Patterico Is Wrong On Torture

Update: Commenter Ian Coull nails the issue:

‘We’ go to war to preserve ‘our’ way of life. Soldiers go to war willing to die in order that some larger entity survives. Thus we find thousands of lives willingly sacrificied in order to preserve ‘civilization’ as we know it. The hypothetical question launching this thread translates into: Does ‘our way of life’ better survive the deaths of thousands of innocents, or ‘the adoption of a new social order which includes torture as a legitimate tool of our government’. I would argue the former less damaging.

…I just hate it when people write my ideas so much better than I do…

Patterico is a friend, and a smart guy, and someone who would make me cringe in fear if he were ever to prosecute me. And a wonderful husband and dad, I’m sure. I’m saying this in no small part because he took on a challenging hypothetical about torture, and I don’t think he’s a bad guy for asking the question.His hypothetical is this:

Let’s assume the following hypothetical facts are true. U.S. officials have KSM in custody. They know he planned 9/11 and therefore have a solid basis to believe he has other deadly plots in the works. They try various noncoercive techniques to learn the details of those plots. Nothing works.

They then waterboard him for two and one half minutes.

During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning. So he gives up information – reliable information – that stops a plot involving people flying planes into buildings.

My simple question is this: based on these hypothetical facts, was the waterboarding session worth it?

He’s been getting slammed a lot for asking. He shouldn’t be, we ought to be asking the question – and the answer ought to inform us about who we are and what this country is about.

But here, I’ll disagree with Patterico, who says:

Sebastian starts by giving a clear answer to my hypo: yes. I think that is the only reasonable answer. I don’t mean to insult the people here who have answered no. I just happen to think that a “no” answer to my carefully phrased hypo reveals such an incredibly ideological mindset that I can’t relate to it. It’s 2 1/2 minutes of a mild form of torture with no lasting physical effects, performed on an undoubtedly evil terrorist and mass murderer, to obtain information certain to obtain thousands of lives. When someone says that such mild torture would be morally unjustified, that answer to me lacks common sense. And when it’s coupled with a smug self-righteous attitude, – well, I find it insufferable.

In my own case, I keep believing the answer has to be no, it wasn’t worth it.

I’ll skip the problem that you have to torture a lot of people to find the one who has the key information. And that you can’t possibly – in advance – know that the person you are about to torture has the combination to the ticking bomb.

Because if life was TV, and you could just torture the one person who did have the combination, and be sure that torture would make them give it up, some – but not all – the objections might be put aside. But not all of them.

Let me take his hypothetical a step further, and suggest that it shouldn’t be too hard to build a helmet that could be put on someone’s head, not damaging the skin, that would – when turned on – induce incredible levels of fear – or pain – inductively, acting directly in the brain. And, having switched it off, leave the person wearing the helmet unscathed except from whatever physiological reactions they had to the perception of pain or fear.

So there would be essentially no risk of “real injury” involved.

Would using something like that be appropriate in such a case?

I’ll say a firm “no” (with one weasel path out), and take a rambling, first-draft blog post kind of walk through why I say that.

First, and foremost, because – as I’ve noted – using something like this moves us into the realm of being a fear-based society; one that rules on might and terror. The corrosive impact of that stance is what drives this, and on some level it’s the violation of the integrity of the person by depriving them of all their power over themselves, and by – I’m not finding the right description, but somehow erasing the integrity of their ‘self’. Prison doesn’t do that; even Joe Arpaio – who keeps his prisoners in tents, offers them no recreation and dresses them in pink – does not violate their integrity in the ways that I’m describing – they still make choices, have some responsibility as to their behavior.

Bluntly, I’d rater shoot someone than torture them harmlessly. I believe it’s more moral; I’m violating their ‘person-ness’ less through an act of outright violence than through one that seeks to break their ownership of themselves in the ways that torture does.

And on a basic level, you can’t have a free society in which people don’t have that sense of personal integrity – that sense that they ‘own’ their own behavior and person. Once you violate that and make it clear that someone – the state – owns you, the nature of the political relationship is irrevocably changed.

