“There is one question which we seldom ask each other directly: it is too brutal. And yet it is the only question worth asking our fellow travelers. What makes you go on living? Why don’t you kill yourself? Why is all this bearable? What makes you bear it?
Could I answer that question about myself? No. Yes. Perhaps … I supposed, vaguely, that it was a kind of balance, a complex of tensions. You did whatever was next on the list. A meal to be eaten. Chapter eleven to be written. The telephone rings. You go off somewhere in a taxi. There is one’s job. There are amusements. There are people. There are books. There are things to be bought in shops. There is always something new. There has to be. Otherwise, the balance would be upset, the tension would break.
It seemed to me that I had always done whatever people recommended. You were born; it was like entering a restaurant. The waiter came forward with a lot of suggestions. You said, ‘What do you advise?’ And you ate it, and supposed you liked it, because it was expensive, or out of season, or had been a favorite of King Edward the Seventh. The waiter had recommended teddy bears, football, cigarettes, motor bikes, whiskey, Bach, poker, the culture of Classical Greece. Above all, he had recommended Love: a very strange dish,” – Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet: A Novel.
“We … as all ‘God-fearing’ men of all ages, are never safe against the temptation of claiming God too simply as the sanctifier of whatever we most fervently desire. Even the most ‘Christian’ civilization and even the most pious church must be reminded that the true God can be known only where there is some awareness of a contradiction between divine and human purposes, even on the highest level of human aspirations.
There is, in short, even in a conflict with a foe with whom we have little in common the possibility and necessity of living in a dimension of meaning in which the urgencies of the struggle are subordinated to a sense of awe before the vastness of the historical drama in which we are jointly involved; to a sense of modesty about the virtue, wisdom and power available to us for the resolution of its perplexities; to a sense of contrition about the common human frailties and foibles which lie at the foundation of both the enemy’s demonry and our vanities; and to a sense of gratitude for the divine mercies which are promised to those who humble themselves.
Strangely enough, none of the insights derived from this faith are finally contradictory to our purpose and duty of preserving our civilization. They are, in fact, prerequisites for saving it. For if we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory,” – Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.
“That there are elements of the American government still arguing against this cold blast of truth, offering up the craven fear that the rest of the world might see us as we actually are, or that our enemies will perhaps use the evidence of our sadism to justify violent retribution or political maneuver — this further cowardice only adds to the national humiliation.
This is not one of the world’s great powers behaving as such, and it is certainly no force for good in the world. This might as well be the Spanish national amnesia following the death of Franco, or a post-war West Germany without the stomach for the necessary self-reflection. Shit, even the fragile, post-apartheid democracy of South Africa managed to openly conduct hearings and attempt some measure of apology and reconciliation in the wake of the previous regime’s brutalities. Not us. Not the United States. We’re too weak to endure any such moral reflection without the attempt itself descending into moronic partisan banter. That’s right. Here, in America, we are — today — actually torturing other human beings with exacting cruelty in secret and then arguing about whether we can dare discuss it in public” – David Simon.
“[T]he adorable little weenie I knew from our days at The Daily Penn-sylvanian was nothing but a con artist. … No one on TNR’s staff is suspicious of the painfully self-deprecating kid who is so eager to please. [Actor Hayden] Christensen plays [Stephen] Glass as more obsequious than the real-life version, but conveys the original’s disarming charm. He comes across as utterly harmless; even his sexless demeanor seems designed to avoid offense. His friends can’t help but want to protect him. Which helps explain why Glass’s deceptions aren’t caught sooner; his peers simply want to believe him too badly,” – Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone writer, in 2004.
Hanna Rosin has a must-read on the latest gobsmacking revelations from the UVA story.
(Hat tip: Eric Owens)
“You can be for torture, but you can’t be for torture and then claim that it’s somehow inappropriately barbaric for ISIS to crucify the innocent. This report clearly shows that the CIA basically broke people’s feet and made them stand on them for days, repeatedly drowned/revived people, froze people to death, anally raped them, threatened to kill women and children, and did everything they could to break them; the report also makes it clear that they did this past the point where even the CIA felt they had any useful information. It was so bad that trained CIA operatives got choked up and cried when they saw it. These weren’t kale-loving hippies; these were CIA and special forces operatives and it was so intense they started crying. Many of these people were completely innocent; even the CIA admits they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The report makes all this very, very clear.
