Dr. Calvin Thomas
10 December 2007
Ideology, Beyond Good and Evil, and Batman Begins
The movie, Batman Begins, utilizes a metaphor. Gotham City is the equivalent of America. Batman, Bruce Wayne, is the American Hero. The bad guys, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, are the terrorists, or Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Batman prevails in the film, so the logic that follows the metaphor implies that America will win this fight, but a closer look at the movie rouses a suspicion of whether or not there is something more to the film than just the metaphor. It seems that ideology is at work, as well. The movie blurs the moral line between the bad guys and Batman. The narrative of the film implies that the line between the good guys and the bad guys is non-existent. It may even be that the bad guys are actually the good guys, and through the metaphorical implication, America is really on the bad side. A discussion of the nature of “good” and “evil” naturally leads to Friedrich Nietzsche who did extensive work on a philosophy regarding morality and its history. In order to tie Nietzsche together with the movie, the entire discussion must be prefaced by an attempted explanation of ideology.
Ideology is a word that can confuse the beginning student as well as the masters. The term is used in popular culture, CNN, and all across the spectrum of the fragmented information age. Ideology, in the scholarly sense, can be defined “as a reciprocal process wherein subjective, institutional, and political ideas operate within a power web of both
the intended and the unanticipated” (Decker 6). In Marxist philosophy, ideology’s complexity is demonstrated in the following passage:
the term ‘ideology’ is used to express the materialist thesis that socially prevalent or influential ideas can be explained by showing how they sanction the social relations determined by the existing stage of productive powers or express and promote class interests. An ‘ideology’ is any belief, theory or form of consciousness whose prevalence can be explained materialistically by the way it contributes to basic social and historical tendencies … When Marx describes jurisprudence, politics, religion, art, philosophy or morality in general as ‘ideological’, he means that most of the socially prevalent and influential thoughts that occupy people’s heads and fall under these rubrics can be so explained (Wood 118).
If one believes this theory of ideology to be true, then one can see that “the ‘needs’ of an institution (e.g., a religion, government, or family) manifest themselves via ideology and establish a milieu wherein a subject will ‘naturally’ desire what will benefit the larger institution” (Decker 11).
Lastly in the discussion of the meaning of ideology, the reader should be aware of a paradox inherent in any discussion on the subject. Ideology is inescapable. There is no such thing as an objective view from the outside. Ideology is inside of every culture in every nation. It is both hidden and obvious. In his book, Ideology, James M. Decker writes that “any attempt to describe ideology necessarily finds itself rooted in ideology. An individual’s own historical moment and position will blind her or him to ideology
both within a given text and within a particular interpretation of a text. Such a phenomenon may potentially lead either to an endlessly refracting series of interpretive disclaimers or else to a faux (and dangerous) relativism that blithely asserts that Hitler and Tony Blair possess ideologies-or ‘grand narratives’-that are no better, or no worse, than one another” (Decker 13). Thusly, the student, contemplating ideology, is rightly warned. The subject is rigged, but the fear of going around in circles should not stop someone who is thirsty from searching for water, even if he must die before he reaches his goal.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy about morality is called Beyond Good and Evil. It is an extensive piece composed of nine sections. A close reading of the entire work shows hints of racism, sexism, and egoism, but also points of genius. In the preface, Nietzsche writes that all philosophy is dogmatism (Nietzsche 3). He asserts that “Perspectivity [is] that fundamental condition of life” (Nietzsche 4). Here, he is making it clear that theories can be refuted; they are not indefinite.
In the first section, “On the Prejudices of Philosophers,” Nietzsche makes many statements regarding philosophical fallacies. He puts forth the idea that truth versus untruth is not important. What is important is “the will to truth” (Nietzsche 5). He states that something does not gain its value from its opposite. It gains value from “the womb of existence” (Nietzsche 6). He goes on to talk about logic as a function that is biased to human self preservation. He questions all a priori judgments. He asks, “Why is the belief in such judgments necessary? … [They are necessary] for the purpose of preserving creatures of our kind, we must believe that such judgments are true; which
means … that they could still be false judgments … a priori judgments should not ‘be possible’ at all” (Nietzsche 13). This makes sense if one approaches the idea from a completely logical, non-emotional, and non-religious position.
