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I wonder...

Thought experiment:  Over at The American Conservative...
Daniel Larison writes, "I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-torture or engaged in the sophistry of M’s post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such torture apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time."

Let's change one word.
What if Daniel Larison had written, "I have started doubting whether people who are openly pro-abortion or engaged in the sophistry of M's post are part of the same moral universe as I am, and I have wondered whether there is even a point in contesting such abortion apologia as if they were reasonable arguments deserving of real consideration. Such fundamental assumptions at the core of our civilization should not have to be re-stated or justified anew, and the fact that they have to be is evidence of how deeply corrupted our political life has become, but if such basic norms are not reinforced it seems clear that they will be leeched away over time."
 
Apropos of nothing else, I wonder what the breakdown torture is between pro-life and pro-choice  in terms of pro-torture vice anti-torture (of course, what constitutes torture is the core of this debate, so perhaps pro-waterboarding vice anti-waterboarding is a better expression) is among pro-lifers vice pro-choicers, i.e., how the torture debate breaks down in those sub-groups.  I'm sure it's not a mirror, I just wonder what it is.

N. B.: - you should read Larison's whole post, not just the excerpt, because I am twisting the topic and putting words in his mouth, in a sense.  I don't know what Larison's opinions are on abortion, I just thought his passage regarding torture applied equally well to how the abortion debate gets framed and that aspect of political discourse flows in this country at this time.

29 Comments

Well, I read both stories last night, John, and, well, the refered one was kind of scary.  Along the lines of 'it's an imaginary line, so who cares?'  THe problem with those is, well, so much of law and regulation stems from fiat, from imaginary lines.  You rely on those to drive safe to work each and every day and to get non-disease ridden steak at the store.  But, because he slaps 'prudential' on it, it becomes somehow invalid.  I do find the first article(not the one you quote from) rather weird and maybe scary. 

But, yeah, you can do the symbol logic thing, but I think you miss his point by doing so:  you don't get to roll back hundreds of years of accepted moral and legal concepts and traditions just 'cause you disagree with the it from 'prudential' grounds.  

And, quite honestly, I've always agreed with Volokh that all moral reasoning stems from some unprovable assumption.  So everything eventually gets staked to a 'it works' argument as justification at some point.  The guy who's getting his finger shook at is playing it fast and loose for political reasons and I don't like ti much either.
 
Though, I have to agree with your meta point.  Roe v Wade was a legal opinion to which many have questions about, but is still following a consistent set of logic; and the torture memos follow the same pattern.  It might not be a legal decision you agree with, it might even be the wrong interpretation, but that doesn't make it criminal to agree with said decision.
 
you don't get to roll back hundreds of years of accepted moral and legal concepts and traditions just 'cause you disagree with the it from 'prudential' grounds.

Ry - how does that *not* apply to the pro/anti abortion discussion?  Isn't that, in many aspects, *precisely* what was done?
 
WRTO the issue of torture:  No one has yet been able to explain to me why waterboarding is torture and morally objectionable when someone else does it, but is unobjectionable and is NOT torture when we do it. 

 
I really don't know what precisely you are asking and I'm willing to believe many others don't either.

Generally speaking (and there are exceptions and reversals) conservatives are pro-life and protorture though the concept of and word of torture is evaded much the same as pro-choice evade the word and concept of abortion.  That might give you something to chew on but I'm not sure.

At any rate this looks like a search for morals but there is an important difference.  The abortion debate is primarily grounded in religion especially Chrisitianity and especially Catholicism.  The moral sets are not determined they are preset and handed down on high from the Pope or God depending on what you believe.  There is no need for further discussion or argument or looking at articles like this one if you hold those presets.  The abortion issue is pretty much set in stone and there isn't much real communication or listening happening.

On the other hand, the torture issue is more open to discussion because those presets are missing and not discussed at the degree abortion is in the religious arena.

There is one more major difference.  The abortion issue or prolife or prochoice is very much a  popular one in the US but the torture issue is not very popular.
 
