Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Actually, Sean...

I disagree when you say, "Always remember: saying things like 'It all depends on how you define torture' marks you as a moral imbecile. Don't let that happen to you."

People first encountering this issue, are more or less bound to want to know "What do we mean by 'torture'?" Especially in a culture where bedwetters and hyperventilators will tell you that making Johnny do too much math is 'torture'.

However, when reasonable people have given reasonable answers to that question which reasonable adults can accept (I mean "reasonable adults" like lexicographers, moral theologians, judges, international bodies and ordinary people in the street) and the person supposedly "puzzled" about torture then spends six years rejecting definition after definition after definition after definition while proposing none of their own, all while resolutely defending the proposition "I may not know what torture is, but I am absolutely certain that forcibly subjecting somebody to simulated drowning is not it!"--and claiming the person who offered all the definitions "refuses to define torture"...

...then I agree with you wholeheartedly that such a person is a moral imbecile.

I think we should either remove or edit Sean's quote from the sidebar to make clear that merely asking "What is torture?" is not the problem.


  1. Sean proposed an alternate wording on the Facebook page; I think we'll go with that one.

  2. I've stuck it up here on the blog--essentially, we added the word "repeatedly" and replaced "moral imbecile" with "woefully lacking in basic common sense."

    Does that work better? As you say, the problem isn't that some are confused initially; the problem is that some seem to think it's impossible ever to define torture.

  3. Hmmm... I dunno. Lots of people ask repeatedly in honest confusion. It's the refusal of all definitions, coupled with the refusal to offer any definitions, coupled with the absolute certitude that all actual torture isn't really torture, that is the key. Asking question in order to keep from finding things out rather than asking questions in order to arrive at truth.

  4. I've decided to remove the quote from here for now, to avoid confusion. If Sean decides to reword it I'll repost it.

  5. Okey doke!

    Boy! Maybe now Anonymous Thomist will *like* me and he and his friends will let me hang out with them!

    Peer group pressure is an awesome thing!

    *Please* just *like* me, Anonymous Thomist! I live for your approval!

  6. Yeah, that's why I didn't want to remove the quote. I figured that if it ticked off people like Thomist it couldn't be all bad. :)

    But I don't want to drive away well-intentioned people with "friendly fire" either. It doesn't help that I tend to be insensitive and can't trust my instincts at all when it comes to this sort of thing.

  7. Of course, I can take heart in the cheering realization that Anonymous Thomist also wanted the Catechism quote and the various papal quotes removed so as not to give the impression that a bunch of lay people had any idea what they're talking about, so quite likely he's still scowling in disapproval.

  8. A true Thomist, by definition, would not be anonymous. Just sayin’.

    Mark, as usual, is a voice of reason in a swirling vortex of controversy. Thanks, Mark.

    A nice, snarky, rewrite might go along the lines of, “Repeatedly asking what torture is in order to obfuscate the truth, rather than arrive at it, marks you as a moral imbecile, and a jerk.”

    But let’s avoid snark. How about, “Repeatedly asking what torture is in order to obfuscate the truth, rather than arrive at it, marks you as someone with an appalling lack of common sense.”

    Ah, I don’t like that either. Not pithy enough. Gorammit.

  9. Here's my FWIW: I haven't joined or even looked at the fb group, but when I saw the blog post on Inside Catholic yesterday which quoted that statement, I groaned. I think it's a bad approach, because it almost guarantees that only the people who already agree with you will listen, and it's not one I want to attach my name to.

  10. Here are a couple more suggestions:

    It is one thing to repeatedly ask what torture is in order to get at the truth. It is quite another to repeatedly ask what it is in order to obfuscate the truth.

    Strain out the camel, not the gnat.


  11. Sean, I like the first one above and am putting it both on the FB page and here.

  12. I also like the new quote more. Kudos.