Posts Tagged ‘torture’

(Cross-posted to Tumblr, in response to theunitofcaring.)

I don’t personally experience their level of discomfort around people who believe in the existence of Hell in the same sickening way, but I find this an entirely understandable reaction.

It seems too obvious to even mention, but that’s almost never universal, so it’s worth spelling out: Hell, as generally described or conceived as a place of everlasting suffering, is the most evil idea that is possible to exist.

There are various other interpretations of what Hell is – “an absence of God” or what-have-you – which may or may not be more theologically rigorous than the colloquial usage. But the lasting image in many people’s minds is pretty much congruent with all those Renaissance paintings of lakes of fire filled with sinners. If you go there, you will be tormented without end. And whatever disagreement there is on what it takes to get sent there, this happens to a non-zero number of eternal souls.

Seriously, if you can come up with something even hypothetically more evil than that, leave a comment or something, I’d be fascinated.

So while there’s something horrifying about wishing that somebody would suffer such a fate, there’s an extra layer of grotesquery in accepting that such a self-evidently evil thing could be allowed to exist by a god who claims to love us, and who somehow still deserves our love in return. That it’s a sad necessity, or part of some great divine plan we’re not privy to, and not proof that this god is an abominable tyrant who we must never stop railing against.

All that said… I think the saving grace here is that most people just haven’t thought it through.

I can’t know what’s going on in other people’s brains, but I strongly suspect that many of those who profess a belief in Hell haven’t consciously, deliberately, formed a mental model of all the implications of that belief and truly accepted them. Far more likely that many of them are replacing the question with a different one, and answering that instead.

Rather than “What is an appropriate and reasonable punishment for people who do wrong?” they’re responding to something about how important it is to them to defend the integrity of their tribe, and how strong is the hate they feel toward the out-group. The feeling of enmity toward the other is interpreted as a wish for some non-specific ills to fall on said other, but in practice, they’re probably not imagining anything more appalling or painful happening to them than, say, death. (This is the same misunderstanding of scale as is often seen in the dust-speck issue, where people read “3^^^3” and think “billions, probably”.)

So, yeah. If you believe in Hell, then potentially we could still be friends, although it’s not exactly a great start. If you believe in Hell and we’re already friends, well, just know that I disagree with you on this even more than I disagree with you on politics, and we both know how out-of-sync I am on that front.

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Society has problems that need fixing.

The people we ostensibly put in charge of fixing society’s problems have a great deal of power to enact their proposed solutions.

The perceived problems faced by society, which it’s assumed need to be addressed by those in charge, include such items as: the unjustified claiming of “free money” by those who haven’t proved themselves to deserve it; long-term unemployment; and criminal behaviour by juveniles.

Popular salves for these maladies include, respectively: imposing benefit sanctions for transparently idiotic reasons; forced placement on full-time, unpaid workfare schemes; and solitary confinement of children, a practice widely regarded as torture.

I talk semi-regularly about aspects of our society that I truly believe will be looked back on with horror, disgust, and bewilderment in a century or so, and I want to explore that in some more depth.

Even people who haven’t experienced it directly will be familiar with the racist grandparents trope. People who grew up in a different era often don’t have the same sensibilities to certain issues that we do today, and maybe they can’t be expected to. It doesn’t make them bad people, but they were raised with a certain set of attitudes being strongly normalised, and it’s not always easy to see, decades later, why the way you’ve always acted is suddenly so offensive to people, or so drastically needs altering.

It can be hard to articulate to someone behind the curve just why it’s important to adapt like this. “Just don’t be racist” doesn’t seem like it should need spelling out; and yet if something was “just the way things were” seventy years ago, it may not be obvious that the world has changed for the better.

I’d be amazed if there weren’t things that my generation’s grandkids end up being impatient for me and my peers to adapt to, but which we struggle embarrassingly with. The thing I particularly imagine them wondering about us is:

Was that really the best you could do?


All that technology and productivity and abundance and capacity to do amazing things together, and you couldn’t find any better way to induce better behaviour in kids, or deal with supposed “freeloading”, without shitting all over thousands of other people who were just trying to get by?

You really didn’t have any better ideas for how to help lift up the lowest among you, and give everyone a chance to thrive?

There was really no interest in picking a military strategy that didn’t involve the useless mass murder of random foreign civilians?

Were you guys actually, really, honestly trying as hard as you can to not totally fuck everything?

Really, though?

When they get around to asking us that, I’m not sure what our answer is going to be.

But maybe I’m just projecting, because I’ve already been asking it for so long myself.

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Here’s a fun game. See if you can tell what the following things have in common:

  • Prolonged isolation
  • Deprivation of light
  • Extreme variations in temperature
  • Death threats
  • Shackling and manacling for hours at a time
  • Noxious fumes that caused pain to eyes and nose
  • Denial of medical care for serious and potentially life-threatening ailments, including chest pain and difficulty breathing, as well as for treatment of the chronic, extreme pain caused by being forced to endure stress positions, resulting in severe and continuing mental and physical harm, pain, and profound disruption of the senses and personality

Any ideas? I’ll give you a hint.

