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The Torture Culture

2017 December 16
by Ian Welsh

Ok, here’s the deal: Torture does not work to get information. Period. You do not torture people to get information, you torture people to send information, or rather, to send a message. What is that message?

(Originally from Dec 16, 2010, but it seems worth re-upping for a new generation of readers – Ian.)

We Torture People

That’s all the message is.

The US is a torture culture. The majority of Americans accept torture; they think it’s okay. This extends right through the society. Sure, it is in its rawest form in places like SuperMax security prisons (23 hour a day isolation is torture), Bagram and Guantanmo, but it extends down.  Glenn Greenwald recently wrote a piece on how Bradley (at the time, now Chelsea) Manning is being kept in constant isolation, refused sheets or a pillow, not even allowed to exercise:

Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture. 

In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article — entitled “Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?” — the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, “all human beings experience isolation as torture.” By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person’s mind and drives them into insanity. A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law explains that “solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.”

Then there is this:

Ariz. Rep. Michele Reagan, R-District 8, is better known for fighting for new laws, but now, she is speaking about her fight against a lawsuit. Reagan is being sued by her mortgage company after she questioned who owned held the note on her home.

“It’s really scary,” she said, “I think that this really needs to be brought to light that this is happening to people in Arizona.” Reagan had wanted to find out she and her husband, David Gulino, could refinance their south Scottsdale home.

“In doing research, I began to wonder if the lender even owned the note to my home,” she said. “So I sent them a letter and asked them and asked them several things. I want to know who owns my property. Am I paying the right person?”

Soon after, Colonial Savings filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Reagan and her husband. The company says the couple is trying “to rescind their home loan,” or back out on the loan.

“We’re not interested in walking,” Reagan said. “We’re not interested in saying we’re not going to pay. We just need a little help with the interest rate. I’m current on my loan. Never missed a payment. We’ve never been late. We were sued for asking too many questions,” said Reagan.

Suing someone who has done nothing wrong, putting them through all that, isn’t about stopping them from defaulting, it’s about sending a message: “This is what we do to people who dare to challenge us in even the smallest way.” Win or lose, the banks have sent a message, and they can easily afford harassing lawsuits, while ordinary people can’t.

Torture is just an extension of bullying, and the message of the bully is always, “I can do this, and no one will stop me.”

The porno-scanners and the gropes (which definitely include touching your genitals, btw, I have been “padded down”) are also along these lines. They won’t stop a determined terrorist, but they do send a message: We can do this and no one will stop us. And if you fly on a private jet (i.e. you’re rich or important), hey you don’t get groped or scanned.

Likewise, PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard shutting down Wikileaks donations was about sending a message. “It doesn’t matter if what you’ve done is against the law or not, we will shut you out of the modern economy, and no one will stop us.”

In the modern world, you’re either a someone or a no one. If you’re reading this, odds are that you’re a no one. And if you’re a no one, you’d better do what you’re told and you’d better not resist, or they will punish you whether it’s just or not, whether it’s legal or not, whether it’s “torture” or not.

This will only stop when the price for doing it is too high, personally, for the someones.

170 Responses
  1. December 20, 2017


    And here you are trying to deflect and distract once again. The subject here is torture, and yes, you have claimed to have a morally superior position on that. You have claimed in this very post that your willingness to torture makes you morally superior to people who oppose torture. And yet you cannot answer simple moral questions posed to you about your allegedly morally superior position.

    You love to talk down to others, but the reality is that your position is so weak that it can’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s sad.

  2. DMC permalink
    December 20, 2017

    Since we’re entertaining hypotheticals, what else would you do to save your spouse and children? Would you machine gun a dozen people in a ditch? Would you rape children? Would you agree to be a suicide bomber? Evil always justifies itself in terms of being “tough” and “strong” and “realistic”. But there’s an entirely different way to look at it. In declining to do evil even under dire provocation one demonstrates that one is one’s own master, whereas it is he who would be compelled by by the external that is truly weak. “All we had to do was threaten his family and he folded like lawn furniture”.

  3. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    @ DMC

    Great virtue signal!

    Let’s see you live it.

    You wouldn’t.

    It’s the hypocrisy I object to.

  4. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    @ NR

    SHOW IT!

  5. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    @ NR

    I think Hugh had the best response to you, from Dec 4:

    “I get you are a Democratic apologist and so reality compromised. But unless you are getting paid by them or are very rich, your interests and theirs do not align, and all you are doing is cheering on those who are screwing you over. Republican voters, of course, face the same reality disconnect, but as you engage in the same senseless tribalism, it destroys your credibility arguing that your tribalism is somehow better, and smarter, than theirs.”

    Let’s see, who has better judgment and insight, NR or Hugh?

    Everybody can vote on this.

  6. December 20, 2017


    Your continued avoidance of the questions posed to you speaks volumes about the weakness of your closely held position on torture and your own moral character.

    And now you’re even resorting to “Let’s you and him fight’ tactics.


  7. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    @ NR

    I think it would be interesting to see what others think of you.

    Probably as little as I do.

    BTW, your ‘questions’ miss the point I was making. Completely. Which you would know if you could read carefully. BTW, where’s that quote I challenged you to show? You’re just full of crap, a classic Dem-slave. That’s why I waste no time responding to you and your convoluted hypotheticals. They mix up the moral issue, they don’t clarify it in any way. Others will see that, I’m confident.

    Have you done the experiment with your wife and/or kids yet? What are you waiting for?

  8. December 20, 2017


    This is you earlier in these comments:

    “I’m very sorry for you, Willy, that you have never had anything in your life that you would consider important enough to torture another human over. Wife, child, mother, nothing?”

    Oh, but you’re not claiming moral superiority over anyone, oh no.

    “That’s why I waste no time responding to you and your convoluted hypotheticals.”

    You’re funny. The real reason you haven’t answered the questions is because you can’t answer them, and everyone here can see that.

    Like I said: sad.

  9. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    @ NR

    That’s the quote???????

    Thanks for revealing the true quality of your mental functioning. Each can judge for himself.

  10. December 20, 2017


    Yes, that’s the quote. You know, the one where you claimed that you care more about the people in your life than the person you were talking to, i.e. that you are morally superior to him.

    Each can judge for themselves, indeed.

  11. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    Thanks for the entertainment, clown.

  12. DMC permalink
    December 20, 2017

    “Our evil is the lesser evil, therefore it’s ok”
    Only applies when it’s one’s own ox being gored.

