Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Morality of it All

There are so many topics I want to discuss and one issue I want to avoid discussing entirely. However, I must address it out loud, or in writing, before I can move on. I am compelled to write this, not to sway others or promote my specific position. This post is truly just for me.

As difficult as it is to admit, I am not a particularly moral person in many ways. I believe morality exists for the greater good. It helps keep people’s baser instincts at bay, insuring the survival of the species. Along with laws and regulations, morals kept us from killing each other and dying off thousands of years ago, acting as cues to remind us to “not go there” unless we want to invite calamity.

I have the intelligence and ability to avoid calamity without cues constantly reminding me to take care. I operate on the assumption that if I skate on some of those cues, I still won’t cause the collapse of the society. Hence, I don’t experience the moral outrage others feel regularly when someone behaves in a ‘socially’ immoral fashion. A person’s proclivities and any deviation from the norm are their business and I won’t judge. Only if their behavior negatively impacts another living creature’s life, do I believe society has a responsibility to step in to stop the behavior and restore those damaged by it. Even then, my concern is for those hurt, not for the state of the perpetrator’s moral soul.

I admit this about myself to show that I am neither an idealist or one who goes through life in a state of continual moral outrage.

However, some issues raise my moral hackles. When a wrong perpetrated damages humanity as a whole, it is morally reprehensible and must come to an immediate halt. Whomever is responsible needs to either understand the error of their ways and beg forgiveness or be forced to bear retribution for their actions.

I have listened to the recent ebb and flow of opinion surrounding the fact that the US government not only sanctioned but actively carried out acts of torture against human beings. I have read the documents released to date, although the reading wasn’t necessary to resolve the issue to my mental satisfaction.

I am now tired of the debate, tired of the discussion. The mere fact that anyone attempts to debate that torture is not always unacceptable demeans us all. I demand the debate end immediately.

If only I had that power. I don’t, but the facts do. And here are the facts, or rather the single fact that matters:

Torturing is wrong. Specifically, torturing an enemy to gain advantage in conflict is wrong.

There is no ambiguity to this statement. It is wrong. It was wrong long before the Geneva Convention declared it so. It will always be wrong.

This is not a debatable point. It is not a topic for discussion. It is fact.

We need to quickly and collectively agree on this fact, take steps necessary to show the world we realize this. If we do not, we risk damaging humanity to the point that the next absolute wrong which humankind has collectively agreed upon, will start sounding less and less absolute.

We must take this discussion out of politics and patriotism. Torture has nothing to do with politics. This is not an issue like universal health care or changes to the tax code. It is not a topic that one group of people can be “for” and another group “against”. It is wrong. Always wrong. Always.

Likewise it is not OK for the US to say it is acceptable for us to torture you but still unacceptable for you to torture us. Again, let me repeat myself. It is wrong. Always wrong. Always.

I will not discuss the issue of torture leading to valuable intelligence. It has been shown repeatedly that it does not. But that is not the point. Even if torture led to valuable intelligence, it doesn’t matter. The act is still wrong. There is no greater good that can ever be served by torture.

Why is it not painfully obvious to every human being that torture doesn’t just damage the person it is inflicted upon? It damages all of us.

A CIA operative participates in water-boarding an inmate 80+ times in a month. Let’s think about who is impacted by this:

1. Obviously the inmate. The physical and psychological damage is permanent. They don’t “get over” this. Their chance of ever assuming a normal place in society is gone. They are scarred for life. “So what,” you might say, “they are terrorists, they killed innocent people, they attacked the US.” First, that has no bearing on the key fact. Torture is wrong. And second, evidently many were not terrorists, at least not then, they had not killed innocent people, and they certainly did not attack the US. Among those tortured were the innocent.

2. The operatives performing the torture. They face two potential outcomes. They may become totally devoid of concern for humanity, because they’ve participated in the most base and evil actions against humanity and faced no repercussions. Or, like the actual victim, they are mentally and psychologically scarred for life. This is not something a person participates in and then walks away unscathed.

3. The community or society of the inmate. Knowing that another country doesn’t hesitate to pick up people in their community, sometimes with no cause other than mistaken identity or poor intelligence and tortures them, is never going to endear the torturing country or it’s citizens to that community. Torture understandably breeds hatred. Hatred breeds violence. While I am not a religious person, the whole “eye for an eye” argument is not lost on me. The fact that we tortured any citizen of another country means that our citizens, including soldiers, are not safe from torture in that country again. How can we blame Pakistanis or Iraqis for torturing our citizens, when we have done the same to theirs?