Blake - interestingly enough, JIm Manzi (who is the target of Larison's piece) has this to say on the subject in NRO today.
I stand with Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Root and the United States military, and with a 100-year tradition of our nation, against the specific practice of waterboarding captured combatants as strategically ineffective and morally repugnant. It is beneath us; beneath our dignity, and beneath our enlightened self-interest.

As per our history, this doesn’t mean that this should be the number one priority of the U.S. government, and it doesn’t mean that such a stance is without contingency. If terrorist forces were successfully detonating a large thermonuclear warhead somewhere within the continental United States every 12-18 months, and waterboarding captured combatants offered a realistic possibility of stopping this, I would reluctantly, though immediately, support its use. I strongly suspect that about 99% of Americans would agree, as would Roosevelt and Root, if we could ask them.
The whole thing is interesting.
 

And Jennifer Rubin, writing over at Commentary Magazine, in commenting on Thomas Friedman's column today, lays out the schizophrenic nature of the issues facing us and how we feel about them.
 

So to recap: the Bush team kept us safe from an implacable foe by using interrogation methods which the American public approved of and by fighting (often against the admonitions of Friedman and his colleagues) and largely prevailing in Iraq. The latter effort may deal a death blow to Al Qaeda which one supposes made it a very worthwhile endeavor. Well, yes, Friedman awards Obama the prize for “doing [his] best” in a war largely waged by his reviled predecessor – who is rarely praised for doing his best, but we get the point.

It must be some other George W. Bush who was the worst foreign policy president in history – because the 43rd president, by Friedman’s accounting, got some very big things right, despite ferocious odds. (One of President Bush’s librarians might want to clip this one out for the “Bush Legacy Inadvertently Revived By Obama” file.)
 

 
Bush has been overpraised and overreviled far too much.  To me he was very much a human.
 
Part of the problem is probably bad writing - there's a sentence I need to fix.

I'm interested in the pro/anti torture debate breaks among the pro/anti abortion types, i.e., how "pro-choicers" break as a group on torture, and how the "pro-life" crowd breaks on the subject.

I disagree that those "presets" are missing, especially in a religious sense.  I'm pretty sure I know what the Catholic Church's position is on torture - at least since they quashed the Inquisition.

The other thing I was after is how the debate is *just* as polarized as the abortion debate is - and that Larison's view of people who write in support of torture mirrors how people on the "pro-life" side of the abortion debate look at their opponents in the debate.

I am not a terribly religious person, Argent.  Enough so that SWWBO fears for my soul.  I skate dangerously close, on a personal level on dark nights, to a "Deist" view of things.  I have *never* liked or enjoyed or found satisfaction in organized religion, for reasons too legion to go into here... but I have a sense of "there's something out there" so to speak. 

I'm a very nominal Christian, without disbelieving in the historical fact of Jesus.

But my view on abortion isn't informed, directly, at least, by religious teachings, except by osmosis.  I was a young randy teenager when Roe v Wade was passed, and my first thoughts were, "That's a relief, in case I make a mistake while out chasing girls!"

Over time, and fairly rapidly, actually, I came to the conclusion that I just wasn't able, in my internal ethics, to support abortion, though I can countenance a rape, incest, and survival of the mother exception, I just can't get around babies being an inconvenience.   And I know all the arguments, this isn't really a debate I'm interested in having.  I know there are people who read this site who don't agree with me on that.  Just as we had a near meltdown in this group over the issues revolving around Terry Schiavo. 

Just like I can intellectually support the death penalty, and there are beings occupying human form that just need to be eradicated, but I have insufficient confidence in the legal system, any legal system as currently constituted,  to apply the sanction uniformly and justly.  So, I'm not a death penalty supporter, though there are people I wouldn't be bothered at all about their execution.
 
Blake Kirk-
No-one's been able to explain to me why it's torture when we do it to someone we don't like, but it wasn't when it was done to my friends and family members.

