The Percentage of Billionaires Multiplied by the Percentage of Decathletes

In Scientific American, professor of kinesiology and neuroscience E. Paul Zehr explains how long it would take you to become Batman, assuming you have endless wealth and time, and how long you could stay Batman. The part that jumped out at me:

Batman can’t really afford to lose. Losing means death—or at least not being able to be Batman anymore. But another benchmark is having enough skill and experience to defend himself without killing anyone. Because that’s part of his credo. It would be much easier to fight somebody if you could incapacitate them with extreme force. Punching somebody in the throat could be a lethal blow. That’s pretty easy to do.

But if you’re thinking about something that doesn’t result in lethal force, that’s more tricky. It’s really hard for people to get their heads around, I think. To be that good, to not actually lethally injure anyone, requires an extremely high level of skill that would take maybe 15 to 18 years to accumulate.

Later, Zehr gets into the nitty-gritty of real-life violence and its implications. [More after the fold…]

[15 to 18 years] comes from my own training in martial arts and seeing how long it takes people to respond to simple situations—let alone the complexities of smoke bombs going off and people having big Batsuits on. No matter how much training you have, when we’re subjected to a lot of psychological stress, we make a bunch more mistakes. The police talk about this when they use things called reality-based training. It takes years and years and years and years to have the poise to be able to perform when somebody is attacking you for real.

Zehr also talks about how ignoring the cumulative effect of injuries is the least realistic aspect of the Batman mythos.

Obviously, he’s right overall about the difficulty of making a career as a masked vigilante, which is why so few of us do it! But in Batman’s favor, I’d counterpose the thesis of Randall Collins that very, very few people in the world are competent at violence. Even a minority of cops, crooks and soldiers are good at inflicting harm and death on people. (An important implication of Collins work is that of course the Imperial Stormtroopers can’t shoot straight!) Putting on our funny-looking thinking-realistically-about-superpowers hat for a minute, you have to figure that even most supervillains would suck at what they do. And in most dangerous situations, you can get pretty far by intimidating people out of a fight unless the odds are visibly against you. And intimidation is already Batman’s best trick . . .


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