Altruistic Punishment and Batman

Batman is one of my favorite superheroes and arguably one of the most popular ones as well.  The story has been told many times from different angles throughout the years but I most enjoy Christopher Nolan's renditions in the most recent trilogy.  Both critical acclaim and box office success also mean that mostly everyone else agrees as well.

The reason most people are drawn to the story of Batman is that he is the most alike to anyone of us; except for the fact that he was born into a family of billionaires.  He doesn't have any superpowers that he got from being bitten by a radioactive spider or because he was born on an alien planet, he just goes out there night after night beating up bad guys with his fists.  Oh and I guess also because he uses his billions of dollars to create fancy weaponry that the U.S. Army doesn't even have but that is besides the point I'm trying to make.  As Nolan notes several times in the most recent films, Batman is an idea whereas Bruce Wayne is just a man.

Batman to me is a symbol of what Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman refers to in his seminal masterpiece on behavioral psychology, Thinking Fast and Slow, as " the glue that holds societies together".  It happens in the chapter entitled "Bad Events", where Kahneman is describing the concept of altruistic punishment.  He says that experiments looking at MRI results of people that punish others for what they did to someone else actually resulted in increased activities in the "pleasure centers" of the brain.  He notes, "It appears that maintaining the social order and the rules of fairness in this [way] is its own reward."  

It would seem that Batman is fighting crime anonymously all those years because it actually gives him pleasure, that it makes him feel good to right the wronged.  He enjoys punishing criminals that unfairly get to walk because of an unjust legal system.  To him, the personal punishment he takes is worth it because of the social good that could come out of it.

When you start to think of it that way, Nolan's version of the Batman series becomes even more interesting and, therefore, even better than you already thought it was.

// I have to add that when I went to Amazon to get the link for Thinking Fast and Slow, I noticed that the Kindle version was only $2.99.  Three dollars!  Even though I already have it in hardcover, I can't pass up the opportunity to be able to take it wherever I go for only three bucks