Nietzsche introduces his main point in this first section. According to this philosophy, life is not instinct for survival. Life is “the will to power … Self preservation is only one of its indirect and most frequent consequences” (Nietzsche 15). Willing is “complicated … a multiplicity of feelings … thoughts … the emotion of command” (Nietzsche 18-19). The next point is a crucial one. Nietzsche asserts that “What is called “‘freedom of the will’ is essentially the emotion of superiority felt towards the one who must obey … This consciousness lies in every will, as does also a tense alertness, a direct gaze concentrated on one thing alone, an unconditional assessment that ‘now we must have this and nothing else’, and everything else that goes along with the condition of giving commands … This person is commanding a Something in himself that obeys, or that he thinks is obeying” (Nietzsche 19). Therefore, the concepts “free will” and “unfree will” do not exist, only “strong and weak wills” (Nietzsche 21). At the end of the first section, Nietzsche presents “A theory of the reciprocal conditionality of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ instincts” as the “evolutionary will to power” which leads to “the force of moral prejudices” (Nietzsche 23). This section provides the basis for his philosophy which becomes clearer in later sections.
In section two, he introduces “The Free Spirit.” A Free Spirit is Nietzsche’s new philosopher. This section mainly focuses on all the traits this new philosopher should have, but it also gives us a history of morality, divided into two sections. In the “Pre-
moral period” … “an action’s value or lack of value was determined by its consequences: the action itself was taken into consideration as little as its origin … The retroactive force of the success or failure of an action determined whether people thought well or badly of it” (Nietzsche 32). In the “Moral period … the last ten thousand years … people have little by little reached the point of determining the value of an action not by its consequences but by its origins … the origin of an action was interpreted in the most precise terms as itself originating in an intention” (Nietzsche 32). Nietzsche says, “an actions decisive value is demonstrated precisely by that part of it that is not intentional … intention is but a sign or a symptom … requiring interpretation” (Nietzsche 33). Therefore, “good” intentions are under suspicion, and what is thought of as truth is not more valuable than appearance. True and untrue may not be that different, because “There are degrees of apparencey … lighter and darker shadows and hues of appearance” (Nietzsche 35).
In the third section, “The religious disposition,” he makes two very interesting, relevant points. Ideology’s role in religion is revealed. He writes, “there is perhaps nothing so admirable about Christianity and Buddhism as their skill in showing even the lowliest people how piety can place them with an illusory higher order of things and thus enable them to remain content with the real order” (Nietzsche 55). He also states that “Absolute religions are among the main reasons that the species ‘human’ has been stuck on a lower rung of development-they have preserved too much of what ought to perish … deformed, sick, degenerating, frail … suffering individuals … They have bred a diminished, almost ludicrous species, a herd animal” (Nietzsche 56). He implies here
that the preservation of the weak is directly opposite of what should be considered the ultimate human goal.
The fourth section, “Epigrams and Interludes,” can be skipped over, even though there are some very complex statements made therein. The fifth section, “Towards a Natural History of Morals,” on the other hand, cannot. Nietzsche claims that morality is a tool if ideology. He writes that “moral code … is an example of tyranny against nature” (Nietzsche 76). He also states that the human race is degenerating and must be bred to a different ending (Nietzsche 90-92).
In the sixth section, “We Scholars,” there is only one relevant point for this discussion. This point is that the will to power creates the illusions of good and evil. A person without willpower is capable of neither (Nietzsche 101-103).
Section seven, “Our Virtues,” and section eight, “Peoples and Fatherlands,” can both be skipped over because of lack of relevance to the discussion. The ninth and final section, “What is Noble,” is the climax. Here, the film can be brought back into the discussion, and a question can be posed. According to Nietzsche, Who is more noble, Batman or the terrorists?
Nietzsche explains that elevation of the human species comes from aristocratic societies that believe in hierarchy and requires slavery in some sense. From the beginning, the “noble caste was always the barbarian caste” which was not just physically stronger, but also spiritually, and therefore “the more complete human beings” (Nietzsche 151). He writes that “Aristocracy … has no misgivings in condoning the sacrifice of a vast number of people who must for its sake be oppressed and diminished into
incomplete people, slaves, tools. Its fundamental belief must simply be that society can not exist for its own sake, but rather only as a foundation and scaffolding to enable a select kind of creature to ascend to its higher task and in general to its higher existence” (Nietzsche 152). Life is “will to power.” “The original fact of all history … [is] ‘exploitation’ … part of the fundamental nature of living things” (Nietzsche 153).
