Re: Non-Bloodthirsty Edition (John McWhorter & Glenn Loury)
I haven't followed the recent torture debate, so I haven't noticed that what I'm about to say has already been brought up 1000s of times, but here goes:
In moral philosophy, torture is commonly regarded as just about the worst thing you can do. What's so bad about torture, at least from a Kantian point of view, is that the torturer becomes desensitized to the tortured's humanity, because he has to treat him as a mere means, either to the acquisition of new information or to the gratification of his own sadism (and, on this last point, there is incentive for the torturer to justify to himself why what he's doing is OK, which might make him become sadistic, if he isn't already). Moreover, the tortured has to fall apart as well. He has to give information to end the torture, and turn against himself, either by lying or by disclosing something he really doesn't want to disclose. In the case of an evil terrorist, it's not bad if he discloses something he doesn't want to disclose about a terrorist plot, though it is bad if he suffers pain so severe that he has to lie about things.
Now, getting to the Bush administration. They're condoned torture, probably of many innocent as well as guilty parties, and that's about the worst thing you can do. So, if we really take justice seriously, we should throw the book at them. What will that do to the 25% of the country that supports Bush and co.? It will drive them nuts. I think this is a cost. Yes, I realize that that 25% is, in many ways, a bunch of bloodthirsty fanatics, but they make up a substantial portion of our democracy, and I don't know that throwing the book at the Bush administration will make them realize the error of their ways. I think pretty much nothing will make them realize the error of their ways.
This is compounded by the fact that, as Tyler Cowen has pointed out, and as I have experienced in my philosophy classroom (in a liberal city like Los Angeles) that the majority of Americans think torture is OK, at least if the torture is done to enemy combatants. So, this could actually turn people to sympathize with the nutty 25%.
On the other hand, if we don't throw the book at the Bush administration, then we make a mockery of justice. We're saying that the worst thing you can do is something for which you it's permissible to let you off the hook. And it's not like we'd be doing that out of a spirit of forgiveness, but rather out of a spirit of weakness.
So, I throw my hat in with the truth commission people. I want the truth to out. We need this for the record. It's pointless to worry about whether this will legitimize torture. That debate is over, and torture has won. It's now legitimate in this country. So for those of us who think it's unspeakable, we can at least know what happened.