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Batman vs. Ra's Al Ghul and The Moral Value of Systems

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/18/2016 Category: Movies
Updated: 4 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 165 times Debate No: 91434
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This argument has to do with one of the central motifs of The Dark Knight trilogy, namely Bruce Wayne's grapple with "the system," meaning the legal system of Gotham and its inability to eradicate criminal activity, and Ra's Al Ghul's position that the system is beyond repair, and thereby merits destruction.

I have often wondered about Ra"s Al Ghul"s argument that Gotham would be better off destroyed. "Gotham"s time has come," he tells Bruce. "The city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving"" This destruction of Gotham is purportedly a "necessary" task in the quest to "defeat evil." "The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption...for thousands of years. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence...we return to restore the balance. When a forest grows too wild, a purging fire is inevitable and natural. The movement back to harmony will be unstoppable this time."

Ironically, Bruce seems to agree with the argument, but disagree with the assessment: "Gotham isn't beyond saving. Give me more time. There are good people here." This seems to suggest that if Gotham actually were beyond corrective measures, he would deem Ra"s Al Ghul"s behavior permissable.

This has caused me to question the morality of destroying a "broken system" "If someone stands in the way of true justice," says Ra"s Al Ghul, "you simply walk up behind them and stab them in the heart." This is obviously an appeal to a consequentialist line of reasoning. If said destruction brings about a greater good, then it is justified. Though I do not want to bring a strong religious line of thinking into the debate, it bears mentioning Christ"s apostle Paul shares a parable of the olive tree, in which certain branches are cut off in order to benefit the tree as a whole ( This would seem to support a utilitarian view and a justification for "cutting off branches" which are "beyond saving."

Ideally a respondent to this debate will be quite familiar with The Dark Knight trilogy, as to be able to reference various quotes and ideas from the films. Also beneficial, is a moderate knowledge of moral/ethical theory as understood through a philosophical discipline.


That being said, I am mostly interested in a discussion, rather than a debate, about the pros and cons of each position. If it is determined that there are, in fact, some cases in which it is morally justifiable to destroy a society (however large or small that be), what conditions are necessary to justify such actions? How many "good people" must there remain in the city to merit its saving?

Thanks in advance to whoever takes on this debate and feel free to put forward some of your arguments in your initial response. I"d like to delve into it as much as possible.


First of all, I'd like to acknowledge for the record that in the real world, I am not an advocate for people tearing down systems or blowing up cities because of corruption. I think the real world has many tools available (and some methods that have yet to be dreamed up by wide-eyed genius super-kids in the future), to deal with corruption. You hear that kids? Anarchy is bad.

For the sake of this debate, however, let's move on.

To the point of Ra's Al Ghul's position (and mine, I guess), I do agree that the execution of his philosophy and the League of Shadows' methods are a bit...extreme. To borrow your example of Paul's parable about the olive tree, Ra's Al Ghul's strategy is more along the lines of chopping down the entire tree if the branches aren't growing properly or serving their purpose. I think this is maybe a step or two too far, but the idea has merit.

Let's take a look at the Batman and Bruce Wayne's efforts (as well as the whole Bat-family as time goes on). Now, as an organic and natural response to this wacko in a cape swinging through the city and having great big punch ups with criminals, stronger and tougher and, obviously super-powered villains start to rise up as well. Now, as the months and years go on and Batman keeps up his vigilante career, catches bad guys and throws them into Arkham or into other Prisons, and then they break out. There's car-chases, crime sprees, some crazy guy in a green suit starts just setting up diabolical puzzles, one of the city's best attorneys loses his mind, there's a psychotic clown blowing up hospitals, and it goes on and on and on... I'm sure, in the background, Bruce Wayne is also pulling as many strings as he can find, raising awareness, let's say, and donating to the Gotham PD, or using Wayne Enterprises' resources to develop better Tech for fighting crime, or better locks for bank vaults, and all sorts of other things to deal with the Crime side of Gotham's corruption.

There are a few problems with Batman's method.

As the crime explodes into bigger and bigger waves, and the bigger and badder supervillains start to make themselves known, Batman will be forced to divert his attention away from the larger corruption and deal with the more immediate and, honestly more life-threatening, supervillains like the Joker, Bane, the Penguin, and all the other "visible" criminals, because any time he takes to work at the root of the problem, the innocent people of Gotham that Batman is trying to "save" are being put at risk due to the supervillain problem that Batman is not really helping stop. He catches villains, they escape, he catches them, they escape.

And, in the meantime, how much is this costing Gotham? In the years that the Batman has been operating, trying to "save" Gotham and bring it back out of chaos, how many people have been gassed by the Joker, or killed (inadvertently or purposefully) during all the Batmobile chases, thrilling explosions, bank heists, helicopter shoot-outs, hand-to-hand showdowns, gunfire shoot-outs, etc... How many innocents have been killed in the crossfire, how many buildings have collapsed, been burned down, shot up, windows smashed, etc...

I'd like to propose that in the time since Batman began to operate in Gotham, the corruption has actually only gotten worse. I think the Batman's actions have only exacerbated the problem, and that's largely due to the fact that, despite his billions in wealth, and his fantastic gadgets and martial arts and detective skills, the Batman is only one man (or 3 or 4, if we drag the entire batfamily into it) trying to stand against an entire system that has degenerated too far to be dragged back out.

