deification of the victim due to his/her peace giving powers.

    Jesus was the man outside desire whom we could say was wired properly thereby avoiding mimesis with either God or man.( interestingly religious devotion or pietism is a form of attempted mimesis with the Divine/Jesus)The death of Christ was the ultimate scapegoating – the divine man being made the scapegoat – revealing the destructive nature of the mimetic system (transgression/sin).

    If it means anything to be possessed by the Spirit of Christ it must mean we are divinely rewired to live outside the human mimetic system thus avoiding ultimate violence.We live in a mimetic world however and move in and out of this system as Christians – the journey is to learn to step back into the Kingdom when we realise the spell we have put ourselves under.

    Back to Bruce Wayne.

    Clearly Western Capitalism is built on the satisfaction of desire materially and even relationally – buy the new BMW and the women will throw themselves at you!!This leads to rivalry and ultimately violence – stepping over the victims on the way to get our next dream fulfilled.

    The Kingdom must be a place where we can live outside this desire system – where our desire is focused on Father’s unconditional love giving a sense of freedom and peace.

    One application to individual spirituality is to avoid gurus ( Eastern,Secular, Conservative Evangelical or even Emerging Church) – the models who possess a transcenence that we desire – to fail to do this will lead to ultimate scapegoating and disillusionment within their particular movements – the fragmentation of Protestantism into multitudes of sects is one violent result – the establishment of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – the opposite of Kingdom Life.

    What about Robin?

    Charlie Boyd

  9. Isaac Bubna says:

    Interesting thoughts…

    Reading this post and the comments reminded me of Richard Bauckham’s little book “Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World.” He brings up the term “economic monoculture” in the book and says:

    “It’s ideology, while purporting to benefit all, serves the interests of the rich and powerful. This is surely inevitable with an economic system oriented to the maximization of profit and the accumulation of wealth rather than to the meeting of basic human needs.”

    Later he goes to say:

    “Christians must not be seduced by the enticing notion that economic growth as such is self-evidently a prime good for humanity. We must probe the facts behind this glib assumption and ask questions about who and what is benefited or damaged by the actual economic growth…”

    I wonder if there are other ways to live subversively within our “economic monoculture” other than the “extreme” way that Shane Claiborne is doing it? Is buying local food, or riding your bike, or shopping at thrift stores, possible ways to avoid supporting larger corporations that fuel our economic monoculture? Are small ways enough?

    I also wonder if Christian’s have turned Jesus into an “ultimate capitalist superhero” for the Christian subculture within our global economic monoculture?

  10. Matt Wiebe says:

    I recently re-watched Batman Begins to prepare for the upcoming movie, and I recalled a scene towards the end where Ra’s al Ghul tells Batman that he’s been waging war against Gotham for some time already, including mention of “economics,” meaning that his organization was in some way responsible for the Depression which had indirectly resulted in the death of Wayne’s parents at the hands of a desperate thief.

    This only serves to reinforce the rhetoric of pro-capitalism within the movie, showing that it is only outside forces acting upon a market which further serve to corrupt it and produce poverty and suffering. So, not only is Batman part of the capitalist problem, he is fighting enemies who would dare to tamper with the pure sanctity of the “free” market.

    Capitalist superhero indeed!

  11. Bert says:

    Batman is pop culture’s representation of a Dostoevsky archetype figure who is wounded and pursues healing through the act of returning the wound he was given. So he goes around and hunts down pimps and drug lords that remind him of the ones who killed his parents. Does this heal the wound? No, of course not, it only makes it worse as demonstrated by Batman’s overall unhappy and angst-filled demeanor.

    I have to say, though, that the Ra’s al Ghul character represents an equal fanaticism, that is that societal problems can be solved merely by violence and mass killing of the oppressor(I often wonder if those Westerners who wear Che t-shirts as a casual form of protest would have the stomach to kill as many people as he did). And ultimately, I think the problem with capitalism vs. socialism discussions is that both are flawed ideologies, as MLK pointed out. Relevant to this is McLaren’s book “Everything Must Change” which does a great job in provoking thoughts beyond typical left/right economic paradigms.