In response to the original post-- I be the breakdown would be more in line with the death penalty than with abortion.
I don't know anyone, personally-- I am limiting this to folks I know in flesh-and-blood life-- who are pro-torture.
There's just a split down who thinks loud music, cold rooms, violating personal space and carefully triggering a panic reflex are torture, and those who don't. 
(oddly, the line doesn't divide those who think waterboarding is alright and those who don't-- some who say "no, it's clearly not torture" still think it's unwise.)
 
Bush has been overpraised and overreviled far too much. To me he was very much a human.

Heh.  Let's carry that into the premise of this post, and change one word...

Obama has been overpraised and overreviled far too much. To me he was very much a human.
 
Oh he's only got started yet, as the ad would say, stay tuned for much much more.
 
I have yet to hear (or read) any explanation as to why waterboarding IS torture, or if you want to call it torture just by arbitrarily expanding the definition of torture to include waterboarding, why it is so morally repugnant and unacceptable.

All I have heard and read, so far, is, "it's really really scary and distressing and can make you very upset".

Um.  Okay.  That's a hell of a standard for what you can't ever do to people.

Carving people up with blades, beating them until their bones break, burning them with chemicals or flames, freezing them, dehydrating or starving them for days...that's torture.  That's morally repugnant and unacceptable (usually...depends on whether the motivations are related to intelligence gathering or pure punishment...because I am somewhat amenable to "eye-for-an-eye" arguments).

I have kind of weird standards for what's "scary" or "upsetting" to me.  Waterboarding sounds kind of fun to me, so trying to understand what it's like for "normal" people, I figure it's probably like spiders.

I can't handle seeing spiders.  I just can't.  At all.  Live spiders make me extremely violent...I will smash, crush, burn, drown, spray, whatever, until they're not only dead, they're unrecognizeable.  Pictures of spiders...I just cannot look at them.  I absolutely cannot.

So the other day, some guy who clearly thinks he's very funny, on a message board that I haven't posted at in a while, notices I've made a few posts again.  So he welcomes me back by making a post with a misleading title that turns out to have a huge magnified picture of a spider.  I practically threw my laptop across the room.

I figure making me stare at photographs like that for a few minutes would be just about the worst thing in the world...my Room 101.  But...if I had murdered American servicemen and civilians, and had the information to prevent further servicemen and civilians from being murdered, would it be morally repugnant and unacceptable to make me look at bug pictures for a few minutes to scare me into giving up the information?  Hell no.  I'd do it to me.  I might not be able to sleep for a few nights afterwards, but I wouldn't be injured or crippled by the experience, unlike John McCain for example, who experience real torture.  I don't see how waterboarding is any different.
 
I would propose that the "torture" issue and abortion don't overlap too much because:
 
For the Right side the baby definitively innocent and the person being "tortured" is more than likely guilty.

For the Left, you can no more "harm" a fetus than you could a doorknob and as such doesn't warrant consideration as a human whereas a terrorist may be a "bad human" but a human nonetheless.
 
I would propose that the "torture" issue and abortion don't overlap too much because:

For the Right side the baby definitively innocent and the person being "tortured" is more than likely guilty.

For the Left, you can no more "harm" a fetus than you could a doorknob and as such doesn't warrant consideration as a human whereas a terrorist may be a "bad human" but a human nonetheless.


It really bothers me that, in political discussions, everybody assumes that everybody else will fall neatly into one of these two stereotypical categories, whether they be "Left and Right" or "Liberal and Conservative" or "Democrat and Republican" or whatever.

I know I don't fit at all.  Is America REALLY that polarized that 99% of Americans can be neatly slotted into either of these two stereotypes?
 

Funny thing is - my point was about the structure, not content, of the dicussion.

 
Actually, no.  That's what fanatics do, but intelligent people don't.  Take the Catholic, just to annoy someone, you know who you are ;), against abortion.  It isn't 'just because we don't like it'.  There's a long, logical argument involved.  It isn't just turning back a 25+ year legal precedent 'because God said so'. 

Roe was somewhat the same way.  IT wasn't , " 'cause we wanna."  Long involved argument.

