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Wickedness in Ambivalence

I have called the blog Vox Nova "debate club at Auschwitz" because the contributors generally take an airy academic inclusive approach to publicly discussing abortion, in this day and age with the mass scale horror all around us, on a blog which specifically advertises itself as Catholic perspectives. One of the contributors publicly stated that subsidiarity justifies the pro-choice position, for example, and other contributors have defended him. The point to the "Debate Club at Auschwitz" label is precisely that ambivalent public airy academic discussion in the presence of an actual moral horror which should be unequivocally rejected is inappropriate, like a debate club airily and academically discussing the Jewish Question at Auschwitz.

It isn't an accusation that the Debate Club is gassing the Jews, or is in favor of gassing the Jews. Rather, it is an observation that there are times and places where it is simply wicked to engage in airy, public, ambivalent academic discussion of certain kinds of moral horror. One of those times and places is here and now; one of those subjects is abortion. Deliberate engagement in airy ambivalent inclusive public academic discussion is perfectly capable of itself - the discussion - being a form of wickedness, in certain circumstances.

The same thing applies to the Right's public airy academic ambivalence on torture in the face of the fact that we have tortured prisoners, at least one and probably more of them to death, in the GWOT.

The unwinding of the pro-life movement from the inside by strongly associating it with despicable moral wrongs that appeal to the political Right, the home of the genuine pro-life movement, is Satan's plan. We get to choose whether we will cooperate with that plan, or not.

That includes not waffling over the supposedly puzzling question of whether waterboarding is torture. Waterboarding prisoners as we have done is torture, without any question or ambiguity. You are either with the torturers, or against them.

(Cross-posted)

Comments (70)

First of all, no one has been tortured in the so-called GWOT.

There has been NO TORTURE!!!

But let's assume your post is entirely true. If the whole lot of them were fiercely tortured to death, it wouldn't matter--they are a bunch of dirty scumbags.

That you spend so much time worrying about a fictional torture scenario that was supposedly inflicted on a bunch of WORTHLESS SCUMBAGS is a disgrace. Have you no sense of shame?

Count me "with the torturers", Zippo.

There has been NO TORTURE!!!

See here, for example.


Since its perfection by your standards that you want, you might as well go back to your flying lessons.

I'm with the torturers too.

Since its perfection by your standards that you want,

I'd be willing to settle for not justifying intrinsically evil acts with specious reasoning.

The sacrificial logic of totality, or what Philip Rieff termed the primacy of possibility, the originary womb of primordial potentialities, in which good and evil possess equal ultimacy - and are thus convertible with one another, meaning that good can be conjured from evil, predicated upon it as upon a foundation (think: worship of Moloch) - is apparently alive and well among many professing Christians, to judge by the fervency with which many Christians now defend war crimes. Evil, be thou my good, that I might prosper in this life!

And while I'm at it, allow me to dispense with the pernicious canard that this controversy amounts to an attempt to criminalize differences in Constitutional and legal interpretation. First, the President does not legitimately possess, under the Constitution, the metasovereign power to determine whether, when, to whom, in what manner, and for what duration the law is to apply, this being the Carl Schmitt-inflected theory of executive power upon which Bush's power to ordain torture was predicated. Second, the Constitution means something. We would not call it a disagreement over interpretation, as though we were instantiating the worst stereotype of postmodernists, if, for example, some Congressmen proposed a convoluted piece of legislation that amounted to the de facto repeal of the First Amendment. They would be wrong, and not mere purveyors of a differing opinion, and they would be sanctioned if they went too far in their scheme. Third, statutory law and treaty obligations criminalize torture, and the standards incorporated through those treaty obligations and legal precedent define as inhumane and degrading - and thus as torture - the very practices we pursued in the interrogation procedures authorized by the Bush administration, and legitimated by the Bushist Six. This is not a matter of interpretation; we perpetrated things that our own laws proscribe, things that we have damned other nations for perpetrating, for which we have demanded they prosecute their own criminals. There is no attempt to criminalize interpretation, merely an attempt to, you know, criminalize the already criminal.

The unwinding of the pro-life movement from the inside by strongly associating it with despicable moral wrongs that appeal to the political Right, the home of the genuine pro-life movement, is Satan's plan.

Their is no genuine home for pro-lifers in any political party, or ideological school of thought.

Forging practical political alliances are necessary for allowing our Christian faith to impact our daily existence, but under no circumstance does that mean adopting a host of other positions that contradict and subvert the basis for our pro-life commitment.

Important lessons have been learned the last 8 years. One is the ruin that flows from over-attachment to flawed and ephemeral vehicles for partisanship. The other, is of course the futility of investing in the political and legal process, while our communal and cultural lives collapse under the weight of abstraction, mobility and terminal busyness.

Satan loves it when we argue "values" but remain detached from the flesh and blood reality of our families and neighbors. As long as we are unable to introduce Christ to those around us, his plan for the destruction of souls will proceed apace. Most of the logic, and sound and fury of modern political discourse is conducted on Hell's terms.

The responses to your post above do not display "public airy academic ambivalence". They display a gratuitous zeal for torturing people. This is akin to "let's kill as many of those parasitical babies that grow inside women as possible". I understand that these people are not contributors, but what does it say about this blog that it attacts a good number of such people? Give me "public airy academic ambivalence" any day...

There is no genuine home for pro-lifers in any political party, or ideological school of thought.
I agree, at least as presently constituted. The political Right is the (current) home of the genuine pro-life movement, not the genuine home of the pro-life movement. "Genuine" modifies "pro-life", not "home". That is to say, there is no genuine pro-life movement on or within the presently constituted political Left, at all. While it is true to say that there is no genuine home for pro-lifers in any currently existing political party (though it is not impossible in principle), it does not follow that there is moral equivalence on the Left and the Right. There isn't. The Left is despicable, blasphemous, and vile; it is a place no genuine pro-lifer can find a home.

