Archive for the 'Power' Category

There’s a little John Yoo in all of us

A modern replication of the Milgram experiment has identical findings.  No surprise there.  This is why I scoff at people who express shock at human atrocities.  Their righteous indignation is based on a core delusion.  The scientific results of the Milgram and the Stanford Prison experiments speak to this. Most people who consider themselves moral and good are clearly capable of committing evil, albeit under social conditions disturbingly easy to satisfy.  

Socially pervasive, routine evil is often banal because the moral perversion is cloaked in the guise of normalcy. Non-pathological evil is never committed for its own sake, but under a convincing pretext, which usually and ironically appeals to some concept of moral goodness.  This is how people can convince themselves that the “ends justify the means”.

As long as the “end” is ranked the highest in value, the moral content of method is disregarded, with or without trepidation, so otherwise evil acts instantly become justifiable when in the service of the “greater good”.

Most people are not critical thinkers when it comes to morality or anything else. When individuals who have never given serious thought to moral dilemmas are faced with one, they’re more susceptible to rationalization.   Acknowledging the immorality of something while doing it anyway out of self-interest or some other reason is not rationalization—it’s just immorality. True rationalization occurs when otherwise immoral acts are magically transformed into moral acts when they are committed for a reason perceived by the actor as good.  We see this view represented daily by cultural influences, most notably incarnated in neo-conservatism and American exceptionalism, celebrating torture and war for “the greater good”.  There is no longer any such thing as “necessary evil”, if anything deemed necessary is automatically good.  Morality becomes an Orwellian label, applied arbitrarily to anything self-appointed moral arbiters want to accomplish.  The concepts of good and evil are drained of any meaning whatsoever.

Very few of us interpret ethics to be a matter of objective, axiomatic principles that are universally, always, true.  There is a tendency for absolutist morality to be supplanted with situational ethics as adults realize how difficult and painful it can be to strictly adhere to moral principles in the real world. However, there is a big difference between deemphasizing morality to suit one’s own purposes and corrupting its meaning for the same reasons.  One position still recognizes the validity of moral principles, even as it discounts them.   The other seeks to twist the reference of morality into a cassis belli for objectives that would be considered abhorrent under the traditional understanding.

Even very religious people, who are inclined to be absolutist in their thinking, are vulnerable to the worst kind of moral relativism.   In fact, the absolutist mind is easiest to manipulate when the source of the mind’s convictions are external rather than internal.  A moral worldview assembled through indoctrination is far less sturdy than one derived from reason and introspection. 

Many people have never reflected on exactly what lines they will not cross in various situations, in accordance with their individual conscience.   Oftentimes there is negligible conscience to refer to.  Ideologies passively absorbed through cultural programming diminish the importance of conscience.   Instead, “social proof” is the mechanism by which “good” and “bad” behavior is learned.  Notice, this does not require the employment of reason; it is the opposite of “thinking for yourself”.

When previously respected authority figures make assertions, and previously trusted social peers begin behaving a certain way, this is adequate proof of “rightness” for the conformist. Rationalizations begin at the top, promulgated by individuals and institutions with perceived moral authority, and spread like a fad through society until it is considered uncontroversial to all except a few remaining non-conformists with independently derived moral principles.  This is the “Good German” phenomenon.  The sane are labeled insane, while insanity becomes ordinary.

Occurrences of mass lunacy, and the banal acceptance of institutionalized immorality leading to atrocities are an unfortunate side-consequence of socialization, as laid bare by the two psychological experiments mentioned in the beginning.  A consistent feature of human history, injustice of enormous scale is inevitable unless the subject of morality itself is subjected to the same scrutiny as the points of view derived from it.  Without an honest broaching of why people believe what they believe, and public challenges to the most core assumptions, fallacies and double-standards underlying popularly accepted belief, the human condition cannot sustainably improve.  Bad ideas and flawed premises must be stripped naked and laid bare in full view.  Political Correctness is a ruse to avoid the blunt, honest debate which would shred obfuscation and reveal true intentions.

The Enlightenment was predicated on exactly such a challenge to antiquated and fallacious modes of thought, and humanity moved forward as a consequence of its aggressive vision for a more reasonable world.  Enlightenment principles are forever under attack from our own internal frailties and contradictions.  Nevertheless we always have a choice as to how we will interpret reality, and determine truth.  We can use logic, reason and good sense to solve our problems, or we can succumb to more indulgent methods.  But there is always a choice.

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To Torture, Or Not To Torture…

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/12/hitch-on-cheney.html

This issue ought to be settled by now.water-torture

Michael Smerconish, an otherwise levelheaded pundit, becomes completely monstrous, arbitrary and illogical on the issue of torture, withstanding cognitive dissonance to the absurd point of claiming a moral and legal double-standard based on pure nationalism.  When America does it, it’s A-OK.  When anybody else does it for the same reasons that America does it, Hang ‘em!

