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Another Fan Of Torture Reveals Himself
March 17, 2005 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Another Fan Of Torture Reveals Himself Eugene Volokh, a former clerk to Justice O'Connor and a leading voice in conservative legal circles has some interesting opinions on punishment:

[T]hough for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.
posted by expriest (84 comments total)

 
That's simply way too long. Seriously. Delete?
posted by Justinian at 9:54 PM on March 17, 2005


Wrong Wrong Wrong
posted by Evstar at 9:57 PM on March 17, 2005


Evidently the ends justify any means for Mr. Volokh. It's funny how those good-and-evil types seem enamored with moral relativism when it seems expedient (no matter how misguided that impression may be).
posted by clevershark at 10:02 PM on March 17, 2005


Well, I'll give little Genie this: he, unlike most proponents of the death penalty, is completely honest about the fact that he's no different than the killers he would torture and execute.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:03 PM on March 17, 2005


No, there is a difference.
Good and evil boils down to who goes first.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:05 PM on March 17, 2005


Good and evil boils down to who goes first.

That is the smartest thing I've heard all week.
posted by ao4047 at 10:08 PM on March 17, 2005


Douchebag Blogs His Unpalatable Opinions, Film @ 11
posted by dhoyt at 10:09 PM on March 17, 2005


The point is, who are we to decide the savagery line? And who among us will decide who lives or dies? That is not the kind of power to which anyone is entitled.
posted by hautenegro at 10:18 PM on March 17, 2005


completely honest about the fact that he's no different than the killers he would torture and execute.

He would torture and execute mass murderers, because they torture and murder innocent people. That's a huge fuckin' difference. I'm opposed to the death penalty, and find Volokh's argument a little repellant, but you're saying that by posting this he's the moral equivalent of Jeffrey Dahmer? Please.
posted by Tlogmer at 10:20 PM on March 17, 2005


Yeah um.. I disagree with him about changing the cruel/unusual punishment law and sanctioning this sort of thing, but really, this guy's honesty is far different from a "fan of torture". Sorry, poster, but you made horrendous word choice, too long of an FPP, and added WAY too much of your own spin.

It's not like he said he favors torture of POW's, torture for interrogation purposes, etc.. He's just being honest at how he feels a proven mass murderer should be punished..

I strongly disagree with his idea of amending the law, but more because of the possibility of doing this to someone who was wrongly convicted than anything else.
posted by twiggy at 10:43 PM on March 17, 2005


This is a monumentally stupid thing for Volokh to say. Isn't he tenured? I'd be interested to see if he gets the "Churchill" treatment. (Ha!)

We used to have societies like these -- we outgrew them. Volokh is a) using nothing other than emotion here (it would just feel so good to torture the motherfuckers!), and b) completely overlooking the unavoidable possibility that this kind barbaric behavior would be abused. Badly.

He's a fool with a nice pedigree and a high IQ. Guess intelligence and wisdom really aren't the same thing.
posted by teece at 10:45 PM on March 17, 2005


He would torture and execute mass murderers, because they torture and murder innocent people. That's a huge fuckin' difference.

Forget Volokh, did Foldy just equate any proponent of capital punishment with someone who tortures/kills innocents?
(note: I don't support capital punishment, but that's just shitty logic)
posted by Stauf at 10:48 PM on March 17, 2005


Well, that's the thing, isn't it?

It's quite possible that the terrorist/serial killer/mass murderer/political dissident could well view their victims in the same moral light that Volokh views such criminals.

That torture is wrong is a moral imperative, not a hypothetical. There is an argument to be made that he worse than the moral equivalent of Jeffrey Dahmer. Countless political leaders have tortured innumerable people who have done no worse than disagree; out of a desire for power rather than some psychosis.
posted by cytherea at 10:50 PM on March 17, 2005



USA! USA! USA!
posted by ori at 10:54 PM on March 17, 2005


Justinian writes " That's simply way too long. Seriously. Delete?"

It's the most interesting FPP in a while. Relax.

Now on to the subject of the FPP: were I personally involved, I might well feel as Volokh. I very well might.

But legal systems of justice and punishment evolved precisely because the subjective judgment of victims and victims' families are so unreliable a gauge of what is just.

One real impetus for a system of justice was to replace the blood-feuds and honor killings that had previously served to "right wrongs". History -- indeed, the Bible itself -- is replete with stories of one village committing massacres against another, massacres brought on by one real or imagined crime. It is this the Iliad records.

Hobbes explains this as the State of Nature, and recommends that all men alienate their right to personal justice to a more impartial Leviathan.

Jared Diamond tells of the continuation of genocide to "right wrongs" to today, in the highlands of New Guinea: one member of one tribe kills the a member of another, and the victim's sons and uncles kill the murderer and his kin, until one village is full of the stinking corpses of men women and children.

The point of a system of justice is to both secure justice but also to prevent feuds from spiralling out of control to destroy the societies in which those feuds occur. There are reasons life in the United States is better than life in Iran --and one of those reasons is that we can go out of our homes and go to work without worrying that are lives will be ended that day because of something a great-uncle one removed did -- or because we're caught in a cross-fire over someone else's uncle.

If Volokh wants to abrogate a system that has, more or less, worked since the time of Hammurabi for rumbles between the Hatfields and McCoys, Montagus and Capulets, Sharks and Jets, the Grangefords and the Shepherdsons, the Lancasters and the Yorks, I have to question why he's a member of profession -- the law -- designed to mute those passions and prevent them from harming the larger societies they are embedded in.

