Monday, December 5, 2011

Social Construction of Killing

I would like to further expand upon the thought process I was trying to articulate today in class about what I consider to be the social construction of our understanding of "killing." When I shoot someone in Memphis, that is "murder." When I pull the same trigger in Iraq (iffy example, I realize), it's an "act of war." The same action goes by two different names, and the same action receives two different reactions from both the public arena and from the judicial system. I can receive a death sentence for one and I can receive a medal for the other. I understand that these two scenarios fall under different legal categories based on the definitions we have constructed of what constitutes "murder" qua "murder," but viewing the action through a Kantian lens, it seems as though the actions are not so different. We cannot say that as a universal maxim, killing is to be praised. Therefore, it cannot be. Regardless of whether it's Osama bin Laden or whoever we deem to be the manifestation of pure evil or whatever, we cannot celebrate death as a universal maxim. I think this is what Dr. Krog was talking about, in a way, because when we begin to permit or even celebrate some murders, where is the line? When does it stop?
Our discussion on torture made me think of this movie I saw called "Unthinkable" with Samuel L. Jackson which I'm sure some of you have seen. If not here's a link to the movie trailer.

The movie is an example of our "ticking time bomb" scenario in which there are 3 bombs in 3 different locations and only one man knows the location of those bombs. Jackson plays the torturer who goes to any lengths to get the information out, from beatings to cutting off fingers. He even brings in the man's wife and children and ends up slitting his wife's throat, killing her. In the end, the terrorist gives up the location but in the end we find out there was a 4th bomb that he did not tell us about. Although this is just a movie, I think it is a pretty realistic situation in which we see how torture does not work. The man was willing to undergo any form of pain and suffering and even admitted that he deserved it. In the end, many people were saved but innocent people still died and even in the hands of those who were sent there to help. This just goes to show how inhumane torture really is.

Back to Nozick

This is a video of Elizabeth Warren, who is the Democrat running against Scott Brown in the Massachusetts senate race next year. She's a lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy and has worked for the Obama administration.

The part that I want to focus on is her discussion of the social contract. She notes that when a major corporation makes money, they should absolutely keep a large chunk, but they should also pay some forward in the form of taxes. Her logic is this: A company makes its own product BUT that product is transported on roads built by taxpayer money, protected by public police and fire forces, and is made by workers educated by the public school system. In this way, the public contributes to the production, safekeeping, and distribution of goods and deserve to benefit from the success of that. Taxes also help produce similar successes in other companies.

I bring this up because I think maybe it can apply to our Wilt situation. Let's say Wilt learned to play basketball in public elementary school, practiced on city parks, and was given money to play for a public college (KU). Doesn't the same pay it forward system apply? Wilt absolutely deserves to benefit from his natural talent and from the freely given money of those who want to watch him play. Given Warren's logic (and if you can't tell, I'm totally on board with it), he also has a responsibility to the community that helped him along. Additionally, taxing the inheritance that he transfers to his children makes more sense because the community ought also to inherit as a result of their own contribution, although that inheritance may be in the form of taxation.

What do y'all think of this situation?

Senate Votes to Continue Controversial Detention Policies

If I recall correctly, this was one of the provisions put forth by the Patriot Act - that the military can indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, on suspicion of terrorism without trial. Unfortunately, the bill itself is over 600 pages, so I am only able to go on what other people say is in this bill rather than report on what exactly is in it. But my main question here is why anyone would/could support something like this? We've brought up in class the idea of the State of Exception, but what exactly is the appeal? Certainly it can't be security, because the person is endangered now only only by whatever is threatening the nation, but also the nation itself. Back when the Patriot Act was a new thing, a lot of people were arguing if you weren't doing anything wrong, then there was nothing to worry about. However, you don't have to be doing anything wrong just be suspected of doing something wrong. So the American citizens are not made safer by such laws. Personal anecdote, in my High School had the scare of a school shooting. What happened was two students (Let's call them One and Two) were supposedly going to, according to police reports, "Snipe students from the trees with shotguns" and/or "Run through the school in a Nazi formation shooting students." If you have questions after reading that, you should. Student One and Two were the "scary goth" type, wearing chains and writing bad poetry, etc, etc. And apparently, Student Two told a student that he and Student One were plotting to shoot the school. All those who knew Student Two said he was a notorious liar. Anyway, the cops were involved and put Student One on house arrest while they searched for evidence (Reasonable.) However, after two years their lead piece of evidence was a drawing done by Student One of "two people standing back to back, shooting aliens," which the police deducted represented students. Student One was an amateur director and claimed that the picture was based on a film of his called Octoalien or something along that line. The Nazi running/shotgun sniping ws a speculation by the police. Was a two year detention (before any trial) while the police looked for evidence justified? Were we made safer or was this a gross example of someone's rights being trampled?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kant in Three

I think he is a bit hard on Kant but its still very informative and entertaining :)

A look in the mirror?

