“…He’s the kind of mind The Joker attracts”
-Batman (The Dark Knight)
Harvey Dent attempts to psychologically terrorize one of The Joker’s henchmen into giving him information on The Joker’s whereabouts and further plans for Gotham in The Dark Knight. Batman arrives and stops the interrogation, telling Dent that he’s a schizophrenic that escaped from Arkham Asylum and is “the kind of mind The Joker attracts…what do you expect to learn from him?” It is a telling moment in The Dark Knight that reveals that up until this point, The Joker, who has seemed to be a mastermind who has foiled the efforts of Batman, Gordon, and Dent at every turn, really wouldn’t have been nearly successful as he has been without the support of the deranged minions that he has gathered around him. It is The Joker’s insane followers who enable him to carry out his evil plans to unleash anarchy. They see The Joker as a hero. As someone who is initializing change in society that will upend the status quo for no other reason than to accomplish his own extreme (and personal) goal, which is basically to teach Gotham that it “isn’t about the money.” It is about anarchy for anarchy’s sake. The Joker is the embodiment of the force of nature that most of us would call chaos, disorder, discord, or more bluntly: evil. Evil is the disruption of an established order that benefits all, instead of just one person. In essence The Joker is not really the ultimate anarchist, he is the ultimate sociopath. He is someone who truly cares for no one but himself. Herein is the real horror of The Joker’s “evil.” It is selfishness and self-centeredness. The Joker only cares for his own wants and desires. He is an allegory for extreme self-centeredness enabled by the truly extreme and self-centered interests (namely Gotham’s crime bosses). It is this extremism in the form of selfishness that nearly destroys Gotham, and in a very real way nearly destroys civilization and DOES destroy lives every day in the real world. This self-centeredness is the ultimate expression of extremism. It is an evil that exists in every one of us and in the extremists in American, and world, politics and policy.
Men capable of sociopathic evil like James Holmes exist and will be attracted to the extremist rhetoric that motivates them. They will find ways to perpetrate their crimes regardless of whatever rules and regulations we as a society enact, but how many of these men, like Homes, (and like the fictional Joker) are enabled to make their crimes much more worse and deadly through our extremist and incredibly self-centered actions and policies? Every time a horrific mass shooting or murder(s) occur the old debate over gun control in America arises. Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum begin arguing for more, or less, gun control laws that each side feels that would stop these tragedies from occurring. The far left argues for a total ban on guns while the far right argues that if everyone in that theatre were armed to the teeth, Holmes couldn’t have killed as many. Both positions are wrong because both are extreme views that have the serious logical flaws. If we were to take away the “right to bear arms” (a highly debatable phrase even amongst Constitutional scholars) how many lives would be lost because of the right wing nuts who would take to the hills and start a war against the authorities who arrive with the intention of confiscating their guns? If we were to encourage and allow all of our citizens to be fully armed at all times, how many more innocents would have been killed in the Old West type of shootout that would have occurred? How many trigger happy “heroes” out there would have accurately and effectively stopped Holmes without catching an innocent in the cross fire? I’m sorry, but you average gun toting citizen isn’t combat trained. Both extreme sides of this debate are selfishly motivated.
The NRA, and gun lobby in particular, spends untold amounts of money to prop up politicians who favor the least gun control, mostly because they are supported financially by the NRA, who in turn is supported by gun manufacturers. The gun manufacturers are supported by profit margins (i.e. greed) derived from domestic and private gun sales (that they have to meet each quarter). Neither side will engage in a productive debate or even consider a middle ground policy. Compromise is how the system works, but increasingly compromise is being touted as weakness. Compromise is actually a hallmark of strength, because it involves some sacrifice to the benefit of each side in order to achieve a greater good. Some logical middle ground policies could possibly include gun and gun owner registration, mandatory training, a ban on assault weapons, and, perhaps most importantly, a ban on private and undocumented gun sales. If an evil man begins buying guns and ammunition at an alarming rate over a relatively short period of time, BUT HAS TO REGISTERED HIS GUNS would that not be a red flag that should be investigated and more importantly RAISED? Wouldn’t an end (or at least a severe curbing of) private and undocumented gun sales between individuals help to put an end (or at least severely curb) weapons bought and sold with the intention to commit a crime? Either way though, it is a sad fact that if we want to live in a society that allows the personal sale and ownership of assault weapons, we are going to have incidents like that in Aurora, Colorado. The goal should be to do all possible, with effort from both sides. It is disheartening though when acts like the Assault Weapons Ban, which bridges the gap between both sides, are allowed to expire with no leaders on any side desirous of even raising the debate on whether it should be reenacted.
The same can be said for the extremists on both sides of the moral debate over the role of religion and science in these instances. Fundamentalists scream that belief in evolution contributes to these evil men’s mindset because it takes morality out of the issue of human existence all together. Hard line scientists argue that religious fundamentalism with all of its extreme beliefs are responsible for the mindset that justifies murder. The middle ground (which we still have in effect-like the ban of institutionalized school prayer) is hotly contested. Can’t both sides of the argument compromise and encourage the teaching of ethics and morality sans both a religious or scientific basis? Whether we have evolved over millions of years or were empowered by a higher being to be installed with a conscious is honestly irrelevant. We do have the capacity to reason between what is right and what is wrong. We should embrace it and not worry who created it or how we acquired it when we instill our young children with ethics. Instead of fighting over whether there’s a God or atheistic evolutionists are right, we should instead embrace the fact that, like Batman states at the end of The Dark Knight to The Joker, “Gotham is ready to show you that its people are willing to do good.” (I paraphrase here).
Extremism motivated by selfishness, greed, self-centeredness and self-righteousness will always exist, and will always enable evil men like fictional Joker, and the all too real James Holmes, to perpetrate their crimes. A little moderation though will help make it harder for these men to succeed. As a society, as good Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists or Agnostics, we owe it to our inner and very real sense of right and wrong to put aside our extremisms and meet one another in the middle ground in order to move our society forward. This is the essence of progressivism. It is a notion that is sorely needed now. The only way to truly defeat The Joker is making it terribly hard for him to exist.