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November 25, 2005

Comments

Excellent point by Sanchez. I think you'll find that a lot of the fears that pro-torture folks will confess to are fears for their families (torture a terrorist to save your wife or daughter, etc.).

I'm the last to deny the force of such emotions for men (having a wife & two boys myself), but it's also got to be noted that this gives the apologists an easy fallback.

On the torture debate more generally, I was just noticing this morning a passage from Isaiah Berlin:

There are, if not universal values, at any rate a minimum without which societies could scarcely survive. Few today would wish to defend slavery or ritual murder or Nazi gas chambers or the torture of human beings for the sake of pleasure or profit or even political good--or the duty of children to denounce their parents, which the French and Russian revolutions demanded, or mindless killing. There is no justification for compromise on this.
Published around 1990, I believe.

Okay, if I'd seen that DeLong had just picked up the Berlin quote from my blog, I wouldn't have repeated the quote here.

(What is DeLong doing wasting his time at my blog anyway? Thanksgiving ennui, I suppose.)

why are people who claim to love America so quick to throw away everything it stands for?

Look to the teachings of bob, hilzoy. Why? Because they are evil, and have an understanding of America drastically different from yours (and mine).

why do people who think that Osama bin Laden hates us for our freedoms want to give up voluntarily what he could never take from us by force?

GOP party loyalty surely has a lot to do with it.

Well, let me put on a pro-torture hat for the moment to see why they would be willing to do such...

Most of these people would first of all say that beating the #$%^ out of someone is not torture, and that even those beat to death were usually severely beat after they resisted guards. Likewise, temperature extremes, loud noises, sleep disruptions are not torture. So, to these people's minds, there is no real torture going on, so it's really a non-question, like asking, "Why is the sky green?"

Another subset of these people would say, "We're not asking to 'throw away everything America stands for,' we're just asking to be able to inflict some severe pain (which is very light as far as torture goes) on a very limited number of people to protect the rest of us.

There's a further subset that says, "I would gladly torture a million innocent foreigners to death to prevent the death of one American." These people, though, I really can't even start to comprehend.

Not that I agree with any of these, but at least the first two are not being completely irrational.

GOP party loyalty surely has a lot to do with it.

Sure, but you have to ask why that's the case. If the gov't were proposing to put Republicans' sons and daughters in Gitmo, that party loyalty would drop drastically.

Just as in WW2 with the Japanese, we've found it very easy to confine the scope of American liberties to people who look like "us."

Bush has been able to get away with his evil because most of it's been perpetrated in faraway countries upon people of whom we know nothing.

Most of these people would first of all say that beating the #$%^ out of someone is not torture, and that even those beat to death were usually severely beat after they resisted guards. Likewise, temperature extremes, loud noises, sleep disruptions are not torture. So, to these people's minds, there is no real torture going on, so it's really a non-question, like asking, "Why is the sky green?"

I agree with you that many people think this, but damned if I understand the thought process. Do they think that it's not torture unless it inevitably entails mutilation, or what?

I don't think it is so much a matter of party loyalty as a matter of whether one is primarily a concrete operations thinker or an primarily an abstract operations thinker. The stereotypical rightwing nut (from the lefft point of view) is a person who functions very primitively--basically ewmotional responses to stimuli, almost exclusively negative emotions. Real people (Rep. Mean Jean excluded) are more complex and subtle in their thinking than stereotypes, of course. However there are people who care more about their emotional reaction to a flagburning than the princple of free speech and there are plenty of people who care more about their emotional commitment to the notion of winnning a war than the abtractions of the war's impact on others, the future, and our national character. I don't know whether or not this emotional, concrete approach is truly more typical of the right than the left. It is, I think however, thhe underlying thought process of the person who is willing to throw away freedom in order to defend freedom and willinng to behave like a barbarian to fight barbarism. They don't know what thhey are throwing away because it's too abstract. They onnly know that it feels good to respond to fear by fighting.

I agree with you that many people think this, but damned if I understand the thought process. Do they think that it's not torture unless it inevitably entails mutilation, or what?