There’s a logical lacuna in my argument, which is the only weasel path that I can see – which is that KSM isn’t part of our society (polity) and as such, who cares what we do to him?

I’ll reply that a Chinese Wall (as we used to say in banking) between what we do to foreign terrorists and our own citizens is certainly going to get breached when we confront equally serious domestic ones. And we have the pesky problem of defining who, exactly is a terrorist, and who is a political opponent.

So we’re back to the idea that the foundation of our society isn’t loyalty freely given, but fear of transgressing, and fear not of social ostracism, but of the torturer and the bullet in the back of the head.

There are societies built like that.

We’re fighting them.

Becoming one of them – even with harmless ‘fake’ torture – seems like a really bad idea. And, to be blunt, we can survive violent terrorism better than we (as the society we are today) can survive doing that and becoming one of ‘those’ societies.

Having said that, let me loop around and seemingly contradict myself – in order to make this position a little clearer, I think.

I’ll start with some personal history.

As a kid, I used to race cars – on the street. It was stupid, and dangerous, and I’m damn luck I didn’t kill someone else (forget killing myself). We raced sports cars (I had a Mini Cooper S) on Mulholland, between Laurel Canyon and Coldwater Canyon here in Los Angeles, late at night.

The police did a variety of things to stop us, and the more bitter members of the racing community hated the police, and acted out whenever they could.

One night, two of us were stopped at the side of the road, kicking tires and hanging out, when a police car pulled up, and two officer stopped and interrogated us, taking out ID and noting the details of our cars. We were separated, each taking to one officer – I was chatting amiably with mine, who was trying to lecture me on the idiocy of what I was doing, when the other officer suddenly spun the other racer around, put him on the hood of his car, thumped his head onto the hood a few times, and handcuffed him.

My officer watched me somewhat warily, and I shrugged and showed him my open hands. he told me to stand still and walked over to talk to his colleague.

They chatted with the other racer for a bit, and then uncuffed him and drove away. I walked over and asked what had happened; his nose was bleeding, and he had a welt over his eye. He was bitterly complaining about the brutality of the officer.

“I called him a fucking pig asshole…”

I laughed, which wasn’t what my friend wanted to hear.

“What did you expect him to do, dude?” I asked. I’d been taught by my African-American ‘uncles’ that it was best to be polite to someone who could shoot you and then worry mostly about the paperwork.

To this day – in the face of what would be uncontrovertibly torture by contemporary standards if done my a Marine in Baghdad – I can’t get really worked up about this.

My friend and I were idiots for being who we were. He was a bigger idiot for thinking he could act like an ass. My cop friends talk about this, wistfully, as ‘street justice’ and point out that today they often only have the choice of arresting someone or walking away – and that they wish there were some intermediate actions like this that they could mete out.

I’m fully aware of the risks of allowing this.

Sometimes a bloody nose is a useful teaching aid. And sometimes it’s torture.

But…in reality, the police officer didn’t remove my fellow racer’s ‘person-ness’, his agency – he reacted to it, and set boundaries around it for certain. The deliberation of “if you don’t do X, we will do Y and there is nothing you can do about it” was missing. The cop treated my friend as a person – while in Patterico’s example, KSM is simply a piece of talking meat.

And to an extent, that – more than anything is the point I’m trying to make. Not treating KSM with kid gloves isn’t torture. Reacting to abuse or bad behavior from him – even sometimes violence – isn’t torture.

Calmly sitting him down and saying you’ll put him into excruciating pain unless he talks to you is. Because you are denying him his ownership of himself, in some moral way.

A society that readily accepts torture reduces those who live in it to meat. It dehumanizes them. It dehumanizes those who do it. And it makes the societies in which those nonhumans live something other than the kind of human society we want to live in.

I’ll make another pass at this over the weekend, and try and clarify things, as well as bringing in the notion of historical contingency…but this ought to trigger some interesting discussion.

