This blog initially set out to focus primarily on Islam and the Islamisation of the UK. However, since that time the subjects covered have broadened. They now include (amongst other things): IQ tests, Jean Baudrillard, global warming, sociobiology, Marxism, Trotskyism, David Cameron, Foucault, Nazism, Ralph Miliband, economics, statistics and so on. - Paul Austin Murphy
I've had articles published in The Conservative Online, American Thinker, Intellectual Conservative, Human Events, Faith Freedom, Brenner Brief (Broadside News), New English Review, etc... (Paul Austin Murphy's Philosophy can be found here.)

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Julian Baggini's Thought Experiments: Torture (1)


 




 
This is a commentary on the 'The torture option' entry in Julian Baggini's book, The Pig that Wants to be Eaten.
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It's hard to know what to say to someone who says that “all torture is indefensible”. Or, rather, you don't know where to begin.
The same is true for this position as it's put by Julian Baggini:

The first [strategy] is to insist that the torture is in principle wrong. Even if it would save thousands of lives, there are some moral lines that cannot be crossed.”

All you can ask is: Why is torture wrong... “in principle”?

Could it be that many people adopt this position without advancing arguments to defend it? And, in certain respects, that's understandable.*

Torture Saves Lives

If it's deemed to be an almost factual matter (even if only factual in theory, as it were) that if X is tortured he will tell you where the bomb is and thus many lives will be saved, then torturing that person seems preferable to allowing many innocent people to die. Especially since those deaths can be averted.

This is even more the case if the person being tortured is guilty in some way: say, if he's a terrorist who's already killed many innocent people.

We must now ask a simple question:

Why is wrong to torture this one individual if such a thing will save many lives?

Of course it is sometimes argued that torture is ineffective. (Actually, that's not true – it's sometimes ineffective.) We can also say that the victim of torture may be innocent and so on. However, these possibilities are being discounted here. The issue is about torturing a person who is known to be guilty; or who's known to have knowledge of the bomb's whereabouts.

(In any case, arguing about the efficacy of torture can be seen as a practical position; not necessarily a moral or philosophical one.)

So, again, let's say that he is guilty and that the torture will result in lives being saved. After all, let's remember that some acts of torture have indeed saved lives in cases like this. Torture sometimes works.

However, even if torture works (however that's cashed out), it may still be deemed to be wrong.

That Slippery Slope Again

People who are against torture may say that torture will “inevitably go on” on a wider scale if it were legalised. However, that can happen even if it's proscribed. Indeed that's obviously happened on many occasions. (This discounts the reality of torture being “officially denied”yet practised by various authorities or governments.)

It could even be argued that official torture (as it were) will set limits on when and why torture is acceptable; whereas as if it's deemed unacceptable in all cases, it may encourage various authorities to use it willy-nilly. After all, there's a monumental difference between torturing someone in order to save hundreds of lives and torturing someone to gain state secrets. (Or even torturing a petty criminal in order to get him to tell you what another petty criminal is planning.)

This may lead one to the conclusion that when torture can be shown to save many lives, it should be allowed. Though when it's used for petty or insignificant political reasons, it shouldn't. (Of course arguments will be advanced as to how these distinctions can be quantified.) And, again, if torture is rejected (at least officially) out of hand, then these distinctions become irrelevant because all acts of torture are as bad as each other!

Incidentally, it can never be said that legalised torture will "inevitably lead" to anything specific. It depends. And the total prohibition of torture may lead to more gratuitous torture, not less.

Moral Self-Indulgence

The case of what Julian Baggini calls “moral self-indulgence” is also interesting – especially in the case of torture.

Although Baggini doesn't say this, it also appears to be similar – or the same – as moral grandstanding.

To put that simply: it's not important to the self-indulgent moralist whether or not lives are saved, or even what the arguments are on both sides of the debate. What's important to the moral grandstander is to take a strong or absolute moral stance on the matter. Or, in some cases, what matters is how such a person is seen by others or how he sees himself.

Let's not forget here that moral absolutes have also been the domain of the intolerant and dangerous. And that can just as much apply to those who take an absolute position on torture (or on another “human rights” issue) as it can apply to those who take an absolute position on abortion or blasphemy.