This is one reason why I think racism is inseparable from what we're doing. None of these people thinks this stuff should be done to their own kids.

"These people only understand force," etc.

Do they think that it's not torture unless it inevitably entails mutilation, or what?

I think that at least some of their thinking is, "Sharp instrument=torture/Blunt instrument=acceptable coercion." So...

  • Taking a tire iron to someone--Not torture.
  • Cutting on someone's flesh with a razor--Torture.
  • Kicking a man with steel toed boots as he lies on the ground--Not torture.
  • Sticking needles under someone's fingernails and then prying said nails off--Torture.
  • Repeatedly punching someone in the face--Not torture (especially since the face goes numb if you punch on it enough).
  • Etc.
Essentially, if it's something that you could imagine a Sinister Oriental doing, then it's probably torture, but if it's something that you'd think of a good wholesome American authority figure doing, then it's not torture.

I come back here to the idea of an antinomian patriotism. They're Americans, and America is good, and these things remain true (in such a reading) regardless of what they happen to be doing at a particular moment. Torture can't dim the glory of being American, because it's a condition, not a summation of data points. There's only one thing that can jeopardize a true American's condition and that's the professed desire for other ideals. When you say that you find part of the American heritage unappealing, or that you prefer a standard developed with others or by others, that's when you move out of the justified condition and into the ranks of those whose motives and consequences must be scrutinized.

I'm trying not to be satirical about this, because I think that a lot of the people holding such views are serious about it and I'm serious about understanding them. I really do think that it's a modern manifestation of what Christendom regards as an old heresy.

Respectful of Otters has a post about the urban myths that sprang up about the inner city folks who were trapped by katrina. The post describes a "just world" minndset, kind of like what Bruce describes. The post says that some people have the belieff that the world is a just place (has to be a just place). Any events which contradict this belief are very threatening. people can respond to the threat by tryinng to help, which will make the world just again and restore their belief, or they can respond by blaming. If the victims of Katrina are percieved as dangerous slobs, then it is ok that they got screwed, the world is still a just place. This isn't exactly whhat bruce describes but it is close. if the supporters of torture are people who must believe that we are the good guys, than any contrary innformation is threatening and provkes a fear/angerr reaction. Both theories presuppose a indvidual who is influendced primariy by emotional reactions to how reality treats their basic beliefs, rather than understanding of abstract principles.

Anderson: Bush has been able to get away with his evil because most of it's been perpetrated in faraway countries upon people of whom we know nothing.

defintely.

and don't forget the GOP's constant refrain of "the people being tortured in those pictures are terrorists, and it can't be torture anyway because the President says we don't do that, and Rush says it was no worse than a frat hazing, and this congressman says it's like Club Med and the liberals (a.k.a. the people complaining) hate America anyway"...

Just a little addition to the existing list of paradoxes, like: why do people who think that Osama bin Laden hates us for our freedoms want to give up voluntarily what he could never take from us by force?

Because "freedom" has become a meaningless marketing phrase to some, an ill-defined attribute of brand America. Removing actual liberties does therefore not diminish "freedom"

...and: why are people who claim to love America so quick to throw away everything it stands for?

See above.

"America is an idea," and today's America does not encourage thinking about ideas.

I've thought for a long time that the entire country suffered a nervous breakdown after 9/11, and that a significant percentage of Americans haven't recovered from it.

These are the people who are terrified on a personal rather than political basis. And I mean terrified on a fundamental, hindbrain level - exactly the level that makes them want to not just strike out at any manifestation of their terror ("Islamofascists!") but want to torment it, hurt it, torture it - as a psychological imperative. The prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, et al. are not "people" to them, but symbols of what they fear.

If we had had leadership worth the name after 9/11, that terror would not have been encouraged; the bogeyman of an entire religion/ethnic group that "hated" America and had to be fought in a "Crusade," a "Clash of Civilization" would never have been constructed. We would still have invaded Afghanistan, because we were correct to do so; but we would have stayed in Afghanistan and finished the work there, and we would have continued to hunt down the actual architects of the 9/11 attacks.