  12. Some historical perspective.

    * Until the 19th Century, life expectancy at birth has been 20-30 years. Today it is pushing 80 in developed nations and it is in the upper 60s worldwide.

    * Until the 19th Century, infant mortality rates (deaths prior to age 1) have fallen from 250-300 out of 1,000 to 6-10 out of 1,000 in developed nations and well below 75 out 1,000 for all but a handful of nations.

    * From 10,000 BC to 1750 worldwide annual per capita income (measured in 1990 purchasing power parity dollars) doubled from $90 to $180. Since that time it has grown $180 to $6,600. Emerging nation economies have been growing faster than developed nations over the past 15 years with the highest growth in income coming to the bottom quintile.

    * Approximately 85% of humanity lived on less than $1 a day (PPP dollars). By 1970 that was 39%. Today it is about 17% and is expected to drop below 10%.

    Keep in mind that between 1750 and today the world population grew six fold!

    Also keep in mind that 300 million acres of land were in crop production in the US in 1910. Between then and now the US population tripled. It would have taken an expansion of 700 million acres (the US land area east of the Mississippi River) to meet the demand using 1910 technology. What is acreage used today? 300 million acres. No change. Acreage use worldwide grew at constant persons to acreage ratio until the 1960s and since then has slowed to almost no net growth in acreage.

    This is the great “suicide machine,” as McLaren calls it, that capitalism has imposed upon us. :)

    On a recent flight, I sat next to retired baseball player George Brett. We know that the objective of baseball players is to get a hit each time they go to the plate. Brett failed to do this nearly 7 out of 10 times over his career. Shall we therefore rank him as a horrible baseball player? No. In fact, we put him in the hall of fame because only a handful of players have ever been average more than 3 hits out of 10 at bats.

    As economic systems go, capitalism has been a .400 hitter. The framing of capitalism as descent into some dark dystopia as this conversation implies is the equivalent of labeling George Brett a failure. While it is interesting to explore what ways sinful passions and dysfunctions manifest themselves within capitalist societies it is another to suggest that these passions and dysfunctions are rooted in capitalism.

    Everyone wants to be an economic critic. No one wants to study economics or economic history. :)

  13. admin says:

    Hey Michael

    Thanks for joining the conversation. I don’t doubt your stats at all and indeed think that in Capitalism we see, for the first time, the ability to overcome the human problem of scarcity on a global level. This is progress. The problem for me is that Capitalism is not able to overcome the issue of distribution (or of a dangerous spiral of over-productivity). I am interested in exploring alternative economic systems which can build on Capitalisms strength’s while overcoming its weaknesses. I am currently not persuaded that the weaknesses of Capitalism can be overcome within Capitalism (i.e. via such things as fair trade).

    I agree also that many people do not want to study economics and economic history, however a problem that I find is that those who do study economics (in university) end up simply studying how the economy functions in its present state (i.e. embracing the idea of ‘the end of history’, i.e. Capitalism as the only viable economic reality). Economic philosophy, which would explore alternative economic possibilities, seems to be a little thin on the ground (although correct me if I am wrong here). For that I think we find more in philosophy courses.

  14. John L says:

    Michael, among all the statistics, you have failed to ask “why.”

    Why did population increase six-fold in roughly the last 100 years? Why (how) has the USA tripled food production without increasing acreage?

    Once we understand the “why,” we see that our carbon-fueled blip in history is not sustainable. The core issue is not political (capitalism vs. socialism), but speaks to the heart of fallen humanity in a grand narrative of duality vs. unity, of self vs. other.

    By the way, over 50% of this planet exists on less than $3/day. And while as a percentage the bottom 1/3 are -slightly- “better off” than they were 50 years ago, in absolute numbers they are faring far worse. We’re losing the ethnosphere to corporatism.

    Wade Davis’s remarkable 2008 TED Talk is now on-line. I encourage you to watch it. http://www.microclesia.com/?p=363

  15. Gary Manders says:

    Hi Pete,

    On a tangential note, I would be interested to know what you think is the purpose of Philosophy? I cannot agree more that we need to think of alternatives to capitalism as it isn’t a perfect system. I take it philosophy expands our thinking in various disciplines by asking clarifying questions and provoking alternative conceptualisations- pushing boundaries. Deconstruction?

