Thursday, December 07, 2006

Against the torture debate

Some welcome cricket-free posts from Norm at last - although here's one I didn't care for. Or to be more precise, it contains a link to an article I didn't care for. Norm describes this piece by Stephen de Wijze as a "an absolutely must-read" survey of the "torture debate".

So I read it. Then I wished I hadn't bothered.

It's not that the article isn't a reasonable summary of the "torture debate"; it's just that I don't think we should be having such a debate at all. Stephen de Wijze is amongst a number of people who have described the prevailing liberal consensus that is opposed to all torture under any circumstances as a 'taboo'.

The notion of taboo carries connotations of irrationality, of beliefs held on the basis of prejudice. I think the 'taboo' against torture can be rationally defended quite easily. Philosophically, torture fails the Kantian 'Kingdom of Ends' test; historically it has demonstrably failed the utilitarian test. But my purpose here - and this is where I worry I'm becoming a conservative - is to defend the taboo against torture as a taboo - this being an inclination, based on moral sentiments not necessarily formulated into abstract thought - something drawn from the wisdom of ages and of nations, rather than men.

Every society has them - and that the prohibition against torture has formed part of the history of Britain is something that makes me more favourably disposed towards it, and forms a big part of the reason I was so appalled at Nick Cohen's sleekit apologia for it.

I strongly dislike this talk of us being in an "unprecendented situation", as if there wasn't enough information available to us from history about the human condition already. Did we really have to witness the shame and disgrace that was Abu Ghraib to learn it all over again? And isn't the fact that a 'debate' is taking place at all evidence that not even this most recent lesson has been learned?

Let me put it in the most unequivocal way I know how: the very idea that 'liberals' should consider, even for a moment, the notion of 'temporary torture warrants', that the state should be allowed under any circumstances to have this power over other human beings, is something that comes from the Father of Lies himself.

[Cross-posted in DSPTFW]

1 comment:

S.M. Stirling said...

You do realize that you have just engaged in the argument you say shouldn't take place?

And of course trying to argue against argument is equivalent to sitting on a branch, sawing it off, and expecting to float upwards.

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