On dignity and humility
By R343L (Tue Sep 19, 2006 at 10:31:59 PM EST) dignity, humility, religion, God, philosophy, ethics (all tags)
Why are certain members of my government and intellectual classes so intent upon violations of human dignity? Haven't they heard of humility?

Warning: a rant.

Why is torture acceptable as a legitimized practice? Why are lack of trials, power to confront one's accusers, etc. so problematic even for TEH TERRORISTS? Whatever some crazy religious/political extremists might do (including killing millions of people), they are STILL HUMAN BEINGS. Deserving of dignity, rights, understanding, compassion and so forth. All people come from somewhere and there are reasons for everything. The descriptive label of "terrorist" or "evil" should not be sufficient to treat a human being as less than such. There is NO judgement that should lead to that result.

Which leads me to the personal humility part of this rant. But first some background.

When I was quite young, I didn't really (actively) believe in God, go to church, etc. My dad didn't really push religion or any specific belief. He sometimes went to a church himself, but never made my sister and I go. But for a while (5th grade up to about college), I voluntarily went to church every Sunday. I started going because my best friend's family did. I stayed because I found something I liked that involved community, compassion and beliefs like "judge not lest ye be judged" and "brother love" and so forth. I sang in the choir. I went thru confirmation (presbyterian if anyone cares). Eventually I decided that rationally I couldn't prove (or disprove) the notion of a deity and gave it up (officially: agnostic). But it left me with a lot of the same ideals (which were hard to shake even thru the objectivist phase...)

One belief it left me with was the fallibility of man. God is infallible, man is fallible. Fallibility means that properly we should have humility. To be humble in our actions, beliefs and words. Because there is always the possibility (even the likelihood) that we are wrong. We are not God.

Of course I don't "believe" in God anymore, not like that. But I still believe in an ideal of it or rather the negative of it: that human beings aren't God. They aren't perfect, all-knowing, etc.

Okay, done with the background.

What does this have to do with the topic I started with? There are a lot of absolute judgements being made of many individuals (and indeed entire groups of people). The problem is that we can be wrong, both about individuals (is this fellow really a terrorist? is he really planning to kill some of us?) and about entire societies. I am saddened to see no signs of humility in our leaders. They do not seem to believe they can be wrong in their judgements. I could be wrong and missing some important piece of information. I hope that I am.

Actually, let me go back to the first part: human dignity. When I was religious (warning: more religous wackery), I firmly believed that God so loved His creation that He sent His only son to die (rather gruesomely) in order to save all those fallible, imperfect humans. God (and Jesus -- I never really got a good handle on the Trinity) believed that every human being was worth saving. The whores, the liars, the child abusers, the murderers, the saints, the everyday family man, the insane. Everyone. God loved His creation of man so much that He couldn't condemn any of them to be separated from Him forever.

What does this mean for the religious former-me? Even if we are correct in our assessments of certain individuals who are being held incommunicado and probably tortured, God loves them anyway. God says they are worthy of forgiveness, love and understanding. Jesus Christ died to save them the same as anyone else. They are human. Humans beings deserve respect and understanding. Dignity. Even if they are terrorists.

Now, of course, I'm not all that religious anymore. I don't really believe in a giant sky diety with a beard and robe (just to be flippant). But those ideals and ethics rubbed off on me. And it upsets me that people who ostensibly believe in these same things don't seem to be trying to live up to them. Some seem to believe it's okay to not treat people with dignity and appear to believe they cannot possibly be wrong. Actually, it just boggles the mind. I just don't get it.

Politically and socially, all this god/religous talk means that the terrorists should be treated just like everyone else. Thieves get trials; so should terrorists. Rapists get to confront their accusers; so should terrorists. Murderers have the right to assistance in their defense; so should terrorists. A terrorist is just one kind of murderer after all. Trials and organized rules are (to me) just a way that fallible humans can organize a society (or a world) to be as just as possible in an imperfect world, hopefully mitigating the possibility of failure. The religious-me would say that is how we keep from usurping the position of God. We have to have rules, but we shouldn't let the necessity for rules result in doctrines of human infallibility of judgement and punishment.

And it doesn't matter to me if our "enemies" are willing to break these rules. To be human is to be imperfect, but we should always strive towards more understanding, more dignity, all the while being humble in our assessment of our abilities.

Note: Yes, I used "he" and male referents. That's what I grew up with. I apologize for assigning such an insignificant human characteristic to God. Of course, this comment is just here to be flippant. And yes, there is a contradiction in the message and my own judgemental attitude. Oh well.

And on a lighter tone, puppy!!

On dignity and humility | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Some people don't believe in by debacle (2.00 / 0) #1 Tue Sep 19, 2006 at 11:21:26 PM EST
'the common man.'

They don't look towards 100 years from now, or even 50 years from now. What matters is 2 4 or 6 years, depending on the big white building you work in.

There's always been Ethel.

