Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, is the epitome of dynamic contradictions of ethos. Not unlike Batman’s character struggles, character is built and questioned constantly, often without a law in sight. Since we are tied to people who talk to each other and make social gestures that have to be recognized, the allegory of the gestures of Batman will be used to demonstrate how dynamic systems of trust and relationship were right in front of us all along.

As the alter ego of Bruce Wayne, Batman’s identity rests with his strong sense of citizenship with the inhabitants of Gotham City as well as his fixation for vengeance. After the untimely deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents, his sole purpose was fixated on righting wrong his way. Heroes or, even more interesting counterparts, the anti-heroes in comics are hyper-real. I, the hero, am good, which is obvious by my fluttering cape with the symbol emblazoned on my pectorals. You, the villain, in body skimming spandex sans cape or even the run-of–the-mill town crook, are not good. The anti-hero is downright malevolent (or perhaps just clueless). The duelists compete in a “language of gestures” (Mead, 1938). To Mead, meaning in the world is made through signals and gestures as a kind of social behaviorism (Mead, 1938). The hero saves the world from ruin. The crowned hero or heroine takes a right to the kisser. The miscreant falls ungracefully off the cliff on the outskirts of the city. The dank physical nooks and crannies around Gotham City are incredibly unexpected and diverse. The hero often appears out of thin air. The villain plunders for power and perhaps less importantly material gain. The hero prevails is immediately absolved for throwing city property at said villain. What brought the hero to that place? But honestly we cannot take the cognitive and visceral confusion when someone acts out of character.

Mead (1938) related this idea of gestures to primarily verbal communication. However this idea can be broadened beyond the spoken word. The superheroes in the bout use verbal and physical fighting so as to “make the gestures (the) same”. The villain gets squashed to smithereens by before-mentioned city property then hobbles alone to the dark lair to hatch the next scheme. The higher level of cognitive significance of communicating started with those fisticuffs. But mind you, Batman returns to the dank dark cave alone to live with consequences of his morally challenged actions. Both hero and villain are tortured in levering heuristics that each in itself could wreak havoc with stability. Each side of the superhero ethical equations brings undeniable fervor and passion.

Bruce Wayne was pushed by a strong drive to avenge. But do superheroes or, we mere mortals, work primarily off of emotion? I do not remember Batman having an IPA in the Arkham Asylum with an arch nemesis, though Batman has been known to engage in “It’s complicated” Tinder swipes with Selina Kyle. The Joker had a lapse to the less morally compromised side, teaming with Batman against Owlman in the Brave and Bold comic book series. The DC fandom world has since forgiven him. People tend to demonstrate an allegiance to a side (if only for appearances) to maintain social accord or to leverage advantage. There is always a motive.

Any change called metachanges, such as a misplaced physical punch or even a faulty ethical decision, could have major repercussions on the already delicate balance of a society. The crooks are transporting from the city dock outdated cathode televisions that conceal booty. Batman swoops down. Good prevails. Bad is defeated for now. But will that Gotham peace last or be the most beneficial in the long term? Does Batman’s moral center waver? If so, must one’s morality be strongly tested in order to galvanize it? Does the Joker lose some slight street credibility for working against what we accept as his socially expected nature? Those metachanges, some perhaps deemed inconsequential or undiscovered, can have widespread dynamic changes on the larger social system.

To that end, tackling these real world metachanges can lead to the large visible payoff that society requires and expects resolution with their morning coffee. The villain is foiled and all is right in his Gotham which consequently may differ from my moral Gotham. Batman found the sweet spot briefly, retreating to his bunker wearing his dented Batsuit to the sage advice of his comrade, Alfred. Citizens of Gotham reenter the social bunker, dodging the heuristics minefield, while shrouded by a porous cloak of political stability. The citizens of Gotham haunt each other while some take a long drag on their e-cig to calm the nerves. It is back to the character drawing board.


Mead, George (1934) Mind, Self, and Society, ed. C.W. Morris (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

An earlier version of this op-ed was originally published on the Orgcomplexity Blog.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

About The Author

Michele Battle-Fisher
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine

Michele Battle-Fisher is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and the author of Application of Systems Thinking to Health Policy and Public Health Ethics: Public Health and Private Illness (Springer), a 2016 Doody's Core Title. Ms. Battle-Fisher is a Health Systems/Complexity scholar and bioethicist. She has researched and taught in the medical and policy fields, ranging from public health, science and technology, bioethics, systems theory and its application to health. She was a speaker at TEDxDartmouth 2018 where she discussed the "Paradigm Shift" of Health Systems Science curriculum in health and clinical medicine. She was selected as a finalist in the 1st annual MIT Press “Pitchfest”, the “Shark Tank” of book publishing.