In The Dark Knight, the Joker brings people face-to-face with their true selves. In danger and chaos, who will they be? In some ways, the 2016 US presidential election does the same.
While some voters truly support their candidate, many feel that they must choose the lesser of two evils. But The Dark Knight draws a line that we cannot cross, even if it means voting third party or abstaining.
The Joker continually forces people into life and death decisions, whether it is to kill another to save yourself, to save a family member, or to choose which person to save (and which person dies). Towards the end of the film, two ferries shut down while crossing a river, one full of convicted criminals, the other with everyday civilians: men, women, and children. Both learn that their boats are wired to explode and that they have the detonator to the other boat. If neither destroys the other by midnight, the Joker will incinerate both.
Upset that the captain chooses not to destroy the inmate ferry, the civilians demand a vote. Under the pretense of democracy, the crowd easily determines to kill by a landslide, 396 to 140. But the captain cannot bring himself to turn the switch. To the despair of many, it seems no one can.
Lessons from the Joker on Humanity1
From the “social experiment”, as the Joker describes it, we first see that we have a conscience that often prevents us from doing what we know is wrong. Second, that conscience can be less active when we vote. In fact, the passengers even use democracy as excuse to do evil, as though majority rule somehow changes right and wrong. It’s like, as has been said about democracy, two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Consequently, we might vote for policies that we cannot act out ourselves in good conscience. In this way, people easily use government do their dirty work.
To apply this lesson to the current (or any election), do not vote for any candidate who will do something that you consider evil, something you could not do yourself. I understand there is no perfect candidate, i.e. one that completely agrees with you. So, you may have to vote for someone who will not do a good deed, or one who will not restrain an evil act, or one who will try to do right, but unwisely and ineffectively. In this way, I’m really proposing a very low bar for elect-ability: just don’t vote for someone who is planning to do evil or cause the government to do evil, i.e. what you cannot do yourself in good conscience.2
Specifically, this might mean:
- If you can’t in good conscience torture someone, doing things “that are unthinkable”, don’t support a presidential candidate who praises torture.
- If you could never personally kill the family member of a terrorist, don’t vote for someone who says we must.
- If you would feel guilty forcefully removing a undocumented immigrant, separating him or her from their home, employment, friends, and family, then maybe that governmental policy is wrong.
- If you could never hit a button to fire a missile at a jet in a no-fly zone over Syria, possibly starting a war with Russia, then perhaps we shouldn’t vote for a candidate supporting this foreign policy either.
Am I being too idealistic?3 Shouldn’t we vote for the candidate who will do less evil? Or perhaps we should be like the inmate who throws the detonator out the window, in this way saying, “I’m not playing your game anymore.” Let’s make a stand against a system that gives us choices no better than the Joker.
There are other options. There are many third party candidates, including those from the Libertarian or Green party, who have less interventionist policy. This translates to doing much less evil around the world. As you may be able to tell, foreign policy is important to me, especially in a presidential election as the president has greater influence in this matter compared to others. Of course, that is my priority, informed by my conscience.
Hence, I’m not telling you to vote third party. I’m not actually telling you to vote or not vote for anyone. Rather, based on Batman: The Dark Knight, I’m proposing a rule of thumb: don’t vote for anyone who will do something that you cannot do yourself with a good conscience, even if it means voting third party, writing someone in, or leaving a row on the ballot blank.
- The Dark Knight asks if we can have faith in people as Rachel Dawes exhorts or if they are as selfish and violent as the Joker attests. While this post focuses on politics, asyourpoetshavesaid.com typically writes on spiritual truth in movies, TV, and books, and this question about the goodness of man is key to how we understand ourselves and how we relate to the divine. Do you think The Dark Knight shows that we should have faith in people or that a little danger reveals our selfishness? More importantly, is the depiction realistic? ↩
- That said, feel free to hold candidates to a higher standard than what I propose. ↩
- Another key theme in The Dark Knight is idealism verses pragmatism. I find it fascinating that while Batman crosses many lines, including destruction of private property, torture, illegal extradition, unconstitutional surveillance, and deceiving the public, he at least draws the line at actually killing the Joker. Where is your line? I imagine it would not allow for as much as Batman or our government does. That said, at least Batman has the intention of stepping back and he destroys his surveillance program, which is more than can be said for many government policies. ↩