Friday, December 01, 2006

Well at least he's showing some consistency ...

Realizing that his humoring condescension of Jimmy Akin ("He's just starting and hasn't put any thought into it, never you mind that he rejects my arguments on every substantive point") wasn't going be intellectually satisfying to anyone who had sat down and actually read Akin's posts, Mark is now trying to make another go at it by acknowledging the obvious differences between Akin's views and his own.

As you can probably guess, it all starts to go downhill from there ...
People are alternately clamoring for my take on Jimmy's torture series or pre-emptively declaring that I have conceded his argument. One of the funniest of these is Jeff who plays good cop/bad (or Shakespeare's Marc Antony) and alternates between saying of me and Zippy that we have "integrity" (and so will surely concede that we were wrong) and saying that I am a coward who has "zipped out the back door" while Zippy is a stubborn judgmental fool. Anything, apparently, to achieve the goal of using Jimmy's arguments to shut down my gripes about the incompatibility of torture and the teaching of the Church.

No Mark, I think instead they are asking you to actually make an argument rather than your typical MO of making fairly broad-brush statements about your views on this topic (or what evil people anyone who could possibly disagree with you) and then deferring to Zippy or Richard Comerford to sort out the particulars. The latest attack on Jeff appears to be in a fairly similar vein.
At this juncture, it is customary to complain about my unfairness and mischaracterization of the position of people like Jeff and the Coalition for Fog. "We're *not* defending torture!" goes the protest. We are defending, er, aggressive interrogation. Totally different! Maybe, however, in this case what is being defended are acts which *would* be called torture if the circumstances were not desperate. For that is precisely what Jimmy argues for when he says, "I would not say that it [waterboarding] is torture if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives (it is proportionate since there is not a better solution)."

I fail to see any major differences between this (though the views of the people who have taken issue with Mark on this are a lot more complicated than he would ever care to admit) on the Church's views on theft, which Akin makes explicit in his postings. There are certain situations in which an individual can take something that is not their's that are not theft.

He then states the following:
I recognize the Dulles/Harrison points about the (possible) ambiguity of certain terms. If I were a Latinist or knew somebody who was a Latin scholar I'd be competent to go into fine-tuned discussions of whether "deportationes" referred to "arbitrary banishment" or not. But I'm not so I won't argue that point. But I will note that it seems to me that it does violence to Veritatis Splendor to seek, on the basis of this ambiguity, to loosen as much as possible the application of the term "intrinsically immoral".

Which goes back to my point about his fundamentalist reading of the text. If "deportation" is stated unqualified to be an intrinsic evil in Veritas Splendor and Mark's view of Veritas Splendor is that the document is something that all Catholics are bound to obey and that dissent from any aspect of it is every bit as bad as dissent on Humanae Vitae, that is kind of a big deal for someone who is married to Mark's view of the document, particularly since everyone agrees that the Magisterium does not currently regard deportation as an intrinsic evil. Not that this deters Mark, who is determined to press forward despite having just had a hole in his central argument big enough for Godzilla to walk through.

Mark then once again forms the view, carried in full form by his resident shill in the comboxes, that the only reason that anyone could disagree with him here is because they are blinded by political partisanship:
Because, again, these arguments are not taking place in a vacuum. We are living in a country where the Executive has the power, right now, to order torture and has, in fact, done so (while likewise calling it "not torture"). Said torture (extending even to threats against the lives of children) has been done, not in "ticking bomb" scenarios but against innocent men. It has had the imediate effect of drying up our intelligence sources (as well as placing the souls of torturers in jeopardy of damnation). And yet, here in cyberspace, no small effort, ranging from the Coalition for Fog, to Against the Grain, to (now) Jimmy's blog has been put into figuring out some way to redefine it so that it's not torture, or shout down those who oppose it as "Pharisees" or otherwise figure out a way to overlook the bleedin' obvious in favor of the highly abstract and hypothetical. Virtually *no* effort has gone in to pursuing the question, "How do we treat prisoners humanely while still getting the intelligence we need?"