People often conflate category (good or evil) with gravity (how bad or how good), and vice versa. There is no excuse for a genuine pro-lifer to participate in the Political Left as presently constituted, at all. If 50 million abortions, capped by the covering up of the symbols of Christ for the visit of The Obama to Georgetown, does not make that obvious to every Christian; well, then nothing will. People who cannot see that the presently constituted political Left has no room whatsoever in any sense for any genuine pro-lifer are in need of something other than argument.

I should say though that the notion that there is no genuine political home for pro-lifers in principle is just wrong. It is not impossible in principle to have consistently pro-life politics; and if it is not impossible in principle to have consistently pro-life politics, then it is not impossible in principle for there to be a political party which is the genuine home of the pro-life movement. I have little patience for abstracting observations about present day particulars into false generalizations and assertions of moral equivalence.

They display a gratuitous zeal for torturing people. This is akin to "let's kill as many of those parasitical babies that grow inside women as possible".

Hey Minion,

The difference is this: those whom we would have receive torture are guilty. The babies who suffer abortion are innocent. Is this a distinction without a difference for you?

Death, punishment, torture, caterpillars, all of these may be justly employed by the state -- but only against the wicked.

The total prohibition against torture is liberalism pure and simple. (That's why it's the liberals who are most vociferous against torture. Duh.)

And liberalism, of course, sucks.


but what does it say about this blog that it attracts a good number of such people?

MM: I share your view of some of the above comments, but it doesn't say much of anything negative about a blog that it attracts depraved comments, especially when those comments are going against the point of the post itself. The blog (usually both administrator and post author) would be responsible for not taking down comments that should be struck down, but I don't think any on this post fit that description.

"The difference is this: those whom we would have receive torture are guilty."

We know this to be incorrect in some cases, correct in a few others, but with the vast majority we simply don't know. Many prisoners were turned in by Afghani warlords for a reward without any proof of guilt.

"Death, punishment, torture, caterpillars, all of these may be justly employed by the state -- but only against the wicked."

I suppose that you are asserting that in some cases, there is nothing one human being owes to another, nothing that ought to be respected, no image of God which may be defaced through intentional degradation. That may be your view, that is not a Christian view.

It is absurd to say that prohibitions against torture are simply liberal dogma, the vast majority of conservatives have held this view equally strongly until the last eight year (and some say conservatives hold on to their principles!).

I'm unambivalently against the torturers.

It makes me sad and disturbed to find so many of my staunch pro-life friends confused on this issue. Certainly the distinction between guilt and innocence is absolutely crucial, and it seems to me plausible (and borne out by this thread) that part of the dynamic here is a reaction against the left, which can't quite make up its mind about the murder of innocent babies but is full of righteous indignation about the waterboarding of evil terrorists. I share George R.'s distaste for seeming in any way to be making common cause with people who cannot seem the importance of the distinction between guilt and innocence. But such meta-considerations shouldn't blind us to the fact that torture is wrong and that waterboarding is torture. It isn't the *most horrific* torture there is, but that doesn't make it right.

And it's good to have somebody like Zippy to stand with on the torture issue who calls a spade a spade on the abortion issue and doesn't worry about being "polarizing" in that area.

I will add here too that I am a hawk on the death penalty and am all in favor of executing (swiftly and humanely) evil terrorists. And pirates, including Somali pirates, should be hung from the yardarm. So for me, the issue isn't some sort of general "Christians shouldn't hurt people" idea, much less anything remotely akin to pacifism, but only and specifically the issue of torture.

Ok, a couple things.

1) The misrepresentation of Gerald's point on subsidiarity. The issue, as I pointed out, is that subsidiarity in today's individualistic society (which is the context) when it is not holistically balanced out by other principles end with the individual, and the individual alone, makes the final decision (since they are the most local of all units to themselves), and so it would end up being pro-choice. If one wanted to add other qualifications to the subsidiarity and move it outside of the current American environment, it might not end up being pro-choice. But the context is the current environment. This is the same reason why "bringing it to the states" is not an answer, but just a side-issue.

2) "Academic ambivalence" is an ad hominem. The question is, is what is said to true or false? "Academic ambivalence" is a methodology used by many great saints (the schoolmen) to deal with difficult subjects; it's not immoral to engage subjects in this way, and indeed, it is one of many important ways to do so. If the intellectual dialogue is not your thing, that is fine; it is, however, anti-intellectualism when intellectual discussion itself is seen as a "bad thing." This is the kind of thing Pope Benedict has been working against (fideism). Reason is always necessary, even if reason is not sufficient in itself.

3) Once again, the constant misrepresentation of VN's stand on abortion is similar to the modern media's presentation of Pope Pius XII. They make a statement, and then just keep repeating it, despite the evidence to the contrary. They read into documents what they want to find, and ignore the rest. The constant reply on VN has been against abortion, and has been "we need to find a way which WORKS to deal with this crime against humanity." Do not confuse the question of method as a question of goals. Zippy's ad hominen about VN reminds me of someone complaining to the Catholic Church for rejecting the use of the nuclear bomb because "something had to be done."

Thomas writes:
I suppose that you are asserting that in some cases, there is nothing one human being owes to another, nothing that ought to be respected, no image of God which may be defaced through intentional degradation.

Absolutely not.

I say that the state has the right to tear flesh and break bones, but it has no right whatsoever to compromise the immortal soul. On the contrary, it is morally bound to allow to every soul, even that of him whom it intends to torture to death, the means to gain eternal life.

Have I now made myself better understood?

"Academic ambivalence" [about the abortion legal regime in the context of tens of millions massacred] is a methodology used by many great saints (the schoolmen) to deal with difficult subjects; it's not immoral to engage subjects in this way, and indeed, it is one of many important ways to do so.
Debate Club at Auschwitz, exhibit #345,786,291.

Zippy:

I think there is a great danger is employing the argumentum ad hitlerum fallacy to either the Vox crowd or those who want to have a serious conversation about what constitutes torture, just punishment, etc. When someone offers a counter-example to your moral position, you owe it to that person, if he or she is serious, to carefully, charitably, and intelligently offer that person a response. Calling such a person names because he or she happens to think that rational discourse is important undermines one of the first principles of liberal democracy: political liberty. A polity that denigrates rational discourse opens itself up to demagoguery and totalitarianism. And if you haven't noticed, we're creeping in that direction.