This guy?  No involved argument.  Just says that deciding it based on some empirically derived standard is BS, so torture away.  And that, BB, is BS.  You go all the way back to the beginings of chevalier for why one is nice to the defeated foe.  We're talking, what, since 700AD(with Charley Main having the precusor of Chivalry started during his reign as holy emporer)?  And all 1st guy can can say is, "well, 10 mintues ago I could've napalmed him, so fruck your empiricly derived rule, you can't satisfy me in a first principles fashion, not to my likeing, and it's politically convenient for me, so torture away."  Not playing that way, homey, not now, not ever.  I could handle this goob if he made an honest argument like HLIC, that Tangoes exist outside both civil and military law, thereby not enjoying protections of either, so it would be legal to torture the---though HLIC admits that's not the first tool he'd reach for in his inter tool kit.  

Well, I did say something about the structure.  But that was because I thought you were making a point about something else.  Damn you for not being Capt Obvious, John.  ;)
 
Oh, and ARgent, considering that prohibitions against torture also stem from just war theory, which is little more than an offshoot of humanists like Thomas Aquinas(you know, that big Catholic dogma dude), I think you're a bit off on there being no religious presets about torture.  Torquemada and the Inquisistion is very much a black stain on the RCC, but it's as much from how far from it's own Cathechism it went as it is what actually took place. 
 
None of the practices that are mewed about by the left and those that live on their knees in submission to their memes rises anywhere near actual torture. Just because the lovers of the enemy keep saying it does, does not make it so.

Also, every thing used was laid out before the appropriate committees of congress, and passed before both judges and lawyers, and all gave their ok. So, by definition, it is NOT illegal, in any way, shape or form. Simply making the claim, over and over and over and over ad nauseum does not make it so.

This is a propaganda effort and those who fall for it are nothing but useful idiots.
 
You go all the way back to the beginings of chevalier for why one is nice to the defeated foe.

A knight spared a defeated foeman because that foeman could be held for a nice, big ransom.

The enlisted on the losing side were slaughtered after the battle, unless they either ran like hell or managed to hide beneath a pile of dead bodies.

Everybody confabbed with the lawyers to insure that the techniques used did *not* constitute torture, and ten thousand people screaming, "Yes, it is, because I get all queasy when I hear about them!" doesn't make them torture.
 
Funny thing is - my point was about the structure, not content, of the dicussion.

Larison is guilty of the same "all or nothing at all" reasoning he blasts Manzi for. He argues that Manzi's view holds that you must either be in favor of total war or be a total pacifist, with no consideration for the concept of a limited war, yet Larison sees no other definitions of an enemy other than those of an actively fighting *soldier* or a captured *soldier* -- and bases his stance solely on that basis.
 
Josh,
The answer to your question is no.  Unless you are speaking to a particular person you can't tailor an argument to account for the infinite gradiations within the range of human philosophy. And so one talks in averages, generalities and trends. 

It's like saying Men are taller than Women. Are there plenty of women who are taller than some men? Sure.  But taking the first statement as a refutation of the latter question is missing the point.


As for the structure/content issue.  The problem is that while the structure is the same, the underlying (unspoken) assumptions behind the issues can be radically different.

For instance, take these two statements (please *bud-dum-ching*)
1) One should not destroy a human, it is murder.
2) One should not destroy a doorknob, it is murder.

Sure, the *structure* is the same.  But that doesn't imply the strength of argument is equivalent.
 
I'm clearly illiterate and unable to make my point.

I give up.
 
We saw your point and chose to ignore it.
 
That's worse.  Now I really quit.
 
Nice attitude. Who do you think you are, me?
 
Aw, shaddup oldster.  When you gonna draw or post again, eh?
 
My scanner was donated to the toxic waste portion of the burn pit. We're supposed to be getting one that works "any day now"...

Right now, the only thing newsy that isn't OPSEC is that the PX/BX put the last of the thongs on the 75%-off table, along with the fishnet laundry bags that go in the clothes washers we don't have here and the Harry Potter posters.
 
That's the application, but what was the reasoning behind it, Unk?  And it didn't always work out that way.  History is too large for it to have been only one way.

I know of one, off the top of my head, that didn't work out that way.  Battle of Stirling Castle.