Trumping Up Torture

Calculated production of suffering, as much as capricious, is known as barbarism, yet should become US policy according to Donald Trump. He specifically aims to institute “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

Barbarism, it goes without saying, is what makes terrorism bad, and no confidence is warranted that either of them produce much besides pain, indignation and escalation.

Yet there is a clear difference between Trump and ISIS in that the latter has an actual strategy of escalation. Trump just thinks that the harsh extraction of words will serve most captives right and is bound to be worthwhile even if it doesn’t provide useful intelligence (though he assures us it does). His pitch is simple: Our enemy is brutal so we must be too.

To know the first thing about logic is to know that doesn’t follow. It is virtually equivalent to saying that our enemy is evil so we should be evil too.

Yet such brutality convergence seems a compelling principle to barbarians and likewise to victims of a popular hysteria that regresses the mind to a similar state. Hence Trump defends this principle only blithely, while enjoying complete support from the relevantly unsound.

Polls have shifted in recent times on the topic of torture in the US, yet only in the direction of cognitive dissonance, as pertains in several nations and particularly China and India, where a disconcerting 74% of people feel that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public,” despite the global average being 36%. The dissonance here is apparent by logical contradiction with the further agreement that “clear rules against torture are crucial because any use of torture is immoral,” as affirmed by 73% of people in India, and 88% in China. So even the most pro-torture populations in the world are on balance either neutral or against it, and distinguished most of all by radical cognitive dissonance, regarding the one thing as sometimes institutionally acceptable where apt for clear prohibition as always being immoral.

In the US, those agreeing that torture is sometimes acceptable were a minority in this survey at 45%, and prone to the same dissonance, seeing as 77% thought “clear rules against torture are crucial because any use of torture is immoral.” Yet regardless of the nation in question, it seems radical and widespread cognitive dissonance defy explanation if not by collective dissociation or hysteria.

ISIS is barbaric by way of strategy and if US policy becomes more barbaric it will be through continued playing into that strategic hand, by regarding statistically insignificant wounds it has suffered and might further suffer as threats to its lifestyle or even existence.

Yet the national identity most worthy of preservation is simply forsaken by Trump and his supporters. Those fantasizing that it is better to live barbarically than face threats with restraint tend to be vulnerable to the most debasing hysteria. MSNBC quotes an elderly South Carolina Trump supporter as saying “We need someone who can lead the country because people are scared to death. It’s only a matter of time before terrorists come and start chopping Christian heads off in the United States.”

Demagogs cultivating this hysteria share the spirit of the worst identities of history. Beware the fallacy of rating evil by the scale of its effects, or imagining that its essence is some mindful revelling in depravity. Mindful or otherwise, moral evil entirely dwells in intent. If then born as policy, its propagation on any scale is a banal function of infrastructure.

Unfortunately in this case, the US Presidency is a means beyond compare, and the relevant horrors were previewed on the watch of George W. Bush. Some expect Trump to backpedal on his most egregious advocacies, having exploited the media for attention-grabbing publicity prior to more direct competition with the Democrat nominee. But even if he repudiates his current stance entirely, he has already made huge strides in normalising torture advocacy, and this exceptionally malefic genie takes no less exceptional power to re-bottle.

To the newly overt torture syndicate in the GOP, the media and Democratic party have overwhelmingly responded with numb befuddlement, as if wondering how this monstrous evil is sold to any fraction of a 21st century US population. The answer, as eternally, is via fear, hatred, and naive faith in state propriety, three core factors in the ill-conceived war on terror which Trump is merely catalysing more efficiently than anyone hitherto.

No government was ever to be trusted for temperance or wisdom. Neither is it controversial that the bigger it is the worse it gets, particularly with respect to its largest and least accountable sectors and contractors. All these verities are never touted louder than by contemporary Republicans. Yet the loudest calls from the same platforms have been for the most cloaked and bloated of government sectors and contractors to provide ever more surveillance, global aggression and now torture.

From TV to presidency, the spirit of the times is about reality, and getting real enough to simply accept however surreal it gets. So be sure not to mind if the delicious steak that history remembers Donald Trump for just oddly turns out to be your own rump.

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Dr. Simon Floth is an Australian analytical philosopher whose recent academic roles include lecturing in metaphysics and logic at the University of New England. He was an early contributor to WikiLeaks, refining vision and experimenting in collaborative analysis. Since 2004 various independent sites have featured his political articles. 

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