Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius


Moral Clarity

On the heels of George W. Bush signing into law the Military Commissions Act, the BBC released this morning a survey of 27, 000 people in 25 countries which asked if any degree of torture was acceptable in the fight against terror in order to save innocent lives.

Canada ranked third (74%) in those polled who thought torture was unacceptable in any circumstance, behind Italy (81%) and France/Australia (tied at 75%). In the United States a bare majority of 58% thought torture was wrong against 36% who believed "some degree" of torture was permissible. Contrast this against those places with more dubious human rights records, such as Turkey (62%/24%) and Egypt (75%/25%).

Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal, it's still a bit astonishing to think that in the beacon of the free world, 42% of the population either supports torture or is indifferent to its use. Interesting too, that that 58/42 split nearly mirrors, perhaps not coincidentally, the polarized nature of American politics at the moment.

Moral clarity is a phrase championed by conservatives in the United States and elsewhere that embodies a whole series of values idealizing the actions of the Bush Admininstration as inherently ethical and good as opposed to the "moral confusion' of the administration's opponents and critics. Swing a cat at any conservative blog and you're likely to shake loose this hackneyed slogan. Invading Iraq to foster democracy in the Middle East has moral clarity as it promotes freedom; opposition to the war promotes terrorism, and is the result of an incoherent set of moral values.

I rather suspect the 36% of Americans (and the 22% of Canadians) who approve of torture like the phrase moral clarity. It perfectly describes a proscriptive temperment, a self-perception of clear ethical vision. The question which needs to be posed to supporters of torture is how, exactly, does torture in any embody moral clarity or a strong sense of moral values? How is effacing the inherent dignity and worth of a human being an ethical act? Or is the phrase "moral clarity" just a cover for the immoral use of naked power?


Blogger Herbinator said...

Good post. Good work.

Thursday, 19 October, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

The question which needs to be posed to supporters of torture is how, exactly, does torture in any embody moral clarity or a strong sense of moral values?

I suspect the most noble answer you'll get is that those who hold their moral values so strongly will stop at nothing to see them prevail. And, historically, on that basis have been committed the worst actions imaginable.

So long as the moralists never really face the consequences of exactly these actions, there is not much that will convince them otherwise.

Thursday, 19 October, 2006  
Anonymous Walrus said...

Frankly, I find this kind of poll pretty useless. I've been openly opposing the use of torture on my blog, and will continue to do so whenever I think it necessary.

On the other hand, I have to shake my head at how broad the definition of torture can get. By some people's lights, most police interrogations would classify.

So the people supporting some "torture" might be adamantly opposed to the real thing, but have little problem with say, putting a hood on a detainee's head for a few hours during transport.

The lack of definition of terms makes the poll pretty well meaningless in determining what the attitudes really are.

Thursday, 19 October, 2006  
Blogger Michael said...

Thanks for the comments. Anon., I think you are correct --- there are no consequences.

Walrus: I would probably agree with you, except I think that nearly everyone has a notion of what constitutes torture, i.e. routine police interrogation techniques, no, waterboarding, yes ... without nickpicking on exact definitions. After all the publicity ad revelations, its hard to imagine otherwise.

Thursday, 19 October, 2006  

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