And the bottom line (as stressed by Baggini) is that “the charge of indifference to the lives of those left to die as a result is hard to shake”. In other words, one's moral scruples or absolutes (depending on how you look at it) are going to result in many deaths– at least on the scenarios outlined above.

Political Selectivity on Torture

From a purely political perspective, many Leftists only protest against torture when it's carried out by “capitalist states” (such as the US and UK). They virtually never protest about torture in Iran, Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela, etc. And, similarly, many Leftists (or at least communists) rarely – if ever - protested against torture when it was carried out by the many communist states which existed in the 20th century.

Similarly, many conservatives or right-wingers only protest against torture when it is carried out by communist or Muslim states. They virtually never protest about torture when carried out by regimes they are ideologically or politically happy with (specifically their own countries).

In other words, one's prior politics is determining which acts of torture - or which regimes - one speaks out against.

To add to the political nature of this debate, it can also be said that once you've established an argument that successfully puts the case for torture (if any argument can ever be entirely successful on this - or on any - subject), then the same argument or defence can – or could - be used by literally anyone.

What I mean by that is once you've argued for your own favoured state (or favoured government or institution) using torture, then states (or governments or institutions) you don't politically favour can use exactly the same argument/s in their own defence when they too use torture.

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*)To play the devil's advocate: there are examples of psychological and physical pressure which even some – or many - human rights activists would happily engage in. For example, when you shout in a racist's ear-hole. Or when you deny someone food for 24 hours. Or indeed even when you deny someone a single meal.

All three can be deemed to be torture. Mild - or even very mild – torture, sure ; though still torture.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Cui Bono? The Conspiracy Theorists!

 


There were conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo massacre circulating around the Internet literally hours after the attack. Most of them blamed Israel or “Zionists”. Others said the attack was a “false flag” operation by some “capitalist state” or other (usually the United States or Israel). Indeed the words “false flag” and “cui bono” have become Internet clich├ęs in recent years.

This also happened immediately after the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar just over a month ago. In this case, the “[Indian]Hindu statewas blamed by many Muslim theorists.

Basically, whenever Muslims carry out a terrorist outrage in Europe or the United States, a conspiracy theory is quickly released (or concocted) which says that it wasn't Muslims “that done it”. (Usually Israelis/Jews/Zionists are blamed.) This was also true of London bombings, previous terrorist attacks in Paris, the Madrid train bombing, etc.

Indeed what many people may not know is that there are also many conspiracy theories about the London bombings of 2005. In other words, it's far from only being a 9/11 phenomenon.

(Check out this particular theory about the Paris killings; which mainly boils down to the fact that these conspiracists don't seem to realise that chrome mirrors on cars can change colour.)

Cui Bono?


On September 14, 2001, Pakistan's Major General Hamid Gul (former Director-General of the infamous ISI security/intelligence services) was reported (in Newsweek) as saying that “Mossad and its American associates are the obvious culprits [for 9/11]”.

He asked this very common question: “Who benefits from the crime?”

(There will be more on this particular 9/11 theory later.)

That's the central question most conspiracy theorists ask: Who is to gain from X?

So what about people having something to gain from conspiracy theories themselves? Or in Major General Hamid Gul's words: Who benefits from conspiracy theories?

Basically, X (the conspiracy theorist) has “something to gain” from saying that Y has something to gain from saying that Z committed the attack.

Indeed I believe that some – perhaps many – of the politicaldisseminators and propagandists who plant these theories on the Internet and elsewhere don't themselves believe them! (They are, in other words, “lying for Justice”.)

Conspiracy theories are, after all, as easy to create as Tweets. It could take literally minutes to concoct one. (It may take longer to construct a believable one.) And if it furthers the theorist's political goal/s (or prejudices), then what's to stop him creating one?

You can then guarantee that at least some theories will spread themselves over the Internet. It's just so damn easy to spread them!

(None of these points, incidentally, require a denial that states and politicians conspire - they do.)

9/11: The Jews done it!

Let's take the case of one conspiracy theory that became very popular at one time - and still is in some circles.

This is the theory that “Jewish” or “Israeli” (depending on the particular rendition of the theory) workers in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were given advanced warning of the impending 9/11 attack.