        For the majority of the semester we have attempted to dissect and rationalize the arguments of many. Some of us have agreed with many of these arguments, while others have not. All of them pertaining to what is just and what is justice and how do we as a society deal with moments of injustice. I found it very intriguing however, that during class, there was no opposition to whether or not torture was unjust. Maybe, no one was willing to speak up in support of it, but it appeared that we all agreed that it was unjust. We discussed how to handle it , and differences arose there , but that was understood. My question is, how can we, as such a diverse group of people, understand that torture is unjust, and still have a national debate over the topic. The "bottom line" is without regard to political , religious, or personal views, none of us are wiling to will hurting another human to attain information as a universal maxim. I believe this was Dershowitz's plan, to illustrate that we all understand the torture is unjust, which is why it is a secret action. He offered the torture warrants as a means of assigning responsibility. However assuming responsibility for torture makes it appears as though you are pro torture, which also means you  would be understanding if another person chose to torture you. I don't think there are many who are okay with that. I believe Dershowitz was also attempting a sort of forced self reflection, making us analyze what we truly were allowing to happen as a country -what do you think ?

Friday, December 2, 2011

On "Tortured Reasoning"

In his essay "Tortured Reasoning," Alan Dershowitz calls for the requirement of torutre warrants. Requiring torture warrants holds someone accountable for the torture, which is a responsibility that no one is morally willing to accept; however, the majority supports torturing in specific situations (i.e. the ticking time bomb).
In "Tortured Reasoning" Alan Dershowitz asserts that he believes that torturing is bad, but because people do it anyway he wants it to become more public by issuing torture warrants. In order to issue torture warrants, toroture would have to be legalized, which is impossible. To legalize torture, it would first have to be justified. But how do you justify something that is irrational? Torturing has been proven to be an unreliable method of obtaining information. When under duress the tortured will be willing to say anything for alleviation; therefore any information they give will be unreliable, and the practice of torture will have been irrational. Moral reasons will also prevent people from legalizing warrants. Do you think that it was Dershowitz plan to actually create torture warrants? -- which would be flawed by this logic that was presented today in class. Or do you think he suggested it with this falw in mind to emphaisize how torture is unjust?
It seems to me that in our discussion of interrogational torture there is really only one fact you need to know, this being that it does not work. If it does not work then nothing else matters. Sure its immoral and illegal but even if you were willing to look past that in a situation of necessity nothing can change the fact that it does not work. I guess people have a hard time accepting this because given a "ticking time bomb" type situation they want to think that there is something they can do. Even the chance that there might be a person who might have the information that might be useful and he might give it up if he is tortured seems to be enough for people to justify the use of torture. But this just is not logical. Torture does not work, so why do it? Why violate someones rights and humanity for false or no information? Earlier in the semester we discussed the scenario of a train that will hit three people unless someone flips a switch in which case it will hit only one. In this scenario we discussed peoples inclination to remain passive and allow the larger number of people to die. This is the same idea with torture except when given the situation we do not want to be passive, we want to flip the switch. Maybe this is because with torture we see the tortured as being unequal to those we want to save. We assume that the tortured is the bad guy and does know the information and therefore we justify torturing him to save others, something we would not do in the case of the assumed equally innocent train victims. The truth is though that we do not know this and in fact all we do know is that torture is proven to be ineffective.

More on the State of Exception

An excerpt from Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception.