“…Imposing A Formula For Failure”

The Senate is voting on funding the war – again – and the Democratic leadership is pushing hard to fund conditional on withdrawal.

Senator Lieberman has a response that puts it better than I could:

Over the past nine months, American forces have begun to achieve the kind of progress in Iraq that, until recently, few in Washington would have dared to imagine might be possible.

Working together with our increasingly capable Iraqi allies, U.S. troops under the command of General David Petraeus have routed al Qaeda in Iraq from its safe havens in Anbar province and Baghdad — delivering what could well prove to be the most significant defeat for Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network since it was driven from Afghanistan in late 2001.

As al Qaeda has been beaten into retreat in Iraq, security conditions across the country have begun to improve. Iraqi civilian casualties are dramatically down. IED attacks have plummeted, while mortar and rocket attacks are at an unprecedented twenty-one month low. The number of U.S. soldiers killed in action has fallen for five straight months and is now at the lowest level in nearly two years. And as a result, U.S. commanders on the ground have begun a drawdown in the number of U.S. forces in Iraq.

According to the BBC just this weekend: ‘All across Baghdad… streets are springing back to life. Shops and restaurants which closed down are back in business. People walk in crowded streets in the evening, when just a few months ago they would have been huddled behind locked doors in their homes. Everybody agrees that things are much better.’

Unfortunately, congressional opponents of the war have responded to the growing evidence of progress in Iraq not with gratitude or relief, but with unrelenting opposition to a policy that is now clearly working.

Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, anti-war advocates in Congress have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of retreat and defeat in Iraq — reluctant to acknowledge the reality of progress there.

Rather than supporting General Petraeus and our troops in the field, anti-war advocates in Congress are instead struggling to deny or disparage their achievements — and are now acting, once again, to hold hostage the funding our troops desperately need and to order a retreat by a date certain and regardless of what is happening on the ground.

It bears emphasizing that none of the progress we see today in Iraq would have happened, had these same anti-war activists prevailed in their earlier attempts this year to derail General Petraeus’ strategy.

In fact, throughout the past nine months, anti-war advocates in Congress have confidently and repeatedly predicted that General Petraeus’ strategy would fail, and that the war in Iraq was ‘lost.’

It is now clear they were wrong.

Rather than another ill-advised, misguided attempt to cut off the funding for our troops in the field, it is time for anti-war forces to admit that the surge is working and stop their futile legislative harassments.

It is deeply irresponsible for anti-war forces in Congress to hold hostage the funds that our men and women in uniform need to continue their successful efforts. Congress should support our troops in Iraq, not undermine their heroic achievements by imposing a formula for failure.

Engineers, Terrorism, and Bad Philosophy

When last seen here, Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber was taking his ball and going home, offended – deeply offended – that I might suggest that contemporary Western progressivism might have anything to do – well, OK, anything except some common historical roots – with Islamist terrorism.

I caught some inbound traffic on Sitemeter, and went and looked (I’ve been working waaay too much this week to read all the blogs I have in Bloglines), and lo and behold, he’s brought the issue up again. This time in the context of an interesting study (pdf) by Gambetta and Hertog which points out – with some statistical validity – that engineering students are significantly over-represented among terrorists.

It’s a fascinating study, and the kind of thing we need to be doing more of to understand the mechanics of the movement we have to break.The argument I originally made, to refresh your memory, was that the anti-Enlightment, anti-colonial progressive movements in the West influenced Islamic thought up to the 1950’s and the foundation of modern Islamism and that their bastard child is the movement we today call ‘Islamist'; the practitioners of the Islamist style know Fanon as well as Qut’b, speak the language of anti-colonial thought, and comfortably graft Chomsky onto a society that believes that woman can be best liberated by being kept in purdah.

The modern university, in which all forms of non-Western and anti-Western thought are given primacy, or at least lip service (the reality of the anti-Western and anti-Enlightment thought would be hard on the practitioners, as Arundhati Roy notes) is tolerant of these movements, romanticizes them, and – because much of the central arguments the critical-theory progressive movement (as opposed to the labor-union progressive movement I’d be happy to be a part of) have been coopted by Islamists, has no intellectual counter.

