Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fear Itself

DI: It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about fear, but in view of what happened in Arizona, namely the shooting of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the discussions that have followed, I’d like to talk to you about using fear as a tactic, and how you feel about it.

B: I think we always run into trouble when we try to compare what I did, which wasn’t unlike urban warfare, with politics. Politics is supposed to be about finding the best solutions to problems. What I do, or did, was find ways to solve problems that didn’t respond to normal means. Crime isn’t something you’ll ever entirely legislate away; nor is violence.

And that’s why use of fear as a weapon in both cases is different. Fear in the realm of politics goes from Glenn Beck’s bunker mentality to full-fledged terrorism. Both ends of that spectrum are bad, because they’re necessarily anti-reason; rather than seek an amicable solution, they seek to prevent solutions and outcomes that aren’t favorable to them- even if that means preventing all solutions.

And I’ll admit it: I’ve used fear as a weapon, a bludgeon, even. But I’m willing to stand up and defend it, because I was using fear for the greater good against an uncommon evil.

DI: But don’t you think the same argument could be made? Don’t you think that people who really are pushing scary rhetoric feel like the world needs them to say those things?

B: Absolutely not.

Politicians, and I’m lumping in anyone who’s trying to join their voices into the political conversation, and I’d include the both of us in there, as well, can and should argue reason, logic, facts. It isn’t that they can’t argue based on those things, it’s that they often believe, perhaps even fear, that they can’t win arguments on the merits- and not to take too much of a dig, but given the merits they’re arguing on I’m not surprised.

Just to take a moment, here, arguing for unaffordable lower taxes for the wealthy, arguing to keep the unsustainable medical status quo, these aren’t popular ideas, and they’re not even fiscally responsible ones. I’m not even sure they’re coherent, frankly.

But by way of contrast I believed, when I started, that criminals were scared. No, that’s not right; I told myself they were scared. Because I was. I was terrified. I lived in a world where my parents, the very essence of what safety and security are supposed to be, could be taken. In an instant. Without warning. The world was so terrifying and mean and vicious that it could snatch us out of the night on a whim.

So I told myself that if I was this scared, criminals had to be, too. So what I had to become was that fear, that uncertainty.

DI: It’s funny that you mention “uncertainty.” Because uncertainty is making a comeback, as an argument against Democratic policies.

B: Uncertainty is just another club to use against programs conservatives don’t like. And I know some people roll their eyes and call me a partisan when I say things like that, but I don’t want that to be true. I want the people I disagree with to have a frank, adult discussion about how to fix things. I want an opposition who bargains in good faith, and argues in good faith. The absolute last thing that I want is to have to tell myself, again and again, that there are people who can’t be trusted, not even to agree to demonstrable facts, and that our collective destiny is still tethered to them.

But what I mean when I say that it’s just a bludgeon, it’s because uncertainty has nothing to do with the Democrats. Uncertainty has everything to do with change. Businesses want to know what the political landscape is going to look like in ten years, and anything that makes it harder to know that future makes them nervous. So when Republicans talk about repealing the health care law, which a lot of companies have already started spending money to implement, that makes businesspeople nervous. When we’re told that taxes might change, that programs might be cut- that makes us nervous. What business really, truly wants, is for things to stay the same as they are right now. And the same can be said of a lot of Americans, too. Unfortunately, that’s neither fiscally nor politically possible. In the long run, we can’t afford business as usual. And in the short term, the Republicans are making a lot of noise about cuts- though I suspect, as has already happened, the number they expect to cut will continue to shrink [Note: Their initial goal was to cut $100 billion, but that’s already been cut in half].

DI: Sorry, I think I derailed. You were scared, and so criminals had to be, too.

B: Right. I told myself they were cowards, in the same way bullies ridicule their victims for flaws they often hate in themselves. It was a coping mechanism, in the beginning, though one I wasn’t equipped to recognize at the time.

But I think innately I recognized that fear, given how effective it was against me, how crippling, could be used as a weapon. So I looked for what really terrorized me, and it was a single childhood incident with bats. And there are certain animals, and insects, arachnids, that make people anxious.

I didn’t want to dress up in a full-on bat costume, that would have turned me into a Scooby Doo villain, but I wanted to take the things that make bats scary and use them. The wings, that make them appear larger than they are. The mystique; most people think nearly all bats are vampiric and prey on humans. But ultimately, the most troubling thing about bats is they set off people’s sense that they’re in danger. I had to look, sound, move, in a dangerous way. From there the rest came together.

And what was strange is how much of the danger became built up. I never killed anyone; though I’ve put a few men in wheel chairs and worse. But the legends have my body count into the hundreds, at least.

DI: Don’t you worry that saying that, while there’s a new Batman active, might undercut him?

