1 of 7
1
The Morality of Torturing Muslims
Posted: 15 January 2008 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08

In The End of Faith, chapter six, A Science of Good and Evil, Harris makes the point that sometimes our intuition with respect to morality is deceiving.  For example, while most of us feel that torture is immoral, we nevertheless feel that killing or maiming innocent civilians in a bombing attack is acceptable.  “To learn that one’s grandfather flew a bombing mission over Dresden in the Second World War is one thing; to hear that he killed five little girls and their mother with a shovel is another.”  And yet, is killing five little girls with a shovel really any worse than killing them with a bomb?

Harris attributes our intuitive failing to “millions of years on the African veldt [which] could not possibly have selected for an ability to make emotional sense of twenty-first-century horror.”  Maybe so, maybe not.  Who’s to say whether such intuition is innate or learned?  The fact remains that most of us would probably agree that torture is morally unacceptable, while wartime collateral damage is.

(On a slight tangent here, I would argue that the morality of torture is a function of culture, and as such, is more learned than innate.  There are plenty of examples of cultures in which torture is or was considered acceptable, the regimes of Saddam Hussein or the Shah of Iran being just two of many.  Since we Westerners are more likely to inflict wartime collateral damage than to suffer it, we tend to see it as acceptable; since we hold no such advantage when it comes to torture, we tend to see it as unacceptable.)

A pacifist would argue that wartime collateral damage is in fact just as morally unacceptable as torture.  However, Harris asserts that the “morally unassailable position” of pacifism is a “false choice:”  “...pacifism is ultimately nothing more than a willingness to die, and to let others die, at the pleasure of the world’s thugs.” 

I wholeheartedly agree.  The correct choice is to recognize that torture is just as morally acceptable as wartime collateral damage.  If it gives us an edge in the War on Terror, we should be just as willing to torture terrorists as we are willing to bomb civilians. 

But why stop at terrorists?  Harris makes the claim repeatedly that the root of the problem is Islam itself.  “We are at war with Islam,” he says in chapter four, The Problem with Islam.  “It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so.”  We in the West will never be safe as long as Islam exists because “the only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, subjugated, or killed.” 

Would it not behoove us then, to persuade Muslims to renounce their faith by any means possible—including torture?  To do any less is to simply prolong the problem and incur more harm at the hands of Muslim terrorists.  The sense that this is morally reprehensible is a misapprehension stemming from our imperfect intuition.  From a rational standpoint, torturing Muslims to persuade them to renounce their faith is morally right.

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 15 January 2008 07:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  765
Joined  2006-08-16
Antisocialdarwinist - 15 January 2008 11:53 PM

In The End of Faith, chapter six, A Science of Good and Evil, Harris makes the point that sometimes our intuition with respect to morality is deceiving.  For example, while most of us feel that torture is immoral, we nevertheless feel that killing or maiming innocent civilians in a bombing attack is acceptable.  “To learn that one’s grandfather flew a bombing mission over Dresden in the Second World War is one thing; to hear that he killed five little girls and their mother with a shovel is another.”  And yet, is killing five little girls with a shovel really any worse than killing them with a bomb?

My problem with this logic is that actions by themselves are not moral or immoral, it is our reasons for those actions that is in question. While killing with a shovel may have the same result as killing with a bomb, the person wielding the shovel obviously intends to kill the girls while the one dropping bombs on Dresden is trying to stop a bigger evil.

Harris’ claim that we are at war with Islam is misguided and myopic. I would challenge him to quote one Islamic terrorist who has attacked us simply because we are not Muslim. Al Qaeda attacked us not because of what we believe, but because of what we were doing in the Middle East.

 Signature 

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire

“Rational arguments do not work on religious people, otherwise there would be no religious people.”—Dr. House

Profile
 
 
Posted: 15 January 2008 08:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  892
Joined  2007-12-04
camanintx - 16 January 2008 12:53 AM

My problem with this logic is that actions by themselves are not moral or immoral, it is our reasons for those actions that is in question.

That happens to be exactly what I think morality is, actions are indeed neither moral nor immoral. They are just actions, and the same action can be moral or immoral depending on the circumstances. Its not always morally wrong to kill.

To some extent morality is an illusion, although not saying there is no such thing as morality, but its not what most of us perceive it to be.

 Signature 

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 15 January 2008 08:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08
camanintx - 16 January 2008 12:53 AM

My problem with this logic is that actions by themselves are not moral or immoral, it is our reasons for those actions that is in question. While killing with a shovel may have the same result as killing with a bomb, the person wielding the shovel obviously intends to kill the girls while the one dropping bombs on Dresden is trying to stop a bigger evil.