IF YOU HAVE TWO FIRLES THOROWNF MONEY ART SUOCIDE GIRLS STRIPPER HPW CAN YPUS :OSE?!?!?!?(elcevisides).

if I understand you by R343L (2.00 / 0) #9 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:48:19 AM EST
This is a comment on short-sightedness, but I'm afraid I don't understand entirely. :(

Rachael

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
No one ever does. [nt] by debacle (2.00 / 0) #14 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 07:17:20 AM EST

IF YOU HAVE TWO FIRLES THOROWNF MONEY ART SUOCIDE GIRLS STRIPPER HPW CAN YPUS :OSE?!?!?!?(elcevisides).

[ Parent ]
Sounds better than business by wumpus (2.00 / 0) #16 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 04:16:22 PM EST
where what matters is this quarters results.

Also note that the actual government policies (like putting lighters and nail clippers on the "no-fly no-way" list) is done by extreme bungee bosses. The idea is to come up with some gimmick that will look good and further their career, because they aren't staying with that job for more than a few months.

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
VS2FP by wiredog (4.00 / 2) #2 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 02:18:38 AM EST
Nice puppy! Bet he scares off all the burglars!

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

don't know about the humility bit by martingale (2.00 / 0) #3 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 03:09:28 AM EST
The world has never been the same since the Greek gods went off to have a private party sans that pretentious bore Yahveh.

I don't know what's so desirable about humility. I tend to think it's a natural consequence of being risk averse. Hubris kills sooner or later.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

alternate justification for humility by R343L (4.00 / 1) #8 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:48:07 AM EST
See, but it amounts to the same thing. I emotionally "believe" that being humble is "good" for you. Intellectually, I can justify it with a similar argument but really, it is the gut reaction that is coming first for me.

Also, unfortunately for us, leaders who wield so much power need a little bit of it .. like you said hubris destroys. (Wasn't that one of the greeks' favorite morals in stories?)

Rachael

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
On the one hand ... by lm (2.00 / 0) #4 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 04:24:07 AM EST
... I can kind of see where Bush '43 adminstration is coming from. It wasn't all that long ago that public stockades or tarring and feathering were seen as being within the bounds of punishment that was not cruel and inhumane. But society's views has changed over the years. One could argue that the same possibility exists for the idea of treatment that is degrading or violates human dignity. Understanding develops over time and the US might find itself on the wrong end of a definition that it never agreed to.

That said, I don't think that the reasons the Bush '43 adminstration is making its argument has anything to do with the alleged ambiguity. Many of the treatments explicitly allowed by the Bush '43 administration would fail the cruel and inhumane' test right along with the dignity' test.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
They're trying to cover their asses by theboz (2.00 / 0) #5 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 05:17:28 AM EST
The Bush administration has pretty openly and flagrantly (I'm still sleepy so I typed fragrantly by accident at first) violated the Geneva convention, and it's likely that they are guilty of committing war crimes as well. They're really pushing the Republican-controlled Congress to make torture legal retroactively, so they can cover their asses should the Democrats take back power and decide to try something, which I think the Democrats are too wimpy to do.
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That's what I always say about you, boz, you have a good memory for random facts about pussy. -- joh3n
[ Parent ]
"Not in the interests of the Union" by Breaker (4.00 / 2) #7 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:23:08 AM EST
Is how the Democrats will spin it.  They can't go too heavy on the Republicans as the tables may turn again in due course.

One problem that the government is going to have to face is that US treasury bonds are looking a bit less attractive by the day.  And once that house of cards starts falling it's going to be... interesting.

[ Parent ]
oh it's not ambiguous at all by R343L (2.00 / 0) #11 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 07:06:04 AM EST
That's just my problem. It's just so completely clear to me that "this is wrong" that I can't understand how anyone can with a straight face argue over whether there is ambiguity. I don't see how there is any necessity to argue exactly what is allowed and what isn't. If it is something you couldn't morally or legally do to Joe-blow arrested for jaywalking, than you can't legally or morally do it to anyone. That we (as a society) seem to be having this discussion as if it there was some confusion about the right answer just boggles the mind.

More mind-boggling, there isn't just the "respect for human dignity" reason not to torture. There's the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" bit -- if we don't torture than we can hope our opponents will choose not to as well. At least if they choose to, we will have not given them a justification. There's also the "it's not effective in the slightest" part (talk to any freshman psychology student for why).

Regarding history, human beings have been near to as cruel as they want to be (stockades, inquisitions, etc.) but the ideals still existed, even if the society (or religion in many cases) had constructed long-winded arguments about how something could possibly be morally acceptable. But that too is part of being human...

Rachael

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
You ruined by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #6 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:10:46 AM EST

your own argument by arbitrarily and without due process adorning a perfectly awesome puppy with a de-canine-ifying pink fucking bow!

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Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
sorry by R343L (2.00 / 0) #10 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 06:54:55 AM EST
The pink bow was the groomers -- he had just come back from them that day. They tie cutesy little things on him everytime. Not sure why we hadn't pulled it off yet though...

Rachael

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
Ah, OK by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #12 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 07:09:58 AM EST

That would make the dog groomers hypocrites, were they ever to advance an argument based upon the dehumanizing nature of man's cruelty unto man, but not you. My apologies.

Although, by not removing the bow yourselves, one could interpret such action as implicit consent, which would make you British, or Italian, if not American, in this painfully twisted metaphor.

