A Few Good Men

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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112 Responses

  1. RTod says:

    Well, regardless of your opinions about waterboarding, I think you have to agree that by not raising their hands they probably admitted defeat for this particular primary. For the base they need to attract to win, they might have well as said they planned on raising taxes.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to RTod says:

      I choose to remain stubbornly in denial of this line of reasoning.Report

      • tom van dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Moot. The live question is Obama sending drones to assassinate American citizens.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to tom van dyke says:

          Ah yes. Well Obama is not the ideal president for a peacenick like myself. Unfortunately, in the end I believe he will be facing another warmonger for the top job.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            This much is for sure: this GOP debate featured a gaggle of weaklings: it’s clear what they’re against. What they’re for remains a mystery. Obama is vulnerable at a number of levels but I just don’t see the GOP fielding a strong enough candidate to beat him.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              For the first time, a debate seriously examined the “legalization” topic.

              That’s pretty awesome.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                This wasn’t really a debate about legalization. Whoever the GOP nominates is going to toe the existing Get Tough Line and we both know it.

                As with the God ‘n Guns ‘n Gays n’ ‘Bortion issues, these chumps — how did Kay put it in Men in Black — “You’re everything we’ve come to expect from years of government training.”

                I rather liked Gary Johnson and it’s clear Fox doesn’t, asking him all those stupid questions. The hall didn’t much like him either.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I suspect that if a miracle did happen and Paul or Johnson got the ticket, they would not adopt the Get Tough Line.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                That’s as may be, but the odds of second moon appearing in the night sky are better than Paul or Johnson getting the nod.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You can’t take my optimism away from me damnit.Report

            • Trumwill in reply to BlaiseP says:

              If John Kerry can come as close to beating George W. Bush as he did, I don’t think that the identity of the challenger actually matters all that much, barring someone extraordinarily weak (weaker than Romney, weaker than Pawlenty, weaker than Kerry). In the end, I think Obama gets re-elected (or not) on his own merits.Report

              • RTod in reply to Trumwill says:

                Probably, but I wouldn’t discount the effects that a really red meat, base-approved GOP candidate might have on independents and moderates. Obama certainly wins or loses on his own merits against, say, Pawlenty. But if a Palin or Gingrich get the nod? Hard to see how badly Obama would have to drop the ball.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to RTod says:

                Palin, Gingrich, and Trump would fall under the “barring someone extraordinarily weak” exception.Report

              • RTod in reply to Trumwill says:

                Point taken. Thought you meant weak as in unknown.Report

              • Trumwill in reply to RTod says:

                Fair enough. I didn’t specify. By “weak” I was mostly referring to insurmountable baggage. Whether someone who is unknown falls into that category depends in large part on how they present themselves and what their opponents unearth about them. In any event, the GOP does not tend to nominate unfamiliar faces and unfamiliar names.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to RTod says:

                You’re probably right, insofar as the economy reflects the merits. I have a theory on economic recoveries, based on how a fire is lit. The initial sparks must ignite tinder, but there must be enough tinder and graduated, until there’s enough heat to finally ignite the big logs.

                Presently, Obama’s economy is still burning tinder, but it is a lot of tinder. We’re at a turning point now, the rashest of speculators are now getting burned and the housing market is still moribund. Will the big logs start to burn? Maybe not. If they don’t ignite in the next few months, Obama is probably toast.

                We don’t know. The tinder is still burning. The markets are responding to the new employment numbers, which aren’t great, but they’re not terrible. This election turns on the economy. If Obama is perceived as turning things around, he’ll win. But it’s not really his economy, every intelligent person understands the powers of the presidency are limited: there’s only so much a president can do. There’s only so much Congress can do. The first lesson of trading is that the market’s bigger than everyone. Changing tax policy or cutting expenditures have no real impact on the bigger picture, over which no government has control.Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Well, “warmonger” crosses a rhetorical Rubicon into Kucinich/Ron Paul territory.

            That’s cool, Mr. Kain; I can respect that. But for me, Elvis has just left the building. Cheers.Report

            • E.D. Kain in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Oh goodness, Tom. Was I hyperbolic? My apologies. Let me rephrase: A president whose foreign policy will likely either thrust us into new ‘overseas contingency operations’ (wouldn’t want to use the “w” word now would we?) or extend the ones we’re already in.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                “Warmonger” is in with “Rethuglican” and “Commie-Dem.” Anyone who crawls in the ring with Cheeks when he’s like that isn’t sparring, he’s going in for a grenade-toss. For me, life’s too short.

                As for “anti-war,” that’s a sentiment and not a position. It can’t be engaged. I respect pacifists, I do. But there’s just no point in trying to engage.

                At this point, the president is doing Libya and droning American civilians. The bin Laden thing is on very rocky “law enforcement” ground, both locating him and wasting him. Those are the issues, and everything can’t turn into a meta or a tu quoque.

                [Well, it can, and it does, but what’s the use?]Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

                “Warmonger” is in with “Rethuglican” and “Commie-Dem.”

                Other than being a real word with a well-understood definition, of course.Report

              • So much the worse. “Warmonger” is in with “babykiller” to my ear: past hyperbole, it’s a slur and a moral judgment.

