Thursday, November 15, 2007

More On Lunatic Torture Hypotheticals

Katherine at Obsidian Wings has a brilliant response to the hypothetical ticking bomb. She counters with her own hypotheticals that have to be read to be truly appreciated. They are both side-slappingly funny and deadly serious at once. The point is, of course, that anyone with a modicum of imagination can invent a hypothetical to defend about anything. What's the point?

But that points up the brilliance of the ultimate hypothetical: would you have sex with a man to stop a terrorist attack?

Imagine it as a episode of 24. Yet another group of terrorists have planted one of those ubiquitous suitcase nukes to blow up Los Angeles. Jack Bauer and his team capture one of the conspirators and are about to torture him. Before they get the chance, he opens his shirt and shows the scars on his chest. A suicide device was surgically implanted in his heart and will go off with any severe stress and kill him. The crew confirms the device with X-rays. Any form of torture (including waterboarding) is out of the question. Then the terrorist takes Jack Bauer aside and confides a secret. He is really a closet homosexual and secretly hates his fellow terrorists for their anti-gay attitudes. He is willing to betray them by giving away the location of the bomb -- if he and Bauer can do the wild thing first.

How would Bauer and his editors handle it? The defense of torture, either on 24 or in any of the hypothetical arguments is the assumption that nothing short of torture can stop the attack in time. All other avenues of action are hopelessly blocked. But now (you can do anything in a hypothetical) torture is also blocked. The "only" option is no longer to do something terrible to someone else, but to submit yourself to supreme degredation. And why do I suspect that Jack Bauer, when faced with something he found truly repugnant (how repugnant can torture be when you do it so often?), would suddenly discovery that there were other options after all? And why do I suspect that the creators of 24, always so eager to prove that their hero will stop at nothing to keep us safe, could never bring themselves to make him do that?

Maybe the ultimate answer to the ticking bomb is not whether you would rape an infant to stop a terrorist attack, but whether you would be raped to stop it. Just imaging Jack Bauer facing such a dilemma should make clear how difficult such a choice might be.

(PS: This is my 100th post on this blog).



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