    Seriously man, you used to make arguments. What happened? Changes in the meds? Just spent too much time hanging out under the bridge, waiting for the the 3 Billy Goats Gruff? Lately, it’s been straw men carrying red herrings in ad hominem sauce(extra picante!). You pose an extreme hypothetical, and when posters try and engage with it, your best response is “Well, I’d like to see you do it!” That’s a weak response from a 10 year old. What IS the point of this hypothetical, that anyone can be coerced into anything with sufficient provocation? Go watch “The Usual Suspects”, in which there is character named Kayser Soze who has a very different answer to your little hypothetical. It’s also a good film.

  13. December 20, 2017

    And the fact that that’s your response proves once again the value your positions hold, i.e. none.

  14. December 20, 2017

    That last comment was addressed to realitychecker, btw.

  15. realitychecker permalink
    December 20, 2017

    @ DMC

    My argument is that it’s easy to claim moral purity and virtue for oneself if one has never been tested.

    But folks like to pretend that they would definitely pass the test if they ever were tested.

    Then they like to use that claim to pose as great paragons of virtue.

    I say folks who do that are lacking in self-awareness, at best, or are total hypocrites, at worst.

    I stand by that argument.

    It’s not my fault that all these morons are mucking up the discussion with their loony inferences and outrageously off-the-mark paraphrasings.

    Note that none will say, “I would let my child die rather than torture somebody who could help me save him.”

    That’s all you need to see, really.

  16. Willy permalink
    December 20, 2017

    rc once told me that as a blog newbie, I couldn’t compare to his “fifteen years experience”. Yet in all that time, after all that fiery preaching, he has attained exactly one disciple.

    The haplessly confused Peter.

    And Peter is a troll! It doesn’t get more pathetic than that.

    rc may need to consider taking his game up a few notches.

  17. Tom W Harris permalink
    December 20, 2017

    Get a room, guys. The stench in here is torture .

  18. Willy permalink
    December 21, 2017

    Are you saying you wouldn’t torture a feces flinger to save your child from the stench?

  19. Tom W Harris permalink
    December 21, 2017

    No need to torture the sumbitch. Just gutshoot him.

  20. realitychecker permalink
    December 21, 2017

    For the record, Peter and I disagree on more than we agree on. But I recognize that he has a decent mind, much better than most of the blatherers who love to attack him here.

    I am taking the liberty of reproducing my comment from the next post, the Opiate post, because there seems to be a crying need for it to put a plug in the flow of projections and slanders continually coming from my devoted attackers here. I fully expect those deranged attackers to simply brand it all as lies. I can’t help that.

    realitychecker permalink
    December 21, 2017

    Some pretend to want to understand my motivations, my ideology, probably my sexual practices as well (especially Willy, who I swear must be sexually obsessed with me, given his history and admissions here lol).

    Meanwhile, they are happy to fill their knowledge vacuum with any slanderous shit they can think up and blindly attribute to me. It’s farcical, and I admit I enjoy making sport of their stupidity when they dare to start up with me personally rather than honestly addressing our very real problems.

    But I am here for one simple reason–to expose faulty reasoning. Period. Because that is necessary in order to create a space for better thinking. And who can doubt that we need better thinking at this point?

    I’m not trying to tell anyone what to think, only not to cling to things that are demonstrably false. Because that is a good start, and because I am not grandiose enough to think I can fix it all, all by myself. Duh. I have great faith in the human mind when it has accurate data to work with. But not when it bases its belief systems on bad data or faulty premises

    All my studies and knowledge, both considerable, as well as my extraordinarily high IQ, tell me that you can’t build ANYTHING worthwhile upon a foundation of falsity. That is my most fundamental belief.

    So simple. Yet the morons who delight in provoking and slandering me simply cannot get the value of not basing their positions and belief systems on demonstrably false premises.

    That’s it folks. And that explains everything anyone has ever seen me do, here or in my years at Firedoglake.

    And yes, I get fed up with the constant flow of bullshit attacks that get directed at anyone who questions anything the Dem-slave crowd wants to push on us, and I will not suffer fools gladly; no, I’d rather humiliate them. and show how foolish one would be to buy into any of their delusional, authoritarian nonsense.

    And that is so easy to do, their mental defects are so obvious. I feel no obligation to tell mental defectives that they are actually genius thought leaders. And that upsets the pc, victims-only crowd. Too fucking bad for them. Grow up, the world is not child-proofed for you, nor are there any safe spaces in it.

    The meek will not inherit the earth. The clear thinkers will.

    Interestingly, we are all here at a blog that distinguishes itself by being willing to challenge Dem orthodoxy. So, who is it who is really out of place here, who are the real trolls?

    Strange days indeed.

    For any who care, that is the lowdown on me. Happy holidays to all.

  21. DMC permalink
    December 21, 2017

    Yeah, but the discussion was about torture as government policy, not whether anyone would torture anyone with sufficient provocation. So this started with a red herring and went from there. The cult of expedience is nearly as deadly as the cult of money, and expedience is what torture is all about. We don’t want to wait around and do proper interrogation, so we just start shocking the guy.
    Maybe you should ask some Argentinians or Chileans how they feel about torture as government policy. Accuse them of being hypocrites until they tell you about being on the receiving end of torture. Hell, ask John McCain his opinion. I’m sure he’d be delighted to give you an earful.

  22. Peter permalink
    December 21, 2017


    I don’t think anyone in the US is using torture for interrogation today or are planning to use it in the future, it’s illegal.

    What started this weird thread was the strange false statement that torture doesn’t work. Torture is evil so it can’t work seems to be some type of virture signaling taking the high moral ground. The act of admiting that torture may work in certain limited circumstances seems heretical to some people caught in the cul-de-sac of their limited vision.

    This is also a type of denial that fed the fantasies offered by some commenters here as they tried to defend the, torture doesn’t work, position.

  23. Willy permalink
    December 21, 2017

    I sometimes wonder what rc-coyote thinks about Republicans. Then I come to my senses.

  24. realitychecker permalink
    December 22, 2017

    @ DMC

    I said above that I do not support torture as a matter of government policy. That leaves only special cases where it might be considered.

    Having said that, there are numerous different framings one might pursue within the general topic of torture, and one could write articles on each if one had the energy (NR thought he had the right to DEMAND that I write such articles on a group of such different framings lol), but I thought it most important to focus on the individuals who had to decide whether to actually do the deed. Because there is a huge dishonesty lurking right at the foundation of the debate, namely, the pretense that the moral purists here would not torture to save their own child. It is a stark hypothetical designed to clearly make a very basic point.

    Do you not find it of interest that not a single purportedly pure and absolute torture opponent has come out and said, ” I would let my child die rather than torture the guy who could let me save my child”?

    What’s up with that?

  25. realitychecker permalink
    December 22, 2017

    Willy, you just can’t quit me.

    Take your hand off your penis!

