Dé Luain, Aibreán 20, 2009

The Terrorist Squirrel Scenario

The power of backwards or 'deductive' logic is something that is truly frightening to behold. Whenever a perfectly smart person has a self-evidently stupid or insane idea, it is usually because she is clinging to a predetermined 'truth' that she feels she must believe in order to legitimize herself as a person. Facts and logic are subservient to this supposed truth and exist only to reinforce it. Those facts that fail to do so must be written off as inventions of the liberal media, Jews, Freemasons, Hollywood, or all the above. This is why we live in a world where Antonin Scalia, associate Justice of the Supreme Court magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law, indisputably brilliant; cited a television character in defense of state-sanctioned torture. This is why we can't have nice things.

It was unsleeping '24' ubermensch Jack Bauer that Scalia cited at a Canadian gathering of major Western jurists back in 2007. The major pretext of '24' is, or course, the 'ticking time bomb scenario' in which some major American city is on the verge of being nuked by a hidden bomb; year after year, over and over again. Bauer will frequently torture fictional subjects in order to find the bomb, and as if guided by the hand of a benevolent and all-powerful screenwriter the most visceral and telegenic means of extracting information always seems to work.

Another remarkable element of '24' is how often close friends and old flames of Jack Bauer manage to get themselves tangled up with radical Muslims. Yet Justice Scalia has not called for the forced detention of everyone who knows Keefer Sutherland.

The Obama administration's release of Bush era 'torture memos' brought to mind this lovable old nonsense statement from Scalia, because it illustrates perfectly my original point about backwards logic. Jack Bauer manfully provided evidence of what Scalia wanted to be true. The fact that the evidence itself was untrue was inconvenient to his predetermined conclusion, and therefore immaterial.

With the exception of Andrew Sullivan's passionate wailing on his 'Daily Dish' blog the reaction to the torture memos release has been surprisingly muted. Or perhaps not so surprising. I mean we knew after all didn't we? The information on waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the like has been available for some time. Extraordinary rendition, Camp X-Ray, the semantic fellatio that Bush legal adviser John Yoo gladly performed for his employer; the news of all this has been available for some time. It is up to the individual to stare at him or herself in the mirror and gather the strength to say that I Knew.

<span style="font-weight:bold;">The 'I Was Not A Nazi Polka

--As you travel through Der Schöne Deutschland,
--A melody will greet your ears.
--It's a melody that's been around in Deutschland
--For fifteen to twenty years.

Each and ev'ry German dances to the strain
Of the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
All without exception join in the refrain
Of the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

Göring was a crazy we wanted to deport.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
We all thought that Dachau was just a nice resort.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

The German is so cultured, he does not like to fight.
The peaceful life is what he most enjoys.
For years, the German people were utterly convinced
I. G. Farben manufactured children's toys.

I never shot a Luger or goosed a single step.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

--Was you not an SS guard? --I was not an SS guard.
I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
--Did you not love Ilsa Koch? --I did not love Ilsa Koch.
I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
--Did you not despise the Jews? --I did not; some were my best friends...
I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
--Did you not think Adolf great? --I did not. Adolf who?
--Adolf who! --Ja, Adolf who?
--Fritz, you're putting me on. --Was bedeuten dieses, "Putting me on"?
--Are you kidding me or something? --Nein, I'm not kidding you. Adolf who?
--Adolf Hitler. --Should I know him? Is he a folksinger?
--You don't remember. --Nein, I don't remember him. Who was he?

A little man, very mean, very loud and brash. --Mm-mm.
Not too tall, he never smiled, wore a black mustache. --Nein; I never heard...
He had a girl, Eva Braun, hair as red as flame. --Ah, ja, ja.
He papered walls for many years till his moment came. --Of course!

He's the one who clapped his hands, went into a dance. --Ja!
When the news came to him that we had conquered France. --That's him!
He once said, when our flag proudly was unfurled,
"Today, Germany, tomorrow, the world!"
...tomorrow, the world! ...tomorrow, the world! ...tomorrow, the world!
--I never heard of him. --Neither did I.

To our Israeli allies let us raise a toast.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
Sure there were some Nazis, two or three at most.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

We tried to throw out Hitler right from the very start.
That's what ev'ry hist'ry book should tell.
We hated Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, too.
We believe as Sherman did that war is hell...hell...hell...hell...
...heil!...heil!...Seig heil!...Sieg heil!...Sieg heil!

Germans are as gentle as flowers in the spring.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
Germans are a people who love to dance and sing.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.

--Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You there, you are not singing. Did you not like to sing? Tell me, you still have a family in Germany, nicht wahr? Sing.

Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
Sieg heil!

An especially forgiving person could easily emphasize with the general public's early acquiescence. There's no denying that 9/11 was a terrible blow, and it's long been known that everyone becomes more authoritarian and obedient when frightened. Of course we wanted to believe that our leaders knew what was best, and that furthermore what was best was best because they were the ones who said so.

But then there were those who gave the Bush administration another four years, just long enough to bring the republic to its current moribund state. These are the thuggish. The ones who reduce the whole of human existence to nothing but unending tests of masculinity and struggle against The Other because they are too stupid to appreciate anything else. These are the ones who overtly supported abusing terrorism suspects, the ones who profanely mocked the fortitude of those who objected to this obscene treatment.