But instead we had a leadership that, for its own purposes, deliberately exacerbated the fear, whipped up the fear whenever it seemed to lag, and then channeled it to endeavors that would themselves only make things worse. That leadership fed, and fed on, the fear.

I'm actually very hopeful about the change in the political Zeitgeist. What the Bush Admin did after 9/11 was a textbook classic example of degrading a population for the sake of installing authoritarianism. And it worked - for less than 4 years. More and more Americans are coming out of the fear-fog, taking a look at what's being done in our names, and deciding they want no part of it.

The ones who still justify, even celebrate, things like torture and indefinite detention, are no longer riding the wave of popular approval and consent. Increasingly, they're only talking to themselves. Granted that they still number about 30% of the adult population - but bear in mind that, at any time in this country's history, you could find at least that many who'd favor brutalism against some "enemy" real or imagined; and who'd be perfectly content under totalitarianism, never mind authoritarianism. (The dirty little secret about despotisms is that most of their citizens don't actually mind the status quo - as long as it doesn't affect them or theirs personally.)

And, granted also, that we're still stuck with a leadership that justifies and celebrates those enormities. But I'm very hopeful they'll soon be constrained (by results of the 2006 elections) and then booted out of power altogether (in 2008).

I'm also hopeful that our national reputation will recover once we've renounced those shabby devils and all of their works. The US was internationally vilified plenty during the Vietnam war, yet recovered from that.

I'm also hopeful that our national reputation will recover once we've renounced those shabby devils and all of their works. The US was internationally vilified plenty during the Vietnam war, yet recovered from that.

That was a simpler time, and there was a lot of global goodwill left from the role the US played in the post WWII era. I think things are different this time, more's the pity.

I think some people think of "America" not as an idea or as standing for anything, but simply as a team. They root for their team just as they do when watching sports, and the question of whether the country is upholding its values is as irrelevant as it would be about a sports team. It's about uniforms and flags, not ideals.

I think you'll find that a lot of the fears that pro-torture folks will confess to are fears for their families (torture a terrorist to save your wife or daughter, etc.).

That's merely a way to deflect subsequent criticism...it handily changes the subject from their morality wrt torture to their loyalty to their family...anything goes to protect them.

We need a better way of discussing this in America. Ever since Dukakis convinced the nation he didn't love his wife enough, we've been struggling for some way to differentiate between what it's understandable for a greiving relative to do in response to an atrocity and what it's understandable for the state to do.

IMO, the state must reflect the horror felt by the family in some respect, but it can't assume the position of the family. In other words, it can't seek vengence. It's left with the cold, hard, clinical tool called "justice" with which to respond.

Personalizing the effects of a terror strike to justify cowardice does not honor one's family. Quite the contrary.

I think some people think of "America" not as an idea or as standing for anything, but simply as a team.

Sterolab, "Les Hyper-Sound":

you go in that team
i go on this team
divide everything
a flag or a number
make 'em opposites
so there's a reason
stigmatisation
ok now we can fight
divide everything
just put it all flat
justification
ok now you can fight

That's "Stereolab" of course.

I didn't advance a view about the reasons for this in the post, but I think part of it has to do with the odd political narrative according to which liberals and Democrats are wimpy, wussy people who are just dying to capitulate to anyone, and who can be counted on to be sympathetic to criminals while trying to undercut America.

To anyone who buys into this, liberals' objections to torture will fit right into the pattern, and the appropriate response (according to this narrative) is to say: screw you and your "oh no, we can't do that! stuff; we're sticking up for America!"

OT: here's the always delightful Ann Coulter:

"The Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy for no purpose other than giving aid and comfort to the enemy. There is no plausible explanation for the Democrats' behavior other than that they long to see U.S. troops shot, humiliated, and driven from the field of battle.

They fill the airwaves with treason, but when called to vote on withdrawing troops, disavow their own public statements. These people are not only traitors, they are gutless traitors."

