“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.”
— David Brin
(1950- ) Author
I don’t know much about sane folks, but I get the drift here from Mr. Brin. I figure the realm of politics attracts opportunists the way a basketball court attracts tall folks. It’s just obvious that this realm appeals to a certain population. One population that is called to politics are reformers, utopians, philosophers who want to see if their ideals can be put in practice. That is probably the best of the lot. Another group are or become pragmatists who think they can see a way to move a body politic toward an ideal through compromises and the politics of the possible. And yet another group are simply political functionaries who understand the political realm as primarily a playing field for exercise of power. All of the experimentation that attends the exercise of power and is done without the counterweight of the human values captured by Eleanor Roosevelt’s master work, the declaration of universal human rights is fraught with risk. Perhaps it is done in the context of a different philosophical realm – the social darwinism of Ayn Rand or the puritanical criminality of folks who come to power with the idea that ethnic cleansing of society is a means that is justified by their dream end of a pure society. And really, this ethnic cleansing model is simply operationalizing social darwinism. It is an impatient social darwinism that doesn’t even have the moral conscience to enact policies of neglect and exclusion that will achieve a similar end more slowly. I will give those folks points for efficiency. The trains will run on time or the conductors will be thrown under the wheels.
So, in an exercise of brutal or brutish efficiency, our country now engages in some horrendous stuff and there is not much outcry. Waterboarding? Is it ever ok to torture beings? I don’t think this is a tough question. Our efficiency (misunderestimated imho) overcomes our values and we are drawn into questions about whether torture works? Does torture work? Of course it works. The work product is tortured individuals on both sides of the equations. Torture creates monsters.
The correct question is should we torture beings? Is there ever a justification for torture? The simple and correct answer is no. Kick the question to ethics philosophers, to religious leaders, to large political bodies, the answer is the same. Torture is wrong. Don’t bother playing around the margins with sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions etc. This is torture. Subject any of the individuals who favor these “pragmatic” options to skirt the clear moral and legal prohibitions to torture to enhanced interrogation techniques for 72 hours and let’s see if they continue to think this is ok. Of course, that is a rhetorical proposition. Unless the proponents of enhanced interrogation techniques volunteer for the treatment to show that is not inhumane, we who believe the treatment is inhumane cannot cross that line. It’s just that simple.
How about murder? Is murder ever ok? “Thou shall not kill” seems to be a pretty common principle in religions and moral philosophies. Geopolitics continues to find justification for wholesale violation of this principle in decisions to enter into wars or “police actions.” Intentional destruction of life is delivered through our proxies, the drones, that circle above us. The finger that pushes the button is isolated from humanity by electronic screens, the screens of violent computer games, the screens of electronic drone control panels, the human screens that allow this murderous activity to be conducted anonymously. Murder from behind the screen of anonymity. Pay no attention to the man behind the screen or curtain. The drone attacks are surgical and intelligent. We get the illusion of smart bombs when we need the reality of smart leaders, smart policies, smart action.
So, this country recently sent a team of assassins into another sovereign country in the dead of night to murder an unarmed man. Our agents captured a man who had been convicted of no crime and it is said they shot him in the face, possibly in front of his family members. Are we ok with that? Is that an event for celebration?
I say no.
So what are our values? Why do other folks around the planet find themselves in conflict with us? I will let John Foster Dulles have the last word:
“Somehow we find it hard to sell our values, namely that the rich should plunder the poor.”
— John Foster Dulles former Secretary of State