Christopher Hitchens is hardly the most vociferous opponent of barbarism himself.  He’s cavalier and relativist on the question of torture.  But even he, who supports the promotion of Democracy with bombs and bullets, acknowledges the moral, legal and practical dangers of culturally normalizing torture by codifying it into law.  

Basic logic and a huge wealth of evidence overwhelmingly suggest torture is totally unreliable and ineffective at eliciting anything useful for intelligence purposes.  Torture is consistently good at compelling false confessions and disinformation from mentally destroyed individuals.  It is good for solidifying the political power of tyrannical regimes and keeping its population subjugated and terrified.  This is the unmitigated consensus of actual experts in intelligence gathering, interrogation and political history.  There are no credible experts on the subject who grant even the fantastic hypotheticals used by torture proponents any credence.

Let’s have a brief exercise in logic.  Ostensibly, the purpose of torture (so say the apologists) is to get truthful information from the victim when other methods aren’t working.  But torture as a method of determining the truth is fatally unreliable except in cases when the interrogator already knows the truth.  Why?  Because without external verification of the information extracted with torture, there is absolutely no way the interrogator can objectively determine if the information is truthful without assuming so and committing resources to confirm it through some kind of additional substantiation.  If the interrogator already knows the truth, the torture is obviously unnecessary except to determine whether the victim tells the truth when tortured.  I suppose that knowledge could be useful for the integrity of future torture sessions…God help us.

As for the popular “ticking bomb” scenario, the rhetorical ace of the torture apologists, there is great irony in that this specific scenario, thought to be the best example for why we need torture, is most likely to demonstrate why torture is literally self-destructive. In fact, disinformation procured from torture in a ticking bomb scenario is an obvious opportunity for a terrorist to “run out the clock” by sending the authorities on wild goose chases until the bomb explodes.  As a diversionary tactic, no terrorist mastermind would overlook the subversive power of giving the good guys a false sense of control.

There is absolutely no incentive for a hardened, brutal, monstrous, savage, martyrdom-seeking terrorist (who decapitates people) to tell the truth about a “ticking bomb”, when telling lies will basically ensure success.  A government, a nation, a society with a torture policy is an open book to its enemies.  The State’s cards are on the table while the enemy’s are hidden.  The Torture State becomes a blind Goliath that doesn’t realize its blindness.  The endemic flaws of such a policy fatally undermine real security by giving terrorists a powerful tool to manipulate the inept and predictable bureaucracy.  

Any fool can understand this.  Those who can’t, or won’t, are worse than fools.

Leaving the impracticality of torture aside, it is traditionally the measure of a civilized society that torture is legally prohibited.  Torture represents the opposite of due process and individual rights under the rule of law.  The cultural acceptance and legal validation of torture as a routine mechanism of “information retrieval” is not only a ominous sign of social decline and moral bankruptcy, but more importantly, turns our most illogical visceral urges into the  standard operating principles of our institutions.   

So either proponents of torture don’t know, or don’t care that this is the case; they are either inexcusably ignorant, or something much more disgusting–so blinded by seething hatred and fear, they go beyond supporting ad hoc employment of torture in outlier scenarios, into advocating for it’s codification into law as a routine policy, DESPITE its counter-productive, and self-destructive consequences.  They are worse than fools.  In their irrational hysteria over an enemy they can’t understand, they have become the enemy of reason itself and a danger to all of us.

*Update*:  http://www.truthout.org/122008Z

I rest my case.

Do you smell something….

I recently asked on LinkedIn.com:  

“Where are the best opportunities for sustainable growth in Sales during a prolonged recession?”

Mark Schnitzer wrote: 

“MLM explodes in economic times like these when success-oriented people realize that “job security” is an oxymoron.  I created a generic, training website that’s effective for people who are curious about the industry and beneficial for network marketers who need a bit of training to get to the next level.”

 

…This was the third response of this nature within 12 hours.  They smell the blood in the water. The crooks are busy. 

 I thought they were bad during the boom, when they became expert at stoking greed.  Now, they’re preying on desperation.  I’m in sales right now because I thought it was one of the only ways I could make substantial money relatively quickly, and remain professionally limber, if I made the right moves.

Now the entire landscape is festering with crooks, more than ever.  It’s almost impossible to make an honest living; the middleman is becoming obsolete for all but the most feckless shoppers.  The phony service sector and the frivolous non-essential goods industry relied on the ever-expanding capacity of the American Boob to consume indiscriminately and without restraint, on an endless line of credit.  Poof…gone.   

What’s left?  Carnival barkers, despondent ex-brokers and a bunch of increasingly desperate bullshit artists in suddenly defunct businesses,  fighting over a shrinking supply of suckers.  

I hear orthopedic joints are still hot.