                I would regard anyone who declined to proceed further in the face of such rhetoric wise, not cowardly. The conversation is already ended. One can disagree with the other fellow about policy and principles. But once he treats the other as a moral inferior, it’s he who has upset the chessboard.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to tom van dyke says:

                My, my TVD, we’re approaching the final result of centuries of deculturation and we musn’t allocate a symbol to the disease for fear of ending rational debate. Really, Tom the opportunity for a dialectical response ended with the doctrinization of metaphysics and philosophy. The good news is that we are not required to participate in the stupidity.Report

              • Mr. Cheeks, strangely enough, this opposition to “torture” has a metaphysical dimension, some dignity of the human person, not just socially contracted “rights.” Even Mr. Thompson was obliged to admit in all honesty [to his credit] that there was a religious dimension to his opposition.

                My arguments against torture typically rely on the belief that there is an intrinsic value to every human life, and that torture, because it denies this value, is an unconscionable act. I typically leave this at an assertion, because, for me, this is a primarily religious belief. Nevertheless, we can see this belief underlying a variety of secular laws and institutions: most notably those respecting the individual’s life and liberty. Whether it is because “all men are created equal” or because “all are created in God’s image,” the line of thought leads to the valuation of human life and the individual being.

                This is “Christian” or “post-Christian,” but it also encompasses what Habermas hopefully calls “post-secular.”

                All is not lost. Next up for post-secularists is to learn how difficult it is for religious types to bite their tongues on pejoratives like “babykiller.” But one must, if he seeks to convince rather than condemn.Report

              • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Well said, Tom.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

                There were people in the Bush administration who’d wanted a war with Iraq for some time and jumped on 9/11 as a pretext. (And yes, Mr. Wolfowitz, I’m looking at you.) “Warmonger” is the mot juste for them.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, for purposes of discourse, I think you’re right. I will refrain from use of the term in so glib a fashion.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Does this mean that I should stop talking to Bob?

                I’m asking for a friend.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Wa’al, it’s been my observation there is such a thing as a Warmonger and there’s no point in denying the obvious: it’s a perfectly sound word, good Latin roots by way of Greek, mangonis, a stunt, a trick.

                Mango and mangonis were always pejorative, even in the Latin, for a mango was more than a mere merchant mercator, but the sort which would put lipstick on the pig, or fatten up a starving slave. Lots of Latin pejoratives come from Greek.

                But to get all hissy about warmongering is to deny a fundamental truth about war itself: those who promulgate war are never those who have to live with the consequences and they’re always presenting war as a Great Necessity. Truth is the first casualty of war, indeed it’s often put on the altar before one begins, there’s always seems to be someone calling for the sacrifice of an Iphigenia for every Trojan War.Report

              • Rtod in reply to tom van dyke says:

                I think Tom’s objection isn’t the word per se. I think its the implication that if he thinks a particular military action is needed or justifiable, he must therefor delight in the bloodshed of war just for the fun of it. As he put it above, it’s probably similar to how you or might feel about being called a babykiller if we are pro choice.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Wise, not cowardly were Tom’s words, and much huffery and puffery about Moral Inferiority to boot. Those who go about, glibly justifying war should have a helmet slapped onto their heads and be put in the first ranks of the assault.

                I am darkly amused by the effrontery of saying the conversation has already ended. The conversation has not yet begun. War is mankind’s natural state and every attempt to deny that fact is High Bullshittery.

                Those who promulgate Wars are Warmongers. They aren’t selling us anything, they’re asking us to sell them our consent for their wars. Once started, should anyone question them, they wave their arms about vigorously and shout the endlessly tautological justification “WE’RE AT WAAAR.”

                I have not come this far in life and linguistics to be schoolmarmed on which words I shall use to describe the sale of that Pandora’s Box called War or the purveyors thereof. Warmongers may not like that title, but it is, as Schilling observes, le mot juste.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to tom van dyke says:

                You know I’d miss you Jaybird. And, probably your ‘friend,’ too!Report

              • Rtod in reply to tom van dyke says:

                BP – was Washington a warmonger? Lincoln? Any that chose to oppose Hitler? Or is it just a judgment against decisions to go to war in today’s world? I am not challenging, merely wanting to get where you are coming from.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                George Washington is an interesting figure, too complex to sum up in a few dozens words.

                Washington was mixed up in a serious contretemps with France: in his ignorance of French, he signed a document confessing to the murder of the prisoner Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. The Half King, a Mingo, put a tomahawk into the hapless Jumonville’s head, surprising and horrifying everyone, especially Washington, the most scrupulously polite of men.

                Well, the Jumonville murder stank in the nostrils of everyone at court in both France and Britain, though there were plenty of atrocities to go around on both sides of the French and Indian Wars. Washington never got a commission in the British Army as he wanted, so he entered the Revolutionary War with a chip on his shoulder already, and a custom-made general’s uniform which he wore to every gathering of the Revolutionaries. Washington pretended to great modesty but he was a man of great ambitions.

                Lincoln was dragged into his war: his First Inaugural was one long denial of the obvious. Like Obama (whose great hero has always been Lincoln), he hemmed and hawed and generally futzed around, allowing the war to gather momentum before he would act. And like Washington, Lincoln’s early battles were unmitigated disasters.