So like I said, you can be for torture. But if you are then you lose the right to call crucifixions barbarism. Because a thousand times out of a thousand, I’d rather be crucified than what the CIA did to dozens, possibly hundreds of people. Compared to the pain those people suffered, being crucified and getting to die after a few days would be a mercy,” – a Dish reader on a reddit discussion with someone who supports the use of torture.
“Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person’s will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. As an American commander wrote in an August 2003 e-mail about his instructions to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.”
What does it mean to “break” an individual?
As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term “break” is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken–of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South,” – yours truly, TNR, December 2005.
“The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of [this] Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called ‘universal jurisdiction.’ Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution,” – Ronald Reagan’s signing statement on the ratification of the UN Convention on Torture.
Allow me to repeat:
Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.
(Photo: Getty Images)
“By the late 1960s, TNR had long since lost its cachet as the voice of re-invigorated liberalism—a cachet that was perhaps best illustrated when the dashing, young President Kennedy had been photographed boarding Air Force One holding a copy. When he sold the magazine to Peretz, Harrison believed he had secured Peretz’s promise to let him continue to run the magazine for three years. This plan quickly foundered, however, when Peretz got tired of reading rejection notices for articles he hoped to publish in the magazine at the same time he was covering its losses. Soon Harrison’s Queen Anne desk and his John Marin paintings were moved out of the editor’s office. Much of the staff, which then included Walter Pincus, Stanley Karnow, and Doris Grumbach, was either fired or chose to resign. The staffers were largely replaced by young men fresh out of Harvard, with plenty of talent but few journalistic credentials and little sense of the magazine’s place in the history of liberalism,” – Eric Alterman, 2007.
(Hat tip: Jesse Walker)
“I have known cops who haven’t had a racist bone in their bodies and in fact had adopted black children, they went to black churches on the weekend; and these are white cops. They really weren’t overtly racist. They weren’t consciously racist. But you know what they had in their minds that made them act out and beat a black suspect unwarrantedly? They had fear. They were afraid of black men. I know a lot of white cops who have told me. And I interviewed over 900 police officers in 18 months and they started talking to me, it was almost like a therapy session for them I didn’t realize that they needed an outlet to talk,” – Constance Rice, civil rights attorney.
“Do I really want it, this self, these scattered fingerprints on the air, to persist forever, to outlast the atomic universe?
Those who scoff at the Christian hope of an afterlife have on their side not only a mass of biological evidence knitting the self-conscious mind tight to the perishing body but a certain moral superiority as well: isn’t it terribly, well,selfish, and grotesquely egocentric, to hope for more than our animal walk in the sun, from eager blind infancy through the productive and procreative years into a senescence that, by the laws of biological instinct as well as by the premeditated precepts of stoic virtue, will submit to eternal sleep gratefully? Where, indeed, in the vast spaces disclosed by modern astronomy, would our disembodied spirit go, and, once there, what would it do?
In fact we do not try to picture the afterlife, nor is it our selves in our nervous tics and optical flecks that we wish to perpetuate; it is the self as window on the world that we can’t bear to think of shutting. My mind when I was a boy of ten or eleven sent up its silent screams at the thought of future aeons – at the thought of the cosmic party going on without me.
The yearning for an afterlife is the opposite of selfish: it is love and praise for the world that we are privileged, in this complex interval of light, to witness and experience. Though some believers may think of the afterlife as a place of retribution, where lives of poverty, distress, and illness will be compensated for, and where renunciations will be rewarded – where the last shall be first, in other words, and those that hunger and thirst shall be filled – the basic desire, as Unamuno says in his Tragic Sense of Life, is not for some otherworld but for this world, for life more or less as we know it to go on forever: ‘The immortality that we crave is a phenomenal immortality – it is the continuation of this present life,'” – John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs.
(Hat tip: John Benjamin)