I can’t decipher Harris’ motivations here, but I think he seems to be changing his mind even as he remains stubborn and refuses to learn from his mistaken, in my view, discussions of torture.
On top of this, someone confused about torture is preaching to us about moral landscapes. Can we get a break here?
I think Harris has done an immense disservice here with this argument. Who is he trying to convince? Politicians? They are already totally converted to lies, torture, every kind of obscene lie. To the public? The public is like a jelly fish: poke it an not much happens. But many honest citizens will be immensely harmed by the surface polish of Harris’ demonic reasoning. No, he is arguing with himself, with his own doubts. He is really arguing with himself, and with Kant, his inner Kant, and/or the core Kantian argument about categorical imperatives (which may be a flawed theory, but to the point here). Harris’ negation of free will in the name of scientism is shown up here to be ‘not the way we really think’: Kant is quite right, our conscience factor immediately triggers reserve on the torture issue, for the very good reasons Kantian reasoning highlights. Why does Harris have to convince us? Because our inner Kantian voice is implicit, and those who are convinced are mostly psychopaths, doubling our suspicions.
Now I am not necessarily a full supporter of Kant’s theory, but it shows the gist of the problem with its insistence on certain prohibitions, despite its incompleteness, its failure to treat tricky ‘exceptions’, if such there are. But the basic point is clear: we have a moral sense here about torture, such as it is, which politicians and assholes like Harris wish to dismantle. I understand the issue Harris wishes to raise, but he has missed the point.
The abstraction of a dirty nuke and a terrorist has never happened, while politicians exploit a hypothetical to commit crimes of their own. The sincerity of those who use this argument, now including Harris, is suspect, for they have abused it most outrageously to advance a criminal agenda. The depravity here is beyond belief, this from American politicians, with idiots like Harris playing up to it, no doubt oblivious to what is going on.
In general, Harris has wretchedly bungled the whole job in terms of the 9/11 culture, and sounds like he is doing free government propaganda for the covert action of the Bush years, now the Obama years.
In the middle of an outright fascist attempt to use torture defenses to promote covert action, imperial domination, assaults on civil liberties, and the erosion of democracy, in the midst of a criminal conspiracy to create false-flag attacks to be blamed on Islamic ‘terrorists’, the mostly innocent victims of this torture, arrives Harris with the venom that will paralyze the critics of torture. Harris is either a tricky brand of neo-can flunky, or else a complete fool.
The abstract argument about dirty nukes and terrorists sounds logical, but has it ever occurred? And it is to a high degree hypothetical, while the use of that abstract situation has paralyzed those who know better long enough for criminal politicians, never once encountering a terrorist with a dirty nuke, to dismantle the civil liberties of a great democracy. That the use of the torture argument given by Harris is used as a front for criminal politicians to carry out an attack on established rights, and to indulge in hidden action of every kind of depravity should expose Harris as a bit naive.
This use of an abstract scenario to justify routine torture is the trap into which Harris falls. It is the sad end to his moral landscape pretensions. The tricky exceptions to principle that Harris cites are flawed examples. It is almost impossible to assess in advance the nature and outcome of such situations.
Harrris cites waterboarding here. But look at KSM, reputedly waterboarded dozens of times. In fact, this man was a patsy in the 9/11 conspiracy, and his torturers either knew he was innocent, or else were mislead by the covert directors of the whole overall action. So torture was cited for the kind of reason Harris gives, but the perps didn”t even think he was guilty. It was fake torture! The American government was guilty. Maybe Harris should advocate the torture of George Bush.
So it is careless in the extreme to posit hypothetical exceptions to the ban on torture. Quite apart from anything else, torture rarely produces the correct information. KSM confessed to the 9/11 action, but it was hidden coverty action in the American government here that was guilty. KSM was a patsy, his torture egregious.
(There is, btw, a not very good Hollywood movie on this scenario, I forget the title: will look it up on Netflix’ database. Its ambiguous confusions show that even under torture a terrorist with a dirty nuke could not be stopped with things far worse than waterboarding. The number of catch-22 situations in that situation make the justification in advance of torture pointless and counterproductive.)
I don’t understand why Harris ever put himself in this position. On top of that he now preaches to us about morality, or the lack of it to a close look at his utiliarian reasoning.