So many good points. I think the most telling is about Amercans and totalitarianism. Most Americans think of themselves as law abiding citizens, and so not subject to the harsh aspects of a such a government. So when OUR government leans that way, or actively seeks such a state (as our current administration surely does), they are not disturbed because THEY are not Padilla, they are not some Islamofascist in Gitmo or Abu Ghraib. IOW, they feel that they government continues to work on their behalf, and not against their interests.

I think this belief stems from two things - and honest faith and trust in "American" government, and a lack of understanding of totalitarian governments.

Which is why xenophobia sells so well. It is THEM that are at risk, not US.

In a massive sense of entitlement - the remaining Bush supporters are, for the most part, Republican - most do not fear any redefinition of THEM so as to include anyone close to their heart. And in a strange sense of irony, they are right. All the Bushco requires is belief and support. You can be a criminal, a druggie, gay, a prostitute - all the is required for acceptance is unfettered belief.

Why is evangelical religion plays such a crucial role in Bush's base. It's like an automatic in for him. A preconditioned public, ready to receive his blessing.

Jake

There is no plausible explanation for the Democrats' behavior other than that they long to see U.S. troops shot, humiliated, and driven from the field of battle.

Naturally, she overlooks the REAL explanation, which is "to tick Ann Coulter off."

I find it harder to understand the mentality of Ann Coulter than the mentality of a torture-apologist. Is shhe for real? Or is she a cynic who writes this stuff strictly to get that share of the market? I don't even want to imagine what it feels like to be her.

I don't even want to imagine what it feels like to be her.

Well said.

Even more paradoxes:

I remember during the initial drive to Baghdad when some American soldiers were captured and, horror of horrors, their pictures were shown on television. This was decried by many as a violation of the Geneva Convention and their rights. Why are so many who decreied that rather benign thing viewing torture as necessary and appropriate?

As I was grwoing up in the fifties, I learned, from my very conservative parents that what separated we Americans from the evil Soviet Empire is that for the US, the ends do not justify the means. But now it is the conservatives who are saying that to protect us, we may have to give up some of our rights and torture people for information which is probably unreliable anyway.

To use another phrase I learned back in the stone ages: Two wrongs do not make a right.

Which is why, even if Iraq turns into a stable deomcracy and peace breaks out in the ME, the invasion would still have been wrong.

Is shhe for real? Or is she a cynic who writes this stuff strictly to get that share of the market?

i tend to think it's more of the latter. she seems like a sharp enough person, on TV (wrong, but sharp). and i can't believe she isn't aware of how truly absurd a lot of what she says and writes really is. she's a rabblerouser.

The post describes a "just world" minndset, kind of like what Bruce describes...If the victims of Katrina are percieved as dangerous slobs, then it is ok that they got screwed, the world is still a just place.

This observation of lily (on Bruce's point) is an important one. One thinks of the character of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs and how, in the movie, the people he kills are somehow more 'deserving' of punishment (and at the finale, note he cuts his hand off at the end when confronted by the uncorruptability of Agent Starling, whereas in the book, he convinces her to join him in South America) suggests that this is a rather deep trait in Americans, and permits precisely what we have seen. I'm not sure if other countries would do better, but when trying to understand how it is that so many people can accept the fact that innocent people are being tortured by our government, I think this notion is fundamental.

it is wonderful to read that someone else sees things the same way i do. I find it very difficult to comprehend the speeches of our leaders Bush, Blair and Howard, (Aust) with the changes in legislation that take away so much of what makes us democracies.
I wonder sometimes if the torture thing is to some a form of revenge?? On rememberance day (11 Nov), I was especially upset to think about all those of previous generations who had made the ultimate sacrifice for our 'way of life'.
The saddest thing of all is the number of people who think that torture is acceptable. I dont know, but I wonder if it has something to do with the level of fear our governments are subjecting us too.

Are we against torture? Today's press conference with Sec. Rumsfeld and Gen. Pace:

It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it," he [Gen. Pace] said.

"But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it," said Rumsfeld, turning to Pace.

"If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it," Pace said.

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