4. Citizens of other countries, especially allies that have a stake in the continued strength and support of the US. Their estimation of us is lessened.
They lose confidence that we will react and respond as we have in the past. They cease to trust us and may look to other alliances. Partners that they hold in higher esteem. Or partners that react consistently, so at least they know what to expect and where they stand.

5. The citizens of the country that tortures. We’ve belittled and demeaned ourselves in the eyes of the world. The US has always been sanctimonious, but we had a reason to be that way. We believed in the dignity of man and did not treat even our worst enemies in such a way that ran counter to that belief. Now we have. People who represent us, the citizens of this country have tortured others. We assume the guilt of our representatives. We cannot be surprised or shocked when the esteem or at least reluctant respect we used to take for granted is gone. By behaving so deplorably, our value as humans is lessened.

By the actions instigated by a few, the value of the entire human race is lessened.

During the eight years George Bush was my President I thought about the demise and ultimate fall of the great empires through out history. Did Roman citizens realize that their empire was slowly crumbling, or were they blind to the fact until it was too late to act? Were there signs or hints that the empire was in trouble, cracks in the foundation that pointed to what lay ahead? Did anyone see these cracks, point them out to others even if they were repeatedly ignored or ridiculed? Did the Roman government truly believe it was invincible and no matter how heinous of act they might commit their rule was absolute and for always?

Watching what has happened in the US during this debate over an undebatable topic, I think I found my answer.


Bernie Latham said...

And all this from the party and movement which finds incontrovertible evidence of the decline of America in the moral relativism which takes no offense to the marriage of gay people.

Anonymous said...

I agree that torture is ALWAYS wrong.

Can you explain how the following statement:" The physical and psychological damage is permanent. They don’t “get over” this. Their chance of ever assuming a normal place in society is gone."

How it relates to John McCain, especially since he endured far worse than what the Guantanamo inmates have endured?

Knowing that the individuals that have been tortured were terrorists themselves. (the ones that were involved with 9/11 - those 2) I would not want them to ever assume a normal place in society again. Would you?

In regards to your assumption: " This is not something a person participates in and then walks away unscathed."
I can imagine sadists and psychopaths having no qualms about it; having a nice dinner afterwards joking about some of the 'stuff' they did, etc...

Overall a good reflection on torture in general. I'd suggest staying away from the biblical quote "eye for an eye" as certain individuals will jump on that to justify torturing the 'evildoers'

Lulu said...

Bernie - as usual, I find our positions on issues so similar. But you always seem to be able to say what I am thinking in far fewer words than I need. I keep saying to myself - brevity, brevity, but so far with little result. Thanks for reading.

Lulu said...

Anon - wow, what a great response to my stream of consciousness. When I get on a roll like this even I have difficulty rereading it and sorting out what I said. I am impressed you were able to follow.

Let me try and respond logically.

I do believe that the damage from torture is permanent.Senator McCain is a perfect example. During the last campaign we watched him subjugate his core principles and personality, willing to do whatever it took to get what he wanted. His was an act of desperation. Much like a torture victim is eventually willing to say anything that will stop the pain, he was willing to say or do anything to get himself elected. Whether it was falling in with the extremist in his party, picking a gimmick for a running mate or his schizophrenic reaction to the financial crisis, this was not a man in good control of his mind. He's exhibited the same erratic behavior throughout his career.

As far as those tortured never being able to return to a normal life - it seems certain many people imprisoned and tortured were not terrorists, at least they weren't before we got our hands on them. With as many mistakes & dumb errors as were made in the last 8 years, I have absolutely no confidence in the previous administrations ability to sort out the guilty from the innocent. Their misguided paranoia made that difficult at best. I would be thrilled if those people could go back to normal life. Instead the hatred we instilled by our behavior insures they will become what we accused them of in the first place. They have good reason to hate us now.

Regarding those that truly were terrorists, we can hate them all we want, we can lock them away and never think about them again. But torturing them does nothing to them, it just demeans us.

I agree about the psychopaths and sadists. I should have been clear I was referring to the mentally healthy.

I agree about the 'eye for an eye'. I usually shy away from anything biblically related. That one slipped in.

Thanks so much for your response. You really made me think. Feel free to do so anytime!