The last important point from the philosophy is the concept of “master moralities” versus “slave moralities.” According to Nietzsche, the master’s definition of good contains “pride”, “exaltation”, a definite hierarchy which despises things and people that are “foreign” as well as anything of the “lower class.” It also includes “truthfulness” and is respectful of “harshness.” The master’s definition of evil contains “liars,” “distrustful” people, “cowards,” “anxious” people, and “petty” people (Nietzsche 153-156).
The slave’s definition of good contains “pity”, a “helpful hand,” or altruism, warm heartedness, “patience,” “friendliness,” and, basically, everything that helps it to endure its oppressed existence. The slave’s definition of evil is everything that makes up what is good to the master. This obviously includes power (Nietzsche 153-156).
Nietzsche writes that “it is upon this hearth that the famous opposition ‘good’ and ‘evil’ originates … According to slave morality, then, the ‘evil’ person evokes fear; according to the master morality, it is exactly the ‘good’ person who evokes fear and wants to evoke it, while the ‘bad’ person is felt to be despicable” (Nietzsche 156).
In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne becomes lost before he becomes Batman. He travels to Asia and gets involved in the criminal underworld. He is eventually locked up in prison where Ra’s al Ghul, leader of the League of Shadows, finds him. He recruits
Wayne and trains him to be a ninja. In chapter five, Ra’s speaks of the League’s view of justice. He claims that, “criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding.” Later, while training, Ra’s explains the death of Wayne’s parents. He says, “Anger does not change the fact that your father failed to act.” Shortly after this statement, he defines his version of the meaning of existence with two statements. He says to Wayne, “will is everything … the will to act.”
In chapter ten of the film, Wayne must demonstrate what Ra’s calls his “commitment to justice” by executing a criminal. Wayne says, “I’m no executioner.” Ra’s replies, “your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.” Wayne counters by saying, “That’s why it’s so important. It separates us from them.” The fake Ra’s says, “You cannot lead these men unless you are prepared to do what is necessary to defeat evil.” He, then, goes on to talk about Gotham. He explains, “The city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows … Gotham must be destroyed.” The real Ra’s adds, “What he asks … is the courage to do what is necessary.” Wayne refuses and proceeds to fight all of them. Then, he burns down their fortress. Later on in the film, Wayne tells Ra’s, “Gotham isn’t beyond saving.”
The League of Shadows has their version of “good” and their version of “evil.” As the movie demonstrates, Wayne shares their beliefs in the beginning. The crucial difference between the two opposing forces is that the League does not believe Gotham can change, whereas Wayne holds on to a hope that it can. The League seeks to destroy what is corrupt, evil. Wayne seeks to protect it, and he holds on to a hope that it can
change. Wayne seeks to preserve the defenseless, protect the weak from the obviously stronger, more willful League of Shadows. In this sense, Nietzsche would side with the League as a group with more noble values, or rather, values which are closer to his own definition of noble.
In terms of the metaphor, logic leads this discussion to the conclusion that Nietzsche would side with the terrorists against America. This is obviously a stretch, but it is a stretch with some interesting potential. The world’s conflicts today could very well be defined in terms of dueling ideologies. The incident on the 11th of September, 2001, has created a global sense of general confusion. There is an inner battle going on between patriotism and logic, and there are obviously facts about the situation that are still hidden or classified. The ideology, imbedded in the movie, seems to be helping the American movie-goer to deal with this inner battle. The message is clear. The lines may be blurred between good and evil, but America can still be saved. The terrorists, on the other hand, are unable to change, and therefore, must be destroyed.
Batman Begins. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary
Oldman, Morgan Freeman. Warner Bros., 2005.
Decker, James M. Ideology. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Wood, Allen W. Karl Marx. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Beyond Good and Evil.” NetLibrary. 2007. Online Computer
Library Center. 10 December 2007<http://www.netlibrary.com/>.