And let there never again be any confusion that it is the treatment and only the treatment that is the issue here. It was utterly predictable that the patriotic thugs among us would cite the innocent blood on the hands of those being abused, actual or suspected, and claim that they deserved it, childishly claim that the only way one could possibly object to simulated rape or smearing a helpless and confined human being in his own shit was out of misguided personal sympathy for the suspected terrorist, or even approval of terrorism.

The concept of deserve is a funny thing. What courageous act of pure nobility have you or I done to deserve to be here? Not a thing. Daddy fucked Mommy and that was that. Now here we are as creatures with the strange ability to notice the way that the girl down the hall keeps staring at us, and we are neither deserving or undeserving of food, water, oxygen, the ability to trust that we will not be harmed by those around us, aspiration, or love. these are things that we simply need. Needs that come from nothing and are neither justified or unjustified by anything. Deserve does nothing but clutter up the mind and the dictionary.

The morality of an action is wholly independent of the person being acted upon. This is not to say that it is wrong to use force to defend oneself from attack, for the state to defend itself with its military, or for civil society to defend itself with its prisons. It is to say that anything that is not direct self-defense, anything that is punitive for the sake of being punitive, is savagery, and that savagery justified by your God or your flag is savage hypocrisy.

After dealing with those who are fooled some of the time and those who are fooled all of the time we turn finally to why Justice Scalia, and many others whose talent and intelligence should rightfully make them members of the leadership class, believe and abide so much patent nonsense. As I wrote before, it is chiefly because of deductive logic; Self-delusion, false consciousness, mauvaise foi, call it what you will.

In the judicial realm backwards thinking is officially known as "strict constructionism" This is the doctrine that calls for necromancing the 'original intent' of the writers of the Constitution,(which the historical record makes clear they themselves were in profound disagreement about) when deciding how the document applies to a case. If you know history, you might think that this would completely negate the role that Chief Justice John Marshall defined for the court in the first half of the nineteenth century: that of deciding how the Constitution's static ink on paper applies to different situations, new technologies, and evolving social mores.

That would be true. In fact it's the entire point of strict constructionism. At it's core democracy is nothing but a reversal of the traditional justification for social hierarchy. Those who have the power are responsible to those who do not. There are those who cannot accept this. For those who spend a lifetime accruing legal knowledge so that they may one day be able to say "I am on the Supreme Court and you are not" constructionalism serves as a stern-sounding rationale for refusing to acknowledge the civil rights of a filthy commoner who has dared to challenge his betters. It is a doctrine that lends itself very well to Jack Bauer citations.

And so I'll end this screed with a reflection on the "ticking time bomb" scenario that Jack Bauer specializes in defusing . The 'ticking time bomb' is the hypothetical situation cited by respectable, mullet forgoing think-tank conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer or Cal Thomas. If the authorities are aware that a nuclear bomb is set to go off at any time,(so the thinking goes), and they have reason to believe that a detained suspect knows where the bomb is, then it would be to not extract the vital information by any means possible.

The key premise of the argument is that there is some mystical power to torture that will make the victim spout pure truth. Torquemada believed he could justify his bloody hands before God by willing those he suspected of being secretly Jewish into being loudly Jewish, one spiked anal pear at a time. It doesn't work that way of course. The biggest motivation for torture throughout history has not been to extract accurate information but persuading false witness against the torturers enemies. Running a close second is the humanity-negating ecstasy of dominating another.

The truth is that there is nothing about torture that gives the human word any more or any less accuracy than it generally has, which is very little.

Go ahead and see for yourself. Have your best friend bash the shit out of both your knees with a sledgehammer and see if you magically confess your lust for his wife. My guess is that nothing but pleas for mercy would come out of you.

And there's the logical problem with the ticking time bomb scenario. It is of course an extremely unlikely situation, though I suppose that if civilization keeps chugging long enough something like it will eventually occur. What's unlikely to the point of impossibility is a situation where authorities would know enough about a terrorist plot to know precisely who was involved, what they planned to do, and where they planned to do it, without knowing 'where the bomb was' long before hand. I would think that would-be terrorists would be very careful to keep their baby close at hand, instead of burying it in some random spot and scampering away. Losing the bomb would hardly be any better than getting caught.

There are consequences to diction. The way that pundits and politicians phrase themselves is highly strategic. Everyone knows this. Republican stratigest Frank,Luntz, among others, was famous for manipulating language in a way that seemed to legitimize selfishness and social animosity among the public, leading to big gains for the GOP. On the other side we have no one less than President Obama, who replaced the technocratic language of Kerry and Gore with emotive appeals to mutual goodwill and common purpose, and of course it caught fire after a decade of grim survivalism. The revivalist nature of his language also had the happy effect of illuminating the conservative counterattack for the petulant barbarism it was.

So in the much the same way that conservative talking heads refuse to add the suffix to "Democratic Party" I propose that liberals never argue against the 'ticking time bomb' scenario but rather the 'terrorist squirrel' scenario. This would be a far more productive means of countering arguments for torture than eight more years of long-winded moralizing. Right wingers get angry when they get laughed at, this causes them to make even dumber arguments than usual, and so they get laughed at some more, and the cycle continues until whenever they figure out the game for themselves.

Do you see what I'm getting at here?

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