The authors discuss anti-Western values in their sample, and present three hypotheses as to why they were so powerful:

Furthermore, even before the Iraq war, radicals’ anger was not directed only against their national states of origin, but took a distinctive anti-Western colour. The focus of the radicalisation too therefore cannot be fully accounted for by relative deprivation per se. Three forces might have arguably intensified and shaped the direction of the frustration, among those with elite degrees. First, modern engineering and science curricula are a gigantic showcase of Western technological achievements, which put the backwardness of MENA societies in sharp relief (Moore 1994: 12f.; Hanafi 1997). Unlike those who pursue humanities or law degrees, engineers, doctors and scientists find it harder to ignore their thriving counterparts in the outside world (Hoffman 1995: 210). Unlike in the humanities, in the field of technology the West appears “monolithic and properly hegemonic” (Waltz 1986: 666), and students of these disciplines cannot as easily segregate their universe from the developed world. The contrast between Western achievements and their countries’ failures could have engendered a sense of collective frustration, which was felt more intensely by those with elite degrees.

Next, those who studied in the West, itself a sign of an even greater ambition and willingness to sacrifice than studying in Islamic countries, had reasons to feel even more deprived: there are at least 25 engineers in our sample who studied abroad, a ratio that strongly suggests that they are vastly over-represented among radical engineers (see fn. 15). At once attracted by Western achievements but disadvantaged in both home and Western countries’ labour markets, their cognitive dissonance was possibly aggravated by the direct exposure to an alien cultural environment. Those who studied in the West are more likely to have suffered not just from envy and resentment, emotions that derive from unfavourable comparisons experienced remotely, but also from anger and hatred, emotions aroused by cultural displacement (Wright 2006: 304) and direct humiliating interactions. These emotions are more likely to trigger action-responses (Elster 1999) – a desire to destroy the object of hatred, the West and its impure social mores, and a passionate embrace of traditional religious values. Mohamed Atta often bemoaned Western influence in Arab cities (Holmes 2005): according to Dittmar Machule, his thesis supervisor at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg in north Germany, Atta hated skyscrapers because in the city of Aleppo, on which he wrote his doctoral dissertation, tall buildings stole the privacy of the traditional Arab homes in whose courtyard women were once able to remove their veils unseen by strangers (Rose 2004).

Third, even those who did not go abroad found reasons to feel frustrated by Western technological dominance at home: resentment appears to have been fuelled by the competition of foreign firms, especially in public constructions funded by MENA states and international aid organisations. In Egypt in 1993 there were 60.000 foreign experts, 12.000 of whom were Americans, whose income often for the same job was manifold greater than that of local engineers – there are several testimonies of how much bitterness this caused not just towards foreigners but also towards the state guilty of privileging the latter over local resources (Moore 1994: 98; Hanafi 1997: 212).

To this, I’d add another; a lack of any legitimizing philosophy that they may have been exposed to that supports the West as any kind of learning model; for students who studied in Western universities (who were, interestingly even more over-represented), exposure to philosophies and values which legitimized their growing rage and helped direct it at the West, while offering little balancing criticism of Islamist radical thought.

From the paper, an interesting footnote on the place of radical values:

There is anecdotal evidence pointing to some degree of ‘continuity of style’ [in Egypt – AL] between Marxist groups and Islamists. In the episode we mentioned at the beginning, when Zawahiri boasted to Schleifer about the medical and engineering students in his

Schleifer replied that in the sixties those same faculties had been strongholds of the Marxist youth. The Islamist movement, he observed, was merely the latest trend in student rebellions. “I patronized him,” Schleifer remembers. “I said, ‘Listen, Ayman, I’m an ex-Marxist. When you talk, I feel like I’m back in the Party. I don’t feel as if I’m with a traditional Muslim.'” He was well bred and polite, and we parted on a friendly note. But I think he was puzzled.
(Wright 2002)

That university culture of contentless radicalism is what I’m happy to criticize. I don’t suggest (and never have) that political theory professors attempt to get their students to join radical movements (mine just tried to get me to go to grad school and get a PhD). But I will suggest that the cheap coffee-house political philosophy of my youth – in which Huey Newton was idolized at my alma mater – is strikingly close to the contemporary philosophy in which the articulate thug of the day is the current idol.