  26. Sandy permalink
    December 24, 2017

    Wow, sooo many personal attacks on this forum. Why? This started out as a discussion about torture. State sponsored torture. We’re supposed to learn from each other, not attack each other. Who needs the unelected government power structure separating us, when we’re doing it for them?

  27. realitychecker permalink
    December 26, 2017

    No commenter here has even dared risk his/her supposed/alleged ‘moral purity’ by openly and unequivocally declaring, “I would choose to let my own child die rather than torture a bad guy who could save it, if that issue was squarely presented to me.” (If anyone did declare that, I would ask when they were going to tell their child lol.)

    Absent that, I submit that nobody here is really showing any willingness to grapple with the issue at the most basic level, which is, in fact, the only level where we as individuals could ever conceivably have direct control over the outcome.

    Why try to build a moral position on such a conflicted base?

    Maybe we should just get real about that conflict, instead, before we move on to gasbag and virtue-signal the topic to death?

    We do this kind of moral leap-frog thing on so many issues. It leads to contradictions. Contradictions mean that we are, at least in part, lying to ourselves and/or others.

    Think about if for a moment.

  28. Willy permalink
    December 26, 2017

    Anybody here would probably try to fight off an obvious, solitary attacker of their child.

    A few would begin to hesitate if it was multiple attackers. More would hesitate if the multiple attackers came with overwhelming force. Some might argue that it would be prudent to preserve themselves if the child’s demise was inevitable against impossible odds, so they might live to find justice another way, when the odds were more in their favor.

    Torturing to possibly prevent another child’s possible death, without credible statistics demonstrating all the pros and cons under all the various possible conditions, is highly debatable.

  29. Hvd permalink
    December 26, 2017

    Willy raises an interesting point. And following on that I would add that I would hope that I would not torture in RCs hypothetical but if I failed to live up to my own moral standards in that situation i would hope that I would be judged somewhat less harshly for my weakness. I would certainly judge others less harshly in that situation. My son and wife already know and understand. They know that I would never hesitate to risk my own self for their protection.

  30. realitychecker permalink
    December 26, 2017

    You guys are dodging, copping out on the hard part of the issue. Why keep adding different facts that change the overall picture, and complicate it?

    Willy is completely in his own hypo, not mine. (Quel surprise lol.)

    Hvd wants to focus on punishing the torturer, without exploring whether he is really any different from anyone else. If he is no different, why punish him at all?

    What is the problem with addressing the basic hypo which focuses directly on the individual’s moral choice? (BECAUSE—Is it ‘moral’ to argue for a government policy that is the opposite of what we ALL would actually do as individuals?)

    Cowardice of the intellectual sort, which does carry its own moral implications, I would submit.

    That’s a serious inquiry to hvd and to any others who are able to do nuance.

    What’s the problem?

  31. Willy permalink
    December 26, 2017

    “I would choose to let my own child die rather than torture a bad guy who could save it, if that issue was squarely presented to me.”

    Nobody here would choose to let their own child die. Everybody here would torture the bad guy who could save it. But only if the situation was so clear and obvious with enough corroborating witnesses that no sane lawyer would try to put their credibility at risk by mucking up the issue.

  32. Hvd permalink
    December 26, 2017

    Rc you are so obtuse and I’m beginning to think intentionally so which is incredibly boring. If I tortured under the circumstances you propose of course I should be punished but I would hope the system should provide some lenity under those circumstances particularly where willies most improbable circumstances apply.

  33. realitychecker permalink
    December 26, 2017

    OK, you guys are unwilling or unable to deal with the very basic issue I present.

    That’s the problem.

    And too many of us have gotten used to making the very same mistake you guys are making, i.e., putting the moral cart before the moral horse, to reach a feel-good conclusion without doing the underlying work.

    The underlying work would make clear the limitations of your feel-good solution, so you won’t go there.

    Got it.

    And, of course, it must mean that I am the obtuse one . . .that is really pathetic.

  34. Willy permalink
    December 26, 2017

    Why do you praise Ian in ways so egregiously kissbutt it borders on the pathetic, then chastise us for pretty much paraphrasing him? Is it so he lets you stay?

    Most people stayed on topic: Torture does not work to get information. Somehow you’ve morphed it into torturing bad guys to get the information before they kill innocent children. What bad guys? What information? What children? What are the real world conditions involving these bad guys, information, and children?

    The last sentence in the post:
    This will only stop when the price for doing it is too high, personally, for the someones.

    Does this mean (to you) that when the bad guys are torturing the someones too much, that we need to torture them back? Or should we preemptively torture them first before the price gets too high? Should we be admiring the style of the teacher from that Pink Floyd album? Should we have listened to Timothy Leary back in the day, like you appear to have?

    I don’t think people want a JD from Funhouse U.

  35. realitychecker permalink
    December 26, 2017

    Gee, Willy, if only you could devote a few IQ points to thinking.

    Ian is great, maybe the very best around, but not God, so we will disagree on some points. You are incoherent, as is your wont. I kiss his ass so he’ll let me stay, so why am I disagreeing with his take on this topic? That’s what puzzles you. Check your fucking premises, lazy brain. You got one wrong.

    I don’t accept anyone else as having the right to substitute his thought process for my own. I know how to test arguments, so I do it. I’m very good at it, but you have no clue.

    Would an original thought kill you?

  36. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    So help me oh wise one in telling me a poor ignorant fool how it is I miss your brilliant point? I know that I am not blessed with your extreme intelligence but I will try ever so hard to keep up with you if you could bring your brilliance to bear on explaining to me how I miss the moral dilemma you pose, how I resolve it for myself and how I believe it reflects out to the broader issue that Ian addresses because I, ignorant fool that I am do not understand.

  37. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    @ Hvd

    Don’t pretend ignorance when you are showing you are perfectly capable of providing the real thing. 🙂

    If you can’t understand that there is some kind of problem to explore when one urges for a govt policy that differs from what any reasonable person would do, if you, as a fucking lawyer can’t get that dimension of the topic, then you really are a moron.

    I’ve had the job of critiquing the work of many lawyers when I worked for a high level appeals court, so finding idiocy in the thoughts of a lawyer never surprises me anymore.

    Covering up your limitations with clumsy sarcasm doesn’t make you look any better, counselor.

  38. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    First I am not an attorney although my words have been cited by many courts as authority. Second the law is rarely if ever written to criminalize the rather remotely exceptional case that you posit. What you have posited comes far closer to a defense than it does a crime. That is why I suggested that it might be a cause for lenity when one has committed the morally abhorrent crime of torture. You as a lawyer should be familiar with these rather basic concepts pertaining to the criminal law. What you posit is akin to self defense as a defense to murder.

    Please stop calling people names and please try to show some respect to people attempting to think through difficult matters.

