Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Silence is Far Less Than Deafening ...

As Mark Shea continues his slow-motion disintegration over the torture issue and lapses further and further into both Bush Derangement Syndrome (this is somewhat indicative: "the man who has probably done more to screw up the country in his short span than any president in my lifetime") and paleoconservatism (of all the people he thinks to cite to defend the Pope's recent remarks he cites Justin Raimondo?), I think it is worth taking the time to comment on something that Victor raised in one of his earlier posts:
In fact, to be perfectly honest, before ever knowing Mark Shea, I had few opinions on "torture"; his intellectual sloppiness and vague moral grandstanding (plus the lying self-righteousness of certain others in St. Blogs) was the greatest factor in turning me against what-he-describes-as-Church-teaching. I would have voted against the McCain Amendment last year (and any other conceivable torture policy now) because of my longstanding suspicion of enshrining fine-sounding principles and vague aspirational terms into law, without spelling things out in detail. Once the moral self-congratulation and self-pleasuring is over, judges (including foreign ones in this case) and the administrative state then get the ability to define these terms as they like -- cf. "equal opportunity" and "privacy." The finer-sounding the principle, the more suspicious I am of it.

While I tend to share much of Victor's suspicion towards codifying fine-sounding moral principles, I myself supported the McCain Amendment for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that if some type of anti-torture legislation was going to be written I would much prefer that it be written by someone like McCain, whose comments on the subject have demonstrated a far greater degree of understanding of it than had individuals of a mindset similar to that of Mark Shea. There has recently been a discussion on torture carried out in a far more civil and far less self-righteous tone than that found on Shea's blog.

Like Victor, I had few if any well-developed views on torture prior to this recent spat over detainee policy. I actually think that there is a fair case to be made that much of this dispute occurred as the result of a category mistake among all but its most passionate partisans in the legal community and human rights organizations in that the general public was sufficiently (and rightly) repelled by what happened at Abu Ghraib that they started to examine the remarkably ambiguous legal situation that we currently find ourselves in as a result of this conflict. That the situation is legally ambiguous is of great vexation to the two groups referenced above, both of whom are probably among the largest current obstacle to establishing some system of international law that would be even remotely feasible here in the real world. So, with the assistance of a press corps and political class whose worldview is largely compatible with them to begin with, they set out to enact the most extreme elements of their agenda by using widespread revulsion over what happened at Abu Ghraib as their springboard. This was hardly a conspiracy, particularly for those who just reads the press releases these organizations send out on a regular basis.

When viewed from this perspective, the McCain Amendment and its current companion bill were far, far from what could have happened and they leave the vast majority of feasible interrogation tools (including rendition) completely intact. Near as I can determine, this is precisely what many of the people from the two groups I mentioned above who are so angry right now are actually mad about.

Also, Mark has long been attempting to argue that torture is synonymous with abortion or embryonic stem cell research and that any assent to it under any circumstances makes one on par with an abortion supporter. This is completely untenable within the context of Catholic theology given our belief in the indefectability of the Church because of past papal-sanctioned employment of torture and it is for this reason that I and others have long argued that Mark should be extremely careful (and far less self-righteous) when making such incredibly absolutist arguments with such obvious historical holes to it, particularly given that his only credible counter-argument occurs within the context of his own fundamentalist reading of Gaudium et Spes. I would note that none of this prevents Mark from arguing that the United States should not torture as a practical policy matter, particularly given that we have been able to successfully ban slavery and regard it as an abhorrent practice without ever having defined it as intrinsically evil. Everything that is not forbidden being compulsory is not the only option here.

I predict that if Mark's hyperbole and self-righteousness deteriorates any further at present rates he will soon come to the conclusion that the current administration is one that he can no longer grant moral assent to. I remember when Revenge of the Sith deputed and all of the movie critics were complaining that Hayden Christensen's acting as Anakin Skywalker was too over-the-top to be a believeable portrayal of someone descending into hysteria. If only they knew that truth is indeed stranger than fiction ...


Victor said...

I wish I could agree that it mattered that McCain wrote the bill, Tork.

My concern is over who *implements* and *interprets* the bill. And what effect knowing this possibility will have on the US military.

None of which has anything to do with the sponsoring legislator.

Adam Villani said...

Does "the man who has probably done more to screw up the country in his short span than any president in my lifetime" really constitute prima facie evidence of Bush Derangement Syndrome? Personally, I was born during Nixon's administration; I have no idea how old Shea is, but he maybe goes back to Johnson or Kennedy. So if I were to say that, I'd really just be comparing him to six other men. And he even put "probably" in there. Obviously it's a statement you disagree with, but really, which President would *you* say has probably done the most to screw up the country in the last few decades? Clinton? Johnson? Can I call you out on Clinton Derangement Syndrome?

Yes, I think Bush is a very bad President who has done a lot of harm to this country. The worst? I have no idea; history will tell. Is it "derangement" to call it like we see it, though?

Let me differentiate myself from the Kossacks here: I believe George W. Bush operates out of a sincere desire to protect America from terrorists. I also agree with Bush's characterization of what we are fighting against and what we are fighting for. I just think he's done a terrible job fighting that war at nearly every step of the way.