                As for Hitler, let’s not play little games with history. The USA was in no mood for a war at the time. The wholesale murders and atrocities committed against the Jews were never effectively reported, buried as they were in the middle of the NYTimes. We knew perfectly well what barbarities the Japanese were up to in Korea and Manchuria. We embargoed Japan, but did little more until they attacked us at Pearl Harbor.

                Look, don’t try to harangue me about the justice of past wars. War is, as I have said before, what happens when politicians stop doing their jobs and wars end when they start doing them again.Report

              • Robert Cheeks in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Bp, if you’ve ne’r been to Jummnville Glenn stop down here and we’ll go over. It is one of the most beautiful of places in our country. Me and my fellow frontier palsy visited a while back. One parks your care adn walks back off the trail about two miles into the Pennsyltucky foothills. Suddenly there lies before you a hilly gully full of large deciduous trees much as it was 250 years ago. Among those trees are these fat, granite (?) boulders of all shapes and sizes, placed there by the hand of God that appear strangely out of place. It was here Capt’n Jummonville and his Frenchies and Injuns met their fate at the hand of the Mingo, Half King.
                The beauty of this place, is that it is barely marked off by the state of Pa. and, surely, closely appears how it must have been so long ago.
                BTW, Jummonville’s death really pissed off his brother who commanded at Ft. Duqesne, which in turn instigated the battle of Ft. Necessity, which was the opening salvo of the first world war, all started by our first president.Report

              • > War is mankind’s natural state and
                > every attempt to deny that fact is
                > High Bullshittery.

                War, as we know it, more or less requires agriculture. Agriculture has only been around for 10K or so. Mankind predates that by a substantial margin.

                Not that the “noble savage” didn’t commit violence upon tribes of his brethren, but that’s more along the lines of simple organized murder and robbery.

                To say that War is mankind’s natural state presupposes that a social activity has unalterable genetic roots. That may be the case, but I’d say the jury is still out on that one.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Interesting idea, that agriculture and war are concomitant phenomena. Very likely. I suppose large scale agriculture could only evolve once the Ice Ages came to an end and weather allowed it. Kingdoms and empires could only arise with agriculture and with it large-scale wars.

                But tribes don’t have to be large to engage in warfare. Our primate brethren, especially the chimps, wage clan wars for territory, resources, females and the like.

                One of the advantages of civilization had to be mutual protection on ever larger scales. Perpetual war kept the tribes of North America and Africa, Micronesia etc. from any technological advances worth considering. The clever ones kept getting killed off young, before they could do much.

                There are reasons to doubt this War Requires Agriculture conclusion. Large scale agriculture would have depended on enough political stability. With the collapse of the Maya civilization, farm size dropped precipitously: the Maya farms were well-organized raised beds on intricate canal systems. With the collapse of the Maya, the jungle grew back with a vengeance and the people reverted to slash and burn.

                Guatemala has a population of perhaps 13 million now. At the height of the Maya, there may have been as many as 25 million. Every square meter would have been under intensive cultivation.

                Who can say? Women complain, and rightly so, of the moon their harsh mistress. But men are tormented every day of the month by the Molecule of Rage, testosterone.Report

              • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

                BP, apropos of nothing, can I just say that even when I completely disagree with everything you say in a argument, I love hearing the language you use to make it?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                @RTod. I must now let out my baseball cap by a few holes, my head has swollen up so. It’s very kind of you to say such things.

                We learn nothing from mere agreement: it is the smelter of debate where good ideas are purified.Report

              • RTod in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                “War, as we know it, more or less requires agriculture.”

                Pat – I have neither heard of not had this thought before, and I am fascinated. Can you say more?Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to RTod says:

                Jared Diamond’s writeup in “Guns, Germs, and Steel” is going to put it better than I can. If you haven’t read it, go do so. It’s not perfectly edited and he repeats himself and drags on in a couple of spots, but the book is fascinating. “Collapse” is supposed to be better, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

                In a nutshell, once you have agriculture, you have the ability to produce food with less people than is required in a hunter-gatherer society, where everyone more or less has to be involved in food gathering, all the time.

                It’s kind of hard to be a real warrior if you’re spending most of your day chasing deer. You’re probably in great shape, and you’re probably a good shot, and you’re probably way less squeamish than the average bloke in the modern (First) world is, but still you’re not a warrior in the sense of, say, Spartans or the Khan’s boys. To be a full bore killer, you need lots of practice.

                To field an actual army, you also need enough food to keep them away from home for quite a while. Optimally, you also need enough farmers so that you’re clear to field an army without having to call the boys home to gather the crops. This required post-Medieval farming methods, for the most part, but you could at least war in the spring and summer, after you planted but before you had to gather, between the time of the Pharaohs and the 100 years war.

                Military history prior to the 1700s was oftentimes hinged on feeding the troops.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to RTod says:

                The horrific civilian body count of the Thirty Years War came not from deliberate slaughter, but from mass starvation caused by the military (on both sides) consuming all of the available crops and livestock (and then moving on to do the same elsewhere).Report

              • RTod in reply to RTod says:

                Thanks Pat. I had thought it would be something like this. I loved The Third Chimpanzee, so now I guess I have another book to add to the stack on the night table.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to RTod says:

                Conversely, a warrior class allows the farmers and merchant classes to thrive separately, and the merchants are the engines of wealth.