  39. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    @ Hvd

    Respect is a two way street; re-read your prior comment lol. I am a straight-up reciprocity guy. No surprises. Don’t play personal, and then clutch your pearls, OK?

    To the point: This is a moral question I am trying to explore, not a legal one. Although not a perfect correlation, the moral should always underlie and be consonant with the legal, would you not agree?

    The smartest judge I ever worked for told me, “Never make the quantum leap,” meaning make sure your underlying fact/premise firmly supports the one you are trying to build on top of it, because weak foundations are where the vulnerabilities of the argument show up and prove fatal.

    I think most are making the quantum leap when it comes to honestly grappling with the underlying moral question I posed very carefully and precisely in my hypothetical.

    Can you deal with that?

  40. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    I’m sorry but the moral question you posed was an exception not the rule and as such could provide a defense and should not be the basis of a rule whether a moral rule or a rule of law. People who commit moral and or legal crimes frequently believe they are justified but those justifications must always be weighed against their culpability. As an example I committed the crime of name calling by sarcasm but I thought I was justified because I believed you treated me with undeserved disrespect. As penance I promise not to do so the next time you call me an idiot. I hope you take the last as just the ironical joke it was intended to be.

  41. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    Btw, the procedural-substantive dimension was always a key criterion in doing a conflict of laws analysis.

    I was trying to introduce a powerful new tool, i.e. interest analysis, for use in any complex analytical challenge, to folks who never went to law school, not trying to deliver a lecture on current law in any particular jurisdiction.

    I hope you appreciate the distinction.

    I value the knowledge-sharing function of places like this. It’s interesting to see how much resentment that brings out lol.

  42. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    @ Hvd

    We are on totally different frequencies, I’m afraid. I’ve made my point clearly enough, I think.

    I have no desire to joust with or disrespect you. I learned young to always hit a bully back. Reciprocity rules in the real world.

    These are serious topics to me, I have studied them deeply over a long period of time. I’d much rather have a high-level discussion than a low-level one.

    Maybe you could contort yourself enough to see it from my POV for a moment? It might take you to more interesting places than I am willing to laboriously type out in great detail.

    Anyway, let’s not fight.

  43. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    As to your last comment I believe that weighing culpabiliy against justification represents exactly the sort of interest analysis that is involved in the choice of law decision. Here it weighing the interest of society in preventing the morally repugnant act of torture with little or no justification against the interest of an individual who genuinely believes that the life of his child is in jeopardy and that torture can save his child’s life . In the criminal law we normally ask if this mans belief is what a reasonable person would believe ( here with respect to the torture part) under the circumstances. Unfortunately I am in agreement with Ian and don’t really think that it is reasonable to believe that torture will bring about the desired result but certainly understand a person who is willing to hold onto such a thin reed in such traumatic circumstances. I’m not willing to extend that thin reed to people not facing so explicitly dire an immediate threat. Which brings us to the cusp of broader questions with respect to the imminence of the threat that terror in the name of Islam poses to the west but will not go there because I don’t want to sidetrack this discussion. I will note however that within the context of this discussion those who engage in such morally and legally criminal acts as murdering civilians believe they are justified because of the existential threat they believe the west poses to their families.

  44. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    We crossed paths here and I was addressing your prior entry. In my previous one. As to your last I refer you back to my previous ones which I believe were an attempt to seriously address your POV. If this is not the case then I truly cannot fathom your POV.

  45. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    @ Hvd

    With respect, posing precise hypotheticals in order to precisely present an issue has been an accepted practice in Western civilization at least since Socrates. It’s how we train lawyers now.

    My hypo removes all the uncertainties and ambiguities you address, which complicate the basic underlying issue and takes us away from the purely moral focus I am trying to maintain.

    You must understand that morality underlies the criminal law. I got an A in a course called Morality and the Law, with a highly decorated professor. So I’m not a newbie to these discussions.

    It is strange to see people urging their govt to do the exact opposite of what each would do in their own lives in the analogous situation. Maybe we need to think more about all of this stuff, is my point.

    Why am I getting attacked for that, one might wonder. 🙂

  46. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    I for one am not attacking you but I am disagreeing with the efficacy of your argument. Both moral and legal ambiguity are the essence of the matter. Removing that ambiguity does not really help us when the reasoning behind the removal is circular. It is simply wrong to argue that the existence of a particular justification or defense obviates the crime. Murder is both illegal and morally wrong. Neither is changed if you murder in self defense. However we let you off the punishment hook if you can make out the defense – if it can be shown that there is a rational justification for your act. The act however is still murder. We don’t throw that baby out with the bath water – we simply live with the explicit ambiguity. The terrorist knows that it is morally and legally wrong to kill civilians but believes it is justified. It is up to us to accept or reject the justification. This does not nor should it be intended to obviate the crime.

  47. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    @ Hvd

    I am sincerely trying to engage with you on this, but I am seeing basic assumptions that are so different, we may be condemned to stay in disagreement.

    But I will try one more time.

    When you say, “murder in self-defense,” we are immediately at odds, because that is not “murder.” And it is not immoral to self-preserve against a deadly threat. You are revealing a major disconnect between us right at the beginning.

    I don’t know where you got that idea (certainly not from a defense attorney lol), but that does not even meet the legal definition of “murder.”

    More to the point, you are already concluding the act to be immoral at the point when you move to the consideration of punishment. Without immorality, you have no fundamental basis to want to punish, or any justification for doing so..

    I want to explore the morality or immorality of the initial act, you are starting from the point where we have all already AGREED that it is immoral.

    I think there is an intriguing discussion to be had about that initial act–i.e., how can we deem it to be so immoral as to call it “evil” if the govt does it in special circumstances, when it is only the same moral calculation as we all would make, and choose to act on, in analogous circumstances?

    Don’t you detect even a whiff of hypocrisy embedded somewhere in that? Shouldn’t we want to better ourselves by honestly addressing it?

    Sure, torture scenarios like I pose are rare, but they do happen, and the moral issue is validly examined, IMO. Because we build a lot of other reasoning on our concepts of morality. And, frankly, that sloppy process, as practiced, is just the tip of the iceberg. We are fucked up in so many areas now, for very similar reasons, IMO.

  48. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    Also, note that there is ZERO punishment for an actual self-defense killing, not just an amelioration of punishment. So, your assumption that the parent in my hypo MUST be punished somehow, only holds if we decide it was immoral to hurt the bad guy and save the child. I say that there is a real debate to be had on that, and the silence in response to my challenge to assert that the child should die is deafening evidence of the difficulty of the debate.

  49. Hvd permalink
    December 27, 2017

    You are right that we disagree on fundamental concepts but I can assure you that under the MPC adopted by many if not most states justifications (defenses) only provide as the very name makes clear, justification for the commission does not negative the offense only the punishment and ultimately our disapprobation. After all “thou shalt not murder” remains the injunction to which we mortals may but in this case I was justified. I see no hypocrisy in this. Just a warning that you better be damned sure before you pull the trigger.

