Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jen on Hannah Arendt on torture - UPDATED

Just Jen has a couple of posts, forming a kind of dialogue with Big Think writer Robert de Neufville, on Hannah Arendt's articulation of torture as a kind of bully weakness.

"I can't get what I want, so I'll hurt you instead!"

But this is a thin mask for not being able to get what one wants.

So, in the U.S. today, we haven't captured Osama bin Laden, and we don't have a 100% certainty of safety from future terrorist attacks, so torture is one of the ways we satisfy our need to appear strong in the face of our weakness.

But, as St. Paul reminds us, when we are weak it is then that we are strong in God.

UPDATE: It occured to me while re-reading this post that it may be taken as an accusation of ill-will or weakness on the part of torture supporters. Since my own motives are mixed, this probably was some part of my intent, so I apologize and repent. The will and moral status of another is not mine to judge.

I let it stand, though, with this clarification: we all of us are weak by our fallen human nature, and fear drives us all. I admit in myself a vengefulness, too, that I have to resist. When I discover a weakness in myself, I do my best to hide it and to cover it over with strength; but this effort is always doomed to failure. I cannot deny the fact of my weakness, my vulnerability.

Instead, the answer is to offer my weakness to the One who is Strength. I do this far too rarely.

As they say, the preacher preaches first to himself.

8 comments:

  1. I think lots of hugs and kisses is the answer...

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  2. But, as St. Paul reminds us, when we are weak it is then that we are strong in God.

    That's true, if we're like St. Paul.

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  3. I think lots of hugs and kisses is the answer...

    Speaking out against torture is complicated by the fact that many are incapable of granting good faith to us. One manifestation of that is the false dilemma that if we don't permit torture, then the only option left is to give prisoners milk and cookies, tuck them into bed, read them a bedtime story, and kiss them goodnight on the forehead. This would be news (and frankly a little insulting) to our interrogators during WWII who managed to get intel without resorting to torture. So, in addition to weakness, torture apology also seems to lack ingenuity.

    And I think there is a parallel to abortion here. Usually in such discussions, someone throws the what-is-your-infallible-comprehensive-legal-formula? card. That is to say, they ask "How much jail time should the woman get?" The suggestion being that pro-lifers are cruel and want to inflict draconian punishments on women. They conveniently ignore the whole history of illegal abortion in which women were rarely charged, much like pro-torturers ignore the whole history of interrogation that yielded intel without torture. So in abortion, it's the false dilemma that says anti-abortionists are too cruel, in torture it's the false dilemma that concludes anti-torturers are too nice. In both cases it's the nonsense conclusion that torture and abortion are so uniquely problematic that it prohibits us from rendering both illegal.


    Scott W.

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  4. I think lots of hugs and kisses is the answer...

    I'm sorry, but surely you are not being sarcastic here? That is what Judas did after all, which effected the torture and death of Jesus, which in turn resulted in the salvation of mankind. This was asserted in another thread in support of torture, IIRC. And if torture after all cannot be limited by a narrow set of definitions, who is to say hugs and kisses may not be a valid form of torturing terrorists? You seem to be suggesting that in this circumstance, giving out hugs and kisses to dangerous suspects is clearly not torture. What if the terrorist is seriously allergic to chocolate?

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  5. @romishgraffiti -

    Re-reading my post, I realize that it could be taken as an accusation of bad faith on the part of the pro-torture side. That was not my intent, so I apologize for being hasty in posting.

    I'll post an update to clarify.

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  6. @Tom -

    True, few of us are like St. Paul. But all of us are called to be, insofar as he was like Christ.

    And all of us have the opportunity to rely on the grace and providence of God, even while we still are sinners.

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  7. In a business leadership context I've often said that once you have to unholster the gun of formal authority ("pull rank" if you will) you've already lost and are just doing damage control. Violence is often a kind of last-ditch effort to retain control on the part of formal authority; sometimes necessary but always worse than maintaining control in the first place where doing so is possible.

    When violence degenerates to illicit violence it not only represents a continuance of that loss of control but such an extreme loss of control that we throw morality to the wind.

    So there is some truth in the notion that torture sits at the end of a long series of losses of control, rather than in the seat of power.

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  8. Re-reading my post, I realize that it could be taken as an accusation of bad faith on the part of the pro-torture side. That was not my intent, so I apologize for being hasty in posting.

    I didn't think that was your deliberate intent, but I can see how someone whose ox is being gored could take it that way. This is also why I chose "torture apology" and not "torture apologist: :)


    Scott W.

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