Friday, January 07, 2005

How about a Little Honesty

I'm going to briefly delay my discussions on democracy so that I can address an issue that arose in a comment thread over at The Slithery D.

Dylan's post is questioning the wisdom of pressing the torture issue against Bush. The logic is as follows: if you push the issue and lose, you potentially institutionalize torture, thus leaving the landscape in worse shape than if you had remained quiet.

Now, I suppose that that is a possible result. In fact, that is the possible outcome in any policy debate: if your side loses, things (from your perspective) get worse. So, this isn't particularly earthshaking news. The real question in this situation is why would the anti-torture position lose?

Dylan enlightens us in his comment thread:

But much of what's being complained about is no worse than the hazing I went through in college. While I don't object to that being illegal when done to 19 year olds because it can go too far, I really don't care if they do it even to innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And there you go. If people like Dylan, or Glenn Reynolds, or Rush Limbaugh continue to try to minimize the detention center abuses, their listeners/readers will be led to conclude that what occurred was acceptable. Therefore, if the debate is lost, it will be lost due to this sort of dishonesty, not due to the efforts of those who would challenge the status quo.

How dishonest is it? Well, let's put aside for the moment the fact that only a fraction of the allegations could possibly be seen as equivalent to fraternity hazing. Let's say that Dylan experienced treatment during his fraternity rush that parallels some of the treatment our detainees endured. Is the similarity between the activities in each situation enough to justify the comparison?

Yes -- if Dylan's elder brothers were armed. And if they were part of an invading military force. And if Dylan had been aware that previous pledges had been severely physically reprimanded for resisting. And if Dylan had been physically prevented from terminating his involvement in the hazing ritual.

But since none of those things were true, they aren't the same thing. And saying so is incredibly dishonest. Unfortunately, it's true that people will be influenced by this sort of apologist rhetoric and that because of it we might end up with general acceptance of this reprehensible activity. But their victory will be built on a foundation of lies. You can go that route if you want, but I sleep better on my path.
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