The Dark Knight Trilogy: Man, society, and progress

I have found myself gripped in the inexhaustible pursuit of the narrative woven through The Dark Knight Trilogy — a tale that takes its spell over my senses and the intellect. Dissecting its layers in debates and discussions, turning over its tenets ...

I have found myself gripped in the inexhaustible pursuit of the narrative woven through The Dark Knight Trilogy — a tale that takes its spell over my senses and the intellect. Dissecting its layers in debates and discussions, turning over its tenets during contemplative readings, I’ve found it to be a brilliant critique of modern society, the fall of nations, rise of hero figures, the psyche of the criminal mind, and the men who set revolutions off for the good or the bad of people. This is a film, designed not for the sake of entertainment, but for the sake of getting a message across, and this essay is an effort to make that explicit.

Table of Contents

  1. The Plot
  2. This Trilogy as the Microcosm of the Rise of Great Movements
  3. Does the City of Gotham Represent Our Own Society?
  4. Palantir and The Dark Knight
  5. I've Found the Elixir, the Antidote: The Techno-Capital Machine and Effective Accelerationism.

The Plot

This epic triptych is a hero’s origin story. It tracks the life of a young boy, who’s parents are killed in a street by a man desperate to satisfy his own vanity through to the very end where he sacrifices his life for the protection of his people.

This young boy, Bruce Wayne, has an intense phobia of bats, a fear that took its seed when he fell into a dark well where he was exposed to a swarm of bats. This fear, however, didn’t tether him, but acted as a catalyst that turned him from a bereaved son of Gotham to its unsung hero multiple times through his life.

Shaken by his parent’s demise, Bruce ventures on a solemn quest for justice. Immersing himself in diverse cultures, working in factories, intentionally imprisoning himself into black sites and notorious prisons to understand the facets of crime and justice around the world. Burdened by the deep desire for vengeance, he’s recruited into the training camps of The Ra’s Al Ghul far into the high tops of the barren mountains. League’s ruthless approach to justice, stood in stark contrast to Bruce’s ideal, leading to a dramatic and bitter parting of ways.

Having acquired a training in the martial arts, understanding theatricality and deception as critical agents in the art of fight, and honing the ability to bask in the horror of his fear, he decides to go against the grain of Gotham’s criminal mafia. Returning to Gotham, Bruce adopts the symbol of bat, giving birth to a facade that acts as a protection for those he loved, and as a symbol for the fight against injustice.

Under the guise of the caped crusader, Bruce battles the rot that infests the city. He brings to action all his resources, connections, corporate power of Wayne Enterprises, and his tactical ability to out do the ensemble of criminals —  from the anarchic Joker, Bane, the bureaucratic hell, and network of petty thieves who are hell-bent on Gotham’s destruction.

In a series of intense battles and emotional struggles, The Dark Knight tries his best to bind up the torn looms of the Gotham city, bridging divides among its people, (catching thieves, finding good bureaucrats, etc.). The saga culminates  in a heroic sacrifice where he lifts off a timed nuclear bomb far beyond the city limits, disappearing into the colossal explosion, leaving inhabitants of Gotham forever indebted to its silent guardian, its watchful protector.

Through a multitude of trials, Bruce Wayne’s story becomes more than a mere superhero story - it’s a parable that chalks the internal fights of an orphan boy in search of justice. How this orphan boy grows to become a deterrent to the leviathan of crime that wraps governments, corporates, and notorious mafias that hold the system of governance hostage for their own benefit. Its a story of how people can be moved out of apathy, shaken out of lethargic torpor and constant comfort into a action where they decide to make systemic changes in societal architecture.

This trilogy as the microcosm of rise of great movements

This film is a microcosm of how great movements start from the works of single man, efforts that far surpass their own self. Some believe that there’s nothing that one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of world’s ills. Yet many of the great movements of thought and action have flowed from the works of single man, and its true in the case of The Dark Knight. He stands up to injustice, trains to defeat it, takes on this project as moral duty, a duty for life, protects those he loves, and serves the cause not men. As any evolution dictates, your beginnings can be lonely, but people will stand with you if you remain stubbornly consistent against evil and decadence.

