26 Aug

Response to a Response to The History of Torture

Here’s a comment I made on a friend’s blog (FoundOnWeb) that I wanted to save as fodder for future thoughts (FFFT) and to point back at the original post. The FOW blogkeeper is a fine thinker, otaku, and part-time gent (because who wants to be one all the time). More people should read his posts to learn, if nothing else, how to cook oatmeal. You’ll also get an unabashed fan’s view on anime and one insider’s views on systems science, national security and other ratholes, and economics.

Here’s his post:

The History of Torture — Misses the Point

Here’s my sketchy response:

[Hard to encapsulate a response to such a well summarized damned difficult topic in a comment box rather than over beer and earnest conversation. Forgive the leaping round.]

I can’t think of a period of time in which an enlightened western government didn’t practice torture. Us. Current friends. Former enemies. Paragons of cultural virtue, all.

It’s not just a moral failure, it’s a huge intellectual failure. We’ve been outsmarted or outplayed, by terrorists and by factions in our own government. We try to extract info out of people willing to martyr themselves, their families, and their unwilling culture. Who generally work in isolation. Who are often, it seems, tortured stepladder fashion to learn who their handlers are, and so on.

The torturers also become victims of their own practices, and pass the tradition on to others. They write papers and make policies, all very bloodless.

I also think I see why history.net lumped brutality and torture. Both may require you to see the target as less than human or, at least, less than you, for you to command or perform the act. Look outside the bounds of western torture to the practices of tribal armies in Africa or outside of military and government to gang violence. At some level you have a person or organization in power (or seeking power or retribution) and another suffering, whether they actually are the intended target or a stand-in. We can outlaw torture of any sort by our government and stand tall, and it won’t make a difference wherever the practice is accepted–including in our own country.

As a thought experiment, what if torturing another being also cost the torturer their life–not as legal punishment but personal cost? As part of our biological architecture? Would we continue with rewards for martyrdom? Or would it simply never occur to us to seek it as a solution? (That assumes that other parties could take violent actions that did not cause them to self-expire.)

The filmmakers should have titled it, A History of Torture.