Friday, January 16, 2009


Sometimes I wonder if the world hasn't turned into another episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I remember the famous sketch involving the Spanish Inquisition. The most absurd part of the sketch is the torture scenes where the accused is prodded with the soft cushions.

And so we come to the latest story about the U.S. being exposed for torturing prisoners.
Yes, torture is bad. In fact, torture is the least successful means of obtaining information. We know from Stalin's show trials that torture was merely a means of breaking the spirit of the prisoners to get a confession out of them for whatever crimes were cooked up by the accusers and subsequently justifying the execution of those prisoners.

So, lets get a perspective on torture. Methods used by U.S. soldiers such as sleep deprivation and forcing men to wear womens' underwear hardly compares with the torture methods of Al- Qaeda. For example, Abu Ghraib prisoners were smeared with menstrual blood.
I could give other examples but it seems to me that the only thing that was being hurt was the prisoners pride. Compare this torture to that of Al-Qaeda.

It seems to me that the side that is forced to fight its enemies with one hand tied behind their back is the side that will most certainly lose the fight. We might cling to ethics and a sense of morality to make ourselves feel good but what use is morality when the enemy has no such values? How do we restrain an enemy that has no qualms about killing innocents? That has no qualms about killing indiscriminately? How do you restrain an enemy that glorifies death?

Yes torture is bad and probably doesn't extract any useful information.
Let's go into battle with the enemy on our terms, carrying our baggage of ethics, morality and righteousness. Good luck.
From Apocalypse Now
Kurtz: I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God... the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us.

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Jeannie said...

Not easy to make a comment. Idealism is a wonderful concept but in real life, sometimes you have to do wrong to do right. Means to an ends and all that. But making the judgment call as to what ends are justifiable and what means aren't too wrong is a tough one. Because, in the end, we all think we are the good guys.

I just wish someone would step up bravely and tell certain people to stop whining like babies. And that other people wouldn't pretend to be all offended by it.

If you ask me, "they" are using the whole, "Oh, I am so offended by your actions" as an excuse to do whatever the heck they want to do - that they are actively looking for lamebrain "reasons" to commit murder.

Anonymous said...

Nietzsche, "Genealogy of Morals"

As it acquires more power, a community no longer considers the crimes of the single individual so serious, because it no longer is entitled to consider him as dangerous and unsettling for the existence of the totality as much as it did before. The wrongdoer is no longer “outlawed” and thrown out, and the common anger is no longer permitted to vent itself on him without restraint to the same extent as earlier— instead the wrongdoer from now on is carefully protected by the community against this anger, especially from that of the immediately injured person, and is taken into protective custody. The compromise with the anger of those particularly affected by the wrong doing, and thus the effort to localize the case and to avert a wider or even a general participation and unrest, the attempts to find equivalents and to settle the whole business (the compositio), above all the desire, appearing with ever-increasing clarity, to consider every crime as, in some sense or other, capable of being paid off, and thus, at least to a certain extent, to separate the criminal and his crime from each other—those are the characteristics stamped more and more clearly on the further development of criminal law. If the power and the self-confidence of a community keep growing, the criminal law also grows constantly milder. Every weakening and deeper jeopardizing of the community brings its harsher forms of criminal law to light once again. The “creditor” has always became proportionally more humane as he has become richer. Finally the amount of his wealth even becomes measured by how much damage he can sustain without suffering from it. It would not be impossible to imagine a society with a consciousness of its own power which allowed itself the most privileged luxury which it can have—letting its criminals go without punishment. “Why should I really bother about my parasites?” it could then say. “May they live and prosper; for that I am still sufficiently strong!” . . . Justice, which started with “Everything is capable of being paid for; everything must be paid off” ends at that point, by shutting its eyes and letting the person incapable of payment go free—it ends, as every good thing on earth ends, by doing away with itself. This self-negation of justice: we know what a beautiful name it calls itself—mercy. It goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or even better, his beyond the law.