                Early Rome would enfranchise territory, granting the rights and privileges of membership. Roads, weights and measures, currency, Rome had much to offer and smaller kingdoms were quite keen to join. Rhodes and Macedon joined willingly, mostly to save themselves from the predations of the Macedonians and Seleucids. Bithynia and Egypt volunteered as well. Everyone benefited for a good long while.

                The Roman Civil Wars put an end to the good times. Thereafter, Rome looted and the warrior class came to dominate the affairs of state. But it was not always so, Rome before Augustus never wanted a king and it was the making of them. Had Rome been led by wiser men and the Senate more truly representative, it might have adapted to its vastly enlarged size.

                Yet for centuries, the Romans continued to patrol the seas for pirates, put down brigandage, hold off the barbarians. The madness at the heart of Rome seldom spread far: emperors rose and fell, yet still the bureaucrats and merchants, farmers and tradesmen carried on by the inertia of regular, if not especially good government.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to RTod says:

                > Conversely, a warrior class allows
                > the farmers and merchant classes
                > to thrive separately, and the
                > merchants are the engines of wealth.

                Oh, true. Lest one think I disparage the warriors, I hold them in high respect. One can find warfare, the activity, inherently immoral and still believe that those who wage the wars, themselves, are honorable beings, doing their best in trying circumstances. Striving to be moral in the midst of rampant insanity is itself a challenge for the gods.

                I myself believe that I would be a terrible warrior.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to RTod says:

                Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Warriors are respected, not from any intrinsic respectability, but from our craven natures. I have never understood the phenomenon, though it seems common enough throughout history.

                I have said we give our assent to War. Our constitution was set up to broaden the dialogue of assent but the War Powers Act gave us a collective Out. We furtively fondle and coddle our vicious instincts, papering over the spreading tumours of tribal hatreds with the Band-Aids of Patriotism and proudly recite our Pledge of Allegiance, secretly whispering at the end of it, “with liberty and justice for all of us“, petty hateful creatures that we are, down in our wet, slimy, dark guts.

                Do not praise the soldier. He doesn’t want your praise and thanks and meddling questions about what he did. He wants nothing more, having returned to your midst, than to process what he has done. Pushed into the hell of war (though we will not call it by that name) with our blind assent, he has done terrible things and wishes nothing more than to return to his civilian life, though he can never truly return.

                As there are things he will never tell you, do not presume to praise him in your ignorance of those things, for it was with your assent that he did them. Praise yourselves instead, if you dare, for your wise decision to put him there. Putting someone on a pedestal is to objectify them, to separate yourselves from him. The heroes of their wars are already dead: their lasting guilt and shame was to survive it, to return like Lazarus from the dead, only to die again.Report

              • Pat Cahalan in reply to RTod says:

                > He wants nothing more, having
                > returned to your midst, than to
                > process what he has done.

                A gentleman whom I respect once remarked that what society really needs is for all the troops to die while they’re over there, in the process of winning, as they will never again be the sorts of citizens that they were before they left, and it’s those citizens that society mistakenly believes it’s getting back. It was said for shock value, but there’s some truth to it.

                > there are things he will never tell you

                That’s the truth. Sometimes, though, it’s recorded somewhat and the record outlives the solider.

                I don’t put anybody on a pedestal. It’s the last place I would want to be, myself.Report

            • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

              Is it just me, or is this becoming a regular thing around here?

              We really need to develop an emoticon that means “slams door.”Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

          I’d be glad to see that denounced by a mainstream GOP candidate too. I am not holding my breath.Report

        • ThatPirateGuy in reply to tom van dyke says:

          …working for al qaeda.

          Like that one guy we just sent a seal team to kill.Report

          • Katherine in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

            When a foreign citizen declares war on America, that qualifies as war, and – in my view – the United States is perfectly within their rights to kill him as part of that war.

            When an American citizen participates in, or is accused of participating in, a war against America, that is a charge of treason, which is a crime. Said person he should be put on criminal trial, not assassinated.Report

  2. Robert Cheeks says:

    Barry could bring the boys home and that would be smart. But, as Bubba correctly told us, “its the economy, stupid.”Report

  3. When asked, “Raise your hands if you would waterboard terror suspects under any conceivable circumstance”

    That would be a hard thing to promise never to do “under any conceivable circumstance.” I oppose torture, but it probably looks differently when you’re the executive, faced with 9 kinds of conflicting intelligence, one of which suggests that there might me an “imminent” attack and one, two, or ten steps beyond the lines of humane treatment might save lives.

    I don’t mean any of this to justify torture, and I buy most of the claims that torture almost never works. But I am skeptical when people promise to be angels when they’re all too human. I don’t see how anybody can honestly make such a promise.Report

  4. Axel Edgren says:

    I suggest that this blog immediately bans anyone that voices support waterboarding or any form of torture.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Axel Edgren says:

      Thanks for the suggestion but that’s just not how we roll.Report

    • Member548 in reply to Axel Edgren says:

      Often when a people become so self assured they are right that they censor those with opposing views; mass graves eventually follow.Report

      • RTod in reply to Member548 says:

        Yes – in fact, in any part of the country where you’re not allowed to say the “N-word,” you can’t walk across the street for falling n a mass grave.

