Moral hypothetical: the dark knight

Joker appears in Gotham. He says “batman: if you don’t reveal your identity, I will kill people”. Batman doesn’t reveal his identity, joker kills people. Who is responsible?

This is a pretty straight forward moral question, but I think this the best example of it. Essentially, though, it boils down to “do X or I will do Y”. When X isn’t done, who is responsible when Y happens?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s obviously the joker. Like if someone doesn’t pay a ransom, it’s still the kidnapper’s fault the kidnapee (?) dies. To blame the person who didn’t give in to demands is stupid.

What are your thoughts?

Posting in imho because it’s more about the moral question than the film itself.

The Joker is clearly wrong, that doesn’t mean that Batman is automatically right. Batman’s reasons for not coming forward are subject to critique and moral analysis and it is reasonable to weigh the consequences of his refusal.

In this case, Batman has chosen act outside the legal structure and to place himself in direct opposition to the Joker, arguably provoking him. Batman is not an innocent bystander in this conflict and it is fair to evaluate his actions.

Some of Batman’s actions are clearly outside the law (e.g. kidnapping), but a lot of what he does could be legal under Stand Your Ground laws, which permit the use of force to protect self and others against threats.

None of which provides any justification for the Joker killing innocent third parties in response to Batman’s refusal to identify himself. If the Joker is 100% at fault for those murders, I can’t see how anyone else could be even 1% at fault.

Stand Your Ground typically requires reporting the incident to proper law enforcement immediately after the fact. Failure to do so constitutes a crime in itself.

I did not say the Joker was justified. I stated unambiguously that the Joker was clearly wrong. It is possible for multiple parties in a conflict to be wrong/mistaken/flat out evil.

Fault is not zero sum.

Of course, this example is somewhat muddied by the established and predictable pattern.

  • Batman refuses to reveal his identity. Joker kills people.
  • Batman reveals his identity. Joker kills people.
  • Batman patrols Gotham City even more thoroughly than usual searching for the Joker. Joker kills people.
  • Batman runs off to the ass end of nowhere searching for Ra’s al Ghul or somebody. Joker kills people.
  • Batman adds nipples to his Batsuit. Joker kills people.
  • etc

Batman is free of blame.

Just like refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers doesn’t make one culpable for the subsequent terrorist execution of said hostages.

Plus, as SteveMB pointed out, the Joker would run up a high body count no matter what - and furthermore, if Batman gave up his identity and was arrested, then the Joker would be even MORE free to kill and maim, no? It’s like “Disband the police and disarm the cops or else I’ll kill hostages” - well then, once they’re gone, you have even more of a free hand, hm?

Agree. This is similar to a question that was asked by a teacher: A woman is waiting for her husband to pick her up after work. The husband forgets so the woman starts walking home. On the way home she is raped.

How much blame does the husband hold?

My answer is none. If, instead, on her way home she runs into an old friend, goes out for a coffee and has a great time, it’s not to her husbands credit. His culpability is the same in both instances - none.

Batman is clear, Joker is deciding whether or not to kill people. People who say differently are the reason ransoms & hostages are still a thing.

Is this the face of someone who kills people? Come on. Not buying it.

This is the dillema posed in the first episode of Black Mirror. The criminal has kidnapped someone and demands that the PM makes sweet love with a pig live on camera. I personally did not see the dilemma. The PM is not responsible for the actions of anyone else and is under no moral pressure to abide by the dictates of a criminal. In fact, abiding just promotes more would-be perps to try the same thing. You never profit by giving in to criminal demands.

Oh, sure. But what if the Joker kills someone and, at the funeral, I meet the love of my life and get married and live happily ever after. How much credit should we give to the Joker during our 50 year anniversary dinner?

“I want to thank the Joker for killing my Aunt Carol and I want to thank Batman for sitting on his thumbs while the Joker did it.”

Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Sort of, but in that episode it was made clear to the PM that the security services “couldn’t guarantee his safety” if he didn’t comply. The implication being that the shadowy royalist powers in the secret service would ensure he had an “accident”.

I think “moral pressure” does come into it when you can trace a definite, direct line from the action you refuse to the saving of a life.
The person taking the conscious action to kill is 100% responsible for what they do but the person able to stop it happening definitely does have a moral dilemma over whether they choose to act or not and I think a lot depends on what the foreseeable outcome of acting might be.

An example. An armed man is ready to machine gun down a group of schoolchildren. He has already done it once and is ready to do so again. Someone completely unconnected manages to find themselves behind the gunman and picks up a dropped weapon. He has a clear shot that will prevent this atrocity with no casualties other than the gunman and damage to his own pacifist nature. He chooses not to shoot and the children are murdered. What do we think of that?

In the Batman v Joker scenario we already know that more death and mayhem is coming whatever Batman does but I think there is plenty of room for considering to what degree a person should feel morally responsible for the implications of their action or inaction.

I think it’s entirely on the gunman. No moral blame falls to the pacifist.

I’m not sure what “moral blame” means but certainly I agree the deaths of the children are 100% down to the gunman. That’s not in dispute and it is easy for us to commit to in the abstract.

The pacifist though could have acted (and assume it was at no physical danger to themselves) and yet they chose not to. I’m not entirely comfortable that that is a morally neutral course of action.

This is of course an age-old ethical dilemma, a rewording of the train-track scenario.. It is a really difficult one to work through and I don’t think it can have a definite answer.

Thanks, I didn’t remember that. Probably because it still would have made no difference to me in the overall plot. I don’t bow to stupid people even if they are going to kill me. If those royalists were so good at their jobs why was she even abducted. And why don’t they know who did it?

I could have the clearest shot on Earth and I’d still manage to miss: my shooting would be perfectly likely to hit anybody and anything but that shitstain with the machine gun. Being a pacifist has nothing to do with that.

Well the other suggested factor was that it would actually play well with the public and with him being a politician eager for votes, why not?

It is possible that Brooker holds a somewhat jaundiced view of politicians in general.

Me too, I think it entirely possible that a person could freeze in terror give such a situation in real life. (The “pacifist” part of the hypothetical is just to ensure we have someone who at least is not champing at the bit to murder someone.)

Getting people to accept the hypothetical is always a challenge, so let’s say that you are just pushing a button and activating a mechanism that kills him dead and cannot harm either you or the kids. Do we think positively or negatively about that person when they do/don’t act? Does that change when we know why they do/don’t act?

Not pushing it because you are frozen in terror?
Not pushing it because you can’t bring yourself to kill?
Not pushing it because you argue that you hold no responsibility for the kid’s peril?

The Joker is responsible for killing people no matter what Batman does. Batman is responsible for being a psychopathic vigilante murderer who has undermined the legal authorities in Gotham City making it a target for other psychopathic killers like the Joker.

So Batman was responsible for killing innocent people and numerous other crimes before the Joker even made his demand. Frankly, if Superman wasn’t such a big nerd he would have pulled Bruce Wayne’s head off and crushed it like a grape a long time ago.