What does it say for our current political philosophy that it has so few answers to this?

And I guess the interesting question to me – right after the one raised in the paper that you ought to read – why it is that someone would study political philosophy if they didn’t think it had an impact?

Veteran’s Day 2007

Every year since I’ve been blogging, I’ve tried to do a post on Veteran’s Day. It started here, in a post I did at Armed Liberal in 2002:


…and to thank the veterans alive and dead for protecting me and mine.

…and worried that what I wrote kept coming out sounding either too qualified or would be interpreted as being too nationalistic.

And I realized something about my own thinking, a basic principle I’ll set out as a guiding point for the Democrats and the Left in general as they try and figure out the next act in this drama we are in.

First, you have to love America.

This isn’t a perfect country. I think it’s the best country; I’ve debated this with commenters before, and I’ll point out that while people worldwide tend to vote with their feet, there may be other (economic) attractions that pull them. But there are virtues here which far outweigh any sins. And I’ll start with the virtue of hope.

The hope of the immigrants, abandoning their farms and security for a new place here.

The hope of the settlers, walking across Death Valley, burying their dead as they went.

The hope of the ‘folks’ who moved to California after the war.

The hope of the two Latino kids doing their Computer Science homework at Starbucks…

I love this country, my country, my people. And those who attack her…from guerilla cells, boardrooms, or their comfy chairs in expensive restaurants…better watch out.

I don’t get a clear sense that my fellow liberals feel the same way. And if so, why should ‘the folks’ follow them? Why are we worthy of the support of a nation that we don’t support?

So let me suggest an axiom for the New Model Democrats:

America is a great goddamn country, and we’re both going to defend it from those who attack it and fight to make it better.

And for everyone who is going to comment and remind me that ‘all liberals already do that’? no they don’t. Not when the chancellor has to intervene at U.C. Berkeley to get ‘permission’ for American flags to be flown and red-white-and-blue ribbons to be worn. Not when the strongest voices in liberalism give lip service to responding to an attack on our citizens on our soil.

Loving this country isn’t the same thing as jingoism; it isn’t the same thing as imperialism; it isn’t the same thing as blind support of the worst traits of our government or our people.

It starts with recognizing the best traits, and there are a hell of a lot of them.

They were worth defending in my father’s time, and they are worth defending today.

So thanks, veterans. Thanks soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen. Thanks for doing your jobs and I hope you all come home hale and whole, every one of you.

I want to talk a bit today about debt. Non-monetary debt.Patriotism is, in its best sense, a matter of honoring debts. I’ll go back to Schaar’s “The Case For Patriotism”:

To be a patriot is to have a patrimony; or, perhaps more accurately, the patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts; one is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods, memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines what he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two are barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its homes and fears come from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those who will come after.

It seems silly that we have to make the point that none of us could see very far except that we all stand on the shoulders of others. This is true in ideas, in culture, in the economy, everywhere we look.

What we enjoy today was earned in no small part by others who came before us. The debt we are born into we repay by leaving something better for those who will come after us.

People fought and bled so that women and minorities could vote. They fought and bled so that working men and women would have some power to balance that of their employers.

And people have fought and bled to defend this country and our allies.

In my post about torture, I pointed out that through a happy accident, this country was one where the legitimacy of the government was not based on physical fear.

In no small part, this is because of those who served wearing our nation’s uniform.

They helped pay their debt by serving; we can (and must) pay our debt to them in many ways; it starts by understanding that we are all part of this debt ‘economy’ – that we benefit from what has been and can be expected to contribute to what will be.