The merits of a discussion about Torture

I would like to bring up for our online discussion, what I already mentioned in class today. Personally, I have a really hard time understanding the merit of a discussion about torture after we learned that interrogational torture does not work. Of course, we can get engaged in a discussion about the morality and legality of torture, but I don‘t see the sense of it. Maybe, this is my fault and if so, please correct me. Nevertheless, it is a dictate of logic that a conclusion always has to be wrong if the premisses from which it was derived are wrong. In order to point that out clearly, I would like to give an example from our daily lives. In the last couple of weeks, I saw you guys working on your schedules for the spring semester. You decide what classes you want to take on the base of your interests and of what your major tells you to choose. Hence, there has to be some kind of information about the content of the classes and how you can count them. Based on these information, you finally choose your classes and with a little help of luck, you get them. But what if these information that you needed to make your decision were just wrong? Let‘s imagine, the syllabus of a class will be changed dramatically so that you cannot count that class anymore as the one that you need. Clearly, it makes no sense anymore to take that class.

Talking about the morality of torture by using the argument of necessity is analog to this example, because it is simply a logic fallacy to use a technique that causes wrong information (if it causes information at all) in order to get right information.

Additionally, Dershowitz‘ argument that we have to legalize it in order to make people aware of the immorality of torture does not convince me as well. Granted, it could be a practical way of preventing people from doing the actual act of torturing but that must not be the goal of a philosophical approach about torture. It could be a political one yes, but not a philosophical, but even here, as Tommy already pointed out in class, it is actually not a matter of laws, for torture is already illegal. It is more a matter of the enforcement of existing laws. Hence, rather than making this practical approach, we ought maybe think about, what kind of morality stands behind these actions.

I‘m curios to read your answers!

What will the "state of exception" lead to?

I found an article that discussed a conversation between Carl Schmitt, associated with the “state of exception” concept, and a man named Walter Benjamin. Benjamin stated:

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of exception” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which reflects this. Then it will become clear that our mission is the introduction of a genuine state of exception; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will benefit from it. Fascism has a shot in part because its opponents, in the name of progress, treat it as a historical phenomenon.—But the astonishment that what we are experiencing is “still possible” in the twentieth century is not a philosophical reaction. It is not the beginning of recognition, unless by recognition we mean that the conception of history on which it rests is unsustainable.”

–Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte: VIII. geschichtshistorische These (1940) in: Gesammelte Schriften, vol. I/2, p. 697 (S.H. transl.)

We can see from this statement the importance of carefully examining our history and the validity of the state of exception to see if it has become the rule. In becoming the rule the government would be taking advantage of this “state of exception” and allowing a totalitarian rule to form. The article draws a parallel to America after 9/11 in which parts of the Constitution were suspended by the president as a precautionary measure which is something we discussed in class (with the airport situation and violation of people’s privacy).

I think it would definitely be important to consider this idea because it has been seen throughout history that people often take advantage of power, and eventually dictatorship and complete government control occurs. Although I am not sure we will see a Julius Caesar or even a Hitler in our time again, the possibility is always there. Of course after a tragedy such as 9/11 happens, the government is justified in wanting to help protect the people from any further harm, but who is to say that the government will not continue to invade people’s privacy and their rights? When is the right time to end the “state of exception” and bring back those rights given by the Constitution?

This idea can also apply to our discussion of torture. If we allow one state of exception for one instance of torture then we are giving people the notion that torture is sometimes okay. This cannot work in such an extreme violation of human rights. Once it is justified one time then it would surely become justified at other times and could lead to much worse conditions. Torture needs to be accepted as always wrong and not sometimes justified based on what people think; Varying people have different ideas of what could be warranted and, as humans are flawed, so would the system which establishes when torture is justifiable.

Here’s the article if you want to check it out. I thought it was pretty interesting.

It's Illegal No Buts About It

The discussion of torture has been a frustrating one in regards to how it is viewed. Despite being illegal, there seems to be so many exceptions to an act that is no doubt wrong on so many levels. We've tried to rationalize as a class examples of torture as well as when and how they are acceptable or not, but it seems that we never really accept that TORTURE IS ILLEGAL, and therefore should not be practiced or tolerated. We have tried to justify exceptions based on moral or political claims, but the truth of the matter is TORTURE IS ILLEGAL.
My research paper is about female genital mutilation, which is also known as female circumcision and I argue how this act despite its cultural influences is torture. No matter how you view this act, whether from a cultural perspective or moral perspective, the idea of physically altering a female's reproductive organs by force without consent is not something that would be willed to everyone. No exception can justify the act, and even if there were one the act is STILL ILLEGAL. People often try to make arguments for things that are at the core wrong and unacceptable, because they need to have a say or need an understanding. But some things as apparent as torture, no matter the form, should be accepted as what they are- illegal and wrong.