Imagine that you were taken somewhere and incarcerated against your will, without being accused of any specific crime, but just because it’s been decided that you’re a bad sort. You don’t get a trial, or any legal recourse, and you’re put through all the things listed above.

If you had to describe your ordeal to somebody else later, what word might you use? Just a one-word summary to really get across the scope of how much you’d been made to suffer. “I was… somethinged.” What’d be a good word to fit there?

If you said “tortured”, congratulations, you might just be a reasonable human being. But in this case, sadly, you’re out of luck. This is actually a partial list of “things that government officials could do to an American citizen and still claim later that they didn’t know they were ‘torturing’ that citizen.”

“Torture”? How dare you accuse the greatest nation on Earth of such barbarism? Why do you hate America?

(via BoingBoing)

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After an entirely permissible weekend off, I’m back.

Before remembering I was too lazy, I wanted to talk about the Daily Mail. And, your inevitable nausea at reading those words notwithstanding, I’m going to give it a try now.

The Twitter account @polljack exists, as the name suggests, to hijack internet polls. The guy behind it, Chris Coltrane, has the Daily Mail newspaper particularly in mind as a target, and it’s true that the Mail’s website does ask its audience a large number of poll questions which deserve to be skewed heavily in a non-appalling direction by a bloc of mass voting.

The creation of @polljack was prompted by a Richard Littlejohn article about what he found objectionable in the NHS protocol for treating “gipsies” (I genuinely have no idea if that’s an offensive term, or spelt incorrectly, or whether referring to them as “members of the mobile community” would be patronising, so apologies if I’m getting it wrong one way or the other). It was a predictably obnoxious piece, essentially full of reactionary grumpiness at the idea of anyone from a demographic other than his own being treated with similar decency, set in a strange imagined world in which some conspiracy exists in this country to keep the white middle-class Englishman under heel.

Anyway, the article was accompanied by a simple yes/no poll that readers could vote on, asking Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue? Which is a frustratingly loaded and over-simplified question, in which a “No” answer is clearly expected, but which implies agreement with the entirety of Littlejohn’s outrage.

So, @polljack took offence, got to work, and suggested that people voted “Yes”. By the time the poll was closed, “Yes” was up to 93% of the vote.

This was A) funny, and B) an effective way of making the point that not everyone is going to side with casual racism just because of the leading way you phrase the question.

There’s been some discussion recently, though, on just what @polljack’s role should be, and which polls it should attack. For instance, there was another Littlejohn article recently about torturing terror suspects, with the accompanying question: “Is it acceptable to torture terror suspects?”

Now, first of all, the correct answer is “No”. I’ll give you that one for free.

Secondly, even if the answer were more complicated than “No”, or if you wanted to explore the issue in more depth, appreciating that there are many complex issues at play here, you’re not actually making the insightful point you think you are by asking “How should we grill terrorists – with a cuddle and a cup of tea?”

Seriously. The sole counterpoint to “torture” is not “cuddle”. You are not helping to highlight a genuine dichotomy here. You’re making plain that you have no idea how this discussion actually works. You’re greatly over-simplifying things, but in the polar opposite direction to the way anyone with a functioning cerebellum would choose to over-simplify things.

Your rhetorical tactic amounts to “People who disagree with me love terrorists and want to cuddle them, therefore I’m right and those scum deserve to have their testicles electrocuted off”. All it takes is one person to disapprove of torture and yet somehow take a less ludicrous position than that of “More tea, Osama?”, and you look like an idiot.

Perhaps worryingly, the “Yes” vote was winning in answer to the torture question before @polljack got involved – but it currently stands 63% against.

But this isn’t proving the same point as the poll about gipsies. That landslide vote was a direct rejection of the premise of the question. It had been set up so that “No” was supposed to seem like the only sensible answer, but “allowing gipsies to jump the queue” is a complete misrepresentation of the NHS’s position anyway, so the intent was to make the poll look as silly as it clearly was. And it worked.

But with the torture question, they’re just correcting the answer. Whether doing these things is acceptable is a real question, with genuine opinions on both sides. Jacking it makes a very different point.

It’s still a point worth making, of course, and I guess I agree with Chris Coltrane’s rationale for targeting the polls he does. I don’t think there’s any significant criticism to make about giving the Mail extra publicity – the project’s not really going to make a dent in their average daily visitor count.

The only other real objection I recall is that leaving the poll alone allows it to highlight what terrible views Daily Mail readers hold. But I’m not convinced that a depressing poll result really reflects Daily Mail readers as a group any better than the contents of the articles in the Daily Mail itself. And we can infer what Richard Littlejohn thinks about an issue quite easily enough by reading whatever he’s shouted onto the page this time, and it’ll make our eyes bleed just as much regardless of what the poll’s doing.

So, I support the @polljack project, and the mischievous consciousness-raising that it aims to achieve. But choosing polls to target is always going to be tricky, and I think some of the earlier efforts, such as the gipsies, arguably did a better job of turning this level of journalism into the joke it deserves to be.

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