  16. “…end up simply studying how the economy functions in its present state…”

    Fair nuf. But unlike many other human sciences, economics has the material world as an integral component. Some of the axioms like the law of supply and demand are as firm as the law of gravity. You can deploy a parachute to counter the effects of gravity but you can’t suspend gravity all together. Same with supply and demand, yet many philosophers and social thinkers want to simply wish away these realities and refuse to acquaint themselves with basic economic principles. Ahistorical analysis of economic realities a symptom of this. Those who persist in asking for reconciliation of new ideas with established economic axioms are often just dismissed as ideological

    There is no economic system in the Bible. Therefore, we’d better be careful about taking any economic system down to the river and baptizing it as gospel. We must be ever searching and questioning whether there are was we can build to greater shalom. But failing to see things in historical context frequently leads to regression not emergence.

  17. John L.

    Actually I think you will find that the population growth preceded the Industrial Revolution. By a century or two. What give rise to growth in England and Northern Europe was improved crop production. People had higher caloric intakes making them more productive and healthy, which led to more agricultural production, and so on. We really don’t begin to see the impacts of machine technology until about 1820. Then this process went into overdrive.

    I think the carbon fuel question is irrelevant. The economy is constantly innovating. Higher fuel costs give incentives for alternative fuel and that is happening as we speak. Almost everything we use in society (including steel according to some scientists) can be replaced by renewable alternatives. The issue is that until now the use of nonrenewable resources have been so inexpensive there has been no incentive to innovate.

    It is a common and persistent fallacy to take existing technology and practices and project them indefinitely into the future. Economies, technologies and practices are not that stable. What if I had told folks in 1978 that in the thirty years the world would be networked together using sand (fiber optics)?

    You are right that half the world is living on less than three dollars a day. Yet the reason usually purported is a zero-sum game explanation. The wealthy got so by stealing from the others. The reality is that the wealthy nations discovered a potent combination of political freedom, economic freedom, property rights, and rule of law that creates rich soil for economic prosperity. Most of these poor are still living above historical human standards. The question is how to help others to find their own rich soil within their own contexts and that may not look exactly like ations who are currently prosperous.

    If were going to TED, let me recommend Hans Rosling’s Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen :) The single best 20 minute presentation I’ve seen about the changing state of the world.

  18. John L says:

    Michael.. Thanks for engaging on this. I’m a student of energy and enjoy the conversation.

    Yes, Hans Rosling gave a great TED talk, but he doesn’t contradict anything I’ve stated here.

    I would like to address your comments in depth (some of which are misinformed), but don’t want to clutter Peter’s comment box with a lengthy technical discussion. To that end, I propose drafting a blog post tomorrow and hope we can continue the discussion over there.

    And, Peter, if that sounds like a hijack, just tell me and I’ll continue posting here.

  19. admin says:

    Hey John that’s a great idea. Will look forward to reading more there!

    In terms of my thoughts on what philosophy is that is, as you know, a difficult philosophical question. I have written and deleted a few responses to your question now because of its difficulty. I think you are right that philosophy involves asking clarifying questions and exploring alternative ways to conceptualize the world. This is what Wittgenstein might say. Pointing out that philosophy can test the scope and limitations of various language games and offer up alternative ones.

  20. John L

    Misinformed or disagree? :) I’ll try to keep up at your blog. I head out today for the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly.

    BTW Peter, I wanted to note that “How (not) to Speak of God” is an exceptional book. I enjoyed it greatly and I’ve borrowed your analogies more than once.

  21. Mike Morrell says:

    Okay…back to Batman. :)

    Peter, you say “[Wayne’s] Father was a philanthropist who attempted to help Gotham City by funding social projects and local charity work. Bruce, however takes a different approach and uses his wealth to fund a vigilante war on terror.”

    Strictly speaking, Bruce doesn’t take a different take but an additional one. While many of his chroniclers are generally lazy with his life outside the cape and cowl, they generally promote a storyline in which Wayne is a philanthropic capitalist as well. This doesn’t take away from the force of your argument that both father and son are sublimating their violence and justifying it via band-aid panaceas.

