Comedian Lee Hurst tweeted a hypothetical scenario this week based on torture. Not about it’s ethics or practicalities, but simply whether or not torture would happen in a given situation. In essence the question was posed as an “experiment”. One reply late last night, noted that the balance so far had been ‘pro torture’, that later swung more decisively. With more concrete anti-torture replies citing an understanding that it doesn’t work, coupled with moral feeling. This concurs with Intelligence agencies across the world who have denounced the practice, even Donald Trumps newly appointed “General ‘Mad Dog” Mattis” has said it doesn’t work.
It is interesting though to read the reactions to such a frightening question of:
If your baby was strapped to a time bomb and you had the terrorist, he told you that you had 1 hour. Would you torture them for answers?
A Simple question, fraught with wide arching variables and moral quandaries, not least of all because it was posed on a public platform where information is stored for years. Many proffered “diversions” and rightly so, the basis for torture shouldn’t be reduced to hypothetical decisions of principals versus unconditional love.
The chances of there being a situation so simple are slim, theres more chance of a Loose Women panelist getting away with wearing the same blouse for a week and no one noticing. A more in depth look raises point that the question assumes all present facts are accurate. Your baby is actually strapped to a bomb, the terrorist is telling the truth about timescales, they know where your child is and that you are physically capable of torture. Torturing somebody for information can only go so far too, they may tell you what you want to know, but how can you be sure its true? Do you then torture then some more to check they are being honest? What if you find out they are lying? What happens when the person realises they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t? All the while a clock is ticking and you are no nearer to knowing whether your hearing the truth or frantic attempts to make the pain stop.
The answers given to the question can’t be taken as accurate either, Twitter is a public ‘arena’ so the Bystander Effect/Mob Rule plays a part. The opposite will also be true with Cognitive Bias/Dissonance. A combination of the two leads to fairly flaccid, two steps forward three backwards conclusion and lastly who knows what they would do in such a situation. Many find it so frightening they don’t even want to think of it let alone debate it on an open forum surrounded by strangers and trolls.
The culmination a day later was more than a few comments offering to re-enact Rumble in the Jungle, a little odd considering the subject, and more affirmative answers. For his part Lee Hurst thanked those who replied with what he perceived as an honest “no”. Whether his thanks were because of backlash or the intention to genuinely question ‘our’ perceived inner-nobility is difficult to figure and to some extent pointless.
As an “experiment” it is flawed of that there is no doubt, but as a question it highlights the flaws in us all. Many seemed to find this hypothetical notion abhorrent and he seems to have been vilified as a man who condones torture. It has to be asked though if a person can entertain a thought or question does that make them guilty by association? If that were the case curiosity will claim more than just cats. He regularly answered with one or two words, either “diversion” or “a simple, yes or no”. This appeared to anger a lot of people as the variables weren’t being valued and the answer wasn’t sufficient enough to make an informed judgment. There is certain irony to that as I’m sure intelligence gatherers go through the same painful backwards and forwards during every interrogation.
Although tempers have frayed, offence has been taken and violence was threatened, it was right to ask and similar questions should be asked more. Thought patterns whether anecdotal, fact or border line delusional must be debated and done so amicably. We are well passed the times of standing in echo chambers, nodding sincerely while being pleased with what we hear back.
This question was devised because torture is being forced back into the public domain, only this time it’s not from slowly ascending whispers carried along secret corridors. This time we are having it forced upon us, we’re being challenged to either stand up and shout back or sit down and let a temporary few degrees of separation protect us from having to think about the unpleasantness. At the core it’s a time when inaction is as bad as action, Christopher Hitchens phrases it better than I with “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.”
People often say how is it that nobody stood up to fascism around Hitlers pre-reign and during. How could they be so blind to what was going on around them, it had to have been obvious. The answer is painfully simple, they were fed unchallenged propaganda through the radio, forced to digest lies while all counter arguments were stifled. That lead to apathy, apathy lead to tolerance, tolerance lead to ignorance, ignorance lead to acceptance, acceptance lead to intolerance.
Intolerance leads to atrocities and suffering that few in the western world have experienced. Don’t condemn the question or its source, argue it, debate it, disprove it but don’t let it be condemned to the hidden depths where it remains unchallenged and unapporachable. When its abstract open up to it, consider it and get informed about why it’s being asked. Self-reflection and reasoned fair action will give context to those who have been systematically manipulated by propaganda and ‘alternative facts’. To close off debate because of assumption will be like throwing sticks at a fire in the hope of putting it out, take away what fuels the flames and it will surely wither and die.