Friday, January 16, 2009

In Case of Waterboarding Conservative, Break Glass

I failed to note in my previous post that Joe Scarborough and Patrick Buchanan can't seem to decide what they are debating. A) Waterboarding is or isn't torture, or B) Who cares, it works.

As I noted in another previous post, it may well "work" in overly narrow terms. Not the point. The issue is do the ends justify the means?

In the video in the previous post, Buchanan asks Financial Times editor Christia Freeland if she would waterboard someone to save nine plane loads of people from terrorist bombings. Classic utilitarian reasoning.

The proper response, which you are welcome to use if you run into waterboarders: "The Nazis "experimented" on Jews in the concentration camps. If that information saved nine plane loads of people's lives, would that make what they did moral? Or, if you prefer a "guilty" analogy - if we could save nine plane loads of people's lives by doing "controlled" experiments on our murderers, rapists and child molesters to obtain valuable medical information, should we do it?"

At this point, one would expect nothing more than a sigh and a roll of those squinty eyes from Scarborough. Who knows what Buchanan would say. But, in any case, the answer to both of them is to debate the principle, not the results. The debate is not about what "works," which the "realists" define according to their own narrow terms, independent of blowback and damage to moral standing. The debate is about the logic of one's morality, and its longer term results.

What frightens people about some conservatives is that in situations where the high goods of God and country appear threatened, they too easily cast off their principled mantles - the one's they don so well (and rightly so) on the constitution and free markets, and embrace "extremism in defense of liberty (and possibly God) is no vice."

I never liked that statement by Barry Goldwater. I always thought it was stupid. What I realize now is that it was revelatory of a deep utilitarian strain that some, some conservatives need to purge from their thinking.

(Goldwater's statement is right up there with that of irresponsible idiot Ann Coulter's comment: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.")

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