Turning back to Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows' ideas. According to Ra's, the system is so corrupt that they've been able to infiltrate it at every level and place agents into every government department, into the public works staff, prison guards, schools, just everywhere. This suggests to me that they have a considerable amount of manpower and resources comparable, or perhaps greater than the Batman has at his disposal.

Now, the easiest solution, yes, is to raze Gotham to the ground and be done with it, but I think a better use of the League's resources would be to target the so-called innocent Gothamites and evacuate them out before then burning Gotham to the ground with all the corrupt people trapped inside. Who's innocent? Who decides who to save? That's a good question, with a very complicated answer, but surely it's a better solution than Batman's struggle to help Gotham limp along until it finally collapses because one man cannot save the entire city, no matter how awesome Batman is.

The most dangerous thing about Batman is that he's a symbol of hope, and that symbol has become something beyond human, but the Batman is only human. And Bane put it best when he said, "I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope. So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls."

As the Batman's actions continue to give people hope, how many of them will cling to Gotham as home and stay when any rational person from our world would be yelling at them to just move out? Who would ever stay in Gotham when you have impossible levels of crime, politicians can be bought, the Mafia runs the show, and you could probably just pack up your car and find somewhere else to live?

The bottom line is, I don't think Batman is really helping to fix the corruption that he's so adamant to fix. Ra's Al Ghul wants to burn Gotham to ashes and be done with it, wipe it from the map, and he has the manpower and the plan to do it. Batman wants to throw himself into the fight and try to save Gotham single-handedly.

Which of these two has the greater chance of success?
Debate Round No. 1


albertack forfeited this round.


Khaliqtessi forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


First off, I apologize for missing the last round of debate. I took a trip hiking in Southern Utah and found myself without internet for the duration of my argument window. Apologies.

Next, you've brought up some very good points about the corruption in Gotham. When Bruce makes the case that the mob has "crossed the line" by turning to the Joker, Alfred responds

You crossed it first, sir. You've
hammered them, squeezed them to the
point of desperation. And now, in
their desperation they've turned to
a man they don't fully understand.

It would seem that had Batman not stepped forward to fight crime, there would have been no cause or justification for a Master Criminal like the Joker. Joker himself says on his news broadcast, "This is how crazy Batman's made Gotham," alluding to his own arrival and chaotic behavior.

In a city where the more you fight evil, the worse it gets, it may seem reasonable to "give up" on the city. I liked your idea of leading "the innocent" out of the city, and agree it's difficult to determine who would qualify. However, this seems to align the the Biblical narrative (for what it's worth) of Sodom and Gomorrah. From Wikipedia,

"Abraham inquired of the Lord if he would spare the city if 50 righteous people were found in it, to which the Lord agreed he would not destroy it for the sake of the righteous yet dwelling therein. Abraham then inquired of God for mercy at lower numbers (first 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally at 10), with the Lord agreeing each time.Then (not having found even 10 righteous people in the city), they commanded Lot to gather his family and leave." (

An appeal to Christianity would suggest that as long as there are at least 10 good people remaining, that is grounds for preserving the city. Even when this many could not be found, "the innocent" were led out of the city before its destruction.

Surely there must be some moral responsibility in not destroying innocent lives. At war, there is an attempt to eliminate all civilian casualties (at least our government claims to). Even with a utilitarian argument, such as killing a horrible dictator (i.e. - take Saddam Hussein for example), we would not consider it permissible to just bomb the heck out of the country. Even if that dictator is harming people all the time, we still do not justify killing innocent people in order to kill him.

This is parallel to the philosophical narrative, "If you were in a railroad control station and saw that a train was headed for a group of 10 people stuck on the tracks, would you switch the track so that the train altered course toward a single person stuck on the track?" Perhaps if you could determine absolutely these outcomes, but our situation would be highly speculative at best.

A further consideration is social structured social learning theory, which suggests that our attitudes, values, justifications, and thoughts, are largely determined by the social structure of which we are a part. If Gotham has truly "become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice," it would seem that according to structured social learning theory, more and more people are being subjected to these values and attitudes, creating more immoral individuals. If environment has this much effect over who we become as individuals, perhaps destroying the city would expose the upcoming generation to a better set of values and beliefs, being born among a more highly ethical society.

Ra's Al Ghul, however, seems to have no interest in preserving "the innocent." He is ready to burn Gotham to the ground and start again. This may create some questions as to what is subsequent to Ra's Al Ghul's plan of destroying Gotham? Is he planning to bring new people in? Just leave the city in ruin and let nature take its course?

In conclusion, it would seem unjustifiable to destroy an entire city, despite the corruption that exists there. I may lean toward destruction if there were someone possessing omniscience looking at the situation, who could say with absolute certainty that more people would benefit from its destruction than from its preservation; however, I don't believe this is feasible (even with the massive data statistics employed today), and therefore, dictates preservation. I think in order to justify the city's destruction, one needs to a) develop a plan for getting all the innocent people out (and determining exactly who that is), or 2) determine with absolute certainty that there is no better option and a "greater good" would be brought about.

I appreciate you engaging me in this interesting, yet extremely improbable scenario.


Khaliqtessi forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
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