I agree with you to a certain extent, but what if your grandfather’s reason for bombing Dresden or killing the girls was that he was simply following orders?  Do the two actions then become morally equivalent?

And how can we know for sure what anyone’s intent actually is?  What if Granddad didn’t give a hoot about stopping the Nazis, he just secretly got a thrill out of killing lots of people?  Would he then be morally wrong, whereas his wingman, who was doing the exact same thing because he believed in stopping a bigger evil, would be morally right?

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 02:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1243
Joined  2006-12-26

The idea that “Torture is always wrong” is, of course, as most simplistic statements, nonsense.
People like it because:
1. We desire moral absolutes, and this sounds like an absolute.
2. Proper moral thinking is difficult, and most would rather unthinkingly follow a few thumb-rules than to carefully think through some scenario on basis of some abstract premises that more strongly warrans being taken as absolutes than statements like “T.i.a.w”.

And how should we define “torture”?
If we define it as evil acts of violence, then of course torture is always wrong.

Does the psychological pressuring techniques regularly used by police forces in interrogation qualify as torture? Why or why not?
Sleep deprivation?

When considering intentional pain-producing acts through physical means (rather than use the torture word), a very interesting difference little analyzed is that between permanently physically damaging vs. temporarily physically damaging.

Will moral acts of pain-inducement follow this division, for example that we can say that whatever noble intention we have, any permanently damaging act will always be wrong when trying to, say, gain information, or remedy behaviour?

That is, only insofar as we are acting in strict self-defense or meting out punishment can permanent physical injury be morally acceptable, whereas for situations where torture might come in handy, it is never acceptable to inflict permanent physical harm.

Just a few thoughts, anyway..

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08
arildno - 16 January 2008 07:14 AM

That is, only insofar as we are acting in strict self-defense or meting out punishment can permanent physical injury be morally acceptable, whereas for situations where torture might come in handy, it is never acceptable to inflict permanent physical harm.

How about the specific case of torturing Muslims to persuade them to renounce their faith?  Depending on the individual, permanent physical harm might be necessary.  Assuming Islam is the threat Harris says it is, couldn’t this be seen as self defense?

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  892
Joined  2007-12-04
Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 12:13 PM

How about the specific case of torturing Muslims to persuade them to renounce their faith?  Depending on the individual, permanent physical harm might be necessary.  Assuming Islam is the threat Harris says it is, couldn’t this be seen as self defense?

There are two problems here. The most important one being that it doesn’t work.

Information acquired through torture is not reliable. Torturing someone to acquire information on the location of a nuclear device is one thing. The information you get might still be false but its a situation where torture is very much morally justified.

To torture someone to change faith however will first of all not work. Thats not how you change peoples minds thats only how you make them tell you they’ve changed their minds. At best, its quite likely they would stick to their faith until their death if they truly believe their doctrine

As for self defense, there is such a thing as a justified preemptive strike. Torturing all Muslims to abandon their faith is obviously not one. In fact, this is the rationally that the Nazi’s used when gassing Jewish children.
The children were not seen as an enemy or a danger, but were considered future enemies none the less.

The thing to consider here is whether or not there are other alternatives to convincing them that their faith is flawed. There obviously is, and as long as there is, torture is way to desperate a solution.

 Signature 

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08
Unbeliever - 16 January 2008 12:25 PM

Information acquired through torture is not reliable. Torturing someone to acquire information on the location of a nuclear device is one thing. The information you get might still be false but its a situation where torture is very much morally justified.

To torture someone to change faith however will first of all not work. Thats not how you change peoples minds thats only how you make them tell you they’ve changed their minds. At best, its quite likely they would stick to their faith until their death if they truly believe their doctrine

What makes you so certain torturing someone won’t change their mind?  I think the best you can say is that it might work.  Just like torturing someone for information on the location of a nuclear device might work.  I don’t see how you can discriminate between the two mights in terms of moral justification.

Unbeliever - 16 January 2008 12:25 PM

As for self defense, there is such a thing as a justified preemptive strike. Torturing all Muslims to abandon their faith is obviously not one. In fact, this is the rationally that the Nazi’s used when gassing Jewish children.
The children were not seen as an enemy or a danger, but were considered future enemies none the less.

This argument assumes the Jewish children were not a danger to the Nazis.  To the extent the Nazis believed they were a future enemy, then their “intentions” were morally justified.  Obviously, this doesn’t make sense, which is another argument against using intentions as a basis for morality. 

The difference between gassing Jewish children and torturing Muslims is that a) Jewish children were only future enemies of Germany insomuch as the Nazis were trying to exterminate them, whereas Muslims pose a threat to the West whether we torture them on not; and b) the threat Muslim terrorists pose to the West is more immediate than the threat Jewish children posed to Germany.