    Bert you said “Batman…goes around and hunts down pimps and drug lords that remind him of the ones who killed his parents. Does this heal the wound? No, of course not -” to which I’d cut you off and say “they’d have to stop publishing the comic if it did!” Can you imagine DC’s spin-off series Adventures of the Ordinary Man Formerly Known as Batman: Wounded Healer?

    Speaking of the comics, Peter, do you ever read them? Speaking of the consequences of violence and the elaborate games we play, there’s presently a ‘death of Batman’ storyline going on, Batman: RIP. It’s being penned by Grant Morrison, a Scottish occultist, subversive, and all around brilliant scribe. I feel like Morrison has a good grasp on Wayne’s ‘personal’ life and the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the Batman character. This series is worth reading.

  22. Alan says:

    An interesting discussion left out of the equation in any discussion of “alternative” economic system is the problem of humanity. We, you and I, are by nature screw-ups. We are greedy, mean spirited, hard headed and hard hearted. We’re liars, adulterers, gossips and generally bad.

    We Presby’s know this as “total depravity” and I’ve yet to see anyone, any system [including the great socialist experiment of the USSR, Cuba or the People’s Republic] company, family or congregation able to deal with it apart from the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

    This comes from a combination of my Political Science, theological, pastoral or parenting background.


  23. Bert says:

    Well said, Alan

    Glad there’s another Presby out there, so Pete knows that we who still identify with an institutional church are nonetheless eager to be involved in the discussion. To me, “total depravity” is just another word for “sin” which is probably the most unpopular word in Christian theology, from any outsider’s perspective(i.e. people think the church is all about making you feel guilty about yourself). Of course, part of the postmodern world is the ascendancy of relativism, which denies any objective definition of what constitutes “sin.” Generally the more conservative churches will focus on personal sin, such as sex, drugs, alcohohol abuse, while the more liberal ones(like my own PCUSA) will focus on collective sin like poverty, social inequality, etc. Whatever way you slice it, it’s a loaded topic. I believe that sin is real, but I also think we can go overboard in the guilt department, and leave out the forgiveness equation as well.

  24. Bert says:

    Oh yeah, Mike, of course Batman would suck if he was straightened out, just like the play Hamlet would suck if he was happy. Maybe we do rob things of their fun if we deconstruct them too much.

  25. admin says:

    Hey Bert

    I must say that while my comments may have seemed pretty harsh on the institutional church I am a torn man there. Most of my thoughts relate specifically to the evangelical non-denominational tradition – which is part of my own history. My thoughts on the Presbies and Anglicans are a little different. I am primarily concerned with the way that Enlightenment discourse (great as it mostly is) has dictated how we understand faith in much of the church.

    I also agree with your thoughts on total depravity as being important. I think that Heidegger made it understandable to ‘non-religious’ people through his analysis of ‘falling’ (which, of course, brings to mind the theological category of ‘the fall’)

    Thanks for your input

    Also, I would hate Batman to be getting things right!

  26. Wilson K. says:

    I’m having some trouble getting my head around the actual point of this post. And granted I am new to reading Peter’s stuff. But let me focus on the economic aspects.

    Doesn’t Rollins jump over several crucial steps here when he says:

    “The [subliminated] violence is that which has been objectified in the very economic structures that allow corporations like Wayne Industries to make such vast sums of money in the first place. Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis.”

    Really? For starters, I need help with the definition of ‘objective crime’ and how it applies to Bruce Wayne (capitalists) and Wayne Industries (corporations).

    It seems more likely to me that the reason Wayne doesn’t see this connection is because it’s not actually there. His ability to make millions (maybe billions) of dollars seems disconnected with his desire to fight crime from petty criminals to the Joker.

    How is it that “economic structures (capitalism) that allow corporations… to make vast sums of money” by default participate in a type of violence at all? If I look at basic cause and effect, where does the creation of profit have any cause on the stated effect of crime?

    Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  27. admin says:

    Hey Wilson. That would take a good long time to answer. However, in short, it is based on the (not uncontentious) idea that free market Capitalism inherently generates the conditions for oppression and poverty which lead to crime because of such things as alienating the worker from the means of production, the drive to find ever cheaper ways to produce products (thus driving down wages), the unrestricted drive to increase abstract wealth (in the hands of the few) etc. For instance, if I remember correctly, in the US the disparity between the highest paid exec and lowest paid worker in large companies comes in at around 1:147 in comparison to places like Sweden which I think is as low as 1:16 (the joke in Sweden being that the only really rich people are in organized crime). Poverty, poor health care, lack of education etc. are breeding grounds for violent outbursts. This also doesn’t hit on the environmental destruction precipitated by many big corporations and the investments in weapons of war/torture which also lead to more problems.

  28. Wilson K. says:

    Thanks for the overview. If anyone else would like to respond more specifically, that would be appreciated.

  29. adrian says:

    the thing that strikes me about batman is that he’s the only superhero who isn’t. there are no otherworldy powers, no heightened senses, no superhuman strength. it’s fascinating that our most human superhero is also our darkest.

    the pattern with many a human superhero is a born-again type experience – often a disabling accident which results in said superhero powers as a side effect. bruce’s born-again moment however is a dark [k]night of the soul – one that lasts most of his adolescence.

    you can decide for yourself whether he comes out the other side of that mental trauma with a clearly focused sense of purpose, a twisted logic in which effectively becoming that which he hates will allow him to make some kind of transformation on the city or whether he just succumbs to a darker impulse. whichever, batman becomes a criminal – he’s just too rich to need to steal money.

    i think it’s telling that the icon that bruce wayne adopts for his new persona comes from underneath his father’s house – it has always been there unspoken and unseen. there is a teeming darkness supporting wayne manor/manner. when bruce first discovers the cave as a child it’s like he has stumbled across a dark family secret – as if his family’s wealth was built on the slave trade or some other shameful aspect of capitalism.

    the cave is the most ridiculous aspect of the batman set-up – the batmobile is probably parked in wayne manor garage but the cave serves as a metaphor for the unknowable darkness in bruce’s soul. it’s where he’s [literally] coming from when he is batman.

    so perhaps bruce unconsciously recognises that his father was not a good man and in donning a mask and cape inspired by the creatures inhabiting the chasm underneath his family home he is just choosing a more extreme version of the dark city suit that his father wore which no doubt cast equal fear into the souls of the city’s underclass.

    as wayne enterprises feeds on the poor [for all successful capitalist ventures do], batman feeds on fear. bored with business, bruce needs his thrills more visceral. unlike his father i fear there is no self-awarded absolution or delusion believing that his extracurricular activities are doing good – bruce is well aware of the darkness of the city that his father helped build and his own complicity in its continued existence. so he might as well enjoy himself on a night.

  30. Isaac Bubna says:

    Reading about how Bill Gates is retiring from Mircosoft to pursue his philanthropic efforts makes me wonder if he will have a son who is Batman?

  31. Kalel says:

    I came up on this late, but am glad to see someone(s) started to question an and correct Peter’s misguided assumptions about Bruce Wayne. Mike M. pointing out that Bruce also does the charity work, and even more than his father. Wilson K. pointing out that Wayne Ind. isn’t corrupt just because Peter wants to apply his view of how capitalism works in our world. In fact if you read, or watch, Batman for long you will see him engaged in cleaning house at Wayne Ind. Peter your argument fell apart at the title, and your admin’s comments on the 23, because of such men as Green Arrow and Iron Man (to name a few). You would have been better served to use Iron Man of those two examples. Either way you will always run into horrible flaws when trying to apply your views to a comic world that doesn’t have to function by any set rules. i.e. Which Batman are you even discussing? Earth 1, Earth X, Earth 345, etc….

  32. Kyle N says:


    I’m curious, have you now seen The Dark Knight? If you haven’t, or if anyone else reading this really long thread hasn’t, I’ll try not to mention specifics so as not to ruin any surprises. I’m not as educated as most of your posters are about philosophy and economics, so forgive me if I sound way off-base. I just have some questions and thoughts about the topic.

