Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tortured Logic

Some time in the middle of the quarter, we talk about identifying bias, logical fallacies, and the use of language to obfuscate and manipulate truth. There isn't a better example than torture, and the "tortured logic" used to justify its use.
  • "Mistakes were made." Using the passive voice disguises the main actor; mistakes were made by whom?  We don't know, but they were made, it's time to move on!
  • "We don't torture." President Bush said this in 2003, and President Obama said this in 2009. When Bush said it, we believed him. That lie, then, puts a cloud over everything that follows. Regardless of whether you think President Obama should prosecute torturers and the justifiers of torture from the previous administration, he is definitely doing the right thing by bringing this to light; transparency is the only act that will remove the cloud.
  • "Enhanced interrogation methods." That's so less ugly than torture, right? 
Andrew Sullivan wrote a brilliant post about power, conservatism, torture, and Western civilization. The whole piece is worth reading--it's only four paragraphs--but here is its first one:
The assertion of total power through unchecked violence - outside the Constitution, beyond the reach of the law (apart from legal memos from hired hacks instructed to retroactively redefine torture into 'legality') - will be seen in retrospect as the key defining theory of Bush conservatism. It ended with torture. Why? Because reality may differ from ideology; and when it does, it is vital to create reality to support ideology. And so torture creates reality by coercing "facts" from broken bodies and minds.

God, it's ironic that Bush -- the cowboy, the "you're with me or against me" president -- became the postmodern president, using power to shape and define "truth." And President Obama, with his ability to look at people, countries, policies, etc, from different points of view, seeing the gray between "us" and "them" and the compromise between "with me" and "against me," appears to be the modern president - searching for truth, using methodology and science and dialogue to find the best solutions and policies. 

Waiting at the airport Sunday and Monday night, I watched more cable television news than I'd seen in the previous two months. A panel of talking heads were discussing "enhanced interrogation methods." What disgusted me was the fact that these "news analysts" were treating it as a partisan issue, with republicans excusing it. This is a clip from yesterday, but it reflects the tenor of these ongoing conversations:

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