A critical comment here about a recently published attempt to find the origin of justice in a completely different place—that is, in ressentiment. But first a word in the ear of the psychologists, provided that they have any desire to study ressentiment itself up close for once: this plant grows most beautifully nowadays among anarchists and anti-Semites; in addition, it blooms, as it always has, in hidden places, like the violet, although it has a different fragrance.* And since like always has to emerge necessarily from like, it is not surprising to see attempts coming forward again from just such circles, as they have already done many times before—see above, Section 14 [First Essay]—to sanctify revenge under the name of justice—as if justice were basically only a further development of a feeling of being injured—and to bring belated honour to reactive emotions generally, all of them, using the idea of revenge. With this last point I personally take the least offence. It even seems to me a service, so far as the entire biological problem is concerned (in connection with which the worth of those emotions has been underestimated up to now). The only thing I am calling attention to is the fact that it is the very spirit of ressentiment out of which this new emphasis on scientific fairness grows (which favours hate, envy, resentment, suspicion, rancour, and revenge). This “scientific fairness,” that is, ceases immediately and gives way to tones of mortal enmity and prejudice as soon as it deals with another group of emotions which, it strikes me, have a much higher biological worth than those reactive ones and which therefore have earned the right to be scientifically assessed and respected first—namely, the truly active emotions, like desire for mastery, acquisitiveness, and so on (E. Dühring, The Value of Life: A Course in Philosophy, the whole book really).* So much against this tendency in general. But in connection with Dühring’s single principle that we have to seek the homeland of justice in the land of the reactive feeling, we must, for love of the truth, rudely turn this around by setting out a different principle: the last territory to be conquered by the spirit of justice is the land of the reactive emotions! If it is truly the case that the just man remains just even towards someone who has injured him (and not merely cold, moderate, strange, indifferent: being just is always a positive attitude), if under the sudden attack of personal injury, ridicule, and suspicion, the gaze of the lofty, clear objectivity of the just and judging eye, as profound as it is benevolent, does not itself grow dark, well, that’s a piece of perfection and the highest mastery on earth—even something that it would be wise for people not to expect here; in any event, they should not believe in it too easily. It’s certainly true that, on average, among the most just people themselves even a small dose of hostility, malice, and insinuation is enough to make them see red and chase fairness out of their eyes. The active, aggressive, over-reaching human being is still placed a hundred steps closer to justice than the reactive person. For him it is simply not necessary in the slightest to estimate an object falsely and with bias, the way the reactive man does and must do. Thus, as a matter of fact, at all times the aggressive human being, as the stronger, braver, more noble man, has had on his side a better conscience as well as a more independent eye; by contrast, we can already guess who generally has the invention of “bad conscience” on his conscience—the man of ressentiment! Finally, let’s look around in history: up to now in what area has the whole implementation of law in general as well as the essential need for law been at home on earth? Could it be in the area of the reactive human beings? That is entirely wrong. It is much more the case that it’s been at home with the active, strong, spontaneous, and aggressive men. Historically considered, the law on earth—let me say this to the annoyance of the above-mentioned agitator (who once even confessed about himself “The doctrine of revenge runs through all my work and efforts as the red thread of justice”)—represents that very struggle against the reactive feelings, the war with them on the part of active and aggressive powers, which have partly used up their strength to put a halt to or to restrain the excess of reactive pathos and to compel some settlement with it. Wherever justice is practised, wherever justice is upheld, we see a stronger power in relation to a weaker power standing beneath it (whether with groups or individuals), seeking ways to bring an end among the latter to the senseless rage of ressentiment, partly by dragging the object of ressentiment out of the hands of revenge, partly by setting in the place of revenge a battle against the enemies of peace and order, partly by coming up with compensation, proposing it, under certain circumstances making it compulsory, partly by establishing certain equivalents for injuries as a norm, into which from now on ressentiment is directed once and for all. The most decisive factor, however, which the highest power carries out and sets in place against the superior numbers of the feelings of hostility and animosity—something that power always does as soon as it is somehow strong enough to do it—is to set up law, the imperative explanation of those things which, in its own eyes, are generally considered allowed and legal and things which are considered forbidden and illegal, while after the establishment of the law, the authorities treat attacks and arbitrary acts of individuals or entire groups as an outrage against the law, as rebellion against the highest power itself, and they steer the feeling of those beneath them away from the immediate damage caused by such outrages and thus, in the long run, achieve the reverse of what all revenge desires, which sees only the viewpoint of the injured party and considers only that valid. From now on, the eye becomes trained to evaluate actions always impersonally, even the eye of the harmed party itself (although this would be the very last thing to occur, as I have remarked earlier).—Consequently, only with the setting up of the law is there a “just” and “unjust” (and not, as Dühring will have it, from the time of the injurious action). To talk of just and unjust in themselves has no sense whatsoever; it’s obvious that in themselves harming, oppressing, exploiting, destroying cannot be “unjust,” inasmuch as life essentially works that way, that is, in its basic functions it harms, oppresses, exploits, and destroys, and cannot be conceived at all without this character. We have to acknowledge something even more disturbing: the fact that from the highest biological standpoint, conditions of justice must always be only exceptional conditions, partial restrictions on the basic will to live, which is set on power; they are subordinate to the total purpose of this will as individual means, that is, as means to create larger units of power. A legal system conceived of as sovereign and universal, not as a means in the struggle of power complexes, but as a means against all struggles in general, something along the lines of Dühring’s communist cliché in which each will must be considered as equal to every will, that would be a principle hostile to life, a destroyer and dissolver of human beings, an assassination attempt on the future of human beings, a sign of exhaustion, a secret path to nothingness.—

