September 23, 2006
America Has Gone To The Dogs
As usual, Digby nails the torture issue:
This is an important thing for us to think about. It's not just a matter of abstract morality. It's a practical question of what happens to societies when they let go. It's hard to imagine how gay marriage or women's rights could even come close to the kind of weird, inhumane behavior that is set free when you go this deeply into sanctioned authoritarian sadism. I wrote in that post, called Genie In A Bottle:To some extent civilization is nothing more than leashing the beast within. When you go to the dark side, no matter what the motives, you run a terrible risk of destroying yourself in the process. I worry about the men and women who are engaging in this torture regime. This is dangerous to their psyches. But this is true on a larger sociological scale as well. For many, many moons, torture has been a simple taboo --- you didn't question its immorality any more than you would question the immorality of pedophilia. You know that it's wrong on a visceral, gut level. Now we are debating it as if there really is a question as to whether it's immoral --- and, more shockingly, whether it's a positive good. Our country is now openly discussing the efficacy of torture as a method for extracting information.People and societies don't just wake up one morning to find they no longer recognize themselves. It's a process. And we are in the process in this country of "defining deviancy down" in ways I never thought possible. We are legitimizing torture and indefinite detention --- saying that we will only do this to the people who really deserve it. One cannot help but wonder what "really deserves it" will mean in the years to come as we fight our endless war against terror.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" he couldn't ever have dreamed that we would in a few short decades be at a place where torture is no longer considered a taboo. It certainly makes all of his concerns about changes to the nuclear family (and oral sex) seem trivial by comparison. We are now a society that on some official levels has decided that torture is no longer a deviant, unspeakable behavior, but rather a useful tool. It's not hidden. People publicly discuss whether torture is really torture if it features less than "pain equavalent to organ failure." People no longer instinctively recoil at the word --- it has become a launching pad for vigorous debate about whether people are deserving of certain universal human rights. It spirals down from there.
Sure, right now it's just a bunch of foreigners and I guess we don't feel foreigners are entitled to basic human rights. They must not be human --- or at least not as human as "we" are. When you think about it, who knows who "we" are either? Right wingers make millions of dollars writing books about how liberals are godless, death-loving, traitors within. Many people who read those books probably believe these liberals are only one step away from being sub-human too ---- they are, after all, godless traitors.