        I agree with E.D. that banning folks with a differing viewpoint is uncool & unproductive; but let’s not assume Axel is Pol Pot just yet.Report

        • tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

          There’s an interesting philosophical discussion to be had here, although I think in the shadow of the current issues it’s too hot for cool thought.

          I was thinking of Locke, in what amounts to a consideration of peer pressure, that

          nobody that has the least thought or sense of a man about him, can live in society under the constant dislike and ill opinion of his familiars, and those he converses with. This is a burden too heavy for human sufferance: and he must be made up of irreconcilable contradictions, who can take pleasure in company, and yet be insensible of contempt and disgrace from his companions.

          So of course we use “coercion” all the time: we shun and condemn the bigot. Some of us are rather too quick on the trigger, of course, and this touches as well on pejoratives like “warmonger” or “babykiller” and the like. In the current environment, “bigot!” is the coercive weapon of choice. It might even be fairly said that this rhetorical weapon of coercion has reaped many goodly benefits, certianly in the area of race.

          “Bigot” works.

          However, in a philosophical discussion or forum, it’s incumbent upon its purpose that the unthinkable be thought, the unspeakable uttered. But even in a forum like this, which aspires to free thought and philosophizing, silence equals acceptance, and therefore, the “B” word must be wielded to slap down any perception that the unthinkable and unspeakable are countenanced here.

          Just musing. I’m trying to stay at arm’s length from the current issues and questions of rhetoric that were admirably addressed if not resolved by those here gathered [and to their credit, and HT to Mr. Kain in particular]. But this did send me back to Locke, and Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments figures in here too, that we only approve of the actions [and therefore by extension, arguments] of those whose motives we approve of.

          [That Bill Cosby can say things that David Duke cannot is fairly evident. Hell, even the Cos gets flak for them, uttering what everybody knows but few can say without fear of being slapped with the “B” word.]Report

          • RTod in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Another issue with the “B” word is that as it has become more and more synonymous with a caricature of evil (or at least Roscoe P. Coletrane-esque buffoonery) it has ceased to have any productive usage. Tom is square on that it is used as a means of coercion, and that a problem with this is that it creates a measure of social censorship.

            However, I think an additional byproduct of our coercive use of “bigot” is that it hinders our ability to introspectively analyze our motives and better ourselves or others. What I mean is this:

            I think that having bigoted thoughts (in one way or another) is a profoundly human thing; I think that it takes great discipline and self-reflection to correct. It is so universal it well be hard wired into us. But with it’s coercive use not only might we combatively use accusations where it doesn’t exist, when we do accuse others of it the automatic response is to bristle and deny; in fact, I think there are whole chunks of talk radio that thrive by encouraging people oft accused of bigotry to double down on really awful beliefs. I think this is terribly tragic; even if your goal is to reduce bigotry, using the word as a coercive tool does little more than further entrench the bigotry you seek to banish.

            This is one of those thoughts I have never tried to put into words, so Tom, I will be curious to see if the way I’m putting this even makes sense to you.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to tom van dyke says:

            People who use “bigot” to coerce others are moochers, looters, and parasites.Report

          • Axel Edgren in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Being discriminatory and using opprobrium against people for reasons that don’t reflect at all on people’s characters (color of skin, sexuality, genetic traits, choice of milk) is bigoted.

            Being discriminatory against people who obviously have poor character (homophobes, racists, misogynists, torture supporters, animal abusers) is NOT bigoted. It is human.

            You support waterboarding – that shows you have loathsome character – you *really* don’t belong among people like us and can NEVER write anything any of us would ever benefit from reading.

            It doesn’t take all sorts. Not everyone should take part in the discussion. And most of all, it is not good to think for yourself if you think evil thoughts.

            I hope you are ready to die for your right to voice your useless and disgusting opinion – I am not going to.Report

            • Thx for proving my point, Mr. Edgren. “We” is most revealing.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Let’s get real here, Tom. Anyone who waterboards a prisoner should be taken out of the military system. The CIA might get away with it, UCMJ would prosecute that fucker under Article 93 and I’ve seen it done.

                All these little bully boys so willing to waterboard are contemptible little swine. I’d have their non-military non CIB earning asses out digging graves in the hot hot sun.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m sorry, Blaise. I’m done with this. I would break your arm to save a life. I would break someone else’s arm to save your life. Call me pischer.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Bullshit. You presume the necessity of breaking my arm would save someone’s life. Truth is, in this example, you’re only breaking my arm to find someone else and kill him. So much for you being done with anything.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m done with anyone who can’t discuss civilly. Good night, sir. You don’t know what I think. You don’t give a fella a chance to speak before you shout him down. For some reason, those who think they hold the truth hold themselves exempt from the rules of civil society. They are barbarians, sir. Civilization is an acquired habit.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                You’re as free as me to press the Submit button. Torture is obscene. Having handled prisoners, I find it personally obscene and had I abused and murdered the prisoners under my control, I would have been court-martialed.

