Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Speechalist

Even those who admire President Bush for his strength and resolve have to admit that his admirable virtues do not extend to public speaking. It can be painful for the President's supporters, of which I am one, to listen to him speak ex tempore.

He and his staff recognize this shortcoming, of course, and what most people don't know and what you may well be hearing for the first time here at Viewpoint, they have employed a "Speechalist" to turn Mr. Bush's weakness into a strength.

You heard correctly - a Speechalist - but don't take my word for it. Go here and see for yourself.

No matter how much you may love the President, you'll still have to laugh at "The Speechalist".

Thanks to Isaac for the link.

Into the Pit of Hell

One irony of enlightenment modernity is that in the move to exalt human kind and to liberate man from the shackles of guilt and repression imposed by medieval religious institutions, man was actually dehumanized. When God was dispensed with as the basis for human dignity and worth, dignity and worth washed away like bare topsoil in a thunderstorm. There was nothing left to hold it. The attempt to deify man wound up paradoxically reducing him to the status of a herd animal - something to be manipulated, exploited, and slaughtered to suit the convenience and the needs of whoever controlled the levers of power in society.

Thus the twentieth century, the zenith of modernity, the age of state atheism, the age of the ascendency of reason, was the most savage, murderous century in human history.

Our dignity, worth and thus our right not to be harmed, our fundamental right to life, is rooted, John Locke reminds us, solely in the fact that we are created by God for His purpose and in His image. He loves us and we are His property. No one can with impunity harm that which is cherished by God. But modernity has sought to render God irrelevant to the human enterprise and to replace rights rooted in God with rights rooted in reason. Reason, however, cannot bear the weight that modernity wishes to place upon it.

The following story about Peter Singer is a good illustration of the erosive effect that modernity's rejection of God has had on our belief in the value of human life. Perhaps no contemporary thinker is as clear, consistent, and forthright about the implications of modern atheism as is Singer:

An internationally known Princeton "bioethicist" and animal-rights activist says he'd kill disabled babies if it were in the "best interests" of the family, because he sees no distinction in the child's life whether it is born or not, and the world already allows abortion.

The comments come from Peter Singer, a controversial bioethics professor, who responded to a series of questions in the UK Independent this week.

...Singer believes the next few decades will see a massive upheaval in the concept of life and rights, with only "a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists" still protecting life as sacrosanct.

To the rest, it will be a commodity to be re-evaluated regularly for its worth.

Singer's response came to Dublin reader Karen Meade's question: "Would you kill a disabled baby?"

"Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole. Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman's right to have an abortion," he said.

He added that one point on which he agrees with the pro-life movement is that, "from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby."

The statement furthers the argument that Singer's position is just an extension of the culture of death that has developed in the world, with euthanasia legal in some locations, abortion legal in many and even charges that in some repressive societies there's an active business in harvesting healthy organs from victims in order to provide transplants for the wealthy.

Singer holds that man is no different from other forms a life, and therefore man's life is not worth more than, for example, the life of a cow.

The only moral absolute, he noted, "is that we should do what will have the best consequences for all those affected by our actions."

Here in this last sentence Singer slips into inconsistency. If there is no God then there are no moral "shoulds", there are no moral absolutes at all. As Dostoyevsky writes in the Brothers Karamazov "If God is dead then everything is permitted". In the Godless world that modernity wishes to build there is no reason, moral or otherwise, why I shouldn't just do what will have the best consequences for me and not care at all about how my actions affect anyone else.

Nor can atheism offer us any consistent, non-arbitrary reason why the killing should be limited to fetuses and newborns. After all, as Singer points out, there's no qualitative difference between the born and the unborn child, but neither is there a sharp qualitative difference between the newborn and the toddler, or the toddler and the child, or the child and the adolescent. The boundaries are blurry at best and completely arbitrary at worst. The logic of Singer's argument leads us, once we accept killing defective newborns, to killing less defective newborns and eventually normal newborns, and from thence to killing defective children and eventually normal but inconvenient children. From there the horror will eventually extend to adult undesirables and eventually to any adult who is politically inexpedient.