    I wonder, is not Batman’s goal similar to your suggestion of new economic alternatives in that it is an attempt to make the impossible happen, while you would only go about it in different ways? I believe your suggestion to be a better way to fail but in both cases the only thing that can succeed is the arrival of the Kingdom of God, not violence or different economic structures. We must work to make the impossible arrive but it will ultimately only fully arrive in God’s time.

    Also, when Liam Neeson’s character points out in the first of the two new movies that the “League of Shadows” originally tried to destroy Gotham through economics, I don’t think that exactly suggested that Wayne is “part of the capitalist problem” because his actions are totally contrary to business-as-usual. He expends enormous sums of money on things that really don’t seem very sensible if he’s trying to turn a profit. Wayne industries, although the world around it is completely unaware, is the other of major for-profit corporations because of its well-intentioned but deeply conflicted owner. (BTW, the mention doesn’t necessarily mean that the League of Shadows was responsible for the depression–this movie was set in the present, not at the time the comics were introduced, and my guess would be that Wayne’s parents (who Neeson’s character blames for the failure of that first attempt to destroy Gotham) would therefore be Baby-Boomers.

    Michael – I think I would disagree with your suggestion that there isn’t an economic system given in the Bible. Look in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. There are laws about debt cancellation, food redistribution, and slave amnesty. And what about in Acts, where they all gave an no one was in need? But they aren’t a prescription for a pluralistic nation. They’re for a set apart people like the Jews were then or like the Amish now…or like the catholic (little ‘c’ intended) church should be.

    Anyway, what I’m really interested in are any thoughts about the new movie: the Joker as the other (a psychopath who “just wants to watch the world burn”) who disrupts the same (Gotham and its established order) and the similarities between Batman’s decision at the end of the film and the story you (Peter) presented in your first book about the Catholic Priest who converted to Judaism: (1)Wayne’s commitment to becoming an icon–that is, Batman–which cannot die, to do what Bruce Wayne, who can die, never could to protect Gotham and (2) his betrayal of that commitment in order to ultimately (hopefully) fulfill its intended purpose, to rid the city of evil. I don’t want to be too specific about what this entails, so watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

    I think Wayne’s ultimate flaw is that he accepts the myth of redemptive violence. The film is honest about this to a point, recognizing that as Batman’s violence against criminals increases, the desperation of the criminals leads to an increase in their violence against the citizens/public servants of Gotham.

    But it (the narrative) also eventually falls to the myth, suggesting that “the night is always darkest before the dawn.” I find it interesting that Harvey Dent–the (presumably)less profound of two Eckharts–suggests that there will be a day, after Gotham has been rid of evil (in part by Batman), that Batman will have to answer to the law (kind of like the Afghanis and Iraqis who helped the U.S. fight Russia and Iran eventually becoming the most wanted of the country they were trained by).


    P.S. Peter – I’m excited that you’re coming to Calvin in January. I go to a nearby public college (Grand Valley State University) and I intend to be there for your lecture.

  33. Tim says:

    > The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from
    > greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract
    > capital at the expense of all else.

    What is your justification for this? I agree, but I’d like to know why. :-)

  34. Pingback: Some Collected Thoughts on The Dark Knight

  35. Simon says:

    For the intersection of economics, philosophy, and theology check out acton.org. I have been to several of their conferenes are great. Please do write them off as soon as you see they a pro free market and think therefore they do not care about social issues. They do not think the market is the whole of society, but that it as an aggregate of choices must be influenced by a seprate social order: the moral/cultural order of which the family and the church are primary. They may offer a path of social transformation that is not “within capitalism” but nonetheless alongside capitalism.

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  39. I enjoyed this post.

    Thanks for the insight…

  40. Pingback: Batman Really is the Ultimate Capitalist Superhero « Irish Liberty Forum

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  43. Kyle says:

    Anyone interested in a different look at applied superheroism should check out the HBO documentary “Superheroes”. Real life superheroes who sell their possessions to have more to provide to the poor…

  44. Pingback: Jesus, The Anti-Hero | border ballads

  45. Pingback: The greatest among you will be your servant | Cleaning Up The Crumbs

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