Thursday, April 23, 2009

Follow Up To Torture

EnviroMom responded to yesterday's post in a way that has caused me to think and extend my remarks:

The thing that disturbs me the most about all of this is that
we tend to feel, as a society and a species, as if we've evolved. But
intimidating prisoners to get them to confess to things for political gain, well
that beautiful concept dates back quite a bit longer than the Bush
administration. Think the Red Scare, the Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish
Inquisition...torturing confessions out of prisoners is not exactly a new idea,
and it doesn't make me feel any more hopeful about mankind's ability to learn
from its past mistakes.

That left me thinking about her point, which I'm going to both refute and reinforce (quite the trick). I think of all this as a case of the reptile brain gaining ascendancy.

When I'm confronted by something, someone or some situation I dislike, there's a part of me that wants to say, "Hulk Smash!" and get with the smacking down. I don't do it because it would be wrong (the fact that cops show up helps).

What we had in 2002 in particular was a freak out, where the government's reptile brain (Dick Cheney) ran wild. As I said, understandable. What is unusual is in this era when the consensus is that torture is wrong, someone(s) in the White House and the Pentagon, and for all I know, Langley, decided that, "What the hell. As long as we have the thumbscrews out, let's help W get his war on and smack those latte sipping liberal elites around a bit too...show that they're not really serious about defending the country."

The Inquisition, the Witch Trials (the ones in central Europe around that time, by the way, were FAR bloodier than their little American cousins) and so forth were conducted using what were AT THAT TIME, standard "criminal" techniques. Henry the VIII had the punishment for poisoners set at "boiled alive by being slowly lowered feet first". Torture was, in those days, the modern equivalent of putting a prisoner in solitary confinement.

Today, torture is no longer the cultural punitive norm (and that's a good thing, BTW). THAT'S what makes what Bush/Cheney did in service of their political agenda particularly vile. It's what makes Republicans today arguing that not using it reflects unseriousness about protecting ourselves reprehensible. They're trying to refight a long ago resolved discussion about what constitutes inhumane treatment.

That's why this is so dangerous. THAT'S why the current batch of Republican politicians and pundits who won't come out publicly and continually to state, "Torture is still always wrong," in the style of the 70s era Saturday Night Live Weekend Update that would always start, "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead," are contemptible. Until John McCain and Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh and Micheal Barone and Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes come out continually and say THAT, something they don't do...something in fact that all of them have directly or indirectly contradicted at some point in the last eight years, I really don't think the country is safe from them.

We are AT RISK, because some people saw an opportunity to refight the real "Culture War." The one between the Dark Ages and the Enlightenment. The forces of superstition and fear still want their drawing and quartering, and if the forces of rationality and enlightenment do not fight them, continually and with neither cessation nor mercy, superstition will win.

3 comments:

Clark said...

I hate the blockquote functionality here. Screw it. I'm leaving it.

really mad professor said...

You're right, of course--but superstition is hard to fight. For many people, God, or nationalism, or an inherent moral code are not merely superstitions, but the very condition of possibility for being in the world. Fighting it is like fighting against the wind--and I say this as a teacher who believes in the fight.

DoTheLeftThing said...

Josh Marshall said yesterday in TPM, "We need to get back to bedrock American values like torture and secession." Don't you just want to give him a hug?