Sunday, January 16, 2005

Torture Part Four: Do We Want To Encourage The Worst In Humanity?

  • To me this photo represents the worst in humanity. It is a Nazi Einsatzkommando shooting a Jewish mother and her baby during the slaughter of the Jews of Ivangorod, Ukraine, 1942. Often German soldiers would send photos such as this one home to their families, girlfriends and parents. Why not? They were proud of the work they did. This is a photo which captures the face of a society accepting of and tolerant toward torture.

  • Both El Capitan and myself have now admitted that under certain circumstances, we would be willing to torture another human being. Both of us feel that a life or lives have to be at stake before we would resort to torturing somebody. Even knowing that the torture might not help, if my loved one or friend’s life was at stake, I think I would feel I have to try everything. I think that when pressed on this point and given a scenario where the life of somebody they care about is at stake; most people would be willing to do the same.

    FWIW, I think that given the right stimulus and situation, almost all humans, myself included, could be induced to commit torture for much less substantial reasons. At least, that is what research shows. There are two studies that I am aware of that are landmark studies in this area.

    One is the Milgrim studies which showed that when given orders to torture someone, almost all people, male and female will choose to do so. They will continue the torture despite pleas from the victim to stop. Many will continue the torture even after a point where the victim stops screaming and making noises, if asked to do so. It is worth following the link and reading about the studies. It is also very upsetting.

    The other is the Stanford prison experiment. In this study a random group of twenty-four volunteers were chosen to be inmates or guards in a simulated prison environment. In other words, they knew this was role-playing. They knew it was not real. Yet in response to defiance by the fake prisoners, the fake guards used force to strip prisoners naked, lock them in solitary confinement. They punished the “bad” prisoners and rewarded the good. Most salient to the topic, one group of three began to be hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation. These guards appeared to thoroughly enjoy the power they wielded, yet none of our preliminary personality tests were able to predict this behavior…

    The experiment was supposed to last two weeks. They shut it down after six days because the experimenters became alarmed at what they were observing. The guards tendencies towards sadism were becoming extreme and the prisoners were becoming depressed and showing signs of extreme stress.

    History tells us that all people in all nations can be induced into savagery relatively easily.

    Remember that although Nazi authorities were the organizers of Kristallnacht, German civilians joined in enthusiastically of their own volition. Members of the Einsatzkommandos who were part of the destruction of Jews in Eastern Europe were allowed to opt out of participating in the murder of Jewish men, women and children. They declined to do so. Often the locals willingly helped them.

    The United States of America has not been immune from this type of sickness. In the early 1900's it was common for entire communities to turn out to watch the lynching of African-Americans. Often these gatherings had a festive, party atmosphere.

    My point in bringing up all of this is simple and twofold: first, it is apparently an inherent part of human nature to have the capability of doing extreme violence and harm to other human beings. Second, is this something we want to encourage under any circumstances? Think on this:
    An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life

    "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy

    “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego."

    He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

    The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too.”

    The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

    The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

    Which wolf was fed at Abu Ghraib? Which one at Gitmo? Are the people who have done these things people we want back in our communities, interacting with our children? Raising children? The people at Abu Ghraib were members of a police battalion. Do you want them working in the civilian police force in your community?

    Index to the Torture Posts:
    Torture Part One: Hostage Rescue/Bomb Goes Off In An Hour Scenario
    Torture Part Two: Abu Ghraib
    Torture Part Three: Make Sure You Torture The Right People And Make Sure They Are Telling The Truth
    Torture Part Four: Do We Want To Encourage The Worst In Humanity?
    Torture Part Five: Why The United States Of America Should Never Resort To Torture