Hopelessness and Torture

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J.L. Wall

J.L. Wall is a native Kentuckian in self-imposed exile to the Midwest, where he studies literature and over-analyzes Leonard Cohen lyrics.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.Report

  2. I did enjoy this thoughtful piece, Mr. Wall. It will come as no surprise that I demur:

    To defend torture through claims that we were merely “instilling a sense of hopelessness” is to defend torture on the basis of its essence…

    The essential basis of “torture”—and I do not stipulate “torture” as neccesarily or essentially synonymous with “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which is a separate issue—in this context is “by any means necessary to save lives.”

    A means—in this context—does not have an “essence,” because it’s not an end in itself [as it was in Room 101, for instance]. I do not “break you” for its own sake. I do not “break you” for my own sake.

    Without getting into a checklist of what actions are and aren’t morally justified [and there certainly is a point where ends do not justify the means], I will break your arm to save a life. No moral dilemma atall. Anything else to me is an inverted morality.

    If you would not do the same for me, I would not want you as a friend or a father, a countryman or president. I respect your right to live on your own moral planet, but even if you asked me to not break someone’s arm to save your life, I would do it anyway.

    So there. ;-PReport

    • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Would you break his will, rather than his arm? Would you break his sanity? What harm wouldn’t you do to J. L. Wall to save the life of an innocent person? What harm wouldn’t you do to me?

      If you would break my arm, against my will, to save a life, I don’t know your limits. The only thing I can know about a person who can take ownership of another’s body for any means is that I would not want him anywhere near me or my family.Report

    • Avatar Shannon's Mouse in reply to tom van dyke says:

      Without getting into a checklist of what actions are and aren’t morally justified [and there certainly is a point where ends do not justify the means], I will break your arm to save a life. No moral dilemma atall. Anything else to me is an inverted morality.

      Who are you? And what did you do with tom van dyke?

      When it comes time to start torturing others, you get all consequentialist on us and start tossing people in front of trolleys. Yet, when considering the possibility that some of your money might help alleviate the suffering of the less fortunate, you’re quite the deontologist shouting “Gimme liberty or gimme death!”

      I’m afraid a closer look at that checklist of yours is in order…Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

      ‘You are prepared to give your lives?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘You are prepared to commit murder?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘To betray your country to foreign powers?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases — to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face — are you prepared to do that?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘You are prepared to lose your identity and live out the rest of your life as a waiter or a dock-worker?’

      ‘Yes.’

      ‘You are prepared to commit suicide, if and when we order you to do so?’

      ‘Yes.’ Report

  3. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Some scattered claims I’d be willing to defend, to varying degrees.

    • If I were tortured, I suspect I would break very easily for some subjects, and not very easily for others.
    • Admittedly I am not sure what “breaking” entails, but I would almost certainly try to concoct a plausible lie that would (a) get the pain to stop and (b) lead my interrogators on a very, very long dead end. Ten years would do nicely.
    • The questions of inflicting pain and of breaking the will are separable. Although no really effective truth serum exists, I am unsure whether, if it did exist, it would be ethical to administer it. I suspect I would ultimately decide in favor of it, because such a drug would obviate nearly all of my objections to torture.
    • A really pure Kantian probably wouldn’t agree with me on this.
    • Report

  4. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Mr. Van Dyke;

    The essential basis of “torture”…in this context is “by any means necessary to save lives.”

    And how do you know that’s actually its essence, rather than its justification? Because if the essence of torture is to create hopeless, to terrorize, to dehumanize, would the torturer say that openly, or would he concoct a noble lie?Report

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