It starts with a recognition that we are a part of something. It’s interesting that this gets rejected both on the right and on the left; by conservatives who believe in Howard Roark, and by liberals who believe that the only community that matters is the community of man. They can’t acknowledge the value of the community which they share, and which we all share – that community which is a part of the larger community of man and which includes all of us individuals but which exists apart from both. Because of that, they are both uncomfortable acknowledging it. But then again, debtors are usually uncomfortable acknowledging those whom they are indebted to.

The people who believe both of those things are in turn protected by young men and women wearing uniforms and carrying weapons, who are willing to put themselves between – this thing which can’t be acknowledged – and those who would if they could rule us by fear and blood.

That thing which can’t be acknowledged is our polity, our political community, America. And our young men and women have protected it, protect it, and will go on protecting it.

And that is the most fundamental debt of all.

I don’t claim that we should all agree about much; I see vocal disagreement as a feature, not a bug, in our society. But we ought to agree that we owe.

And we all should be thinking hard about what we’re doing to pay that debt back.

Reason Will Not Lead To Solution

Bankruptcy attorney Steve Smith blogs at ‘The Concerned Troll‘ and when he did this post on the surrent state of play in bankruptcy law, I asked if we could crosspost it here. We’ll be discussing these issues more in the coming few weeks.

by Steve Smith

When last we left the thorny subject of the current real estate implosion and its relation to bankruptcy law, the House of Representatives was considering legislation that would relax the current draconian restrictions on homeowners in filing Chapter 13 bankruptcies to stave off the Repo Man. The bill passed through sub-committee last month, and two weeks ago the Chief Economist for Moody’s Corp. testified before the Judiciary Committee that one provision of the bill, which would permit the courts to modify the terms of a home mortgage, would save up to a half-million homes from being lost in foreclosure over the next year and a half.This is such a sensible reform that I can hardly believe it has any chance of passing through Congress, let alone getting signed by the President. It would reamortize the secured amount of a home loan at the appraised value of the home, permitting homeowners to treat oversecured mortgages as unsecured, the same way owners of vacation homes and rental properties, of commercial real property, and family farmers can under the current law. It would also permit repayment plans that exceed the current five-year limit, and end the worthless requirement that debtors seek credit counseling as a precondition to filing a bankruptcy.

To those reforms I would add three others: raising the debt limit on Chapter 13 filings; eliminating the barrier that prevents homeowners from receiving discharges in Chapter 13 when they have filed a Chapter 7 within the last four years; and ending the presumption of abuse element. The current limits (just over a million dollars in secured debt, and just under $337,000 for unsecured debt) are particularly arbitrary for middle class homeowners, many of whom made the mistake of borrowing against the artificial rise in the value of their homes just before they needed hospitalization, or had a high judgment imposed against them or their business. The elimination of the 4-year barrier on Chapter 13 filings should be self-evident in this economy; many of the people who filed bankruptcies on the eve of YBK in October, 2005 also own homes, and not allowing them to save their homes would be unfair. And the presumption of abuse element, always the most controversial aspect of the 2005 law, forces many homeowners who simply wish to walk away from their property, into Chapter 13 (or its very expensive cousin, Chapter 11), benefiting no one, least of all the banks that are prevented from foreclosing by the automatic stay.*

But as I said, its chances for passage are dim, at least until after the 2008 election. Few Republicans in either house of Congress back the measure, and even if it gets out of the House, the likelihood that the Democrats could invoke cloture in the Senate, or even get a majority to support such reforms, is bleak. And by the time another session of Congress decides to act, the devastation to the economy that will no doubt be caused by the upcoming landslide of foreclosure sales will have already occurred.

*Its stated purpose, to discourage filings by middle and upper class debtors, has failed miserably; in the Central District of California, less than one percent of all affected cases get dismissed, in spite of all the time and paperwork the statute imposes.

Blogworld & New Media

Just back from Blogworld in Las Vegas, which I think was a huge success. Big props to the team that put it together – I hope they are celebrating this weekend.