Every since the 1960s, the "social movement" ethos of self-righteous know-it-alls has inhibited rather than advanced civility. We've gone from Noel Coward to Perez Hilton in just two generations. They don't make gay men like the used to. :-)

Frank

Frank:

I'm not calling people names. I'm pointing out that speech is also a moral act, and that the morality of speech-acts is context-dependent, particularly when that context involves public speech about grave evils currently perpetrated under the color of positive law.

Also, I'm not even slightly concerned if anything I say "undermines one of the first principles of liberal democracy". I'm concerned if it is true. If it is true, and it also happens to undermine one of the first principles of liberal democracy, well, so much the worse for liberal democracy. I'm not exactly known as a free speech absolutist.

Frank, I've gotta say that the VN crowd deserves everything Zippy has thrown at them on the abortion issue. Really. I think you'd probably agree if you'd followed the long-running discussion on that front.

If there's one thing my recent re-reading of LOTR has done for me, it is to give me a great appreciation for plain speaking and clear thinking and an increased contempt for Saruman-like faux intellectual talk and fog-mongering. Zippy does a service when he blows away fog.

What is interesting in this debate is how the normal political dynamic is turned inside out. Normally, conservatives are the ones who have a sacred commitment to the principles of allegiance and obligation. This overrides or seriously diminishes concerns about negotiated principles of law and political debate. So when Nixon and GWB stated that a President cannot commit an illegal act as part of their Constitutional duties they mean it literally, the law is "just a piece of paper" when contrasted to their obligation to defend the country.

"Those who undermine the rule of law cannot credibly champion particular just laws, such as those that would protect the unborn. They destroy the foundation on which they build." - Kyle Cupp

"...what does it say about this blog that it attacts a good number of such people?"

What does it say about this blog that it attracts you?

Did you escape your attention that those posters were in violent disagreement with Zippy?

It is disappointing to see WWWTW attempt to draw a moral equivalence between the waterboarding of admitted terrorists and abortion.

"Waterboarding prisoners as we have done is torture, without any question or ambiguity."

The use of the word torture here expands the scope of the word to make it meaningless. Pouring water on the face of terrorists to get them to reveal plans that they hope would kill thousands of Americans has just been put on the same level as Saddam Hussein's infamous rape rooms or chambers were people were maimed and butchered for no other reason than Hussein (or his sons) found it politically expedient or even entertaining.

There was a more serious error made in the post though. It is wrong to put waterboarding (as done by the CIA) on the same par as abortion. Waterboarding some terrorists is no where close to the scope of the tens of millions of babies that have been dismembered and ripped from their mothers' wombs.

Jason,

Perhaps, but they are both demonic acts which should be condemned.

The Left is despicable, blasphemous, and vile; it is a place no genuine pro-lifer can find a home.

There are a great many people whose views on economic and foreign policy issues fall to the Left, but are not of the cultural Left and have little in common with the administration at Georgetown, or the leadership of the national Democrat Party. You should know that by now.

then it is not impossible in principle for there to be a political party which is the genuine home of the pro-life movement

Not in abstract principle, but in the practical terms of the present, there is little to be gained by much investment in staged political theater. If I recall correctly, that was your position during the last election as well.

Our civilization's descent into an anti-human dystopia cannot be arrested by either the conventional Left or the mainstream Right, as both serve, in their own peculiar ways to accelerate the process.


Jason,

"The use of the word torture here expands the scope of the word to make it meaningless."

This is nonsense; waterboarding has been understood as a method of torture when it was used by Spanish Inquisitors, the Khmer Rouge, by Soviet Police, and by North Korean forces. The legal definition of torture states that in order for an act to be torture it must cause "severe pain or suffering", and waterboarding induces the sensation of drowning, which is one of the most horrible ways to die--though at least when you're actually drowning the sensation cannot be repeated endlessly.

No serious person would suggest that the feeling of drowning does not constitute severe pain or suffering, and there is case law on the subject: the US prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding, found them guilty, and hung them. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/02/AR2007110201170.html

It has been officially confirmed that the techniques used were adopted from the SERE program. The explicit point of the SERE program was to train soldiers to withstand interrogation methods that violate international torture laws. These techniques used on soldiers (and on prisoners) were perfected in Soviet Gulags and North Korean prison camps. This is a matter of public record.

Frank, there is no serious discussion possible about whether waterboarding is torture. None. If it turns out (as some detainees have alleged) that sexual abuse of prisoners took place, we're going to see people try to redefine rape as "surprise sex", which is supposedly legal under US law.

The use of the word torture here expands the scope of the word to make it meaningless. Pouring water on the face of terrorists to get them to reveal plans that they hope would kill thousands of Americans. . .

It is a mark of how vile waterboarding is that defenders of the practice must describe it inaccurately.

Waterboarding is not "pouring water on the face." If that were the case, people would spill their guts in the shower. Waterboarding is controlled drowning. As such, it's in the same family with mock executions, which are unambiguously torture. We have never questioned whether it was torture until the US started doing it. The hair-splitting on waterboarding is the bastard child of American exceptionalism and consequentialism.

Thanks Zippy. I agree completely.

Last year I visited Vox Nova over a few days and found similar things.
One post, it might have been by Mornings Minion I can’t remember, tried to draw a parallel between Muslims in the US and Maccabean Jews! The US was being painted as the 'Rome' responsible for massive religious persecution.

Context: Massive immigration of Muslims to US and Europe because of its religious freedom!

Another post was scathing of PBXVI for 'intolerantly' stating the obvious, that there are limits to interreligious dialogue. PBXVI was anti Muslim and anti-Semitic.

Context: A focus of Joseph Ratzinger’s career has been theology of Jewish and Christian relatedness and interdependence. And his Regensburg lecture criticised restricted forms of reason - scientism/positivism and Quranic literalism - despotisms both.