There are a number of assertions here that I do not believe to be factually correct, most notably his claims that torture has not stopped "ticking time bomb" plots when it appears that there are at least two notable cases (Rashid Rauf and Abdul Hakim Murad) to the contrary that have repeatedly been brought to his attention. As for the use of torture drying up our intelligence sources, this is another assertion that I expect he would be extremely hard-pressed to demonstrate. None of this has anything to do with the morality of torture, but it does say a lot for his argument style and makes me very suspicious of his pronouncements on the latter when he is so lacking with regard to the former.

Mark then states the following:
One of the weirdest things about this episode is the curious notion that Jimmy, or I, or Zippy, or Cardinal Dulles, or Fr. Harrison occupy some sort of quasi-magisterial role. Check the comboxes on Jimmy's blog. Guys like Jeff approach Jimmy's argument with an astonishing attitude of "Iacobus locuta est. Causa finita est." People who agree with me have sometimes done the same thing with me on this and other issues. That's bad, because we are not the Magisterium and people shouldn't treat us as though we are.

However, beyond that, we are members of the Body of Christ, and as such have an obligation to further its mission. To Dave's insistence that we all focus our energies more and more on figuring out just how much coercion we can apply and how fine a shade of distinction we can discern between legitimate coercion and torture, Richard makes a perfectly reasonable reply, it seems to me.

I would note that part of the reason for this view has been a direct result of Mark's actions, including the periodic issuing of pseudo-anathema sits by Mark and his supporters against myself, Victor, and our colleagues here in the strongest possible terms. If you want an example of this, check out the comboxes where Dave Armstrong is accused by Richard of being in open rebellion against the Church because he doesn't share Richard and Mark's views of the situation. Given that Mark is a respected Catholic apologist on an issue that we believe to be deeply wrong on this issue, is it really that terribly surprising that we would appeal to other Catholic apologists and theologians to demonstrate what we believe to be the weakness of his position?

Mark has repeatedly argued that his view on this topic is identical with that of the Magisterium, a position that I do not believe can possibly be true based on what the Magisterium actually teaches about these issues. I suspect that he is starting to realize, however marginally, that this is the case as well, which is why he is now trying to shift the goalposts of his argument.

He then constructs the following false dilemma:
Those of us who do Catholic teaching should emphasize what the Church emphasizes, not emphasize wire-drawn escape hatches from what the Church emphasizes. Far better to look for ways to made damn sure torture never happens than, in a time where torture *is* being sanctioned by the state, looking for ways to show that torture is compatible with Catholic teaching, under remote and hypothetical circumstances.

To which one might note that there is a difference between an experience being humane and one being pleasant, as anyone who has ever been to the DMV should be able to relate. Getting a senior to mid-level enemy figure to reveal sensitive information about their own operations is likewise going to be unpleasant for them whenever or not any physical pressure is applied. That's why the standard goal of any interrogation is getting the captive to "break."


Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you've said here, but I would quibble with the last bit. I don't think the goal of any interrogation is to get a suspect to "break." They would like him to talk, sure, but getting a guy to talk and "breaking" him so that he'll talk are two different things, and if what you're after is reliable information, trying to break someone is generally not a good way to go about doing it.

Anonymous said...

The 10:01 a.m. post was by yours truly.


Dave Armstrong said...

See my compilation of my surreal discussions with zippy, (largely defending you guys against unsubstantiated assertions) under the post previous to this one.

These guys seem to be running scared. They can't document; they can't form rational, plausible responses. All they can do , it seems to me, is obfuscate and mock. Sure, there is an actual argument here and there, for good measure, but not nearly what is required.

From my experience in over 350 debates, I can spot these evasive tactics a mile away . . . people who have no good answer always act in one of three ways:

1. Flee for the hills (the James White strategy).

2. Mock and caricature and create straw men and obfuscate.

3. Honestly admit that they are stumped and need to do more thinking.

You know which one applies presently . . . .

Christopher Fotos said...

Good post.


Those of us who do Catholic teaching should emphasize what the Church emphasizes, not emphasize wire-drawn escape hatches from what the Church emphasizes.

This is a false choice and another example of how Mark argues. The reason for literally thousands of comments on this issue has been to determine what the Church teaches about torture. That's all. If the Church teaches there are "wire-drawn escape hatches," whatever that means, then so be it; if not, not. Meanwhile "escape hatch" begs the question, coloring what he believes to be the position of his opponents in the worst possible light. The Mark Shea Way.