July 10, 2010

Torture as Bellwether*

I continue to struggle with the issue of torture, and have been trying to figure out why that particular issue strikes home with me. I think there are many answers to that question. I associate torture with totalitarian regimes, including those I was raised to distrust and hate in the Soviet Union and the Chinese communists. It is considered a war crime, which to me means something more than robbing a liquor store. More than a little disturbing that the people who used the KGB as a symbol of everything evil now excuse those same techniques by our own people.

As I have written here many times, very few things have shattered my illusions more than the way my conservative evangelical brethren responded to torture. Instead of responding with disgust and horror, they at best responded with a shrug, and at worse with a cheer. I consider this a betrayal of the faith, and further a suggestion that their faith is not very legitimate.

Torture, I would argue, is simply a bellwether for a broader sickness among conservatives and even those conservatives who claim to follow Christianity. That sickness is a complete lack of empathy for anyone who does not resemble them.

Torture is acceptable primarily because it was done to people they already hate and distrust. Put a conservative evangelical abortion opponent on the waterboard and I suggest the response would be quite different. Shackle a sweet Baptist missionary to a D-Ring in a freezing cell for days and you might hear some complaints from the Bible-quoting. But as long as it is a scary Muslim, they can't be bothered to care.

But, and this is the key for me, this is more symptomatic than anomalous. They supported the war in huge numbers--but had little stake in the game, and could not be bothered to actually care whether it was a good war or a bad war. If their teenage kids were looking at a draft for that same war, they would be much more interested. Hell, a relative of mine who could not name a sports team if her life depended on it, recently was quite aware of the conference changes because of her kid attending one of those schools. Imagine if the child were facing a forced deployment to Afghanistan? She might not be so supportive of that war.

And the beat goes on. Tax cuts sell for these people because it helps them individually. What do they care if it ends up cutting a program for some poor person? It doesn't effect them, and they could not really care less. Oh, I am sure that many of them will do their stint at the food kitchen, and will give money regularly to their local church. But they will vote to make more poor people and to make life harder on the same poor people. We are often told that conservatives give more to charities than liberals, but I would like to see how much of that ends up paying for AC at the local church and how much actually goes to help poor people not be poor. As Benen noted here, conservatives seem to openly dislike those who are unemployed. Sure, those conservative policies helped create much of that unemployment, but conservatives dislike those who are poor or unemployed. Hell, Rand Paul and the Tea Partiers are even upset about the ADA. Why should able-bodied people have to make life easier for the disabled? That asshat I confronted over the handicapped space said as much when he asked if I was disabled. If I wasn't, he reasoned, then why would I care?

Torture, then, is consistent with the rest of their approach. And as I have said, I am not sure that Christians can actually defend torture and be even close to consistent with their faith. I would extend that here and say that without empathy, I am unsure if Christianity even works. If you concern is really only for those who look like you and sound like you, then to paraphrase the man, "even the pagan can do that." I would be the first to recognize that sometimes compassion can be misplaced, and that there is some legitimacy to the concern about "moral hazard," but I would suggest that conservatives have turned the empathy/compassion switch to "off" and that drives their entire approach to public policy. That gives us tax cuts regardless of the economic reality, cuts to programs they don't use, and yes, torture.

Torture.

Well, when you really, deep down, don't give a shit what happens to other people, torture is really not your problem.

*A "bellwether" or "bell wether" refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a neutered male sheep (wether) so the whereabouts of the flock can be easily determined.

7 comments:

Smitty said...

Though I am tempted to pin this all on conservatives/evangelicals, I more personally pin this on good ol' Murkin apathy. We don't bother to learn about other cultures as a whole because that takes us away from our jet skis and American Idol. Jack Bauer uses torture on 24, and we love it because it gets results and allows the Good Guy to win the day. It's easier not to bother thinking too much about messy torture because it's uncomfortable and that takes me away from my baseball game.

Evidence? The rating the stupid fucking Lebron James idiot press conference got. Seriously?? An hour-long presser just to announce you're going to play a game in a different city?

Please...can we get a Mulligan?

Streak said...

good point, Smitty. I am not really trying to "blame" conservatives and evangelicals for this, but I focus on them because they are the ones claiming to place morality higher in their priorities than we liberals supposedly do. If the "moral values" people have nothing to say on torture, what hope do we have?

I would also note that we are not all selfish all the time. Some of us want to raise our own taxes so that we can address real needs. Some of us (and many would say the majority) don't think torture is a good idea in any circumstance.

Smitty said...

but I focus on them because they are the ones claiming to place morality higher in their priorities than we liberals supposedly do

Word. If I had a dollar for every "values" silk-stocking conservative claiming some lib (who is working for 2 years in an Inner Cambodian Swamp village teaching people how to make clean drinking water) is morally repugnant, I'd be a gajillionaire.

Some of us...want to raise our own taxes... (and many would say the majority) don't think torture is a good idea in any circumstance

You're right. Obviously you see I was painting our American brethren with a pretty broad brush, but you saw my point. In fact, I think this guy best articulates our problem!

If the "moral values" people have nothing to say on torture, what hope do we have?

I know. And now I'm all depressed.

steves said...

I don't have the stats in front of me, but I am almost positive that charitable contributions from people in this country (per capita) are higher than anywhere else in the world. I am not saying we are better than anyone, but wanted to point out that most of us aren't all that bad.

I agree with Smitty and I think I have said something similar in the past. I don't think that many people have really thought it through. It is kind of like the whole Arizona/immigration debate. Despite the fact that there is not increase in crime, every frakking candidate (right and left) in Arizona is trying to come across as being tough on illegal immigration. If people actually took the time to do the research, they would know that this is just fear mongering.

Word. If I had a dollar for every "values" silk-stocking conservative claiming some lib (who is working for 2 years in an Inner Cambodian Swamp village teaching people how to make clean drinking water) is morally repugnant, I'd be a gajillionaire.

If I had a penny for every time some politician displayed some kind of hypocrisy then I would be a bazillionaire. That being said, the moral value ones are especially humorous.

Streak said...

Just to be clear, this particular rant on torture and even on taxes and selfishness is not aimed at the politicians. I am talking about the people who support them. I agree that most people have not thought much through on this. I read a post somewhere today that mentioned how tea party and Rush people confuse TARP with the stimulus, budget, and numerous other things. They are angry about stuff they don't even come close to understanding.

My issue right now is really my bewilderment with the conservative evangelical church--or where I grew up and learned much of my morality--and their support for torture and every other conservative policy. I don't get it.

steves said...

I go to what many would consider a conservative/evangelical church and I don't understand it either. For the most part, I don't see it it except on blogs and BB's.

Monk-in-Training said...

Here in Tulsa, Republican (local ones anyway) are speakers at some of the bigger Evangelical Churches, US Flags are ubiquitous and the constant tv monitors play militaristic images between hocking the latest books and CD's from the Pastor or approved sources.

It is like being inside an infomercial.