And now you say they are apologists for the culture of death?! That the principle of the autonomy of the will, grounding the sacrifice of 50 million children, is defended with Catholic social teaching? This is a wicked inversion of Centissimus Annus and Dignitatus Humanae.

For any Catholic website to argue for a pro-choice position is unconscionable and puts them at risk of sanction under Canon Law. They should leave the Catholic moniker (which causes them so much angst) behind and join their program with Dean Ragsdale's.

In my travels around other Catholic sites I've noticed a barely disguised contempt for Vox Nova, its name is becoming synonymous with ignominy, treachery, and casuistry in the defence of moral cowardice.


The rest of us will follow real leadership http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/blog.cfm?id=402

We're starting to mobilise, and we have to act quickly because if marriage goes then Stanley Kurtz will be proven right - the next civil war in the US will be between the Judeo-Christian vision for America and the Nihilist secularist (this time the South will win). We need a great religious leader like Dr Martin Luther King to resolve this reasonably peacefully NOW!

Zippy is right it is wickedness to be ambivalent like the Vox Novians.

Bishop Finn is right we have to move NOW we are at war!


Martin,

No, VN is pro-life. Zippy misrepresents and his constant calumnity is a problem. Second, Pope Benedict's lecture really had nothing to do with Islam, and those who keep presenting Islam as the point do not get the point. You really are confused as to the discussion and points on VN. Third, gossip is gossip, and so it is best not to accept it and hearsay.

Henry's right. Benedict's lecture was not about Islam. It was a critique of sola scriptura, both Protestant and Muslim versions.

Lydia:

I carry no brief for the VN. My point is that guilt by association is still a fallacy. The fact that the Nazis waterboarded is not what makes the practice wrong. After all, the Nazis also drove Volkswagens and launched rockets. Does that mean that these activities are now immoral?

What I don't like is horrid reasoning that is corrupting to civil discourse.

Don't get me wrong, I like the occasional ad hominmen shot as much as the next guy. But it should be offered as such and with far less seriousness. Consider this example:

Last week several congressmen went to Cuba to praise the Castro regime. These are the same congressmen who are demanding that Gitmo be closed. So, the only prison in Cuba they want to impart human rights is the one with the least violations. Apparently if Castro ran Gitmo, he would be up for a Congressional medal of honor.

Now, that was good fun. But it really wasn't an argument.

Frank, Zippy's making a point by the "debate club at Auschwitz" phrase. I think it's an important point. The phrase has something in common with "fiddling while Rome burns," for example--sitting about making hemming and hawing kinds of talk that papers over the reality of some monstrous evil that is going on. The question, then, is not one of "guilt by association" (the phrase has nothing to do with some claim that the Nazis committed abortions, for example) but rather of the aptness of the analogies involved--abortion to the Holocaust, VN's way of talking about abortion as analogous to people who would sit about and have a debate club about Auschwitz or at Auschwitz about what is going on there, rather than condemning it thoroughgoingly.

And his Regensburg lecture criticised restricted forms of reason - scientism/positivism and Quranic literalism - despotisms both.

By far, this is the most correct assessment of the Regensburg lecture. Pope Benedict XVI was talking about "restricted forms of reason," (Martin's words) and he mentioned the "dehellenization of Christianity" (Pope Benedict's words) several times.

Second, Pope Benedict's lecture really had nothing to do with Islam, and those who keep presenting Islam as the point do not get the point.

Nothing? Since the lecture did mention Islam, then it has something to do with Islam. Of course, Henry might complain that I'm not giving a fair meaning to Henry's comments, that he merely meant that the focus of the lecture was not about Islam. Well, if that's the case, then Henry should notice that Martin did not say that Islam was the focus of the lecture, but rather short list of Pope Benedict's points regarding "restricted reason" that Pope Benedict did in fact include in his lecture.

Henry's right. Benedict's lecture was not about Islam. It was a critique of sola scriptura, both Protestant and Muslim versions.

This is by far the most flat description of the Regensburg lecture. Yes, I can find a critique of sola scriptura in there, but I would be left wondering why Pope Benedict mentioned Duns Scotus and voluntarism. The point Pope Benedict is making there regards the question, "Is God rational"? Since Pope Benedict's lecture is about logos (reason), this is an incredibly important question. Does God's will extend into the irrational? Can God do irrational things? Islam and voluntarism both claim that God is not "restricted" to the rational.

If God can be irrational, it means that reason is eventually pushed out of faith (or marginalized). And that's why "dehellenization" scattered all over his lecture. He is talking about theology as a science of faith and reason, and to restrict theology to a mere modern science (that is, according to the terms of modern science) or to mere faith is to do a disservice to the science of theology.

Here's the link to the lecture.

"The fact that the Nazis waterboarded is not what makes the practice wrong."

No-one is saying that.

The fact that torture is wrong makes it wrong. The United States has tried and executed people for waterboarding in the past, and has even prosecuted our own soldiers for it.

And many Nazi interrogator's weren't stupid enough to use waterboarding as a means of interrogation, unlike the Bush Adminstration; they realized that it produced highly unreliable results. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanns_Scharff#Technique

Lydia, thank you. When I first wrote it I thought "Debate Club at Auschwitz" was a great image - the debate club could be Jewish prisoners themselves, indifferent German citizens, or anyone really. It isn't a comparison to the Nazis, it is a comparison of moral horror as a speech context. It is an observation that there is a moral dimension to speech, most especially when that speech takes place in the context of real, tangible, actual moral horror. So Frank is right to see it as an assault on free speech at least in a sense: not in a legal sense, but in a moral sense. Speech is not "free" in the sense that we are not morally accountable for it: that we licitly can say whatever we want, including holding abstract ambivalent debates over the Jewish Question at Auschwitz or abstract ambivalent debates over whether abortion ought to be illegal in contemporary America.

Someone who is unambiguously pursuing the urgent overthrow of the abomination that is the abortion legal regime is morally safe in carrying on a public discussion about abortion. Someone not, not.