These men, who believed in the cause of God, ideas, expansion of dominion, or going beyond the limitations of societal imaginations:

  • Wasn't it one man who started with a message of Islam in the middle of the Arabian desert amassing 300 follower in 10 years, taking before it empires, cultures, nations, and turning nomadic people into rulers of largest empires to date?
  • Wasn’t it the young monk who began the protestant reformation?
  • A young general who extended an empire from the confines of Macedonia to the borders of the earth?
  • A young woman who reclaimed the territory of France?
  • A young Italian explorer who discovered the New World by braving the high seas of the Atlantic?
  • Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to get to the top of the highest mountain?

Being contrarian and launching yourself in quest for truth can be deeply visceral, but it gives a life of deep meaning and purpose that might end up reforming societies, resulting in novel ideas. A baton of progress that you can hold high, passing it to your posterity so they may continue to give back to mankind.

Does the City of Gotham Represent Our Own Society?

The city of Gotham, the stage for arresting saga of The Dark Knight Trilogy paints a poignant picture of our own society. Its a vivid portrait of the the corruption and decay, stagnation in innovation, and criminal culture that infests nations that inhabit millions of people, laying open the inherent flaws in our structures of governments, which safeguard the interests of the exclusive few, while neglecting the marginalized majority.

The story is earmarked with politicians and criminals flouting civil liberties and rights granted to people in the American constitution. It’s the bureaucratic apparatus of governance that’s tanked with inefficiencies causing a widespread discontent and societal upheaval, plaguing the support structures that facilitate progress from healthcare, education systems, and alarming exodus of public capital into the coffers of the corrupt elite.

Though the trilogy paints a bleak vista, it also presents us with an opportunity to analyze the world we live in from a different point of view, to course correct, to look at the world altruistically, to believe that your actions matter, and things can be changed for the better no matter how traumatic and criminalized the world becomes.

Palantir and The Dark Knight

Today, our systems of governance are much like those of Gotham, from mechanized operations dominating every arm of public service and private sector, from trade, e-commerce, healthcare, supply chains, to military. Paradoxically, we live in an age of fast growing technological revolution, while the fundamental structures of our societal function remain mired in archaic traditions. Our governance shouldn’t be a wet blanket on the potential of its people, but rather a bedrock of opportunities for people to grow. However, there is one company that ties itself so closely to The Dark Knight Trilogy that they named their own flagship system Gotham.

Palantir is a company that develops an Operating System named “Gotham” that runs at scale of nation states and military operations to help protect the interests of the western world against their explicitly defined adversaries, which is any non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) nation. Their software is designed to reduce bureaucracy and protect the rights of people without being mired in mechanical non-transparent processes of governments.

Like Gotham, our governance structures are leviathans. People in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Middle-eastern nations, and even western nations for that matter, have to face dire friction when visiting courts, processing tickets, applying for license plates, immigration, filing taxes, etc. It’s usually because the data needs to be looked at and processed by people who have only so much bandwidth and limited time that it becomes a systemic bottleneck. Machines as co-pilots can augment these people, allowing for audits at every step, and great transparency, and throughput that gets work done faster.

We’re entering an age of technology where knowledge workers are being augmented with machines that can process documents, make localized decisions, and intelligently communicate over channels. Palantir is the first company to have looked at this problem from the standpoint of the narrative that’s baked into The Dark Knight Trilogy, yet, its an idea that requires more work and deliberate implementation. It’s fundamental work that will need to be done to nudge human progress forward.

I've Found the Elixir, the Antidote: The Techno-Capital Machine and Effective Accelerationism

A poem sent to a friend in 1974: “Don’t waste your life.” — Steve Jobs

The world as we see it, doesn’t progress by its own will. Men have to will it into existence, and the antidote is to build. To build everyday. To build for people, who do important work. Build things that will bring step change in tech. These people can be nurses in hospitals, doctors who treat you, people who bring food to your table, those who run the financial engines, your governments, and people in various other industries who will pay for better technology that can solve hard problems and make them efficient in their work. It’s this self-sustaining techno-capital machine that needs to be fueled and powered up.

The future is beautiful. From those doing work on the cross section of all fundamental sciences, engineering, and computer sciences are doing wonders in different pockets and geographies around the world. Startups are doing incredible work from those building systems that transform us from land-ridden species into space faring civilizations, coming up with novel architectures, faster modes of transportation, and the machines that out-do human intelligence. It’s real, it’s here, and we need to speed it up.

(Coming soon) - What’s the deal with building a better world? (e/acc)

Subscribe to Haris Rashid

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.