    Further to that it is well understood that the torture of even insects and other small creature by children is an early sign of likely psychosis. That is because it is obvious even to a child that causing unnecessary suffering to any sentient creature is wrong, immoral. Might it be justifiable under certain circumstances – maybe but you better be damned sure both that you’ve got the guy who has the information, that your child is really in danger and that torture will save your child’s life. You probably could morally get away with the first two out of these three but the point of Ian’s post and a point that most of us agree on is that there is little or no proof that the third is even possible and if it is possible whether it would be necessary to get the desired result. The fact is that the proofs that do exist seem to point in the opposite direction putting the reasonable person formulation in doubt. Thus a civilian might get away with a real though unreasonable belief defense which would not be available to a professional or government official both of whom are charged with knowing better. What about the terrorist who, in his culture has a reasonable belief in the necessity of his action.

    Finally I have to add two very important words to this discussion – due process: which is hard enough to achieve under even the very best of circumstances.

  50. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    @ Hvd

    We must live on different planets lol. You are not getting anything I said to you. Not anything. Seriously, I’m baffled.

    E.g., my hypo had no uncertainties in it, as I have pointed out repeatedly, yet you persist in supplying and relying upon multiple uncertainties in your arguments. Nobody poses a moral question that way. KISS-you know what that means?

    It’s OK. At least we were mutually respectful in our disagreement lol. Much better that way. I mean that.

    I would be interested to know if anybody here understands or has other thoughts about the concepts that you and I are differing on.

  51. realitychecker permalink
    December 27, 2017

    FYI, this is the legal definition of “murder.” (Scroll to the bottom, I suck at copy/paste lol.)
    FYI, self-defense equals justification.
    FYI, if it’s justified , it is not a crime, nor a moral offense. No liability, no punishment.



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    The unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse.

  52. MojaveWolf permalink
    December 28, 2017

    I would be interested to know if anybody here understands or has other thoughts about the concepts that you and I are differing on.

    I agree w/y’all that as far as morality is concerned, you seem to be working off such a different set of opening assumptions (or from such different paradigms) that having a meaningful discussion may be pointless. (also, we’ve gone somewhat far afield from state sanctioned torture, where I think we all agree w/Ian on the “this is a bad idea” part & the “it is currently used as a form of bullying and terrorism” part? — even if we don’t all agree that it never ever works?)

    From a legal perspective on self defense/defense of others tho, yeah, RC is right. “Not guilty” means “not guilty”, not “guilty but we understand where you were coming from so we’re not gonna punish you” (which is something that happens, via suspended sentences or sentences of “time served” or to probation or what have you,” it’s like the difference between “exculpatory”and “mitigating. ”

    From the CA Criminal Jury Instructions:

    Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another (Non-
    Self-defense is a defense to . The defendant is not guilty of (that/those crime[s]) if (he/she)
    used force against the other person in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense
    of another). The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of
    another) if:
    1. The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone
    else/ [or] ) was in
    imminent danger of suffering bodily injury [or was in imminent
    danger of being touched unlawfully];
    2. The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of
    force was necessary to defend against that danger;
    3. The defendant used no more force than was reasonably
    necessary to defend against that danger.
    Belief in future harm is not sufficient, no matter how great or how
    likely the harm is believed to be. The defendant must have believed
    there was (imminent danger of bodily injury to (himself/herself/ [or]
    someone else)/[or] an imminent danger that (he/she/[or] someone else)
    would be touched unlawfully). Defendant’s belief must have been
    reasonable and (he/she) must have acted because of that belief. The
    defendant is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable
    person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If the defendant
    used more force than was reasonable, the defendant did not act in
    lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another).
    When deciding whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable,
    consider all the circumstances as they were known to and appeared to
    the defendant and consider what a reasonable person in a similar
    situation with similar knowledge would have believed. If the defendant’s
    beliefs were reasonable, the danger does not need to have actually
    [The slightest touching can be unlawful if it is done in a rude or angry
    way. Making contact with another person, including through his or her
    clothing, is enough. The touching does not have to cause pain or injury
    of any kind.]
    [The defendant’s belief that (he/she/ [or] someone else) was threatened”

  53. MojaveWolf permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Re: RC’s question: “Why are we asking the gov’t to behave differently than the way we would in our private life?”

    1. You don’t torture prisoners as a state entity, aside from moral grounds, due to the purely pragmatic reason that there is an expectation of reciprocity–i.e. “you don’t torture our guys if you catch them, we won’t torture yours if we catch them.”

    2. The government rarely, if ever, is going to have the exact sort of incentive RC was hypothesizing.

    3. To the extent it might, everyone raise your hands if you trust most governments to reliably, or even more than half the time, make the right call on this sort of thing, that is, when torturing might be both justifiable and useful . ::waits:: I am assuming no one is so stupid to have just raised your hand. If you don’t trust most, or the opposition party, given that you can’t count on people you do trust being in power all the time, you shouldn’t ever want to give any of them that power. I think our own government (and many others are actually worse, some much worse historically, though some are better and many are better now) has proven that giving them or allowing them to take this power is a bad idea.

    4. For those rare situations where it is deemed to be a good idea, that’s why you have off the books operations. Or, you can have people decide to sacrifice (or at least risk) their own career/future-outside-of-jail because they think it is worth it. If SEVERE punishment is near-certain for the guilty parties, then you could maybe more likely trust them to make the right call (AND if you can trust higher ups not to order someone to do it under threat of worse or lying to them that they would keep them out of trouble, tho most likely what you will always run risk of is people trying to do it and get away with it; to prevent this, I understand the desire to spread the idea that it can never ever work. I also understand the pushback, as this can lead to things like the idea in some modern theories of politics, law or what have you that “the narrative is more important than the facts” so that people think it’s perfectly okay to select the narrative that they think will best lead to the ultimate outcome they want, regardless of whether this narrative accords w/facts. Again, as w/torture, their may be times where this is justifiable but as a matter of policy, never ever (and in the case of torture, assuming you believe it can/does sometimes work to extract information, you have the two goods pushing against each other, as to whether to acknowledge this, since you don’t want people actually doing it and you don’t want to lie and you don’t trust your fellow humans who would be in the position to make these decisions, for the most part)(there are also all sorts of other arguments against torture, but I’m not about to reread this entire thread to see if anyone has made them; I’m pretty sure they’ve been made here somewhere in the past).

