Two men were in a lunatic asylum when they decided to escape. . .
My wife and I stared out at the parking lot surveying the damage from the violent mass of thunderstorms that had swept through our apartment complex less than an hour before. Amidst the down trees, her beat up old Honda stood unscathed. How random that some things escaped damage while others lay completely destroyed, all irrespective to the value man places on each of them. I saw powerlines ripped and stretched near breaking point like brittle old black bungees, yet they managed to hang on, suspending a pole just inches away from falling onto the cab of a red pick up. A huge tree uprooted itself and crushed a children's swingset, splintering the wood and snapping the yellow plastic slide, while a nearby basketball net stood unaffected. With all the damage across the county, there seemed to be no reason governing which areas were hard hit, and which were spared. One side of our town had no power for over 24 hours while the other came back on immediately.
My wife commented that she almost wished that her car had been hit, because it would give us an excuse to replace it with something newer and nicer. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one's perspective, the storm did not touch her old Honda or our fledging new car savings account. As we thought about it, nature's randomness that night is just a small example of how arbitrary life can be. Why do some people who make all the right choices and follow the good advice they've been given still end up meeting with less than desirable consequences? Why do seemingly lazy, undeserving people sometimes still catch life's little breaks which allow them to prolong their unproductive or destructive habits?
Supposing that there really is no reliable pattern to our lives, then why don't we all just give into the temptation to act with corresponding irrationality? This proposition was echoed the day after the storm when I read one of Alan Moore's lesser known graphic novels, The Killing Joke, set in the universe of Batman's Gotham City and a partial inspiration for the hit movie Dark Knight. In Moore's story, the Joker posits that all it takes is one bad day to drive a sane, common man like he once was into becoming a insane, supervillain like he is now. To prove his point, the Joker kidnaps Commissioner Gordon and submits him and his daughter Barbara to hellish, random violence and psychological punishments.
As for Batman, our hero is actually the one most tempted to insanity by the Joker since Bruce Wayne's crime fighting alter ego already exhibits signs of an unstable mind. Besides wearing a cape and bat ears, Batman is almost consumed by his hatred for the Joker, a man who he knows nothing about personally except that they are mortal enemies. Furthermore, the Dark Knight is obsessed with the idea that he and the Joker are locked in a death-match which will almost certainly end up with one killing the other. Batman's final dilemma at the end of the book is whether or not to apprehend the villain "by the book" or to punish him with the violent end he most certainly deserves.
I won't ruin the end of the story or give away the punchline to the joke that began this post, but suffice it to say that one man makes it out of the insane asylum on account of his courage and concern for others, and one man does not due to his crippling paranoia and illogical thought patterns. Though none of us are superheroes or diabolical villains, The Killing Joke's main concern is with the plight of the common, decent person caught in a uncaring, irrational world. What determines why some insist on acting according to rules or behaving based on their arbitrary, sometimes destructive whims? Some might say that our systems of law and morality are the better way, without really explaining why, aside from using ambiguous, ideologically charged words like freedom or prison, heaven or hell. But the more likely reason that most people choose to obey the rules is that strongest of all biological imperatives, self-preservation. If Batman didn't treat his villains humanely and with compassion, he would cease to be Batman and become no different from them, another nutjob in a mask operating outside the law and killing at will according to his own whims. Batman chooses to work with the police and mostly never kills his prey unless there is no other option, because those morals make him who he is, a sane hero despite his suffering at least one bad day in his life. So when caught in the violent storm of life's randomness, it is important to remember that even if the outcomes of one's actions are unpredictable, it is still our actions which define us as people regardless of their consequences. We just have to hope that rationality, law and order prevail, so we are not kidnapped by an insane criminal mastermind or pummelled by a falling tree.