Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Torture : What it is. . . . And. . . . What it is not.

Torture is excessive use of pain as an instrumental cause to coerce a man to act contrary to his appetite. The operable term is 'excessive', which is a variation of degree or a quality beyond a limit.

This is not an equivocal definition of the term 'torture', nor does the definition specifically separate itself from common use expressions which are an equivocation.

Torture is not knowable in the same manner as speeding in a car over the lawful limit is knowable. Nor is it knowable in the same manner as theft or adultery or similar are each knowable. Each of these is knowable with certitude because the rule for each is hard and fast. Where as torture is not knowable by a similar hard and fast rule.

Which is not in turn to say we don't have some idea of what torture is. Because if we could not have a universally understood idea of what torture is, I couldn't in turn signify it by the word torture and expect a reader to understand the sign in the same manner as I understand the sign.

Further, as with all else in nature there is a limit, and so while there is not a hard and fast rule, we can nevertheless with certitude still know torture when we see it when we see it at the extremes. For instance :

We know it's torture to stretch a distributist on the rack while plying him with red hot pokers just because he's being annoying. Similarly know it's not torture to give a swat of our hand to the rear end of our 8 year old daughter if she were to bite one of her younger siblings.

But when we step away from the extremes, whether or not it's torture to coerce by means of extreme pain information from this particular terrorist who has imminent life or death knowledge is not known with the same equal precision? Which is the rub. Because circumstances akin to this is where real life occurs.

It's also how we know much of the world about us.
We know what blue is. And we know what red is. But what is maroon is not known with the same equal precision?

We know that horses are living. And we know that rocks are not living. But is blood in a bag living is not known with the same equal precision? Or as we commonly find the issue : a newly formed babe in the womb isn't known to be living with the equal same precision as the babe in our arms is known to be living.

Or in our daily life. We know telling our children about the tooth fairy is a good lie. And we know calumny is a bad lie. But giving a promise we want to keep but are virtually sure we can't is not known to be either good or bad with the same equal precision.

Torture is not knowable with certitude in the same manner as scientific knowledge is known with certitude because what is excessive for one circumstance may be appropriate and thus not be excessive for another.

Torture is a variation of degree, not an intrinsic difference. But even if torture was an intrinsic difference it's not immediately apparent either way when pain as instrumental cause becomes excessive. For instance, wine is intrinsically different from water. But when slowly adding drops of water to wine it's not apparent when the wine ceases to be substantially wine, and becomes instead substantially water.

Unfortunately we have become a society which expects concrete and very simple answers, when what God has given us is a world which we know by means of abstraction.

Meno asked Socrates, can virtue be taught? And expected in turn a simple answer. And to Socrates' replied question of what is virtue? Meno gave an answer of concrete and very simple examples of this virtue or that virtue. When what Socrates asked for was an abstraction.

Modesty is typically not blue or red but instead a shade of maroon. Which is why to the question of are pants modest? The correct answer is : it depends on the women, and it depends on the pants. Which in turn means we have to have an understanding of what modesty is in order to apply it prudentially to this or that circumstance. An understanding we obtain by abstraction.

And because modesty is finally practical, what we do is apply that abstracted understand of modesty to this given woman wearing this pair of pants.

Written regulations on proper dress do not admit of variation. Which in turn means there's a disparity between prudence particularly applied, (i.e. this woman these pants), and prudence generally applied, (i.e. the written regulation of no pants allowed).

The error commonly made is to assume the written regulations are superior, when they are actually inferior because they're a blunt instrument meant to cover expected variables. An error often found where women cite some document written by a pope or someone in authority as final pronouncement on modesty.

Similarly : Is water boarding torture? Is the wrong question. The question should be is water boarding torture in this given circumstance? It could be that the answer in every circumstance is that it is torture, but nevertheless the proper method should be to look at each circumstance individually, and not collectively as is virtually always done.

As with much of life circumstance matters. For instance, what is vicious assault and mutilation with a battle ax in one circumstance is justified self defense in another.

Some people will say circumstance doesn't matter and that any type of severe pain no matter how dire the circumstance is a violation of human dignity. But not only is severe pain not always torture, but even a mild inflicted pain could be torture if it is excessive in a given circumstance.

Those who say circumstance doesn't matter prefer fixed, preferably written regulations. But written regulations on torture are an inferior blunt instrument.

Discussions on torture typically come down to one side saying this given act is torture. With those who disagree asking for them to define, as in prove, the given act in fact is torture. But what both sides share in silent agreement is an understanding that torture can be reduced to a one size fits all written regulation.

But as noted above torture is not a hard and fast rule but instead admits of variation from one circumstance to the next, so that what is being asked for is not only inferior, but incapable of solving the problem except most generally as a blunt instrument.

What is needed are not laws stating this or that is torture, but what is needed are men who are wise who know what is excessive in a given circumstance.

As it stands, what we typically get are those who are excessively cautious.
Or we instead get the opposite extreme of those who are solely pragmatic, where their sole criteria is : if it works, use it.


Of course, the problem with the approach of using prudential judgement in the particular to determine if an act is torture or not is that doesn't allow for Catholic lay defenders of the Faith to be able to excommunicate their fellow Catholics as some are wont to do because they will have to instead trust men to use their prudential judgement to known what is excessive in a given circumstance they know next to nothing about.

And some will argue that water boarding in any circumstance is obviously torture no different than we know it's torture to stretch a distributist on the rack while plying him with red hot pokers just because he's being annoying. But since people of good will disagree, it's not as obvious as some think it is.

Torture is another instance where our loss of a commonly understood standard of right action leads to conflict among Catholics.

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