Islam is a terrorist factory.  As such, a pre-emptive strike against it is justified in the same way a pre-emptive strike against a Nazi munitions factory was justified. 

Unbeliever - 16 January 2008 12:25 PM

The thing to consider here is whether or not there are other alternatives to convincing them that their faith is flawed. There obviously is, and as long as there is, torture is way to desperate a solution.

I’d like to see a specific example of your obvious alternatives before I buy this.

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 12:13 PM

Assuming Islam is the threat Harris says it is, couldn’t this be seen as self defense?

Well, what if we try not to assume quite so much? Would you be able to post anything on this board? Would you have anything interesting to say, outside of a cocktail party?

You seem much more interested in hypotheticals than the average joe. Or are you just trying, like I am, to keep yourself entertained while waiting for death?

More to the point, aren’t you just trying to poke holes in a text you are critiquing? Anyone can do that, because Harris was not scrupulous in making his thesis rigorously invulnerable to critique. Aren’t you just trying to tell us that you can toss brickbats? This is what you get in return. I’m not defending the text you are critiquing, but I don’t think you have anywhere to go with this. Do you?

I don’t think there is anything magical about the competition of societies or cultures. One of them is going to fail (probably both), but the results aren’t in yet. Since all you do is play devil’s advocate, for a change you should take a position justifying which one you think is more worthy of survival.

whereas Muslims pose a threat to the West whether we torture them on not

You may be right. But your assumption is that one of them is right and one of them is wrong. Two can play at your DA game. Why don’t you defend your position instead of assuming your conclusion for the sake of a pot-stirring argument about the morality of torture?

In case you do not acknowledge your assumption, here it is:

Islam is a terrorist factory.

It’s not that I disagree with the assessment. It just seems you’d rather fulminate about your assumption than talk about something substantive, such as how Western Civ is actually “better” than Islam. I guess we know how, right? I just think you should be able to articulate it.

Another word for “fulminating”  is “trolling”. OK? Get it?

Since you are so fond of the DA approach, I think you will have a chore articulating it, if you catch my drift. This is largely because your advocacy sometimes spans several ideologies simultaneously.

I’m just pressing you to make your position on Islamofascism consistent with your position on abortion or the rights of embryos. I think you are just a right wingnut who doesn’t like the competition from Islam.

[ Edited: 16 January 2008 09:05 AM by Traces Elk]
 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1891
Joined  2007-12-19
Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 01:17 PM

What makes you so certain torturing someone won’t change their mind?  I think the best you can say is that it might work.  Just like torturing someone for information on the location of a nuclear device might work.  I don’t see how you can discriminate between the two mights in terms of moral justification.

Which action may be more likely to produce the desired result
with the least suffering may be one moral test. Torturing someone may not truly change ones mind in the sense that the mind believes it. Brainwashing is a method for changing ones mind, but may be considered psychological torture. Drugs might work. Lobotomy will nip the problem in the bud, so will killing as a means of elimination. Reward based on motivation, if you can determine what their motivation is, may also work.

Torturing someone for information might work, but I couldn’t venture to guess what the likelihood of success would be, especially if the person being tortured doesn’t have the information.

I agree that resorting to these solutions must be of desparation and urgency to prevent or thwart acts of imminent grave danger. I guess my postion supports the notion of intent. then, how is that judged morally, and by whom? Is it consensus? I don’t know, that’s why I pose these questions.

 Signature 

“This is it. You are it.”


- Jos. Campbell

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
goodgraydrab - 16 January 2008 02:59 PM

Which action may be more likely to produce the desired result

Do you have any fucking clue why a particular result might be, uh, “desired”?

You don’t? I thought so.

In any event, the desired result is only “changing somebody’s mind”.

[ Edited: 16 January 2008 10:36 AM by Traces Elk]
 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  892
Joined  2007-12-04
Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 01:17 PM

What makes you so certain torturing someone won’t change their mind?  I think the best you can say is that it might work.  Just like torturing someone for information on the location of a nuclear device might work.  I don’t see how you can discriminate between the two mights in terms of moral justification.

Already during the inquisition, the radical Christians started to figure out that torture was not reliable. You may get accurate information but you have no way of knowing if it is or not hence its useless.

Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 01:17 PM

The difference between gassing Jewish children and torturing Muslims is that a) Jewish children were only future enemies of Germany insomuch as the Nazis were trying to exterminate them, whereas Muslims pose a threat to the West whether we torture them on not; and b) the threat Muslim terrorists pose to the West is more immediate than the threat Jewish children posed to Germany.

I’ve already been into this on the morality thread, and my thoughts about “flawed reality”, that yes indeed in the light of what the Nazi’s believes you could think they did the right thing, and to them they did. The problem is not the reason, the problem is that the reason was based on false assumptions.

Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 01:17 PM

Islam is a terrorist factory.  As such, a pre-emptive strike against it is justified in the same way a pre-emptive strike against a Nazi munitions factory was justified.

So every muslim will inevitably be a terrorist, no matter what we do and what happens in society? I seriously doubt this.
Christianity is the ultimate evidence that you can accomplish change. Several people on this board are living evidence that you can loose your faith through reason.

Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 01:17 PM

I’d like to see a specific example of your obvious alternatives before I buy this.

Reasoning. If you really read the End of Faith you will remember Harris saying that we got a decision between conversation and violence. I don’t know about you but I’d try conversation until there is no other alternative left.

 Signature 

What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1891
Joined  2007-12-19
Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 03:34 PM

Do you have any fucking clue why a particular result might be, uh, “desired”

In any event, the desired result is only “changing somebody’s mind”.

Yeah, that’s what they were talking about, changing somebody’s mind. They were also talking about torturing somebody as a means to do it. ONLY CHANGING SOMEONE’S MIND—-ONLY TORTURE. Weren’t you paying full attention? Also of torturing to get information. Can you think of more ways?

 Signature 

“This is it. You are it.”


- Jos. Campbell

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5404
Joined  2006-09-27
goodgraydrab - 16 January 2008 03:48 PM

Weren’t you paying full attention?

I never pay full attention to bullshit like this. What is the object of “changing somebody’s mind”? I’ll wager it is your own survival. I’ll wager that the trade-off is between a “live-and-let-live” philosophy, and its antithesis. I’ll even bet that there’s not a raging consensus for a “live-and-let-live” philosophy, because it prevents do-gooders from obliging you to “do good”. My only objection to the whole thing is that it is bullshit.

 Signature 

INVEST in cynicism!

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1891
Joined  2007-12-19
Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 04:00 PM

My only objection to the whole thing is that it is bullshit.

I don’t know what you’re referring to as bullshit, but the whole idea of using torture to ‘change’ someone’s mind is absurd. Since the discussion entailed killing little girls with shovels, gasing and bombing, and torturing as moral considerations, I don’t see much room for discussion of ‘do-gooding’.

 Signature 

“This is it. You are it.”


- Jos. Campbell

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 January 2008 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  651
Joined  2006-12-08
Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 01:25 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 16 January 2008 12:13 PM

Assuming Islam is the threat Harris says it is, couldn’t this be seen as self defense?

Well, what if we try not to assume quite so much? Would you be able to post anything on this board? Would you have anything interesting to say, outside of a cocktail party?

Since this particular forum is called Specific Comments on The End of Faith, it seems reasonable to refer to the author’s assumptions, wouldn’t you agree?  I’ll bet you’re a real hit at cocktail parties.

Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 01:25 PM

Or are you just trying, like I am, to keep yourself entertained while waiting for death?

Well, duh.

Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 01:25 PM

More to the point, aren’t you just trying to poke holes in a text you are critiquing? Anyone can do that, because Harris was not scrupulous in making his thesis rigorously invulnerable to critique. Aren’t you just trying to tell us that you can toss brickbats? This is what you get in return. I’m not defending the text you are critiquing, but I don’t think you have anywhere to go with this. Do you?

Brickbats, eh?  You’re assuming I disagree with Harris’s opinions on torture and the threat of Islam, but that’s not true.  I’m trying them on for size. 

You apparently do disagree with him.  Why? 

Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 01:25 PM

In case you do not acknowledge your assumption, here it is:

Islam is a terrorist factory.

This is my articulation of Harris’s assumption.  I’m still deciding whether or not I buy it.

Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 01:25 PM

It’s not that I disagree with the assessment. It just seems you’d rather fulminate about your assumption than talk about something substantive, such as how Western Civ is actually “better” than Islam. I guess we know how, right? I just think you should be able to articulate it.

Do you really need convincing that Western Civ is “better” than Islam?  Or is it that you’d prefer to fulminate about that assumption, instead? 

But here, let me articulate for you why I think it is.  It’s easy enough:  because it’s my civ. 

Salt Creek - 16 January 2008 01:25 PM

Since you are so fond of the DA approach, I think you will have a chore articulating it, if you catch my drift. This is largely because your advocacy sometimes spans several ideologies simultaneously.

I’m just pressing you to make your position on Islamofascism consistent with your position on abortion or the rights of embryos.

“Simultaneously” seems unfair to me.  After all, the rights of embryos was a different thread.  And besides, embryos don’t pose the threat Islam does.  Unless they’re Muslim embryos.

 Signature 

Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 7
1
 
RSS 2.0     Atom Feed