So I wonder what National/International Socialist “anti-Zionists”think of the fact that their conspiracy about Jewish or Israeli workers being forewarned was actually started by Syria's government-owned Al Thawra newspaper (penned without 24 hours of 9/11) and Hezbollah'sAl Manarnetwork (disseminated six days later)?

Anyway, that's how the story was spread.

What were the origins of this story? (Though sometimes conspiracy theories don't have evidential origins as such; they just appear out of the conspiracy theorist's hat.)

Of all things, it was the Jerusalem Post's Internet edition that was partly responsible.

The story had it that the Israeli foreign ministry had gathered the names of four thousand Jews thought to have been in the vicinity of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on the morning of September 11. The problem for the conspiracy theorists was that this bit of information-gathering occurred after the 9/11 attacks, not before.

Consequently, it was one small step in Hezbollah's mind - and, later, in the minds of Middle Eastern (Muslim) news agencies - to say that the Israeli information-gathering occurred before - not after - the attack. It's almost certainly the case that some - or many - Hezbollah journalists and conspiracy theorists actually knew this this to be the case; though that didn't matter to them.

One other thing changed, eventually, after the original Hezbollah and Syrian reports.

Syria and Hezbollah first talked about four thousands “Israelis”. That soon became four thousand “Jews”.

The final blow to this conspiracy theory, however, is that up to 400Jewsdid die on 9/11 (9.2% of all victims).

Conclusion


One of the main motivating forces for many conspiracy theories is the conspiracist's prior politics. (See this American Thinker article: 'One's Politics Determines One's Conspiracy Theory'. )The theories are usually tailor-made to advance - or gel with - prior ideologies or political beliefs. Thus whatever conspiracy theory a person believes may well be determined almost entirely by his prior politics.

Because of such political motivations and the psychological desire for titillation and simplicity (e.g. the US/Jews “done it!”),conspiracy theories - unlike scientific theories - are passed on largely without critical scrutiny from their believers. But that doesn't matter. Once the meme or virus is spread, then it keeps on spreading - as memes or viruses tend to do.

And that's precisely what happened hours after the Charlie Hebdo killings.

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Notes

1)A journalist once wrote an article on conspiracy theories. He told us about how he tested himself and his creative abilities when it came to theories about specific events.

The writer created around thirty possible theories - or scenarios - about the same event (which clashed with the “mainstream media story”)in less than an hour. All of them involved seemingly legitimate questions and were believable.

That's how easy it is to “ask questions” about the “official story”.

My bet is that there's an indefinite – perhaps infinite - amount of questions that can be asked about the same event. Indeed, mutually-contradictory theories are on the market for the very same events. (One says X and another says not-X.)

So, to be honest, there simply isn't time to go into great detail about the Hebdo killings because I would also need to do exactly same with the Peshawar massacre, 7/7, the Madrid bombing, the Bali bombing, the killing of JFK, the first moon landing, the death of Prince Diana, etc.

Though, after saying that, take the “legitimate question” about the Paris killers leaving their I.D. in the car. Many have made much of that.

Well, very intelligent people can make mistakes. In fact they have often made mistakes! Do you remember the story of the MI5 operative who left his files on a train? Robbers and bank robbers have often made that mistake or silly mistakes like it.

So why couldn't these Muslims have accidentally left their I.D. on the car seat? Is that impossible? Can't these theorists accept that people can make mistakes when they're panicking?

One further point about the Hebdo massacre is that attacks was very well-planned and therefore must have also been a state or Israeli operation. Indeed someone asked me: “How many massacres do you know of that have been so well-planned?

There haven't been many massacres like the Paris attack in Europe. So how can we answer that? However, there have been terrorist attacks in Europe which were very well targeted. There have also be assassinations, which, by definition, were targeted.

2)Despite their “questioning” and “scepticism”, conspiracy theorists appear to knowexactly what our governments are doing. In fact conspiracy theorists in their thousands are always telling us what our governments are doing.

They also seem to know(or many of them do) that Muslims didn't carry out 7/7/, 9/11, the Hebdo Massacre, etc. - at least not on their own. In that case, where's the genuine questioning and scepticism?

The other conspiracy theorist cop-out is once you show his conspiracy theory to be false, or at least to be highly suspect, he intermediately invents another to explain why the previous one has been called into question.