The Dark Night, Luke Ford and Human Goodness: Marc Gafni

Marc Gafni writes: Saw The Dark Knight a couple of weeks ago. Luke Ford and myself had agreed to dialogue on the movie.

There are some huge things that Luke and I disagree on about how to live in the world.
In some regards that might be an understatement.

The movie highlighted some of those and that is what made it a good topic to talk about.

Feel free to listen to the dialogue here.

For now however I want to just touch on two or three basic points that emerged from my viewing and from our conversation.


The Joker. I told Luke that there was a part of him that reminded me of the joker.
Or at least the Joker archetype.

Some of these ideas were expressed by Luke in the first half of a long conversation we had on July 3rd 2008.

For the Joker, all of reality is a joke. The joker is in some sense a mystical master who seeks to strip away the veneer of civilization. The Joker exposes bourgeois morality; he reveals and mockingly revels in the false piety of spiritual leaders and religious establishments, indeed of all establishments and all leaders.

The joker is the jester in the court of King Lear or the “Badran” in the Chassidic court.

But unlike these two jester figures who seek to prick egos in order to provoke human grown and evolution, the joker seeks to destroy both the court and all the people in it.

For the Joker, as for Luke, “people are all creeps with clay feet” and their job is to expose them, for the sake of anarchy, clarity and truth.

Now truth be told, that is only one side of Luke. One of the things I have learned of late is that Luke really is not like the Joker at all. Indeed when you hear his story it is dramatically different then the impression one might get of him were one to reconstruct the web sources that comment on him.

It is more like Luke has a joker strain in his personality that sometimes – in the past – in my humble view – got the better of him.

But that was then and this is now.

In his heart Luke loves to be of service. Ethical integrity is enormously important as a value to Luke and ask him what he is most proud of and he will tell of the lives he saved
when he broke a story about the aids virus in the pornography industry. Luke is a person of integrity; there is a code he follows. He will not break his word in the context of his code – even when it is to his advantage.

What Levi and I have huge disagreements about is the content of some central parts of his code. What he thinks of –as a post modern blogger – as fair, ethical and in Integrity, many of us- but me for sure – think of in much different ways.


What I love about Batman is that the Joker is fooled. The joke was on him. The Joke is on the Joker. Sacred divine laughter affirming human goodness overcomes the shrill and empty laughter of narcissistic nihilism.

When the Joker rigs two boats with explosives and offers each boat survival if they will but blow up the other boat- in the end both boats refuse – both the boat of convicts and the boat of ordinary people.

Paradoxically in that moment the people do not need a Christ like hero to save them.

They are their own superheroes, their own Christ. The joker thesis that people are

basically creeps is exposed as a lie.

Now for Luke this is the weakest part of the movie as his view of human nature is as he writes and says fundamentally cynical.
My view of human nature is certainly not all sweetness and light.
That would not be a noble view of human nature; it would be simply stupid.
Rather I embrace what I understand to be the kabbalistic view of human nature.

There is in this understanding, what I might refer to as three levels of human nature.

Level One is civil and decent and good. {J.S. Mill. Jeremy Bentham}
Level two; right beneath level one is dark and creepy. For Luke this is the essence of the human being. {Frued is in some passages clearly with Luke on this}
Level Three is gorgeous, beautiful, decent and good. {The Kabbalist and all other great mystical traditions}

For Luke the essential person is located at level two.
For me the essential person is located at level three.

Not that I have not met more then my fair share of level two behaviors. Ultimately however I have great hope and love for almost all people, for I know in my deepest heart realization that level two is but a temporary if terrible aberration, clouding a clearer manifestation of man’s more true and higher nature.


I’m not into comic books, even when they’re called "graphic novels."

I’m not into super-heroes and movies based on them.

I went to see "The Dark Knight" last week because Marc Gafni wanted to do a dialogue with me on the movie.

The film tries to make a variety of philosophical points, all of which I thought were dead wrong.

"Knight" is both more optimistic and more pessimistic than I am about human nature.

A key plot points revolves around two barges rigged with bombs and each barge has the chance to survive if they blow up the other barge.

Only a fool can believe that human nature is fundamentally good (tens of millions of innocent people were murdered in the 20th Century) and only a fool can be thrilled by art that portrays people as basically fine.

On the other hand, the movie says people can’t handle the truth. They need role models without flaw.

That’s ludicrous. People make better decisions when they have better information.

I say the average person is able to see that people can be heroic in one aspect of their life (say Martin Luther King’s leadership role in the struggle for civil rights) and be a loser in another (King plagiarized his PhD thesis).

Heroes are not super-human. Heroes don’t have to be lied about publicly to keep their heroic status. Heroes are all around us.

Every person is a role model. Whether we like it or not, we all influence other people. Every choice we make affects other people.

The movie says society needs human sacrifice and that salvation comes from above.

These notions are repugnant. We don’t need to commit cannibalism, we don’t need to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the god, to be saved. Nor are we helpless to our sinful inclinations. Through our deeds (guided by God’s law), we can create a good world.

We don’t need to live in delusion. We don’t need to demonize good people and hold them responsible for our own sins. We don’t need to be saved by irrational faith. We are not helpless. We can handle the truth. We can handle the task God has given us.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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