    Waaaaay off topic, from previous comment, the whole idea of “self defense against future harm, no matter how likely, is never an excuse for “x”” as stated in the code above is truly problematic imo (tho again, I understand where it comes from, as making this definitionally acceptable would certainly result in some people just making up shit and then whacking someone and claiming innocence via fear of future harm; but as it is, you’re forcing people to choose between death and lying about circumstances after the fact (or weird legal contortions like various syndromes that basically already act as a workaround to this) and would be the topic for an interesting discussion, though I suspect the discussion would again result in people with wildly differing worldviews talking past each other.

    I just woke up and now need to go back to sleep; hopefully all this makes sense.

  54. Hvd permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Im away on holiday and so do not have the resources or the will to follow up on the close legal argument re: murder at the moment however I think it is partially beside the point. I assume that you would agree that torture without justification is both morally and legally wrong? If so then the use of torture depends on the justification. You pose a unique and very particular justification. I respond to you in a detailed way as to if and when that justification might excuse the wrong because your suggestion that the hypothetical had no uncertainties is simply wrong or, if all of the variables have a definite answer is not illuminating as to other situations that do not have such clear answers. And this is the crux of the matter. Without due process (and all too often with “due process”) my experience tells me that in real life the answers to the questions I posed are not as clear as the hypothetical you posed. Further to that it is not at all hypocritical to say that some justifications to a moral or legal wrong are acceptable while others are not.

    I think your fallacy lies in arguing that the existence of a narrowly and rarely achievable justification somehow renders hypocritical a refusal to accept other justifications that do not have the certainty or reasonableness that your posited hypothetical has. Again the point of Ian’s post was that the weight of the evidence is that notwithstanding the answers to the first two questions I posed the answer to the third in real life is at best equivocal and in fact is far more likely than not to be negative.

    Finally as my invitation to you to consider the terrorist who believes himself justified in killing civilians because he can answer my three questions in the affirmative makes clear, it is appropriate for others to judge that action. Whether they or the terrorist is the hypocrite depends on the facts which as you know always belong to the victor.

  55. Hvd permalink
    December 28, 2017

    Except I have to point out to both rc and mw that the defense is only offered when there is an assumption that the state has proved all of the elements of the offense.

    Regardless, as mw’ s recitation of the jury charge shows there must be some degree of certainty as to threat and some degree of impossibility for resolution short of killing force before the self defense justification applies. The same should surely hold true with regard to torture. There also should be some certainty that the guy you’ve got has the actual information and won’t lie to you as peter’s story about Japanese torture of an American in the Russia thread illustrates.

  56. realitychecker permalink
    December 28, 2017

    @ MW and Hvd

    Responding to both, because your arguments overlap to great extent, and also because I am also busy today with other things. (Which is not to say this is not an important discussion.)

    First, MW, I know you are going thru tough stuff now, and it appears you say you did not read all the preceding comments, so let me, for clarity’s sake, just say that I have said at least twice on this thread that I do not and would not approve any kind of regular govt policy to torture; I’ve done all that is humanly possible to make clear that I am only dealing with the special cases where my certainty criteria are reasonably met. So, that obviates a lot of what you typed, and , in fairness, so also many points made by Hvd and others who just won’t accept the careful definitions of the hypo that I have offered just so we would not have all these what-about-if additions, subtractions, and alterations of the fact pattern to be debated. If we depart the hypo, we get a very unfocused discussion.

    I really don’t know why this is so difficult: Logical arguments have been conducted for many centuries in the way I am trying to do it here. The hypo sets the facts which serve as a launching point to frame and focus the dialogue on the specific moral issue to be examined.

    Here, all the comments are talking about things that do not apply to my hypo AT ALL.

    I know it is uncomfortable to deal with the base issue directly, but the various avoidance tactics and obfuscations being so strenuously and blindly offered are, to me, evidence that we really do need to explore this territory in a fresh and honest way. From the ground up.

    As to the relevance of my hypo, it is meant to be as analogous as possible to the situation the govt faces when the same criteria are met. The govt has the same responsibility to preserve life as the parent does re the child. There are some deviations between the two situations, but not enough to negate the basic similarity. Would anyone argue that they would not torture to save a million innocents? Ten million? We can discuss these hypos as theoretical facts, that is how complex and difficult issues always get debated. Start at the bottom, though, with the individual in my hypo, then expand from there if you want. As of now, nobody wants to deal with the difficult stuff that is in plain sight right there at the bottom.

    I am trying to get to a big underlying truth that is not being noted by most, namely that there is a lot of moral purity posturing, which is cheap and easy and feels good and virtue-signals to all our friends, but the reality is none would live up to that purity in reality. So, to me, we really need to talk more about this stuff.

    Eventually, the conversation would require a definition of what we mean by morality. Right now,
    we don’t have one that accords with reality. I would query, can we properly label something as immoral, or even “evil,” as some have done, if each and every one of us would have done the same immoral or evil thing? And, are we moral to pretend that it’s not OK for the govt to do that evil thing, unless they lie about it and conceal it?

    To me, these are absurdities that deserve to be explored, and our belief systems re-calibrated accordingly. I don’t know exactly where we end up, but I want honest discussion to lead us there.

    To Hvd specifically, you are simply misunderstanding the meaning of courtroom procedures. The state goes first, and yes they must make a prima facie show of guilt. But then the defendant gets his first opportunity to offer his affirmative defense.


    You are acting like the defendant should offer this defense BEEORE he is charged and presented with the evidence against him. That is absurd on its face, more so when you speak of your devotion to due process. Think about it.

    Courts like orderly procedure , that’s all.

    The prosecution gets to raise the suggestion of guilt, but the affirmative defense of self-defense NEGATES that, and restores the defendant to innocent status.

    This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding on your part of how courts actually work.

    (I have made this area something of a specialty since 1985, and did my legal internship with Barry Scheck (OJ trial, Innocence Project). I don’t speak on self-defense lightly, but I see that most progressives do, and often, and with much misplaced certainty.)

  57. realitychecker permalink
    December 28, 2017

    @ Hvd

    You know, I have long thought you were a lawyer. Maybe just because I’ve seen you weigh in on many things where you appeared to have a professional level of understanding. But this conversation has mad.e it clear you are not familiar with how the legal community works and thinks.

    I note you have said your work was cited in legal contexts, so now I am wondering what is the flavor of your expertise area or areas? Not to ad hominem you (like I get automatically ad hominem’d if I reveal my legal background lol), but just to understand better what your training looked like and where you are coming from. Because we have truly had a lot more difficulty communicating here than one would have expected. I know you are intelligent, so I seek an understanding/explanation of why.

