Pacifism: An Analogy To Torture

No, I don't mean I will give a tortured analogy in this blog post (a practice in which I excel, according to SilasX on the anti-state forum). Had I more time I'd write it up for an LRC article, but, well, I haven't the time.

The biggest objection to my pacifism articles (1, 2, and 3) was something like this: "Yes Bob, it would be nice to renounce violence as a tool, but that's impractical. There are people out there who would take advantage of your policy, and turn society upside down. Why, suppose someone had your wife and kids at gunpoint, was about to do all sorts of unspeakable things, and the only way you could stop it would be to..."

OK, rather than give my usual responses, let me just make an analogy. A lot of people (not all, in the Bush era) would probably agree that a civilized society never needs to torture for 48 hours straight and then desecrate someone's religious icons. In fact, some might go so far as to declare, "Torture in such a fashion is off the table. We ought never use it." When confronted with the claim that it is good for deterrence, they might reply, "Actually, I think that on net using torture in such a manner would cause more crimes against innocents. The very fact that we as a society condone it would show that such cruelty is an acceptable practice to get results, and in the long run that's not conducive to a just society."

Of course, the clever critic could say, "Oh, well what if terrorists held your family hostage somewhere, and you had an acknowledged murderer in custody, and he knew where your family was. You tortured him for 48 hours so far, and he won't talk. But you know he's a devout [whatever], and you suspect that if you threaten to do something that you find innocuous but would really upset him for religious reasons, he just might talk. Do you do it, or let your family die?"

Now at this point, the person who adamantly opposes torturing-for-48-hours-and-then-desecrating-religious-icons might wimp out and say, "Oh c'mon, how many times is that going to happen? Are we really going to condone systematic torture and religious desecration because of that scenario?"

OK...If you can understand why the person might cling to this repugnance at the specific torture practices--and not merely "on principle" but also for solid pragmatic reasons--then you can understand why I think a civilized society should renounce the use of violence altogether. It's just a matter of degree. If you think we could safely agree to never torture for 48 hours and then insult a person's religion, even if he's a "bad guy," then you can at least understand why I think we can safely agree to never put someone in a dungeon (we call it "prison" nowadays) even if he's a "bad guy."

For one thing, libertarian readers, notice that the State as we know it would be impossible in such a society. So when you contemplate all the horrors entailed by my ridiculous idea, keep in mind that there would be no drug war, housing projects, government schools, minimum wage, systematic police brutality, etc., all things that tend to encourage criminality.


  1. You've convinced me, Bob.

    I will no longer have a knee-jerk opposition to torture, because I don't oppose it in principle.

    I just don't think it should be institutionalized.

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