Spanking is teaching and torturing is legalizing rape

At home it is called spanking, in the court systems it is termed corporal punishment, and in schools it is known as the “board of education.” These are the closest terms to what the majority of us have come to know as torture. But is it really torture? According to Dr. J, the first fact about torture is “torture does not ‘work’.” I may speak for myself, but for me, spanking did work and it was probably one of the most effective means to get me to behave. I may be the exception child, but I did not receive very many spankings. This was because the threat of a spanking from my parents was enough to be considered punishment for me. If a threat was said I would be sneakily running away from all adults present. I figured if I was out of sight, I would be out of mind; therefore, no spanking was necessary. I was still caught a couple of times and got a spanking; however, despite this horrific event, every year when I go to the doctor they have yet to tell me that I have chronic damage or a psychological problem as a result of my childhood. I am not suggesting that spanking is the only effective punishment for children. Like all cases, every child is different and responds differently to different punishments. In fact, certain school districts are bringing back the “board of education,” or the paddle.

In this article, it says that parents are requesting the school to swat their children. It is used most often in high schools than in elementary schools. Do you think this is an effective punishment? Spanking is a form of punishment that is used to condition individuals into learning what is right and what is wrong.

Comparing spankings to torture, they are two completely different things. Torturing an individual is a dehumanizing act for the torturer and the tortured, and it is not meant to teach an individual. Initially when presented with the idea of torture, it is seen as a necessary evil that falls in the gray area of right and wrong. The ticking time bomb case is what usually ends up coming to mind when I think of torture – you have 2 hours to find where the bomb is planted and to save millions of lives. It is hard to say that torture does not work, because if torture does not work, what does work? Are we to stand with our hands in our pockets? It is hard to comprehend the idea that we can do nothing and that we must wait to experience the worst.

Initially in class, I thought torture was an effective means to receive information, and it is hard to comprehend that it unconditionally wrong in every circumstance. A rational law cannot be created deeming torture to be legal because that would make it not only legal for the government but also for every individual in America. A form of torture is rape, and by legalizing torture you would be creating a higher law that would be legalizing rape. You cannot put a conditional statement to legalize rape. This rationing makes me think of legalizing torture in a black and white way. Torture is inconsistent with previously established laws, and to deem it legal would be to undermine other laws. Do you agree with this rationing?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Many aspects of Kant’s philosophy can be used as arguments against torture. Firstly, it does not fit in with the categorical imperative which Kant says is, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it becomes a universal law” (31). No rational person could will that torture should become a universal law. Someone may be okay with his or her enemies being tortured. However, if torture were turned on his or her friends or self, as it could be if it were a universal law, he or she would decry torture as awful and no longer be in favor of it.

Secondly, torture involves using people as means as opposed to ends. When a person is being tortured, he or she is being used as a means to a different end, whether it be so the torturer can get information, punishment, or the torturer’s enjoyment. With regards to torture, a person’s own faculties and feelings are used satisfy the will of the torturer. This point is made in David Sussman’s essay “What’s Wrong with Torture” when Sussman calls torture a “kind of forced self-betrayal” (4). Sussman describes torture this way because the torturer, by his actions, manipulates the victim’s own physical and mental feelings to make the victim feel extreme pain and accomplish whatever the torturer wants to accomplish. In this case, a person’s “affects and emotions,” which are arguably what defines his person, are used as a means to his own pain instead of ends.

Also, Kant would say that torture is wrong as it is a form of coercion which would be unacceptable. Kant says, “If a certain use of freedom is itself a hindrance to freedom according to universal law (that is, is unjust), then the use of coercion to counteract it, inasmuch as it is the prevention of a hindrance of freedom, is consistent with freedom according to universal laws” (152). Coercion is acceptable if it prevents a hindrance of a freedom, but in the case of torture, coercion is not acceptable because it does not necessarily succeed in stopping an injustice. If a person is tortured so he will give up information, it is not guaranteed that torture will actually lead to uncovering information. Also, torture cannot stop a future injustice from occurring because if a person is torturing another, according to Sussman, the torturer has asymmetrical power over the victim and can therefore prevent the victim from doing something without necessarily employing torture.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Westphal, Jonathan, ed. Justice. Hackett, 1996. Print.

Sussman, David. "What's Wrong with Torture." Philosophy and Public Affairs 33.1 (2005).