I've just finished The End Of Faith and am still bothered by one chapter in particular. Unless I have misunderstood, in chapter 6, A Science Of Good And Evil, Harris seems to imply that in some cases, torture is justified. This is drawn from the idea of war as mass torture, much of it on innocent civilians ("collateral damage"); and that it would be better to track likely suspects down and torture them individually, thus sparing the general populace. He also gives a brief look at pacifism and announces it to be a failure. My thoughts on these conclusions are as follows:
1) I would agree that war is mass torture; however I disagree that avoiding war by capturing and torturing suspects is valid. I don't think you would necessarily get around a war by doing this as supporters of the accused would rally and form an opposition anyway. You could stifle the opposition with a reign of terror, but this would likely spill over onto anyone (not just terrorists) in disagreement with the government. Who wants to live in a society based on fear?
2) It has been shown that torture is not a viable way to get information. Even if you had in your custody a true terrorist, he may not have the information you want, but through torture will give you false info just to stop the torture. The same would be true if you picked up an innocent person; they may confess to anything to stop the brutilization. You would confess also if someone was yanking your toenails out with a pair of pliars—even if you had no idea what you were admitting to.
3) Who would decide what people to pick up for torture? And how would they come to this decision? Even if you allowed it was neccessary to use such an action against terrorists, it is not as easy as it sounds to define who this term covers. Obviously, if one of the hijackers had survived 9-11 he could be identified easily as such. But who else? Anyone in their organization? OK, still pretty much terrorists; how about their families? They might be accomplices, might not be. Anyone who sat at the same table at some meeting, even if the person didn't know the one next to them was so violently inclined? How about people who might agree on a few points but not all, and especially if they didn't believe in violent methods? It seems that this could be used way too broadly towards who ever are deemed against those in power.
4) Please also think of what torture does to the one performing it. It dehumanizes both interrogater and the suspect. I cannot believe someone can carry out such actions and not be affected negatively by it. I wouldn't want them moving next door to me.
5) Pacifism shouldn't be arbitrarily tossed aside. The point at which pacifism is best used is not in the middle of hostilities; but long before things have blown way out of control. In other words, developing ways and means of communication and agreement before things escalate. Unfortunately, if things are not "hot", no one (individuals or nations) seems to worry about how their actions affect others around them and thus the stability of people and the world. Maybe I'm misusing the word, but to me pacifism is also the avoidance of war in the first place. And while very difficult to follow in the midst of an actual war, it is a powerful tool if adopted by the majority. Plus, you do not tarnish yourself with having to participate in killing anyone, and having that on your conscience.
These are very difficult things to wrestle with. I wouldn't condemn someone that took a life in self-defense, as that is really an instinctual reaction if someone jumped you. But massing people into groups and purposefully training them to kill—I struggle with this. And I just
hate the term "collateral damage". It's like you want to avoid the fact that it's human beings you are talking about
I'm not going to "rant on" any more about this; but I just wondered if anyone else is bothered by the issues of war and torture, and whether they are justified or possible to avoid. Peace and pacifism may be idealistic, but if someone doesn't ponder ways to put them into action, they will never be achieved.