                Inter arma silent leges. The truth is this: the greatest casualty, the most horrific disaster of this War on Terror has been our own consciences. That presidential candidates can assent to torture, the very sort of torture we once prosecuted in our Japanese enemies, fills me with an inexpressible nausea. How dare you simper and whine and emit this torrent of bilge about the rules of civil society might entail and prohibit in our behaviour. Civilization is a thin veneer, Tom, and easily pried up. Those rules once prohibited torture. Clearly, in your case, they do not.Report

              • tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It always ends up this way, Mr. Pseudonym, personal attacks.

                If you want to turn this “philosophical forum” into a social laboratory, and you have, you illustrate my point either way. People who think they alone possess the truth decide they’re not subject to the rules of civility, of civilization.

                And I would break your arm to save a life, tough guy. No moral problem atall. Shout that down all you want.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                “One thing is for certain: There won’t be any more mass graves and torture rooms and rape rooms.”—Bush, press availability in Monterrey, Mexico, Jan. 12, 2004Report

              • Axel Edgren in reply to tom van dyke says:

                “I would break your arm to save a life. I would break someone else’s arm to save your life.”

                I would happily break my own arm to see all the unfit, simpering and jowl-riddled armchair scumbags like you actually have to walk the walk on your infantile talk.Report

              • E.D. Kain in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom – it is odd that you would constantly cry foul when people call a spade a spade – as though somehow calling bullshit on actions (i.e. torture) is such a horrible thing, so remote from ‘civil society’. It’s downright bizarre to me that you would think this use of words is barbaric, but not the use of torture. Once upon a time the advocacy of torture was considered outside the realm of civil discourse. I hope that’s where it returns.Report

              • Chris in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                This is his tactic in pretty much every debate. That he uses it in this one only puts its absurdity in stark contrast.

                I actually think it’s possible to discuss torture rationally, with an open mind. That is, while I think torture is self-evidently evil, and that it is blatant moral relativism to argue that it can be a moral good, or at least a lesser moral evil, when a.) it produces results that are good for us, and b.) it’s not being done by the other guy, I could possibly be convinced otherwise. Tom, however, will never be the person to convince anyone of anything of that sort, because he’s not, and never will be, arguing in good faith. But it is fun to watch him leave in a huff, only to post again 5 minutes later. “I say good day, sir!”

                What I find odd in this discussion, by the way, is the position that it is somehow cowardly, or at least a cop out, to argue that torture is ineffective in addition to being immoral, when torture’s effectiveness is the only possible argument that its proponents can use to defend it as a method of interrogation. I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any other topic of dispute for which one side argues on a particular dimension, and at the same time suggests that dimension is off limits for the other side to even address.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Francis Bacon:

                The Queen was mightily incensed against Haywarde, on account of a book he dedicated to Lord Essex, being a story of the first year of Henry IV, thinking it a seditious prelude to put into the people’s heads boldness and faction: She said, she had an opinion that there was treason in it, and asked me, if I could not find any places in it, that might be drawn within the case of treason? Whereto I answered, for treason, sure I found none; but for felony very many: And when her majesty hastily asked me, Wherein? I told her, the author had committed very apparent theft: For he had taken most of the sentences of Cornelius Tacitus…

                And another time when the Queen could not be persuaded that it was his [Hayward’s] writing whose name was to it, but that it had some more mis­chievous author, and said, with great indignation, that she would have him racked to produce his author; I replied, nay, madam, he is a doctor, never rack his person, but rack his styleReport

            • RTod in reply to Axel Edgren says:

              Choice of milk?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Axel Edgren says:

      I’ve been wanting to ban anyone who uses “lol”.

      I mean, when it’s not a verb. They can use it as a verb.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        There are two ls in “loll”? Huh. I thought there was one. (Three instead of two, if you’re all pedantic and crap.)

        Never mind. We can go back to the first sentence by itself.Report

    • mark boggs in reply to Axel Edgren says:

      If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

      – John Stuart MillReport

      • E.D. Kain in reply to mark boggs says:

        That’s a good one.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to mark boggs says:

        Is Erik silencing his opponents by calling them “warmongers”, or is Tom silencing Erik by forbidding that word?Report

        • RTod in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Perhaps neither. I think the problem with “warmonger” is that it assumes a really negative – if not actually evil – motivation behind your support for a war.

          It isn’t that using it/not using it silences or censors one person the another. It’s that telling you’re dinner guest that you think the reason they don’t drive a Prius is that they hate children and want them to die is kind of a conversation stopper.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to RTod says:

            Remind me not to invite David Koch to dinner.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

              David Koch ought to fear Obama. David Koch once believed politicians were merely actors, strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage. It is good to see him now change his tune, for once he wanted to be a screenwriter for politicians. Pain is a wonderfully effective teacher: now that David Koch’s bulbous forehead has left a starburst pattern on the windshield of the Tea Party Bus when it hit a pothole on the Road to Washington (by way of Madison) it seems to have knocked some fear, if not good sense, into his fat head.

