Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tortured Arguments

Editor's Note: I'm busy as fuck. I liked this post, but lack the time to finish it. So the first part's new but unpolished, the second part is a copy-and-paste from a comment I made at Carpetbagger's, and I never wrote the third part that I had intended it to have. But I figured you guys were clamoring for something and this is better than nothing.

Oh, and something I left out of this post: I definitely believe that torture is unjustifiable because it doesn't work and is counter-productive. But if it worked and wasn't counter-productive, I'd support it completely. Any argument that suggests otherwise is utterly stupid.

For whatever reason, many liberals have established a moral code in which the absolute worst thing you can do is to torture people. And they insist that under NO situation is torture justifiable, including in the face of mass murder. Apparently, to even contemplate using torture to stop mass murder is monstrous and impossible.

Here are three separate quotes on what I'm talking about:
"Two things-- First, torture doesn't work (and didn't work). Second, whether
or not torture works (or worked) is irrelevant."

"I'm sorry, but the ends don't justify the means. We're better than that.
Torture is wrong--whether it's effective or not (and it's not)."

"Doing evil to prevent evil is folly and evil."

And that’s simply absurd. Yes, torture is immoral. But no, it’s not the worst immorality. And like it or not, there are many situations in which immorality can be justified if it helps avoid a worse immorality. For example, killing people is immoral, but it is considered moral if it is done in self-defense. Imprisoning people is immoral, but it's considered moral if the person is a criminal and it's done with approval from our judicial system. Similarly, if torturing someone would help avoid mass murder, it would not only be justifiable, but it would be the moral deed.

Yet they insist that torture isn’t justifiable even under hypothetical situations. To do so is to suggest that “the ends justify the means,” which we are led to believe is the absolutely last thing we can ever do. As if means ever justify themselves. Sorry, but choosing actions which are justified by their ends is what we do all the time. And the argument against allowing ends to justify the means is when they DON’T justify the means. And when the ends justify the means, we choose that end.

For example, you’re on the internet right now, despite all the damage it does to the environment. But you believe that it’s ok to damage the environment because having the internet outweighs the damage you cause. Similarly, you probably justify driving an automobile because the benefits outweigh drawbacks. This is just everyday morality and is what rational beings do on a daily basis.

I mean, if the ends justify the means, then the ends are justifiable; by definition. Seriously, a vast majority of folks have no idea what that phrase means.

Torture as the Norm

To put my argument a different way. I can think of countless hypothetical situations in which each and every one of you would definitely agree that you'd torture someone for a greater good.

For example, if you were in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre style situation and your family was trapped in a house of crazy people who were torturing and murdering your family. And after they had mercilessly tortured you for days, you somehow got free and had a choice of either torturing one of the bad guys to find out where your family was, or just running away. Each of you would torture the bad guy and save your family. No doubt about it. You would justify your immoral action by knowing that it prevented a greater immorality. And if you saw such a thing in a movie, you'd NEVER think the torturer was immoral for acting as they did. In fact, you'd hate the person if they ran away and left their family to die. That would be more immoral than torture.

But of course, that's a stupid situation. It's not going to happen. It's total fantasy. And not only are you not going to create a moral code based upon the hypothetical need to torture killers in ridiculous situations, but you'd be repulsed if the government created such a system.

And so while torture most definitely can be justified in hypothetical situations, it can't be justified in real life situations; and should most definitely NOT be given the approval of our government. And sure, maybe you'll some day find yourself in that ridiculous situation. And if it happens, our legal system would need to approve of your actions and if it didn't, then you'd go to jail; even if you did the right thing. And it's the same thing now.

Sure, maybe a real life Jack Bauer might somehow find himself in the impossible situation that would justify torture; but we most definitely can't build this into our legal code. Torture can be justifiable, but it should never be the norm.


Mahakal / מהכאל said...

I disagree. Torture is never justifiable based on desired ends. Besides, it was and is useful in obtaining false confessions. The Inquisition used it for the very purpose, and believed that they were saving souls thereby, clearly an end that justified extraordinary means in their reasoning.

But this reasoning is faulty, it is wrong. Just as there is nothing that justifies rape, there is nothing that justifies torture. It is inherently wrong.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - I fail to see how false confessions have anything to do with this. Yes, in reality, torture is generally misused. And I definitely think that legalizing it is absolutely idiotic and wrong. But to suggest that torture can't be justified even hypothetically is clearly wrong. The "ticking timebomb scenario" is a perfect hypothetical that justifies it. And the reason why we reject it is because that kind of thing never happens. it's an impossible situation which relies upon so many fake premises that it is entirely laughable.

And seriously, I think you're far too stuck in reality to properly deal with hypothetical situations. In this case, you're limiting your thinking to government-sponsored torture. But in the Texas Chainsaw example I gave, we'd all agree that torture was the best thing to do. And while I would never suggest that torture is always a bad idea, as my knowledge is far too limited to make such a sweeping claim; I fully agree that government-sponsored torture is ALWAYS a bad idea. And again, I think that's what you're referring to. But again, if someone was torturing and killing your family and you needed to find out where they were, I seriously doubt you'd abstain from torturing a bad guy who knew the answer.