Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dark Knights and the Call of Authentic Conscience

Dark Knights and the Call of Authentic Conscience

This may or may not have any meaning without the context of the chapter before it but I thought that this excerpt was particularly interesting, this is from the book I've been trying to finish reading for the last couple months, Batman and Philosophy from chapter 15, Dark Knights and the call of Conscience, this chapter is by Jason J. Howard, the quote in the excerpt is from Martin Heidegger'sBeing and Time

Batman is ready to die. He has come to terms with the inevitability of death, yet this alone does not make him authentic; many people are ready to die for a cause. So what can Batman, a "mere" comic book character, teach us about being authentic? One of the crucial points to keep in mind is that Batman's choice to risk his freedom on an impossible cause is not an escape from the reality of the world, but an affirmation of it. Batman does not seek to convert people to his cause, nor does he begrudge those who choose to fight crime in other, more traditional ways. Likewise, there is no completion to his quest, no proper ending, and no salvation, but only a continual reappraisal of his own choices. In accepting his choices in life as his own unique fate, Batman reveals himself as someone who has accepted the world for what it is, with all its absurdity and sorrow, while nonetheless remaining tolerant and compassionate toward everyone except those whose actions end in senseless violence.
Batman does not stand against this onslaught of senseless violence on the basis of an explicit moral code or religions creed, but rather from the resolute acknowledgment of his own freedom to accept death, which is the authentic con science. It is this freedom to accept life in all its perplexing ambiguity, and to decide for himself how to deal with it, that makes Batman who he is, not his costume. Batman lives in his decision "to be," acknowledging the reality of his own anxiety while anticipating the nothingness that haunts each of us:

"Anticipation allows Dasein to understand that that potentiality-for-being in which its ownmost Being is an issue, must be taken over by Dasein alone.... Dasein can be authentically itself only if it makes this possible for itself of its own accord. . . . When, by anticipation, one becomes free for one's own death, one is liberated from one's lostness in those possibilities which may accidentally thrust themselves upon one; and one is liberated in such a way that for the first time one can choose among the factical possibilities lying ahead."

This "freedom towards death," as Heidegger calls it, is the distinguishing feature of the authentic conscience. To say someone is free to anticipate their own death does not imply a death wish, nor is it some morbid fixation on "the end." It is the penetrating realization that the point of existence is something each of us must come to grips with as individuals by continually reaffirming the meaning of our own mortality. It is this attitude of authenticity that ensures that our lives are as transparent as possible in terms of who we are, freeing us from the "illusions of the 'they'" and their obsession with familiarity, tranquility, and distraction. This is not easy. It requires that we admit our own vulnerability, along with rejecting any kind of fatalistic determinism or escapism, accepting that "to be" is to be anxious about who we are.
If we assume people are simply "born" with a conscience, rather than struggling to have one, as Heidegger explains, then there is no room for people to exercise their freedom to authentically make their own decisions in life. This does not mean that having an authentic' conscience entails abandoning morality. On the contrary, it prevents morality from becoming another kind of conformism where the exercise of free and spontaneous moral judgment is exchanged for blind commitment and intolerance.
Of course, Batman is not the only example of an authentic conscience, but he is certainly an instructive one. Moreover what makes him so instructive is the existential complexity of his identity, and not simply the fact that he is a superhero. It is his willingness to come to grips with his past, his rejection of all facile excuses, and his passion to deal with reality on its own terms that distinguish Batman from the moral fanatic, and that make his type of heroism so significant. As Batman himself puts it, "You play the hand you're dealt. . . . What I am, I am of my own choice. I don't know if I'm happy, but I'm content."

The choice to lead an authentic life brings with it some dark nights, yet this is the price we have to pay to lead a life without delusion. Batman's acceptance of this sustains his heroism. He relies on his own will to have an authentic conscience, not some superhuman power. Consequently, the purpose of his cape and cowl is not to hide who he is. Rather, it stands as testament to the choices he has made and the man he has become. Although we cannot literally emulate the Batman and the risks he takes—after all, he is a comic book hero—his internal battles are by no means alien to most of us. He is a person struggling to affirm the weight of his own choices and lead an authentic existence. In a world where mindless conformism is rampant, ignorance is the order of the day, and fear is our greatest taskmaster, Batman's call to conscience is an example of how our willingness to confront the meaning of our own existence can also be the path to personal liberation.

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