              But fear is a good start. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we are told in Proverbs 9. I earned a shilling for memorizing that chapter.Report

          • tom van dyke in reply to RTod says:

            I have a Prius, RTod. Does that count? Or do my motivations count more?Report

        • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I do enjoy seeing Tom demand that every opinion be on the table, except those that are overly or too directly critical of his own.

          By the way, I am a big fan of civility, but certain views and opinions, while they should in no way be directly silenced, should be treated with words like bigotry and warmongering, because that’s what they amount to. Can such labels be misused? Of course, but their misuse is no more likely than that of the tactic Tom is using to avoid ever having to address then.Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

            I’m just trying to figure out who here was using the word “bigot.”

            Apart from Tom, of course. (Has he left yet? He’s flounced so many times on this thread alone that I just can’t tell anymore. I count no less than five of ’em, in fact. Is he here? Rhetorically gone? Back, because of some new outrage? Gone because of the next outrage? Back again? My head’s spinning, I tell you!)Report

            • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              I think “bigotry” came up as an analog to “warmongerer,” which E.D. (I think it was E.D.; I’m too lazy to go back and look) used at some point. Tom took it as an invitation to rail against effrontery on the part of those with whom he disagrees, so that he could cry “winning,” leave in a huff (multiple times), and never actually present an argument for his position.

              It’s a strange world that Tom lives in, in which moral outrages like torture are immune to criticism for fear of offending their proponents. We’d do well not to try to comprehend that world.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Chris says:

                I think you’re probably right. But if you were to search this site, you’d find virtually no instances of any top-level poster calling anyone else a bigot.

                The few times I’ve used that word, it’s been either in a direct quotation, or speaking of some hypothetical people, or else using it in just the same critical way Tom uses it — I do think it’s thrown around too often myself, and the way I respond to that sense is simply not to use it. Or to mock people who do.Report

              • Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Eh, I don’t recall any top level poster using it, but it was a frequently used word in a threat not to long ago, in which Tom took repeated offense to it (others did as well, to be fair). I honestly think “bigot” is a pretty damn good word, when it’s used well, which is to say, when its use is backed up with reasons. I also think it’s as problematic to cut off the legitimate use of a word because it’s used illegitimately at times as it is to use such words illegitimately. It’s unfortunate that, when such words are used, the conversation becomes about the words themselves, but that’s rarely if ever the fault of the people using the word legitimately; more often than not, it’s the fault of those who take offense to legitimately having such labels applied to them.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Chris says:

                Maybe ‘bigotry’ works better than ‘bigot’? The times I’ve seen ‘bigot’ used to end a discussion is when Person 1 is making a fair point and Person 2 discounts it by saying that behind the fair point they’re secretly a bigot. But, if they made an unfair point and that point was characterized as bigortry that might be a helpful criticism.Report

              • Chris in reply to Rufus F. says:

                I agree to an extent. There’s a bunch of interesting research (some of which I’ve done myself, yay me) on the effect of labeling an individual with a particular label. The most relevant effect is essentialism: saying someone is exhibiting bigotry, or even that they are being bigoted, produces a very different representation than saying someone is a bigot. The latter suggests something essential, and something lasting, whereas the former at least admits that the offense might be context specific. On the other hand, if someone refuses to let go of an obviously bigoted opinion, I’m not sure the perception of permanence is all that unfortunate.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F. says:

                Yet we are what we do. Those who exhibit bigotry shall be called bigots. The bigots have epithets for the rest of us, God wot. In my own lifetime, I have been called a Nigger Lover and Fag Hugger, labels which define me aptly enough.

                Essentialism is the high ground for the bigot: he, not the rest of us, has defined and labeled the Nigger and the Fag, the Kike and the Raghead. Never mind that these hated entities are equally human, the bigot has set up his essentialist criteria.

                In the Jeopardy questions of life, we ought to respond: “Who is a Nigger? Who is a Fag?” In the light of the bigot’s essentialism, it seems no failure of logic or rhetoric to name him a Bigot.Report

              • Scott in reply to Chris says:


                Intelligent criticism of folks like me who support torturing some terrorists for their info is fine. But Alex’s liberals bloviation is pedantic, does not raise the level of discussion and frankly leads me to lose any credibility I might have given him. Maybe he should start his own blog so he can have a liberal echo chamber.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Scott says:

                Information obtained by torture is suspect by any standard. Knowing this to be true, why, for example, don’t we torture every suspected criminal for what he knows? Under the principle of Equal Justice Under Law, and justice for me is justice for thee, can’t it be safely presumed I could torture you, as you’d torture these terrorists, without benefit of due process?

                And don’t wiggle out with this “Some” caveat. In for a penny, in for a pound.Report

              • Scott in reply to BlaiseP says:


                Any information voluntarily given by a terrorist or even a common criminal is suspect and is never regarded as “true” until it has been cross-checked against other information.

                Surely someone as yourself who proclaims such a vast knowledge of the world knows this, so to go around telling everyone that info gained by torture is somehow suspect or maybe more suspect than info given voluntarily is disingenuous.