Zippy misrepresents and his constant calumnity is a problem.
The claims I made in the post are documented here, including a link to Vox Nova contributor Gerald Campbell's statement that subsidiarity justifies the pro-choice position and Henry's defense of Gerald's statements. I am more than happy for folks to evaluate the veracity of my statements on the merits and in their full context.

To the Anti-Torture Adherents,

I don't like the above characterization, but am simply trying to find a way to ask these questions to the whole spectrum of no-torture absolutists.

To preface with my own views, I would say that I am ambivalent on the "torture" issue and think it is justified only in very rare scenarios (the proverbial ticking bomb). Given that waterboarding seems to have been performed on a total of 3 people, it seems to me that it was used very sparingly and probably conformed to the ticking bomb scenario.

Anyway, to the "no-torture-ever adherents (again, I am not trying to be pejorative.), could you please explain to me how you think it is okay that we could fire a hellfire missile into the head of KSM but not to waterboard him? Or do you not think that killing him is acceptable either?

If you think that it is acceptable to kill him, perhaps your argument is that once he is in custody, he is no longer a threat. This implies that no one is now at risk once he is captured. But this seems wrong to me. People still are at risk and he knows who and why.

Or to make it more personal for me and you. Would you kill somebody who invaded your home to harm your children? I know I would and have a shotgun at the ready to do it. Would it be justified to pull the trigger on the home invader? If your answer is yes, would it be okay for me to use less-than-lethal force on him if I knew his buddies were holding my daughter somewhere? If not, please tell me why I can kill him to protect my daughter but not waterboard him to protect (i.e. locate) my daughter. If your sill answer yes (that you would both kill him or waterboard him, as I know I would), but you think waterboarding KSM was wrong, it seems to me that the only distinction left is that you would be willing to do it for your own daughter but not for somebody else's.

Does one have to be a complete pacifist to be moral? I am honestly looking for people to answer these questions, and not from legal perspective but from a morality/Christianity perspective.

Thanks,
Scott


...could you please explain to me how you think it is okay that we could fire a hellfire missile into the head of KSM but not to waterboard him? Or do you not think that killing him is acceptable either?
The background assumption seems to be that killing a person is the worst possible thing one can do, and that the morality of all acts follows some kind of heirarchy of priorities subordinate to killing. That is understandable with the background of an immanentized, atheistic, materialist world. But killing a person is not actually the worst thing that one can do, and indeed it is not even always morally wrong.

If we were talking about sodomizing KSM I would say the same thing that I say when we talk about torturing him. It may well be morally licit to execute him, but it would not under any circumstances be morally licit to sodomize him.

More abstractly, the moral point of view is deontological as opposed to teleological. Under a teleological view of morality, the morality of an act is always dependent on the end toward which it is directed: a sufficiently important end (at least in a hypothetical sense) can justify any concrete action. Under a deontological view of morality, there are some things we simply should not ever do, no matter what good we think we are going to accomplish by doing it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it isn't a question of what would be just if it happened to him. It is a question of what it is morally good for a person to do. The required perspective is that of the acting subject and what it is good or evil for him to choose to do, not an abstracted question about what events occurring to KSM would represent justice from a God-like perspective.

Scott, speaking for myself, I am a death penalty hawk and a self-defense, second-amendment rights advocate...and a no-torture absolutist. So what emerges from this is that, as Zippy implies (though I think he's a fair bit less of a death-penalty hawk than I am), it is worse to torture somebody than to kill him. I think this is fairly obvious and has been obvious to people for a long time. It was obvious (for what it's worth) to the founders of our country when they ruled out "cruel and unusual punishment" but expressly made provision for and obviously assumed the licitness of capital punishment. It's hard for me even to explain why this is true to someone who doesn't see it. Torturing a person is dehumanizing him, taking away (or attempting to take away) his human dignity, and damaging the soul of the person who tortures him. I refuse to darken my or others' minds with details of possible tortures, but look at it this way: If killing a person is the worst thing you can do to him, and if this means that torture must be okay if capital punishment is okay, then _any_ torture, however horrific, so long as it does not kill the person, is licit if capital punishment is licit. But since this is obviously false, there must be something wrong with the argument that torture is all right if killing in self-defense and/or capital punishment is all right.

If we were talking about sodomizing KSM I would say the same thing that I say when we talk about torturing him. It may well be morally licit to execute him, but it would not under any circumstances be morally licit to sodomize him.

I think we have to distinguish here between 'killing' someone (i.e. in the heat of battle or in an act of self-defense) and executing someone (i.e. drowning someone to death, as alluded to above). Surely, if KSM were attempting to kill you directly, whether in a battle or in hand-to-hand combat, it would be morally permissible to take his life. But an unarmed KSM locked and chained in a military prison surrounded by armed guards poses no such physical threat. If the man poses no immediate physical threat and is incarcerated, I honestly don't see how taking his life can be justified. Killing may not be as bad as torture, but it is still bad.

) The misrepresentation of Gerald's point on subsidiarity. The issue, as I pointed out, is that subsidiarity in today's individualistic society (which is the context) when it is not holistically balanced out by other principles end with the individual, and the individual alone, makes the final decision (since they are the most local of all units to themselves), and so it would end up being pro-choice.

As HK well knows, Gerald was NOT arguing about how subsidiarity would play out in "today's individualistic society." He was making a normative moral argument, not a factual argument. That is, Gerald was arguing that under the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity, he was morally "justified" (a normative term) in holding the "pro-choice position," i.e., leaving the choice to the woman. Both Zippy and I and others have pointed this out several times, and even Gerald is not enough of a liar to deny our interpretation. But Henry is. Make of that what you will.

Zippy, Lydia
I agree that there are fates worse than death and many examples of torture would qualify. So I don't actually think that my background assumption is that death is the worst thing that can happen to you, although I can understand why you said this given my post. Likewise for Lydia. You describe yourself as an anti-torture absolutist. But just leave out the word torture and just describe the behaviors that you would or would not do to get the information you needed to save a family member's life.