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Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
[ Parent ]
what can I say? by R343L (2.00 / 0) #13 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 07:16:08 AM EST
I make mistakes.

But doesn't he just look all cuddly-wuddly? :)

Rachael

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
Oh, indisputably. by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 07:19:36 AM EST

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Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
[ Parent ]
Maybe terrorists should get social security by MohammedNiyalSayeed (2.00 / 0) #17 Wed Sep 20, 2006 at 04:47:26 PM EST

benefits, too. I mean, after all, they're human beings!

The reason they don't get trials is simple; they're armed combatants and the war is still going on. You're expecting them to be treated as criminals, which is not what they are. They should be, and are being, detained until such time as deemed non-useful, or, from my post-Catholic atheist perspective, they should be killed. Preferably by beheading, and, ideally, this should be televised.

The other problem you're having understanding about "torture" (which is, and always has been, an effective means of getting information from people, despite what any number of college freshman psych students may think (and don't get me started on nutjobbery as a basic requirement for college psych students, after all, they're there to learn how to solve other people's problems in an effort to avoid dealing with their own)) is that the reason the government doesn't use Christianity's Rules of Engagement as their own guideline for interrogative procedure is because the government is not, nor should it ever be, a specifically Christian organization.

Before we all cry our little tears for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being kept up all night, then hung upside down while water is poured over his head, let's take a second to remember this, lest we become this.

You say we've gone too far. I say we've not gone anywhere near far enough. As such, you should be thanking God that George Bush is in office, and not someone like me.

Also, +10000000, CHULLAIN!

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You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
wondering if I could tease you out by R343L (2.00 / 0) #18 Thu Sep 21, 2006 at 08:10:44 PM EST
(not that this was a troll or anything)

they're armed combatants and the war is still going on. You're expecting them to be treated as criminals, which is not what they are.

What war? Wars in my mind require: (a) declarations, (b) a defined goal, and (c) the possibility that they will end. Even in war, most countries have decided that captured enemies deserve to be held humanely until cessation of hostilities when they are repatriated (sometimes POW exchanges occur even during hostilities even). Or, if an individual (usually ones that have positions of authority) committed some heinous crime, they get a trial. In other words, the civilized world does normally treat armed combatants as a special class of criminal, albeit with some limitations due to the fact that it is impractical to have the exact same rules as other criminals when you are capturing so many and under a stressful situation.

There is also the question with this administration that for many people they are taking in, there is little evidence that they have done anything. Many picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan appear to have just been unlucky -- locals want to get US money for giving up "terrorists" and so they give someone up whether or not they have done anything.

The other problem you're having understanding about "torture" (which is, and always has been, an effective means of getting information from people, despite what any number of college freshman psych students may think

Um, sorry. Torture is not effective or at least not enough to sully ourselves with it. The vast majority of people will, under torture, either tell their torturer what they think he wants to hear or just never tell them the truth. The torturer might get lucky and get something resembling the truth, but shouldn't really trust the information. Also, there have been studies that show that individuals that participate in committing torture and other forms of degrading behavior themselves develop psychological issues that make them less capable of performing their job. It does not seem worth degrading both the prisoner and the interrogator by using torture, even disregarding the moral issue. There is also the practical argument that if the US tortures people, we lose our moral authority thus causing more people in the world to decide violence is the only response to grievances with the US.

BTW, I only used the "ask a freshman psychology student" joke because it is something covered in freshman classes not holding up psych students as some kind of authority. :) Also, granted there aren't a lot of studies because you can't setup an ethical study that involves torture. However, there are quite a few that study coercive interrogation techniques in general and less scientific surveys of interrogators in various conflicts.

...the reason the government doesn't use Christianity's Rules of Engagement as their own guideline for interrogative procedure is because the government is not, nor should it ever be, a specifically Christian organization.

I wans't suggesting that the government specifically use Christianity as its basis. I was using that framework because it is personally relevant (I was sort-of raised in it) and it is familiar to most Westerners. However, most modern ethical systems (religious and non-religious) share many similar moral principles. Respect for human dignity is definitely one of those. There is a reason that most nations of the world have signed onto the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions and it's not because everyone in the world is Christian!

Before we all cry our little tears for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being kept up all night, then hung upside down while water is poured over his head, let's take a second to remember this...

It does appear he's a bad guy. I still believe he deserves a trial, etc because (a) human beings deserve fair treatment and (b) we could be wrong. From a practical standpoint, it's not like the US can't afford to be careful about how it treats even the bad guys -- major superpower, rich, and so forth.

I'll stop there. :)

Rachael

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." -- Eliot

[ Parent ]
re by garlic (2.00 / 0) #19 Tue Sep 26, 2006 at 02:38:30 AM EST
what war? that's a dumb question. wars don't 'require' any of those thins. They only require one side to fiht another side. Since we are obviously fihtin, and iraqis and muslim extremists are fihtin, I think it's pretty clear its a war.

torture is an effective way to et information quickly that can be verified (ie the location of a bomb). It's still not riht, but neither is blowin up 100's of people.

[ Parent ]
On dignity and humility | 19 comments (19 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback