carolf (carolf) wrote,

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Today is Blog Against Torture Day

Or, so several folks I've flisted have informed me.

Most of the original things I had to say I posted in response to their posts.  So, I won't repeat all those points, here.
Instead, I want to pursue  line of thought I've had since reading everyone else's comments.  catalana pointed out that she was interested in morality, not law.  That got me thinking.

I consider it immoral to tell lies.  Sometimes, it is also illegal (perjury, for instance.)  However, I "lie" all the time.  I tell someone I'm fine after he's stepped on my toe.  I tell my mother I'm happy to do something for her, whether I am or not.  I tell lies of omission even more often, for simplification, for time constraints, for the sake of being polite ...

So, why am I so calm about how easily I transgress my moral code?  Before all this discussion about torture, I would have said that I was committing a smaller transgression on order to avoid a larger one -- I say everything is fine because it's not so un-fine that it's worth distressing the poor guy who has apologized -- and I know I will be fine in the end.

But now, I think I am so calm because the consequences of my transgression -- to me and to others -- are immaterial enough that I don't agonize over the issue.

So, what if I up the ante?  How do I feel about killing?  Easy - it is immoral.  Period.  (These are my moral standards I'm discussing, here, so I can be as adamant as I choose.)  And, yes, that means I am against capital punishment, which, as a form of killing I must find immoral. 

But I was all for the execution of Timothy McVeigh.  I heard a politician put it thusly:  There are certain crimes for which capital punishment is the correct response -- treason, killing law enforcement officers, and habitual, serial murder.  "Correct" because these are three circumstances in which the punishment of death is commensurate with the crime and the crime's affect on society.  Or to put it another way, the only way to prevent recurrence of the crime is to end the criminal.  These three cases indicate such a high level of depravity that rehabilitation or redemption is improbable.

So, here I have something I consider immoral (being  "correct" does not make it "moral") that I am willing to condone as expedient., Under limited circumstances, with caveats up the wazzoo, but still, condone.  This makes me extremely uncomfortable.  Rightly, so.  So uncomfortable, in fact, that I would likely change my stance were I the potential executioner.  Does that put me in denial?  Very likely.  I haven't figured out what to do about it, yet.

So, now we arrive at a higher ante still -- torture.  For me, this is immoral.  There are no exigent circumstances under which I could condone it.  For one thing, I don't think it is as expedient as capital punishment, for instance.  So it is harder to imagine a circumstance where I could justify its use.  Without that, though, I consider the consequences of legal torture to be so negative that to condone it at all is the denial.  Unlike capital punishment, which at least does solve problems on some level, torture merely creates new problems without solving the old. 
What did I learn from this line of thought?  That the larger the stakes in terms of consequences of the action, the less easy it is to condone the action, and the easier it becomes to declare it categorically immoral.

That doesn't say a whole lot about the immutable nature of morality, does it? It might, though, explain why so many of us have trouble articulating our thoughts -- we're dealing with a subject of infinite shading, and all of us are at different  places on the spectrum.

I think this "day to blog" deal was a ... um... character-building exercise.

Let's not do it again, for a while, ok?
Tags: philosophy, politics

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