when wrong suddenly becomes right

September 25, 2009

One of the trendiest arguments in favor of a supernatural guardian over our daily lives used by today’s popular theologians is the supposed consistency of morality across the entire human species. Since all of us have a very similar idea of right and wrong, they say, there must be something regulating these perceptions, and that something must be a deity. Ok, let’s go with that premise for a second and ask how it applies to torture during a time of war, when behavior otherwise described as monstrous suddenly becomes acceptable to some…

When rumors of waterboarding and sleep deprivation being used to interrogate suspected terrorists started making their way into the headlines, polls showed that at least over 50% of people in eight developed nations thought that torture was warranted in at least some cases. Even after years of ridicule, as many as 57% of Americans weren’t in a hurry to see government officials who potentially authorized torture being brought up on charges. Why? Because during a time of unconventional war, all bets seem to be off and if people believe that there’s even the slightest chance that brutalizing a suspected terrorist could prevent hundreds of deaths, they’d rather just turn a blind eye to how the intelligence is obtained, as long as it’s obtained and used.

Hey, it seems to work for the guys on TV and in the movies so it probably works in reality, right? Actually, no. In the movies and dramatic shows, we know who the villain is and that he’s guilty. Any compassion to him as a fellow human being is gone and according to the runtime, he has to spill the secrets of his plan after the next improvised electrocution. But in the real world, telling villains from mercenaries caught in the crossfire isn’t as simple as it is for Jack Bauer. We don’t know how much they’re aware of or what nefarious plans they may be privy to, which means that we don’t know when to stop. And if you torture someone long enough, he’ll just start telling you what you want to hear to make the suffering stop. Information obtained by torture is very unreliable.

Let’s remember that during the Inquisitions, torture was used to obtain confessions and expedite executions that needed to take place. In fact, it was a standard procedure for dealing with enemies of the faith. People in charge of religious agencies and on a mission from their deity, controlled by the universal principles of right and wrong invoked by today’s trendy apologists, decided that mutilating enemies of the faith to cleanse their nations of heathens was perfectly acceptable, even though torturing people they liked was seen as an act of extreme cruelty. We still continue the trend of suspending our sense of compassion during a time of conflict and bucking the so-called universal tenets of morality because we feel that it’s justified in certain cases.

I wonder how our high minded theologians would explain the metaphysical nature of our selective inhumanity and flexible morality without having to take a side in the conflict and consider the innate subjectivity involved in the decisions to subject our enemies to torture…

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  • reknaw

    >I wonder how our high minded theologians would explain the metaphysical nature of our selective inhumanity…

    It’s simple, they blame the Devil for it :) You can always conjure up an answer if you want!

    Cheers,
    reknaw

  • Jypson

    “And if you torture someone long enough, he’ll just start telling you what you want to hear to make the suffering stop. Information obtained by torture is very unreliable.”

    Spot on! Traditional interrogation techniques are more effective 99% of the time. Personally, I don’t believe it’s worth lowering our own human standards by using torture to get that last 1%.

  • Rick Hoelzer

    We could always declare a “Take a suspected terrorist to lunch” day and realize how those guys and gals who believe it is their religious duty to blow themselves and others up aren’t really so bad after all. In all seriousness, a good lesson on “Just War” principles is in order. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pol116/justwar.htm