  58. Hvd permalink
    December 28, 2017

    I publish legal analysis and am responsible for the content of our books and online service. In that role I have written a significant portion of our content. I am very very familiar with procedure. I was not commenting on procedure. I was commenting instead on the shape of the law with respect to charges and defenses. There is no need for an affirmative defense if the elements of the crime have not been proved and it is a fundamental truism of the law that a defense is not meant to negative elements of the crime but provides instead a justification for the act when all of the elements have been proved. Of course that is why insanity is different in that it negatives the men’s tea element of a crime.

    All that aside I believe your hypothetical oversimplifies to the point that it becomes useless inasmuch as the circumstance you posit with all of its certainties rarely if ever exists particularly for state actors. Second I don’t know how you get from the point where a person with perfect knowledge that justifies action which otherwise would be considered immoral (you do believe that unjustified torture is immoral don’t you) somehow raises moral questions about an unjustified act that is understood to be immoral. Once you acknowledge less than perfect knowledge on the part of the actor you are caught up in all of the complications that judging justifications entails.

  59. realitychecker permalink
    December 28, 2017

    @ Hvd

    I think the main problem here is you have insisted all along on seeing the issue through what you think is a legal framework, or what you think is pragmatic, real-world POV, while I have openly insisted on treating it strictly as a moral issue. The legal and the moral intertwine in various ways, and that gets confusing. Which is why I tried to keep the focus on the moral. Once you have a rational moral stance you are ready to go on and actually make laws based on that morality, NOT the other way around. I think the moral issue is where the real intellectual action is. That’s why I am doing this.

    You also insist on keeping the fact situation complex, which also makes it impossible to focus on the complex and subtle issue I am trying to set up for discussion.

    So, you been putting a lot of effort into not addressing the issue I posed.

    You are also incorrect on your legal view of the self-defense issue. Interesting that you want to start your analysis with the point after the prosecutor has presented unrebutted evidence. But I prefer to start in the right place, where the defendant has the presumption of innocence.


    Completely different, and more correct. Would you say the prosecutor cannot erase the presumption of innocence with his own presentation? Absurd!! I hope you can see it. Same thing happens when the defendant enters his affirmative defense to negate the prosecutors presentation. AND, the prosecutor did not PROVE anything with his presentation, not in the court’s eyes. He has only showed enough to get into court. Period. You act like the ,game is over, when it is just beginning. You’re plain wrong on this.

    AND, some affirmative defenses are partial, and some are absolute. Self-defense is an absolute one everywhere that I know about. If it holds up, you are as pure as the driven snow, morally as well as legally.

    Maybe some time we can debate the hypo I actually posed–I tried to illuminate comments above why I think that is the gateway to a very necessary series of discussions. I’m not trying to waste anybody’s time here.

  60. Willy permalink
    December 29, 2017

    “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself” may stretching a bit, but the point should be clear. Experienced attorneys may be needed to do most of the debating, but at the end of the day, it’ll be the average citizen who must come to understand and accept their conclusions (unless the goal is to replace the PTB with lawyers).

    making this definitionally acceptable would certainly result in some people just making up shit and then whacking someone and claiming innocence via fear of future harm

    Of course, the PTB ‘representing’ the rest of the USA have never done this sort of thing. The way things are today, even if the ABA unified to proclaim in one voice that the way our current government operates is unconstitutional, do you really believe that all of the PTB, and all of the six year olds, would automatically agree with the lawyers?

  61. realitychecker permalink
    December 29, 2017

    All this quasi-legal bullshit is completely irrelevant to the moral issue presented by my hypo. And which I am trying to explore in an honest and intelligent way.

    Pay attention now.

    Legal is about what is, moral is about what ought to be.

    Even Willy’s six year ought to be able to understand that distinction, and that it requires a very different conversation to debate and analyze the moral than is required to blindly parrot the (supposed} legal.

    How confusing-I thought folks here were all about what ought to be . . .

  62. Mojave Wolf permalink
    December 29, 2017

    @RC – With respect to your hypothetical, I don’t think many people are arguing with you. If someone kidnapped someone I loved or was involved in it and I thought they could give me information to save that person and they weren’t doing it and I believed a sufficient amount of unpleasantness could remedy that situation, it’s time to bring on the pain if need be (and I’m pretty sure most people offering an opinion have gone on record saying the same thing)(which somewhat surprised to me given the general political tilt of the commentariat here). And no I don’t think that would make me or anyone else doing it a bad person.

    I think you were more less assuming that answer so you’re real question was then why are we having issues with the government doing it. If she even right now all of my directions to the government doing it are pretty much practical. They’re also pretty much insurmountable from my point of view.

    Also, I don’t think it is possible in this instance to separate the Practical from the moral in the way that you seem to be trying because the Practical effects of doing certain actions are part of what makes them moral or immoral in some cases unless maybe you’re very Kantian.

    Torture is in and of itself a bad thing. So is lying. I don’t think anyone is going to ever describe line has a virtuous activity and actually mean it. But there are times where lying is the virtuous thing to do. (See traditional Stormtroopers at the door asking if you know where so and so is hiding example).

    And while I never watched the TV show 24, I believe it frequently brought up the same point you are because I remember all the online outrage and arguments about it. And yes if you has a government agent think that you can torture information out of somebody that will save a whole bunch of people who are good people from dying, and there is no other option that presents itself, sure you should go ahead.

    But the reason you were getting so much push back here is that is not how it is actually used in the real world for the most part. And when people in the real world do think they are or say they are using it for this purpose generally it’s obvious that they are either lying or very confused. (And I think some people genuinely believe it is never the best way or a useful way to extract information, in a real world situation).

    Soooooo, what is it you’re trying to get at, exactly? If it is that sometimes the preferred ends it do justify the in a vacum intrinsically bad means–while I doubt you will get unanimous agreement here–I actually would agree with that in both a moral and a practical framework. The problem is figuring out when.

  63. Mojave Wolf permalink
    December 29, 2017

    @Willy — ITA. Our government and many other other governments already do this exact sort of thing. And lots of people cheer them for it. Then they condemn other people for doing something similar and the same people cheer them. Who gets cheered for doing this and who gets condemned to seems to depend largely on the basis of rah rah go team rather than any thoughtful analysis.

    And nor was I meaning to suggest the lawyers had any sorts of a special Insight or wisdom. I am the last person to say that credentials equal necessarily equals ability or wisdom.

    I know I’m the one who pulled out the legal quote but that was in reference to a specific point someone was making; wasn’t trying to be all confusing with jargon or anything.

  64. Willy permalink
    December 30, 2017

    Legal is about what is, moral is about what ought to be.

    It seems that we get to squabble over what’s moral, while the winners write the laws.

    (again, see the South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act for a clear example, where voters decided what was moral and those in power nixed it proclaiming the voters didn’t know what they were doing)

    Is there a torture hypo for changing The Way Things Work today?