Hung out with many bloggers – I’ll tell incriminating stories over the weekend, and gave a presentation with Toby Bloomberg which was well-received.

The deck, in case you’re interested, is available if you send me an email (it’s a big pdf file and MT doesn’t like files that size).

Note that I think I made two good points. I now have a practical way of explaining to people what’s the difference between traditional, interactive, and social media.

Picture me (in a nice suit, by the way…) standing in front of the room talking about all this.

That’s traditional media. You pay, I talk, you listen.

Then I ask the room for a definition of interactive media, and pick one woman to discuss it with.

Actually, that’s interactive media – you get to ask me a question or say something to me, and I respond. Others may or may not be able to hear our dialog, but it’s a dialog between two people.

I then projected three questions onto the screen:

* Who are you?

* What do you know about social media and marketing?

* What do you want to know about it?

…and asked people to turn to their neighbor and ask each other those questions.

Imagine you could record, search, and keep all those conversations.

That’s social media.

The other cool point I made was, when asked what to do about management that is ‘afraid’ of social media – “Tell them they aren’t nearly afraid enough.” (see the Jeff Jarvis/Dell slide from the deck)


…and note that Apple and HP were going up during this period.

Project Valor-IT Fundraiser

I’m bumping this again so that people at the Blogworld conference I’m at will see it whne they check the site out.

For the regulars, I’ll sweeten the pot. Donate $50 and I’ll write a 300-word post on any topic you choose. Just send me the confirming email and a topic…

Project Valor-IT helps set up and donate voice-actuated laptops to wounded soldiers in VA hospitals. At the Milblogs conference, I listened to a recipient talk about what it was like to reconnect to the world while his hands healed, and donated $100. There’s a friendly competition going on between the services to see who can raise the most money.

I’m choosing Army, for an obvious reason…

Armed Liberal on Torture – ‘People should not fear their government, their government should fear the people.’

So on to the issue of torture.

I’ve wrestled and wrestled with the issue; torture is obviously bad, but what is it about torture that is so expressly bad – why is it worse than the death and suffering that comes in war, or in the daily violence police officers do as a part of their jobs?

In large part, it’s the fact of violence against captives; against the helpless, the unarmed, those incapable of resisting. But that didn’t get to the heart of what cleaves torture as an issue from violence as an issue. And why I – as someone who is decidedly not nonviolent – am so decidedly against and uncomfortable with issues of torture.

I came to an answer, as I usually do, in an unplanned realization while reading a book.I just read ‘Savage Century: Back to Barbarism’ by Therese Delpech, a French policy wonk and public intellectual. It’s an interesting, depressing book, written in the dense yet breezy style of the French public intellectual – think Ellul – and it is about how thin the veneer of civilization is, and how mistaken we all are for assuming it to be solid, and how at risk we are in the coming decades of that veneer wearing through.

The history of the last century showed the ease with which historical transformations of unprecedented violence could follow without warning on the heels of the best of times. As in Greek tragedy, crime engendered crime in the house of Europe, which twice set the rest of the world ablaze. From the experience, lessons were drawn for the reconciliation of the European nations. But what is now at stake is Europe’s capacity to assume international responsibilities in a deeply troubled world. And from that point of view, the internal lessons just mentioned are insufficient. The unprecedented historical eruption from which the entire twentieth century arose does not speak only for the madness of Europe and of national passions. It is evidence of a wider adventure concerning humanity as a whole: the sudden appearance of storms whose warning signs on the horizon we Europeans have too long pretended to ignore, storms no one can control once they have been unleashed. When such sudden acceleration of history occurs, it signals the defeat of political action, which can do nothing but run after events until it is swallowed up by them. If Europe has any message to transmit to the world, it is truly this one.

In passing, she recounts the brutality of the Nazis, the Soviets, Mao’s China, and North Korea.