                As for torturing all common criminals, trying to compare the average car thief with Islamic terrorists is pretty sad, even for you. Most common criminals sing like a canary with such little prodding and are not the religious zealots that wants to commit mass murder like the terrorists that we now find ourselves dealing with.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Scott says:

                [Citation needed.]Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Scott, it is a sovereign test of rhetoric that the weaker argument gravitates to personal invective when it runs out of argument. Shall I gather from your statements you are in favour of torturing the common criminal, well, not torture, it’s now “prodding” isn’t it? It’s no longer if we can torture, my next question is this: how high would you set the voltage on that prod?

                I don’t have to travel far, only as far as the history of the Salem Witch Trials to find torture producing bullshit information, yes, and the testimonial of witnesses, too. By your standards, those people were witches.

                Now I’ve managed prisoners and conducted interrogations. I never felt the necessity to torture and watched as one of my fellow operators was prosecuted for it. You see, back in the day, when men were still men and bullies were punks, we didn’t stand for that sort of thing, knowing that our own prisoners were being tortured, we would not tolerate it.

                Nunc dimittis, that I should live so long, to see Americans defend torture. It’s terribly saddening to me at a personal level. I console myself in knowing the people who advocate such things can only attack me personally. They have never pulled a terrified prisoner away from a squad who were beating him to death. In their ignorance of these supposed terrorists, their hatred of the unknown has led them into great evil. It hardly seems like my country any more.

                This much seems clear, if we are to get personal, you have never interrogated a prisoner, civilian or military. I often quarrel with Bob Cheeks about this and that, but his sense of honor and loyalty to a faded glory is understandable. Perhaps there never was any Truth, Justice and the American Way to defend: it was all a sham and a lie. The faces change, the masks remain the same, I always said. But now, in you, and in those pusillanimous GOP cowards who raised their hands in violation of the laws of their own country to advocate for torture, I see the mask has been torn away. It is the grinning face of an evil so banal it presumes torture will produce truth, an evil I thought was as extinct as the mammoth.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “You see, back in the day, when men were still men and bullies were punks, we didn’t stand for that sort of thing, knowing that our own prisoners were being tortured, we would not tolerate it.”

                This brings up something I’ve been meaning to discuss here- it seems to me that the question about torture isn’t a “wouldja wouldja?” question, but how to handle it after the fact. In other words, people keep asking those who are opposed to torture, “Would you torture a terrorist in order to save an innocent person’s life?” but it seems a bit irrelevant. I don’t think the reasonable anti-torture argument is “I would never do it, even if not doing so would condemn 100 innocent people to die”. It’s more like, “Yes, in the hypothetical ticking time bomb scenario I would use torture. And I’d expect to be prosecuted for it all the same”. Because, if there’s no prosecution, then it’s at the discretion of the state agent when they think torture is appropriate. And, if that’s the case, there will be state agents who will use it much more often than just in the ticking time bomb scenario. When you leave it up to the discretion of interrogators to use torture as they see fit, it’s not too long before you win up with what the French in Algeria called “ratissage” or “raking over” the populace.

                Anyway, I could be wrong here, but I think the question is more about prosecution than “wouldja ever?”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I can’t speak for how CIA handles it, but I can for FBI and the military. The signature case here is the prosecution of William Calley for what we called Pinkville at the time and became known as My Lai 4.

                Nobody in the civilian world would have found out My Lai if someone hadn’t leaked the story to Seymour Hersh.

                Colin Powell, then Americal’s assistant chief of staff of operations, simply refuted the initial rumours, which were floating around all over theater. Pinkville was a big deal, but there’s always lots of scuttlebutt.

                But Pinkville really stuck out. Twice, it had surfaced and twice it had been suppressed. The guys who did try to bring it to light were attacked by Congressmen.

                You ask how atrocities would be prosecuted. This depends entirely upon how the battalion commander chooses to deal with it. The battalion (usually with brigade or regiment level connivance) arranges for a court-martial and everything stamped Top Secret, the usual designation for Big Fuckups. The offenders usually go to Leavenworth and nobody finds out.Report

              • Chris in reply to Scott says:

                Scott, I agree that Alex’s approach is pretty counterproductive, and it plays right into Tom’s hands, to boot (if nothing else, it justifies Tom’s sense of persecution, and allows him to continue to avoid actually presenting a case for his position).Report

            • Thx for that, Jason. I try to leave a thread, but they keep pulling me back in, y’know?

              Usually with personal snark, since the honest way isn’t working.Report

              • Koz in reply to tom van dyke says:

                With all the considerations of who’s offended by what word, perhaps we’d be better off if we could focus on ordinary judiciousness instead. It’s one thing to use this or that supposedly offensive word. It’s quite another to lead with it first thing out of the gate and repeat it in every subsequent comment.Report

  5. Member548 says:

    There can never be a valid argument for torture.

    The only real question is where interrogation ends and torture begins.

    The fact that the words almost seem interchangeable lately is folly.

    The most clear mark where torture begins is when suffering can’t serve any purpose beyond bringing joy to the one causing the suffering.

    Moving the bar away from that point is open to opinion, and doesn’t by default make you savage monster if you place it near that point, or an idealistic fool if you move it far far away, but make no mistake, if you do think torture for the sake of punishment, or personal enjoyment is justifiable then you are a monster of some sorts.Report