Monday, October 15, 2007

Cruciatus reductus ad absurdum

Torture reduced to the absurd. Also known as an apagogical argument, when debating an issue, reducing something to its most extreme is a form of logical reasoning that makes use of the principal of Tertium non datur meaning: There is no third possibility. Basically, a statement is either true, or it is false. It cannot be both.

Some non-absolutists would argue that life is not made up of "true and false", "right and wrong", or "black and white". I am not a non-absolutist. I believe that most, if not all things can be sorted into that which is true and that which is false. Of course this form of logic only works if one concedes that there is in fact an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Now there are pros and cons to both schools of thought and I in no way intend to suggest that my way of thinking is the only way. But I do believe that it is the right way based upon my experiences and views of the world around me, illuminated by the light of my faith. But if it is reasonable to suggest that a thing cannot be both true and false at the same time, then it is also reasonable to conclude that the truth of any matter can be determined by reducing the complexity of the problem to its simplest terms.

So it is on this predication of the belief in an absolute "right and wrong" that I submit to you the following. I want you to test yourself. I want you to explore your concept of what is acceptable and what is not. The subject is torture. It's a terrible word conjuring images of medieval dungeons and all types of dastardly tools wielded by masked executioners or mad scientists. Each of us draws lines in our psyche, if only subconsciously, defining the acceptable field of play. What is Ok? And what is not? There must be a line. It must exist for all but the moral relativist, who is illogical and unreasonable anyway and thus excluded from all consideration in this discussion. But what constitutes "torture"? And is it ever acceptable? If so, when? If not, why? It is easy to juggle one's reasoning when the subject is as broad as that outlined in the preceding questions. One can easily say "NO", it is wrong and barbaric and should never be considered under any circumstances by civilized society. OK. Let us assume for a moment that that is your position. Let us then apply the logic of reducing the subject to it's most absurd extreme, for it is either true or it is false. It is right or it is wrong.

Assume for a moment that I have broken into your house while you slept. I've kidnapped your daughter. Your daughter has a deadly medical condition which requires regular doses of medication. I've hidden her away in an undisclosed and untraceable location and her very life is at stake because without immediate intervention, she will die. Now, assume that I've been captured and indisputable evidence exists that links me to your daughter's disappearance....perhaps photographic....perhaps eyewitness...perhaps DNA. Perhaps all of the above. Perhaps I've confessed but remain unwilling to reveal her whereabouts. Assume it is up to you. What coercive methods would you be willing to inflict to obtain the desperately needed location of your daughter? Think before you answer. This is your child. Your love. Your life. You'd take her place in death without a second thought if only you could. But you can't. And now her very existence hangs in the balance of your preconceived notions of the morality of torture and the sanctity of life. What do you do? Do you forsake your principles to save your child's life? Or do you stand on them in spite of the horrific cost? You are human. Be honest with yourself. For it is not your principles at stake here, it is truth itself.

We are a nation of laws, of rights, of reason. We do not, as a society, condone torturing anyone to obtain any information no matter how valuable. Or do we? The question today is not: "Is it right for our society?" The question today is: "Is it ever right at all?" I have no problem telling you where I stand. I am not afraid of the introspective consequences of discovering that I am human and that while I revere humanity for all of its goodness and charity, I also recognize the inescapable truth that man, despite all of his noble acts of selflessness will always have a tendency to act in favor of his own self preservation. I would inflict any amount of pain upon you if it meant that the information you gave would save my child from certain demise.

This example is extreme. It is meant to be. It is meant only to illustrate that there IS a line. There IS a boundary. There IS a limit to man's tolerance of predation by other men. The question is: "Where is that line?" It is no doubt different for everyone. Personally, I wouldn't require near the extreme example cited above to resort to torture. I recognize the sanctity of innocent life. Why should the life of an innocent stranger be any more sacred than the life of my own child? It must be nasty business to torture someone. I don't believe I could make a living out of it. But I have no doubt about my willingness to engage in it should the outcome be that an innocent person lives to see another day, be it my child or yours.

One can attach whatever stipulations one likes such as "It must be confirmed that this person actually possesses this intelligence." or "It must be time sensitive." or "It must be a last resort." Those stipulations are matters for policy makers to address. This post is not meant to delve that deeply into the subject but rather only to illuminate the fact that there are times when even the most staunch opponent of torture would consider it as a reasonable alternative and if that be the case, that the person must reflect honestly upon his or her moral fabric and make a judgment as to when it is acceptable and how far it should go. It is not an easy subject to consider, but neither should it be an easy subject to avoid. For while this example was extreme, the underlying theme is not so far fetched. Much is at stake in our world today. We face an enemy who sees his own death as a victory. The technology exists to literally exterminate life as we know it and it is conceivable that plans are already underway to bring about such an end to our way of life on this planet. Are our principles really so unswayable that we would just willingly concede such a heavy cost for the sake of adhering to them? Not mine.