Broken Pencil Theory? I’ve had it with that.

by Yule Heibel on July 21, 2004

And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. [More….]

This has been all over the blogs, especially the more political ones, even as it has somehow managed to escape the mainstream (American) press. What is it? Seymour Hersh speaking to the ACLU on July 8, 2004, on further revelations about what happened at Abu Ghraib. Past Peak transcribed the speech; I first read about it on Mike Golby‘s blog, which has many additional links you might want to explore, and there are of course others. But the mainstream media remain largely silent.

Coincidentally, I also recently came across an article (via Arts and Letters Daily) about Hannah Arendt: Arendt’s Judgment by Mark Greif. From the article:

Examining the history of philosophy, she found she had two natural allies for her concepts. The first was Socrates, who had made thinking the fundamental task of the good life. The second was Kant, who put judgment at the center of his aesthetics, in the power to identify a particular object, like a rose, as “beautiful” without a rule to follow. Kant, it’s true, already had a moral philosophy. Yet his three formulations of the Categorical Imperative, the most impressive ethical rule-book of modern times, and his picture of reason giving law to the self, had proven inadequate protections against participation in the evil of the Nazis.

Socrates provided her model of thinking. In the agora or the gymnasium, he questioned others to see what ideas would not stand up. When he was alone, thinking continued as an internal version of that same dialogue. It was “the silent dialogue between me and myself,” Arendt wrote. It made the thinker like two speakers internally, “two-in-one,” always testing possible beliefs and actions, grappling with the reality of the outer situation by a kind of inner company.

In his refusal to escape Athens when sentenced to death, Socrates also formulated the fundamental positive doctrine of Arendt’s vision of morality: “it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.” Arendt saw this doctrine as a consequence of the conception of being two-in-one, an inevitable outcome of Socratic thinking. Thinking produced a kind of “don’t step beyond this line” that moral people held as their base for all behavior. If a thinking person did wrong, he would henceforth be in the presence of a wrongdoer, himself, and the long-term attempt to live with himself would be worse than any punishment the world could give. [More…]

There’s a bit more (go read it, for heaven’s sake) and also this:

Arendt rejected every argument we use to diminish the individual responsibility of a person in extreme situations. Determinism by circumstance, “cog” theory, collective guilt — she rejected them all. She also rejected the “argument of the lesser evil,” that it is acceptable to collaborate with an evil act if it might prevent or divert one greater. Participation, she insisted, always communicated consent. You could not collaborate with an evil process, whatever your motives, without in effect supporting it, and the practical consequences were nearly always better if enough people refused. She rejected a moral exception for physical coercion, even to the threat of death, using a formulation she had worked out with her close friend Mary McCarthy: “If somebody points a gun at you and says, ‘Kill your friend or I will kill you,’ he is tempting you, that is all.”

Finally, though, it is her idea of judgment that is most alien to us. On Arendt’s model, we must judge, and judge, and judge: thoughtfully, implacably, publicly. At both the individual level and the level of the community, people must always be judging the acts and characters of others. [More again…]

In other words, torture is never acceptable, regardless of circumstance. At least, it’s not acceptable institutionally. What you, as a critical individual, might choose to do is something you have to live with for the rest of your life. But no one can command you to do wrong: you can refuse. Torture is unacceptable for the moral individual. P.e.r.i.o.d.

In that same speech to the ACLU, Seymour Hersh tells of an Israeli he met — a guy he presents as representative of a certain hard-nosed pro-strong-Israeli-state kinda guy:

I’ll tell you what an Israeli told me. And the Israelis as you know — a very tough, hard-nosed Israeli told me at one point, about all this — he said, you know, we hate the Arabs. This is a guy who spent his career in the intelligence service and, you know, his hands are bloody. He said, we hate the Arabs, and the Arabs hate us, and before 1948, we’ve been killing Arabs, and they’ve been killing us. But I have to tell you something, he said. We know somewhere down the line, we’re going to have to live with these people, much as we can’t stand them, they’re going to have to be our neighbors. And if we had done in our prisons to the Arabs what you have done to the Arabs in your prisons, we couldn’t live that way. [More…]

What stands out for me is the generalisation: “we hate the Arabs,” which is, I think, what Arendt was fighting against when she indicted both the Judenr

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