Lexcen said...

It certainly is a difficult concept to contemplate. Winning at any cost ends up costing the winner their humanity. That is a tragedy in itself.

Anonymous said...

If you asked me, I'd say "humanity" appears to be a fairly "pliable" and resilient thing...

Nietzsche, "Gay Science"

The Four Errors. Man has been reared by his errors: firstly, he saw himself always imperfect; secondly, he attributed to himself imaginary qualities; thirdly, he felt himself in a false position in relation to the animals and nature; fourthly, he always devised new tables of values, and accepted them for a time as eternal and unconditioned, so that at one time this, and at another time that human impulse or state stood first, and was ennobled in consequence. When one has deducted the effect of these four errors, one has also deducted humanity, humaneness, and "human dignity."

Anonymous said...

After all, what's a mind to focus on during a torture session?

Nietzsche, "Genealogy of Morals"

The proud knowledge of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility, the consciousness of this rare freedom, of this power over oneself and destiny, has become internalized into the deepest parts of him and grown instinctual, has become an instinct, a dominating instinct:—what will he call it, this dominating instinct, assuming that he finds he needs a word for it? There’s no doubt: the sovereign man calls this instinct his conscience.


His conscience? . . . To begin with, we can conjecture that the idea “conscience,” which we are encountering here in its highest, almost perplexing form, has a long history and changing developmental process behind it already. To be entitled to pledge one’s word, and to do it with pride, and also to be permitted to say “Yes” to oneself—that is a ripe fruit, as I have mentioned, but it is also a late fruit:—for what a long stretch of time this fruit must have hung tart and sour on the tree! And for an even much longer time it was impossible to see any such fruit—no one could have promised it would appear, even if everything about the tree was certainly getting ready for it and growing in that very direction!—“How does one create a memory for the human animal? How does one stamp something like that into this partly dull, partly flickering, momentary understanding, this living embodiment of forgetfulness, so that it stays current?” . . . This ancient problem, as you can imagine, was not resolved right away with tender answers and methods. Indeed, there is perhaps nothing more fearful and more terrible in the entire prehistory of human beings than the technique for developing his memory. “We burn something in so that it remains in the memory. Only something which never ceases to cause pain remains in the memory”—that is a leading principle of the most ancient (unfortunately also the longest) psychology on earth. We might even say that everywhere on earth nowadays where there is still solemnity, seriousness, mystery, and gloomy colours in the lives of men and people, something of that terror continues its work, the fear with which in earlier times everywhere on earth people made promises, pledged their word, made a vow. The past, the longest, deepest, most severe past, breathes on us and surfaces in us when we become “solemn.” When the human being considered it necessary to make a memory for himself, it never happened without blood, martyrs, and sacrifices, the most terrible sacrifices and pledges (among them the sacrifice of the first born), the most repulsive self-mutilations (for example, castration), the cruellest forms of ritual in all the religious cults (and all religions are in their deepest foundations systems of cruelty)—all that originates in that instinct which discovered in pain the most powerful means of helping to develop the memory. In a certain sense all asceticism belongs here: a couple of ideas are to be made indissoluble, omnipresent, unforgettable, “fixed,” in order to hypnotize the entire nervous and intellectual system through these “fixed ideas”—and the ascetic procedures and forms of life are the means whereby these ideas are freed from jostling around with all the other ideas, in order to make them “unforgettable.” The worse humanity’s “memory” was, the more terrible its customs have always appeared. The harshness of the laws of punishment, in particular, provide a standard for measuring how much trouble people went to in order to triumph over forgetfulness and to maintain a present awareness of a few primitive demands of social living together for this slave of momentary feelings and desires. We Germans certainly do not think of ourselves as an especially cruel and hard-hearted people, even less as particularly careless people who live only in the present. But just take a look at our old penal code in order to understand how much trouble it takes on this earth to breed a “People of Thinkers” (by that I mean the European people among whom today we still find a maximum of trust, seriousness, tastelessness, and practicality, and who, with these characteristics, have a right to breed all sorts of European mandarins). These Germans have used terrible means to make themselves a memory in order to attain mastery over their vulgar basic instincts and their brutal crudity: think of the old German punishments, for example, stoning (—the legend even lets the mill stone fall on the head of the guilty person), breaking on the wheel (the most characteristic invention and specialty of the German genius in the realm of punishment!), impaling on a stake, ripping people apart or stamping them to death with horses (“quartering”), boiling the criminal in oil or wine (still done in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), the well-loved practice of flaying (“cutting flesh off in strips”), carving flesh out of the chest, and probably covering the offender with honey and leaving him to the flies in the burning sun. With the help of such images and procedures people finally retained five or six “I will not’s” in the memory, and, so far as these precepts were concerned, they gave their word in order to live with the advantages of society—and it’s true! With the assistance of this sort of memory people finally came to “reason”!—Ah, reason, seriousness, mastery over emotions, this whole gloomy business called reflection, all these privileges and showpieces of human beings: how expensive they were! How much blood and horror is at the bottom of all “good things”! . . .

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... perhaps torure doesn't deprive one of their humanity... but serves, rather, to help "create" it.

Must be some kind of "generation from opposites". ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'd ramble on, but I think Essay #2 has pretty much got this subject covered.

Anonymous said...

Fear is the mother of morality.--Nietzsche

Anonymous said...

Once that fear begins to wear off, well, morals begin to decline.

Lexcen said...

"We Germans certainly do not think of ourselves as an especially cruel and hard-hearted people, even less as particularly careless people who live only in the present. But just take a look at our old penal code in order to understand how much trouble it takes on this earth to breed a “People of Thinkers” (by that I mean the European people among whom today we still find a maximum of trust, seriousness, tastelessness, and practicality, and who, with these characteristics, have a right to breed all sorts of European mandarins). These Germans have used terrible means to make themselves a memory in order to attain mastery over their vulgar basic instincts and their brutal crudity:"
How ironic. Obviously the Germans didn't read their Nietzsche before they embarked on the "final solution".

Anonymous said...

Evidently, not all of the German's made it all the way to "civilized". I think I can state unequivocably that thanks to progressive liberalism, many Americans are regressing as well.

But it's been done by design... Eros and Civilization, Herbert Marcuse. And it's not the intellectuals who have regressed, It's the other 95% of the population who have accepted their message on "faith" that their progressive legislators know what they're talking about (and they don't).