B: This isn’t the first time there’s been a replacement for me, though it’s likely the most permanent. And not all Batmen have been non-lethal. I have my preference, and I’ve made that preference known to those I’ve worked with, but frankly I don’t outright employ the people I work with- and I certainly can’t dictate terms.

DI: But Clark told me last year- or is it two years ago, now- that you actually pay salaries and insurance for the League.

B: That’s true, but that doesn’t mean I employ them. I compensate them as best I can for the service they render, but I don’t employ them. I don’t endorse what they do, or take credit for it. I’ve been blessed with means, so I try and see that people who do good work can continue to. That’s it. I think it would ruin the spirit of the gesture if I ever attempted to assert the ability to control others.

DI: Like Diana.

B: That’s overly simplistic. Diana killed Maxwell Lord because she didn’t have a choice. It was unfortunate that it played out on live television, but Lord was controlling Clark. She fought like a hellcat, but Clark was killing her, slowly. She did what she had to to survive, and to stop Lord from using Clark against the rest of us. I’m certain the choice she made saved my life, and probably a lot of other lives.

And I also don’t pay her. Sure, she gets the same check from the League fund as Clark did and I do. And all three of us donate ours to charity. I have more money than I could ever need, Diana has the Amazon ambassadorial stipend, but I never understood Clark. He told me, “It’s not like we need a bigger apartment… just don’t tell Lois.” Oops. She knew, of course. He couldn’t keep a thing from her. Hell of a reporter, hell of a woman.

DI: You speak like she’s dead.

B: Not dead. We’re still friends. But there’s a part of her that’s dead to me. I laughed when he made me promise not to date her, when he was dying. We went out a long time ago- but it ended long before they ever became serious. So that part of Lois has been dead to me for a very long time.

But obviously there’s a line there, somewhere. We’ve had a few of our friends turn violent, start hurting innocent people. I remember the day we officially stripped Hal Jordan of his membership. It wasn’t a pleasant day. But I always figured the League had high enough standards. If someone could make it in the League, then I wasn’t going to micromanage their behavior.

DI: On that note, actually, I’m aware of one specific League member who you sponsored, and then personally fired for about what we’re talking about.

B: And I’ll assume she sent you an “anonymous” email signed with an “H.” Huntress came from Gotham. She had a similar life to mine. I presumed a kinship with her. I helped train her, and when she showed promise, and maturity, I sponsored her membership in the League. And for a time she performed admirably. Until we were attacked by a hit team sponsored by Lex Luthor.

DI: My lawyer’s advised me against us using Luthor’s name specifically unless we have proof of criminal malfeasance.

B: I have his big bald head on the Watchtower’s security cameras. I put his scowl from a different angle on a Christmas card I send to him every year.

Anyway, Luthor’s team included a man code-named Prometheus. He’s extremely dangerous, to the point where he briefly took control of the tower from us that last time he’d been there. I managed to subdue him. A short time later, I discovered Huntress about to kill him. Mind you, he was incapacitated and in custody. She was about to murder someone on the Watchtower, in our headquarters. I’d never liked calling it a “Justice” League, but killing someone like that, there, was antithetical to everything we stood for.

That might have been the end of it, a small reprimand, a stern warning. But she argued the point with me. She couldn’t even understand why we would allow someone so dangerous to live. And I realized she never would. So she didn’t belong in the League. Ultimately, there’s a world of difference between using lethal means in the heat of battle, and executing someone because you’re afraid of them when you have power over them.

DI: Do you think there’s anything to the fact that the execution would have been similar to the way your parents were killed?

B: Hmm. Perhaps. Maybe I just don’t like to see people murdered.

DI: But Prometheus was a bad guy. He’s since gone on to kill innocent people. Do you think she’s wrong to have wanted him dead?

B: I’m not sure. I certainly haven’t tried to stop her career, and we still work together on occasion. I simply disagreed with her on that point, and felt strongly enough that I removed my sponsorship. I didn’t want her actions to reflect upon me, or to encourage similar behavior in other League members. For better or worse people looked up to us. It was a part of our pact with the public that we try and live up to that.

DI: Okay. Let’s end with: do you think you or Huntress was more feared during your tenure as Batman?

B: I was. For a lot of reasons. I was older, more established. Taller, thicker, just more physically imposing. I think there was a sense, after I’d been in Gotham for a long time, that vigilantes cropping up were operating in my shadow, often under my tutelage- whether it was true or not. Besides which, I don’t think Huntress ever really cared about being subtle, or even frightening. She was more impetuous and forceful. Not to stretch our metaphors too far, but our politics could probably use a lot more of her, and a lot less of me.

Though when I mentioned that there have been several fill-in Batmen- she was one of them, during the earthquake, and she did a fine job. I’ve never held Batman has to be a man.

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