I definitely think that there are things that can never be done, but I have to say that it is hard to articulate what general principle tells you which things those are. I wouldn't sodomize sombebody; I wouldn't use my electric drill on their kneecaps; but I know I would push them against the wall with a neck-brace on; I would give them an open-palm slap to the face; and yes, I would waterboard them (or at least have somebody else do it who knew what they were doing).

I hate to take this argument down the path of "is this torture? well how about this?" ad infinitum, but this strikes me as a classic argument of a continuum of responses and some people will draw the line at different places. Is solitary confinement for one day torture? how about for a week; how about for a year; how about with sensory deprivation for a day, week, a year?

I fail to see the certainty that people have in saying that you are an "absolutist" or that people who are ambivalent are "wicked" (to follow the title of the original post). This is where the analogy to the anti-abortion argument breaks down. You can make a logically coherent argument that abortion is wrong is all circumstances including, to take the difficult cases, in the event of rape or incest. the baby is completely innocent of any of the circumstances that led to its conception and the outcome of "choice" here is discrete (death; no death) and discernable to all. However, the outcome and rationale of the "torture" case is continuous. There is a whole range of reasons to do it, reasons to avoid it and ranges of possible outcomes.

I would claim that everybody is ambivalent or a non-absolutist in this torture debate. Its just that some people realize/acknowledge it, while others don't. For most people who consider themselves absolutists, I am reasonably confident that I could generate a scenario and course of action that you would agree is not torture (and hence could be performed) that somebody else would say is torture (and could never be performed).

Scott

Scott,

Are you willing to say the same of other countries who torture as well? Are you willing to stand against human rights issues worldwide, or is America just special?

Abortion cases are no less 'continuous', though in different ways. If you are interested in a lengthy hubbub on the subject on this site you can look at the thread Ectopic Airliners.

[quote]Frank, there is no serious discussion possible about whether waterboarding is torture. None. If it turns out (as some detainees have alleged) that sexual abuse of prisoners took place, we're going to see people try to redefine rape as "surprise sex", which is supposedly legal under US law.[/quote]

Portraying me or anyone who finds the idea of waterboarding terrorists in order to prevent future attacks to also be supporter of rape? So much for a serious discussion.

George,

You said:

"Death, punishment, torture, caterpillars, all of these may be justly employed by the state -- but only against the wicked.

The total prohibition against torture is liberalism pure and simple. (That's why it's the liberals who are most vociferous against torture. Duh.)

And liberalism, of course, sucks."

I myself am not a Liberal. I am much worse than any Liberal. I am a Roman Catholic. I think it would be important for you to put 2 + 2 together here. If torture is only used against the wicked then it is very important for you to remember just who the LIBERALS consider to be wicked.

I stand with St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Universal Church. Or as you would refer to him a torturer:

"Our proposition is proved, fourthly, from reason. Granted that it is lawful for the State to protect its citizens from disturbers of its peace from within, by executing them with various forms of torture, then this is also lawful when there is no other possible way of defending those same citizens from external enemies; since, in order that the State may be preserved, it is necessary that all enemies, internal as well as external, may by kept off. And since this is the law of nature it is incredible that it should be set aside by the Gospel." De Laicis, Ch. 14.

http://firstbringthemreason.blogspot.com/2009/04/stirring-pot-food-for-thought.html

Have people actually become so twisted these days that a certain of these would have the gall to equate innocent babies who rightly deserve protection by the public at large from the travesty that is abortion with the seeming plight of the vile terrorists who have not only murdered many innocent Americans in the wake of 9/11 but plan to commit many more horrors still?

Rather than making it out to be that these blood-thirsty terrorists are as deserving of protection as the innocent babies, how about rightly equating the latter (i.e., scores of innocent babies) with populations of innocent American civilians who equally deserve such protection against the vicious cancer that is these terrorists!

Those who would protect innocent babies against abortion yet dare consider naught the protection of innocent Americans (which includes both innocent children and their families alike) should cease their efforts in the former since ultimately it would seem to become nothing more than merely an exercise in hypocrisy!

Zippy's point is well-taken. The nature of certain topics does demand an appropriate emotional dimension for the language and tone of the discussion, rather than the merely analytical, ambivalent, "airy" use of reasoning. I think it's true that both are necessary and good. The writings of Robert George on abortion and same-sex "marriage" are excellent examples of intelligent and rigorous argument that simultaneously communicate the seriousness of the moral evils involved. No one could implicate his writings in a kind of "disinterested" detachment that belittles what is at stake.

At the same time, I think it's clearly true that it is both easy and common for people to (unintentionally) substitute emotional rhetoric for argument, substitute ad hominem attacks for argument, or impatiently label people and put them into category boxes so as to dismiss their arguments. This last tactic is especially tempting among the educated (namely, us) who have knowledge of historical, philosophical and other cultural movements, etc.

Obviously, such labeling has good uses, understood as a part of the Adamic vocation of true and proper naming, but unfortunately the use of naming can be abused to conceal and dismiss rather than to reveal, and the tendency to resort to this tactic grows with the level of frustration felt by the parties involved.

I don't have time to sift through these comments to come to a judgment on this particular thread's evolution, but I will say that certain contributors on both VN and WWWW are not immune to the last tactic I mentioned and would be well-advised not to let their frustrations give way to imprecise readings of differing opinions, sloppy argumentation, bland accusations of being an [X], and smug dismissals--all of which hurt their cause in the end. Of course, the same goes for commentators, but expectations are lower for us.

And since this is the law of nature it is incredible that it should be set aside by the Gospel


I was wrong. The law of the jungle does not trump the Gospels. I've paid my penance, and now enjoy the Beatific vision.

You might want to repent too, and start to think with the Church and not the modern State.

Granted that it is lawful for the State to protect its citizens from disturbers of its peace from within, by executing them with various forms of torture, then this is also lawful when there is no other possible way of defending those same citizens from external enemies; since, in order that the State may be preserved, it is necessary that all enemies, internal as well as external, may by kept off.

