Debating Torture Is Like Debating Whether Rape Is Good

False Debate

Torture doesn’t work to produce helpful intelligence. All of the top experts say that it hurts our national security. (More).

Those who believe that torture produces helpful intelligence don’t understand the facts … just as people that think that a woman’s body can reject a rape-induced pregnancy are uninformed.

Zero Dark Thirty is CIA-sponsored government propaganda. But the filmmaker – Katheryn Bigelow – claims that it’s a “complicated” issue that can’t be oversimplified.

Slavoj Žižek notes:

With torture, one should not “think” [about trade-offs involved in a “complex” issue]. A parallel with rape imposes itself here: what if a film were to show a brutal rape in the same neutral way, claiming that one should avoid cheap moralism and start to think about rape in all its complexity? Our guts tell us that there is something terribly wrong here; I would like to live in a society where rape is simply considered unacceptable, so that anyone who argues for it appears an eccentric idiot, not in a society where one has to argue against it. The same goes for torture: a sign of ethical progress is the fact that torture is “dogmatically” rejected as repulsive, without any need for argument.

Žižek also notes that the pro-torture crowd argues that it’s just real life … so we should discuss it:

So what about the “realist” argument: torture has always existed, so is it not better to at least talk publicly about it? This, exactly, is the problem. If torture was always going on, why are those in power now telling us openly about it? There is only one answer: to normalise it, to lower our ethical standards.

I agree that torture is immoral, and that we destroy the ethical standards that make us Americans by endorsing it. But that misses two more fundamental issues:

Until we understand those facts, all debate about “real world trade-offs” makes no more sense than debating whether rape is a good or bad thing.

Žižek gives another analogy:

Imagine a documentary that depicted the Holocaust in a cool, disinterested way as a big industrial-logistic operation, focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed). Such a film would either embody a deeply immoral fascination with its topic, or it would count on the obscene neutrality of its style to engender dismay and horror in spectators. Where is Bigelow here?

Without a shadow of a doubt, she is on the side of the normalisation of torture.

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  • steven andresen

    I’m not endorsing rape, but, haven’t there been movements that have supposedly used rape as a device to demoralize their enemies? That is, for some people rape, like torture, has been used with the thought that it gives them an advantage. I’m told that there are some movements that think the murder of their enemies’ children gives them an advantage.

    When you claim here that we should think rape is so bad, we shouldn’t have to argue about it, I wonder if this strategy is really an effective way of getting people to avoid these practices.

    Isn’t rape, torture, and murder the kind of actions that, in most circumstances you’d say was done “in the heat of passion.” You might find, doing some study, that most cases were done in battle, or during some violent altercation. I don’t think your argument is going to keep those kind of cases from occurring. The claim that the act of aggression is the primary crime in a war involves the argument that all the activities of torture, rape, and murder that occur during a war would not have occurred if not for the initial act of aggression. So, to prevent most cases of rape, torture, or murder done during wars, we should prevent wars and prosecute those who start them.

    I think that the cases of torture done in those dark hell-holes we have squirreled around the world would not be there unless we let our leaders start these unjustified wars. So, yes, now we have a society that debates the usefulness of torture, but not the ultimate reasons we are torturing. According to our own lights, we torture for the same reasons that other countries tortured, that is, we have been engaging in aggression and so torture, as well as rape and murder, follow naturally along behind.

    • nveric

      For future reference:

      Please don’t describe those elected to office as “leaders.” I reject the term “leader” because it’s not a real view of how the political / governmental systems of the World operate. Electing “leaders” puts the People as slaves. “Leaders” is not a legitimate term unless it’s agreed to beforehand and stated plainly, which in the case of the USA system, it’s clearly not valid.

      “Officials” is another term which must not be used.

      • InnerCynic

        How about “tax-sucking overlords”? That’s about right.

        • How about “cock-sucking overlords”?

          • InnerCynic

            I’m certain there is plenty of “give and take” on that end as well.

  • V Smith

    Rape is great — 4 the rapist. Not so good 4 the victim, the community, our national culture.

  • nveric

    “…the pro-torture crowd argues that it’s just real life…”

    The classic line of idiots. Real-Life is what is created, not the implied set-in-stone as though its required as in breathing, eating, and sleeping. Real-Life and How the World works is only and can only be from what is done by choice and then accepted by others.

    The crap people accept must always be unacceptable and fought with great vigor. The crap people put up with is what must be rejected. There is right and wrong behavior. Relativism is crap when concerning the core essence of living things and how they relate to each other. Although people want to survive, they must follow certain rules which rejects violence to others.

    Real-Life views torture as always a wrong.

  • steven andresen

    I’m not clear. The torture that our spooks are doing would not have been done if not for the aggressive wars we’ve started in various countries in the middle east, and elsewhere. We have thought, in the past, that torture, along with rape, and murder, done during these wars, were crimes worth a lot of effort to capture, prosecute, and punish their perpetrators. But, the worst crime was the aggression that made all of them possible.

    Instead of debating the value of torture, rape, and murder, along side those during a war, we have moved to prosecute the instigators. So, we prosecuted the leaders of Nazi Germany and Japan after WW 2.

    ZDT is a film which assumes a certain context. It assumes that we aren’t going to be assessing or evaluating the leaders of our country who have gotten us into this conflict with Bin Laden, Al Qaeda the Muslims, etc. It assumes we aren’t going to question the justifications for the war depicted. It is just going to assume we have a war and that in our war, we have to do what we must against an evil enemy. In this respect, ZDT is much like Triumph of the Will where there is no discussion of the morality of National Socialism and its leaders, it just makes a pretty picture of men in uniforms. ZDT is a lot like the action films we’ve been seeing for decades where there is no real consideration of the morality of police or detectives shooting up the place. They just focus on the camaraderie between the buddies, or the revenge fantasy. In this respect, ZDT is not depicting real life any more than most American films It’s all about fairy tales and monster movies.

    If you want to do something to make our spooks stop torturing people, in our name, capture, prosecute, and punish accordingly the leaders that lied us into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

  • InnerCynic

    This only serves to remind me of all the times I’ve visited other blogs and I’ve seen knuckleheads post the most inane drivel about the “technical issues of this or that weapon or tactic” in the midst of this evil campaign. It’s as if after a full decade hence they’ve gotten so used to the invisible war “over there” that their conversation boils down to what is the most effective calibre to kill Muslims. Worse is when they dispassionately talk about “nuking” men, women and children for some existential threat that’s as solid as the wind. It’s mind numbingly stupid and equally evil. I’m not afraid of Iranians, really, just slope headed idjits in THIS country and the archons they gladly goose-step behind.

  • pjb1

    Read L. Neil Smith’s “Henry Martyn”. All empires are maintained by theft, murder, torture and rape.