  65. realitychecker permalink
    December 30, 2017

    @ MW (and others as applicable)

    You had a couple of typos that create some ambiguity, so I will respond only generally.

    Your obviously nuanced approach, couple with your obvious and reliable good faith, are a huge advance over the response of most others here, or on the Internet generally.

    I’ve been doing this political dialogue thingy long enough that I know most if not all of the possible rhetorical devices that get used to distract, derail, and/or obfuscate any discussion point. Many others know them as well. They have all been deployed on this thread in the service of allowing people to avoid the very uncomfortable hypo that I deliberately designed without any uncertainties to force us to confront this very uncomfortable issue at its base.

    So, let me say to you and all other participants, with respect and affection but also with dumbfounded exasperation, what the hell is going on here, that this supposedly evolved group cannot directly engage a philosophical point properly set up in a hypothetical?

    Do you realize you are all arguing with Socrates, not with realitychecker? Socrates used this technique with the youth in the streets. Law schools use this technique now. This is the way fine moral points get debated, folks. If you don’t like philosophy, just say so. But this is the way it always gets done by serious people.

    Psychologically, one cannot witness this abject terror to engage a hypo without feeling that we all know there is much work that needs to be done on the issue that makes us so uncomfortable.

    I have attempted to explain my purpose above. Once again, I am trying in good faith to open up what should be a very wide-ranging re-examination of a lot of our basic beliefs and assumptions, ya know, the ones that have delivered us into this unacceptable place. We all agree that it is unacceptable. The contradictions and dishonesties we have all been living with are the reason we got here. Think about it for a second.

    My technique when things have obviously gone wrong is to start over, at the most basic level, and build up a new or improved belief system based on better accuracy of data and thought process. Anybody with a functioning brain ought to be able to participate in that process. It’s based on common sense, not some esoteric skillset.

    My hypo takes us to that basic level. It opens up and demonstrates our willingness to live with dishonesty and obvious contradictions as a topic. Which can then immediately be seen as a widespread problem in our culture. And that insight can then be applied to many other relevant topic areas. It’s a process.

    But you don’t start on the ninth floor. You start at the foundational level. So you know that what you build on top of the foundation will not all collapse when the foundation is found to be flawed.

    This hypo demonstrates that the foundation most rely on in the torture conversation is flawed.

    The spectacle of all these supposedly intelligent, supposedly intellectually curious, supposedly good faith debaters refusing so adamantly to look to the moral foundation of the torture discussions strikes me as being so incongruous that I CONCEDE IT MIGHT WEAR ME OUT BY DRAINING MY ENERGY, but it will never remove the need for us to re-examine our basic belief systems.

    We did not get here by accident. We won’t get out of here without a lot more honesty in our discussions and our self-appraisals.

    Maybe next year . . . (sigh)

  66. Hvd permalink
    December 31, 2017


    At least mw and I have tried desperately to engage your hypothetical but to be honest I can’t see where it leads. Seriously could you at least give us some sort of idea what would be a response that would not meet with disdain on your part.

  67. realitychecker permalink
    December 31, 2017

    @ Hvd

    First, please re-read my last comment–I have laid out the big picture conversations I am trying to lead up to. They are many, and they are varied, and they are critical. But they have to be led up to.

    I am trying to get people to do something very difficult, to re-examine some basic beliefs in their personal belief systems. I appreciate that you are trying in good faith to ‘get it,’ and MW can always be relied on to do so, and I am honestly perplexed at the difficulty you guys and others are having. We should at least be able to understand each other, even if we vigorously disagree with the positions taken.

    This should not be about individual profiles, but sometimes background info helps to inform a careful opinion, which is why I share a bit and asked the same of you. I appreciate what you shared, but I still feel something ‘strange’ (to me, as a former litigation-oriented guy) in the flavor of your legal phrasings and formulations, so knowing you are not a lawyer, I’m wondering what the nature of your degree(s) might be, because we all get trained with a certain flavoring depending on what study path we are on. I’m thinking you may be more trained as a writer than as a strictly legal professional analyst. Not trying to pry, just to understand.

    To your query–I constructed my hypo to remove all the uncertainties that would complicate a real situation in most cases, to allow focus on the precise moral issue, not the practical aspects. That’s just philosophy, mental exercise, if you will. Nothing to fear or resist in being asked to think afresh about a hypothetical fact pattern.

    I absolutely expect that every parent would torture to save their child. I absolutely expected few to be willing to say so. We have seen those same parents would apparently be comfortable
    condemning a govt that would do the same thing, only on a much bigger scale (i.e., many more innocents at risk in e.g. a dirty bomb scenario).

    (Some think lying about the govt torture would make it OK. On a moral basis. That can’t be right, as a moral matter. So our general devotion to lying gets drawn into the conversation. Do you see?)

    To me, that opens up a glaring contradiction. From a strictly moral perspective. And that contradiction finds its echo in almost every area of our system as presently observed and experienced.

    Yes, I’m trying to get us to start a wide-ranging conversation, about what happens at the foundational level of our belief systems.

    My endgame? People need to stop thinking in binary, stop thinking in extremes only. It feels good, but it is always problematic. The hard work is in trying to find the correct place on every issue somewhere in between the extremes, by examining options other than the obvious binary ones.

    Perhaps I’m too ambitious. This thread show very clearly how much work is involved to even get the most basic points established. It’s exhausting, and very time-consuming.

    I would submit that, in view of the difficulty of communicating on these complex issues, that we should all be willing, in good faith, to try a little harder to understand what is attempting to be shared.

    Those of us who are here for the intellectual stimulation, at least.

  68. Willy permalink
    December 31, 2017

    rc, you are simply far too intelligent for everybody else here. Personally, I would’ve dumbed down the concept of ternary thinking for all the silly little people who continuously stumble into this place, so they could at least have had a chance at understanding:

    Once upon a time Goldilocks found that one porridge was too cold, another was too hot, but the third was just right. She ate all of the porridge that was just right. Sadly, the bears had put poison in that one, which they were immune to, and she died. Then they ate her.

    The End.

    IMO, rc may be complicating the issue by suggesting that since people who look like Goldilocks may be carrying dirty bombs, and that he knows that bears are usually the most qualified to ‘smell’ this, that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    Also IMHO, if I was Ian I would’ve added links to credible stats showing that torture is less effective than other methods. His thesis that accepting government torture could also lead to a cultural acceptance of all other bullying, would’ve fallen out more naturally from that.

  69. realitychecker permalink
    December 31, 2017

    Willy, you just can’t quit me.

    Take your hand off your damn penis! 🙂

  70. Willy permalink
    December 31, 2017

    I’m over here at Peter’s place enjoying his company. And goddamnit, both of us been waiting for somebody to persuade us if torture works or not so we can proceed.

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