This quote does not really seem apropos. The chapter is discussing the legitimacy of war. St. Robert Bellarmine is arguing that the state has a right to kill foreign enemies via war if it is necessary for the protection of the commonweal just as it has the right to kill domestic enemies via execution if it is necessary for the protection of the commonweal. The use of the word "torture" does not make much sense in this context. I would dearly like to read the Latin if it is available somewhere on-line, since there are a number of Latin words that can be translated as "torture" which can also be translated as "punishment." "Granted that it is lawful for the State to protect its citizens from disturbers of its peace from within, by executing them with various forms of punishment..." makes a lot more sense in context.

"If torture is only used against the wicked then it is very important for you to remember just who the LIBERALS consider to be wicked."

Or the MUSLIMS.

No whining from you torture advocates when the atheists or ayatollahs get around to doing it to us. You'll be like the pseudo-nihilists at the end of 'The Big Lebowski' crying "It's not fair!"

Sheesh.

"Granted that it is lawful for the State to protect its citizens from disturbers of its peace from within, by executing them with various forms of punishment..."

But considering the fact that at the time the state did execute people "with various forms of torture" in very much the normal sense--half-hanging, drawing, and quartering, burning at the stake--trying to re-translate this quotation in this way seems strained. For one thing, what does "various forms of punishment" even mean in the context if it is not a reference to various means of execution? But I can guarantee you that you couldn't get into various means of execution in the 16th-17th century without getting into what we would now call "torture." They just didn't have a bunch of different humane "forms" of execution back then!

Does one have to be a complete pacifist to be moral?

That's an interesting question (not that we haven't heard it before - see the link Zippy provides). Fortunately the answer is easy: No, you just have to be willing to recognize that there are certain things you can't do.

For one thing, what does "various forms of punishment" even mean in the context if it is not a reference to various means of execution?

That's exactly what it means.

But I can guarantee you that you couldn't get into various means of execution in the 16th-17th century without getting into what we would now call "torture."

I will not deny that there where methods of execution used at the time that we would call torture. But that does not make all methods of execution - even all methods used then - equivalent to torture. My point was that "Thomas More" was being disingenuous. The argument St. Robert is making is an argument by analogy for the legitimacy of a just war in which he draws comparisons between the just use of warfare and the just use of execution. One cannot take a sentence from such an argument out of context and use it as a proof text for the acceptability of torture.

As an aside, I would be willing to say that there were forms of execution used that would be torture today that it might be illegitimate to call torture within the context of the period in which St. Robert was writing. I would be willing to say that for the same reason I am willing to say that it is torture to waterboard prisoners but not to waterboard trainees during training, an argument I've gone through a number of times in a number of places, one of them being various comments here.

"Pacifism and the respect for pacifism is not the only thing that has led to a universal forgetfulness of the law against killing the innocent; but it has had a great share in it." - G.E.M. Anscombe

Zippy,

Just who exactly do you consider innocent

in that quote from Anscombe?

...who exactly do you consider innocent in that quote from Anscombe?
I don't have a comprehensive definition of who are the innocent which could answer every hypothetical someone might choose to throw at it -- see my other recent post. But a good cut at it is to say that the prohibition of killing the innocent is at the very least a prohibition of killing any person who is not choosing and has not chosen to engage in the attacking behavior that the killing is attempting to redress, block, or prevent. In short, the non-innocent are choosing or have chosen some attacking behavior. That understanding tracks my reading of Anscombe, and the Tradition, in addition to making perfect sense in its own right. Thus e.g. babies in strollers are necessarily and always innocent in the pertinent sense, and it is always immoral to deliberately choose to kill them no matter what circumstances obtain and no matter what reason motivates the killing.

Anscombe's point is that once all intentional killing is considered evil you inevitably end up inculcating the notion that in some circumstances evil must be done in order that good may result; and then the walls come down.

Anscombe's contended that since pacifism taught all war was evil, morally sane people threw up their hands, saying; "the hell with it then, sin boldly and let it rip" and therefore gave up setting limits on the way wars could be justly waged.

Seems a dubious stretch, especially in the historical context of when she wrote those words. Did "pacifism" hold much sway in the Europe of the 30's and 40's? By the 50's, Europeans were spiritually exhausted from the mindless carnage that consumed 100 million lives in two "world wars" and chastened by modern warfare. Besides, does pacifism hold any real grip on American public opinion now? We certainly have a talent for overcoming it.

It is hard to reign in man's bestial aspects once the cauldron of hate boils and the blood flows. Harder still to blame Quakers, Mennonites and your local Pax Christi for the breakdown of self-restraint when warriors seek a cosmic catharsis and satisfying retribution by punishing a population judged as guilty and unworthy of mercy.


Kevin,

Opposing Hitler's onslaught and his forces of mass-murdering executioners who themselves deemed a population as deserving even of genocide is not indulging in "man's bestial aspects" but, on the contrary, defying it; unless, of course, you should happen to think that killing off a certain people is all for The Good (which I hope is not the case and that this is indeed the very same "Kevin" who with such fervent devotion would fight for the Cause of the Protection of the Innocent, no matter how young & no matter what race).

In like manner, opposing the heinous regime of Osama and the Aims of his vicious blood-thirsty Terrorists in our present day who've massacred a number of our innocents (both young & old alike and even members of our own families) and seek to do so again is also not the same.

To say this is indeed the case not only strains credulity but also casts certain light concerning the very character of such a person who so happens to think/speak thus.

"Does one have to be a complete pacifist to be moral?

That's an interesting question (not that we haven't heard it before - see the link Zippy provides). Fortunately the answer is easy: No, you just have to be willing to recognize that there are certain things you can't do."


I agree that there are "certain things you can't do." In fact, I think that everybody on this thread, including those of us who are now labeled "pro-torture" would agree that there are certain things you can't do.

In fact I have given some examples of things I would and wouldn't do. In contrast, I have not seen a single "torture absolutist" articulate what you would or wouldn't do.

As my post earlier noted, there are a whole range of punishments that one can inflict to extract life-saving information from somebody. Some of these techniques everybody would agree are permissible (lock up in prison cell, see if they fess up) to ones that we would all agree are horrific and never permitted. So even some of the 'no-torture' crowd would allow some of the activities on a hypothetical list of increasingly tough methods. The thing that bothers me is the moral certainty that the anti-torture crowd pretends to when the real difference between you and me may be nothing more than I check one more box on the list than you do.

