A modest proposal toward molesting your children for national security

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Torture by testicle stretch

A modest proposal toward full on legalized torture” was fun and I think I made the point [see also the final entry in “This week in the news #5”] but there is perhaps a better way to make it and Jim Henley does so in “Ticking Bombast.”

Every accomplished martial artist knows this guy–

What if I had a knife? But what if I had a knife and came at you from behind? But what if it was a gun? But what if you had your feet tied up and were running a fever and had an eye infection and there was loud music? What would you do then, huh? The What-If Geek

To every young martial artist who is experiencing this for the first time I offer some advice: Don’t even talk to the guy and if he insists on continuing to talk at you, hit him in the throat and then yell at him, “What if someone hit you in the larynx?!”†

†Don’t do this. It’s neither legal nor ethical. Sure is fun to imagine though.

The What-If Geek is the heart of the problem uncovered in “Ticking Bombast.” The problem being that hypothetical problems are endless—especially endlessly improbable—and are only ever proposed to support a position already decided, not to explore actual ethical issues. A technique to maneuver others to agree with you or look bad and to create false justifications for things. Usually for things which are transparently horrible unless framed in a “yeah, but what if?”

Fantasy is a fine thing. It has no utility in morality. That which has never happened in history is not useful in making policy. If you disagree, you’re thinking wrong.

Real problems include things like–

Actual problem: The city is growing faster than the roads into it.

  • Possible answer: Get funds for a highway.
  • Possible answer: Promote and expand public transit.
  • Possible but stupid answer: Raise taxes and change zoning to reverse growth.

Fanstasy problems include things like–

Hypothetical but possible problem: An earthquake could destroy the Hawaiian Islands or cause a Tsunami which would wipe them clean.

  • Possible answer: Get everyone in Hawaii an emergency life raft and also install life rafts at every rest stop, store, park and anywhere else someone might be when the disaster strikes.
  • Possible answer: Pass a law that requires every citizen and visitor in Hawaii wear advanced scuba gear at all times, day and night.
  • Possible answer: Move everyone from Hawaii right away. It’s just too dangerous to live there since disaster could strike at any time.
  • Possible answer: Animals can predict earthquakes, so ask them. If they won’t tell us when an earthquake is coming, we can torture them until they talk.

That’s a bigger and more foolish hypothetical than you could hatch but that’s the great thing. There are a billion more out there. As seemingly reasonable or as crazy as you want.

Real problems are finite and all have solutions. Imaginary problems are infinite and all require disproportionate resources to pretend to address. As resources are finite, solving fantasy problems equates to suicide.

The article explores the questions by making them personal.

If you could stop a bomb from killing 1 million Manhattanites at the cost of your own life, would you do it? What if it would mean imprisonment for the rest of your life? Ticking Bombast

Of course I would. The math is easy for me. If 1,000,000 Americans were about to die I would gladly sacrifice myself to save the statistically guaranteed 10 or 12 in the group who deserve to live.

This was my favorite line–

We are hard men for hard times, and we want hard make-believe conundrums. Ticking Bombast

By the way, for all the left of center readers who still think I’m on your side just because I’m against your enemies, this is also in the article–

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) tell the New York Daily News editorial board that various torture techniques “are very rare, but if they occur there has to be some lawful authority for pursuing that,” at least in “those instances where we have sufficient basis to believe that there is something imminent.” Ticking Bombast

At least torture is an issue which all the major political parties can agree upon. They’re all for it.

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