In other words, Singer's atheism leads us right back to the mass exterminations of the Nazi holocaust.

Peter Singer's ideas, as affable and congenial as he might be in person, would, if followed consistently, lead us straight into the pit of hell.

What Makes it Torture?

The controversy over interrogation techniques has once again emerged in our public discourse. Unfortunately, politicians and media types, so far from clarifying the issue for the rest of us, seem to be confusing the questions involved. There really are two issues which need to be separated in this debate, but they're often conflated by the media. One question is definitional or ontological, the other is ethical. They are: What constitutes torture, and whatever torture is, is it ever justified?

We've discussed the second question at some length on Viewpoint (See here, here, here, here, and here for recent examples) but haven't considered the first one as much.

So let's agree that torture is at least almost always wrong. If we're going to prohibit it, however, we have to have a pretty good idea what it is, especially if we risk abolishing is a useful tool in preventing terror attacks that isn't really torture.

President Bush is trying to get Congress to define torture so that we know what can be done and what can't, but he's meeting resistence from the usual suspects, including Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Warner, and Susan Collins. Their argument seems to boil down to this: Don't worry about what torture is. Just don't do it. Their position is quite unhelpful and more than a little ludicrous, but then they are U.S. senators.

The dictionary defines torture as the infliction of severe pain or mental anguish in order to coerce or punish. Let's apply that definition to one of the most notorious, and effective, means of coercing cooperation among people the CIA is interrogating - waterboarding. The CIA is believed to have used waterboarding in a very few special cases,a nd it's an example of the sort of thing that Senator McCain wants stopped. In waterboarding a detainee is strapped to a table, his face is wrapped in saran wrap, and water is poured over it. This somehow produces the sensation of drowning and induces panic in the person to whom it is done. It's said to be very effective in eliciting accurate intelligence, intelligence which has saved lives.

Let's set aside, though, the question of its justification and ask why we should think that this particular technique constitutes torture. What are some possible answers to that question?

Perhaps it's torture because it's painful.

But apparently there's not much pain involved, and if there were it would only be brief since people only hold out for a few seconds when subjected to it.

Perhaps it's torture because it does lasting harm to the detainee.

Evidently not. The individual is no doubt shaken but none the worse for the experience. In fact, interrogators have had it done to them just so they know what it feels like.

Perhaps it's torture because it's done to punish.

No. It's done to elicit information. Once the subject cooperates the treatment ceases.

Perhaps it's torture because it's unpleasant.

Surely an unpleasant experience, however, is not ipso facto torture. If it were, then putting someone in restraints or feeding them institutional food would be torture.

Perhaps it's torture because it frightens the terrorist.

Indeed, it does frighten the terrorist, but so does the prospect of being executed for their crimes or being put in prison for the rest of their life. Should they not be threatened with these possibilities? Why must we be so squeamish that we are reluctant even to scare people who are trying to murder our children?

Perhaps it's torture because it elicits information against the detainee's will.

It certainly does motivate the terrorist to divulge information, but the fact that they don't do so willingly is hardly reason to think that the method is somehow tainted. If it were then phone taps, etc would be torture since they are means by which we obtain information from people who would not otherwise willingly give it.

Perhaps, it's torture because some men are exerting power over another.

Yes, but so is a cop who stops you for a traffic violation, and we don't consider that torture.

The fact is that the suspect has complete control over how long the process lasts or whether it will even begin. This is an important point. The terrorist is essentially in complete control of what, if anything, happens to him. He's no more damaged when it's over than when it started. He experiences no sensation other than panic and though he's frightened, he knows that he really is not drowning. So why would waterboarding be considered torture but, say, lengthy imprisonment, which may do some, or even all, of the things mentioned above, is not?

I really have no answer to the question. It simply makes no sense to me to ban this technique, but if someone can point out something that I'm overlooking I'm certainly willing to reconsider.