This observation is related to the political debate as well. The "anti-torture" crowd are never willing to come out and say "I would not waterboard KSM or anybody else to save even thousands of American lives, including in the ticking bomb scenario." Man-up and say it Pelosi, Obama et al. and stop hiding behind the T word. Say what you would and wouldn't do clearly so we know where you stand. You know they won't because they have not got the courage of their own (lack of) convictions.

So more to the point of the WWWTW thread who are arguing this from the moral rather than political angle. Lets get specific.... Two bad dudes have abducted your family and intend to kill them. You have caught one of the dudes and you know without a doubt that he knows the location of your family. Would you or would you not waterboard dude #2 to save the lives of your family?


Scott

I can see, Scott, that you have not been reading these threads very carefully. I said _expressly_ in one of them (it may have been the other thread) that Obama should not lie but rather should "man up" (my very phrase) and say that torture probably did make us safer and that it is wrong anyway. So in other words, yep, that's right: I would not waterboard anyone to save thousands of American lives, including in the ticking bomb scenario. No, I would not do it to save the lives of my family. I don't think anyone in these threads has been _coy_ about this.

And I don't really see the point of your continuum case. On the other thread I used the example of waking a terrorist up in the middle of the night to ask him questions--I and Zippy both said that this is morally all right. But you know--you can pretend people would call that "torture," but most people really wouldn't. And with good reason. Because it isn't.

It looks to me like you're playing the same game Zippy says lots of people on other threads play about this: "If opponents of torture can't say exactly what they would do about every single possible hypothetical, then nobody has to listen to them about waterboarding." Nonsense.

It looks to me like you're playing the same game Zippy says lots of people on other threads play about this.
Yep. I describe the phenomenon, and examples of it come out to play.

There is an interesting post and thread at Disputations about the same phenomenon, with more focus on the fallacy of the Keano Reeves/Jeff Daniels "pop quiz, what would you do" approach to moral casuistry.

Opposing Hitler's onslaught and his forces of mass-murdering executioners who themselves deemed a population as deserving even of genocide is not indulging in "man's bestial aspects"

Ari,
We're not going to debate WWII again are we? Can we stick to the point; pacifism no more brought the concept of Total War into being, than the Church's call for chaste marriages leads to premarital sex. It is sophistry and odd coming from a source like Anscombe.

I detest torture, and am horrified that my country decided that torture was a good policy to employ. I would not mind if Obama apologized for that instead of the other nonsense.

On the other hand, I am equally convinced that many of the things that were imposed on "detainees" that are being called by the name torture are not. As a result, I feel that the Bush administration should be defended to that extent at least. The World Court types and proto communists would prosecute our soldiers for waking up terrorists in the middle of the night. (And for less simple ways of creating disorientation.) That sure isn't right.

Is there a way of admitting that we done wrong, but not allowing the lib-freak world opinion to "win" its claim that all things American showing strength are evil? This is not all that clear. If there isn't, then I am willing to let muddy waters stay muddy for a while longer.

To take another step: Zippy, will you please start a thread on the difference between the police capturing a criminal and collecting evidence in a civilized state to try him, and capturing a soldier on a battlefield pitting combat soldiers against each other, and capturing a civilian terrorist on a street in a not-yet-stable occupied territory? While I agree that none of these conditions justify torture, I think that hashing out what the different conditions DO justify might help clear some of the air. While it is significant that those pro-harsh treatment have not adequately dealt with the fact that some of the detainees are not actually guilty of anything, the opposing side has not adequately dealt with the fact that calling someone "innocent" because they have not yet been tried and found guilty is considerably over-simplistic.

"I can see, Scott, that you have not been reading these threads very carefully. I said _expressly_ in one of them (it may have been the other thread) that Obama should not lie but rather should "man up" (my very phrase)"

Actually I have been reading this thread quite carefully but, I have not been going around checking other threads on the topic and had no idea any others existed.

The key distinction between your perspective and mine is the certainty that you have that waterboarding KSM was absolutely immoral and beyond the pale. To paraphrase Zippy, we can't even go there with a dry academic debate. To me and others, it is not at all self-evident that waterboarding KSM to try to save lives is an unambiguous moral evil, while not waterboarding him and losing lives is the clearly moral position.

Scott

there are a whole range of punishments that one can inflict to extract life-saving information from somebody.

Punishment is something handed down by a judge with lawful authority, after an appropriate legal process has finished its course. The interrogator possesses neither of these attributes.

The "anti-torture" crowd are never willing to come out and say "I would not waterboard KSM or anybody else to save even thousands of American lives, including in the ticking bomb scenario."

We've said it a hundred times.

I have not seen a single "torture absolutist" articulate what you would or wouldn't do.

We wouldn't torture. But that's not what really interests you. You want to know what we would do, as evidenced by:

Would you or would you not waterboard dude #2 to save the lives of your family?

I might, so it probably shouldn't be left up to me. Perhaps by "you" you meant law enforcement. No, they probably wouldn't. They usually don't. In fact, never. And I don't think you see the wickedness of such hypotheticals, which are merely exercises in rationalization to get where you want to go.

The key distinction between your perspective and mine is the certainty that you have that waterboarding KSM was absolutely immoral and beyond the pale.

Ah, so you're uncertain that it's absolutely moral and within the pale. It's a start.


To me and others, it is not at all self-evident that waterboarding KSM to try to save lives is an unambiguous moral evil, while not waterboarding him and losing lives is the clearly moral position.

What is it about waterboarding that makes it OK to you? Is it the fact that you are doing it to save lives that makes it ok?

Seems to me, but maybe I am misinterpreting you, that you adovcate an ends justifies the means position.

No, VN is pro-life.

Some posters are; others, not so much. It is contradictory to claim to be pro-life yet advocate for a candidate whose raison de etre is to protect the choice to kill the unborn. No matter how they try to square that circle (and boy do they try).

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