In some cases, as in China, examination of the past remains taboo. How much attention, for example, has been given to the scenes of cannibalism that took place in the midst of the Cultural Revolution in Guanxi in 1968? A terrifying account of them, barely repeatable stories of horrors, can be found in ‘Steles rouges’ by Zheng Yi. We learn that students sometimes ate their teachers, not in the course of a famine like the one that ravaged Ukraine and the rest of the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, but because years of daily brutality had brought about the resurgence of cannibalism as an act of supreme cruelty. The author of the book barely believed the rumors circulating about the villages where instances of cannibalism had occurred. But after collecting many accounts of practices even more terrible than those that had been reported to him – in paroxysmic scenes, some victims were eaten alive – Zheng reached a despairing conclusion: “A people that has incited its children to eat human flesh like savages had no hope for the future!” Worse, the collective madness was not completely devoid of “rationality.” Many bureaucrats climbed the ladder of power by means of such demonstrations of revolutionary faith:

In the modern period, when progressive Chinese men of letters inveighed against of the misdeeds of cruel officials who built their careers on assassinations, they often used this expression: “he does not hesitate to stain the feather in his cap with human blood.” But this expression is not suitable in the case of Wang Wenliu and other cadres in Wuxuan. In fact, to guarantee their success, they were not satisfied with merely killing human beings, they also ate them.

None of those acts would have been possible had it not been for the years of public confessions and public executions in China that twisted moral sense and the concept of justice. Nor would these acts have been possible in the absence of terrible mass pressure, which tolerates no resistance whatsoever.

She is using them as examples of what can happen – of the beast outside the circle of firelight that represents modern civilization – but I realized something else in reading this.

Those societies could not operate without the level of – to us – insane violence – which maintained and even today in China and North Korea maintains public order. The camps were not an aberration in Nazi policy; they Nazi policy. Nazi society and the Nazi state could not have existed without them. The same truth applies to the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea. The state is the Camp; some just live inside and some outside the wire.

So there are societies who exist only because of torture. Torture and the fear of torture – and death, and vanishing into ‘nonperson-ness’ in a distant camp – form the sole legitimizing principles of the society. And the relationship between the citizen whose person is secure from the state is fundamentally different from the relationship of the subject whose person is not.

We aren’t one of those societies. We never have been, due to the happy accident of English Common Law and the freedom provided by the wilderness.

And what that means is that we also know what we have to resist becoming. And pushing back on the issue of torture – being sure that we are on the right side of that line – is a damn good way to resist this.

This isn’t just happy moral talk over a pitcher at the campus pub. While I have no qualms with having our enemies fear us – the reality is that the manner in which we deal with them is watched by those not (yet) our enemies. Who have to decide on whose side to stand.

And here, I’ll go back to Boyd.

Observations Related To Moral Conflict

No fixed recipes for organization, communications, tactics, leadership, etc.

Wide freedom for subordinates to exercise imagination and initiative – yet harmonize within intent of superior commanders.

Heavy reliance upon moral (human values) instead of material superiority as basis for cohesion and ultimate success.

Commanders must create a bond and breadth of experience based upon trust – not mistrust – for cohesion.



Undermine guerilla cause and destroy their cohesion by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and serve needs of the people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the benefit of a greedy elite.*

Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish corruption. Select new leaders with recognized competence as well as popular appeal. Ensure that they deliver justice, eliminate grievances and connect government with grass roots.*

*If you cannot realize such a political program, you might consider changing sides.

As I finished this up tonight, I noticed a post in Memorandum that I think ties to this and is well worth reading.

It’s a post about Guy Fawkes at Harpers, which has gone kind of moonbatty in the last five years. But it’s a definite should-read. The author’s principles are sound, even if he’s somewhat blinded by BDS – and the failure of the Administration is to have left themselves open to this kind of criticism.

And it lets me cite a wonderful line from the movie ‘V for Vendetta’, which Littlest Guy wanted to see again ‘because it’s making me think’.

People should not fear their government, their government should fear the people.

More on this in a bit; I’ll piss many of you off by disputing what exactly constitutes ‘torture’.