(And if his regard for a venerable and working tradition is so slight, I have to question whether he's truly a conservative.)
posted by orthogonality at 11:10 PM on March 17, 2005


orthogonality,

you present a very cogent argument. It's clearly an stance based on emotion, or intending to arouse emotion. It made me think of this interview.
posted by cytherea at 11:26 PM on March 17, 2005


Eugene Volokh should get his own fucking blog.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:29 PM on March 17, 2005


he's the moral equivalent of Jeffrey Dahmer?

worse. he places his savagery in the institution of state.

a dahmer hides behind relative anonymity until caught. a volokh is a sociopath operating in plain sight. a dahmer is one person, who can be caught. a volokh is part of a broad front, what won't be dislodged. a dahmer is simply unashamed. a volokh is proud and boastful. a dahmer know he must eventually accept personal guilt. a volokh sanctifies himself by adopting vengeance on behalf of others. recently i thought to have heard around 300 serial killers are at liberty in the u.s. at any given time. institutionalized violence is everywhere at once.

taking pleasure or satisfaction from the intense pain of others is hardcore mental illness. being a victim of violence can produce such illness, to be treated sympathetically, but it is illness and should be treated so nonetheless. less sympathetic can we be when such illness is willingly adopted by governmental representatives and institutionalized. far less so when those parties threaten the institutions of health and sanity placed for our potential healing as unnecessary and outmoded.

neocons today stress a lack of understanding of right and wrong among the body politic. i would have to agree on that point. this is how we come to gitmo and abu ghraib. we know this. we shouldn't excuse it nor posture relatively or we will too easily become as it.
posted by 3.2.3 at 11:33 PM on March 17, 2005


The whole thing rests on an archaic, superstitious notion of crime and punishment - crime as sin, rather than crime as sickness. It comes down to this strange idea that is a hangover from back when we believed in God and souls and suchlike, that an individual is responsible in some ontological way for their actions - that guilt is a kind of substance that sticks to you after you choose to do evil rather than to do good. Then you get this whole idea of "deserving" punishment, like some kind of strange preferability of causing pain to someone who has caused pain - like trying to even up points in a game.

There is a massive discrepancy in our judicial/punishment systems, where we're torn between a rational view of fucked-up actions as a result of fucked-up causes and a superstitious view of people arbitrarily exercising "free will" to intentionally do evil things when they could have done good things. So our response varies wildly between trying to take an eye for the eye they took, and trying to cure them of whatever illness motivated them to take the eye in the first place.

When viewing crime as sickness, the end goal of the response is rehabilitation. When viewing crime as sin, the end goal of the response is retribution. Torture and the death penalty serve no rehabilitative function; they are fossils from a savage, superstitious era.
posted by Wataki at 12:31 AM on March 18, 2005


It is all too easy to allow emotional gut response to drive one's beliefs. Torture by the state is the suicide of civilized society. Revenge in the guise of justice leads to a cycle of hatred and inhumanity.

So many capable minds have withered recently. They fear instability, change, and perhaps death. This is a far cry from those who fought to create such a nation.

While I still believe that even through attacks on civil liberties, the USA is still a Land of the Free, I believe we can no longer be considered the Home of the Brave.
posted by Saydur at 12:42 AM on March 18, 2005


God bless the Land of the Free, with five percent of the world's population, and more than twenty five percent of the world's prisoners.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:57 AM on March 18, 2005


taking pleasure or satisfaction from the intense pain of others is hardcore mental illness. being a victim of violence can produce such illness, to be treated sympathetically, but it is illness and should be treated so nonetheless.

See, I disagree here--hardcore sadism and torturing puppies is certainly a mental illness, but the kind of punishment that Volokh is talking about is revenge. If the desire for revenge makes someone mentally ill, then most of the human population is mentally ill.

Quite frankly, I'm surprised we've got so many goddamned Mother Teresas around here throwing their hands in the air and making noise about what a monster this guy is. He seems a helluva lot more human to me than someone who would claim they'd have no impulse at all to hurt the criminal who, say, raped and murdered their baby boy or girl, and hurt that criminal very, very badly. It's a natural impulse--you see it in toddlers. It doesn't mean they're demons, it means they're people.

Playing blind and naive and holier-than-thou isn't going to address this issue. Calling someone a monster because he wants the Uday Husseins and Dahmers of the world to get back a tenth of the pain they caused is to completely ignore the feelings of the victim and the instinctive response for revenge. Instead, you need to point out that yes, they're bastards, yes, animals treat other animals better than the way they've treated their fellow man, yes, they certainly could be craven creatures upon who every grace and mercy is lost, but their actions do not determine our own. By letting our grief and rage control us we do nothing more than justify the twisted world they've created for themselves.
posted by schroedinger at 1:03 AM on March 18, 2005


To allow his own voice, he has further updated the post. I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing, these are his words:
FURTHER UPDATE: Strange Doctrines writes:
I know what Volokh means. There's a part of me too that would desire to meet savagery with savagery.

But there's another part of me that knows my humanity would be substantially diminished did I indulge my phant'sy for revenge. . . .
I've often heard this argument, and I'm sure it's heartfelt. But I've just never found it persuasive. Why would my humanity be diminished by participating in the killing of a monster (he had sexually abused and then murdered at least about 20 children), or even by deliberately inflicting pain on him? It seems to me that this is the reaction to a natural, understandable, and laudable human impulse to avenge (even if in a ridiculously inadequate way) the abuse and death of so many innocents. Why shouldn't one say that our humanity is diminished if this monster is allowed to live on, or even to die a painless death, when his victims and their families endured unimaginable pain?

Naturally, people on the other side are likewise unpersuaded by my views; I can't prove the soundness of my position any more than (I think) the other side can prove the soundness of its. In this area, we quickly come down to moral intuitions and visceral reactions. And, who knows, perhaps mine are wrong. But mere appeals to my humanity just don't do much for me.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT, ANOTHER RESPONSE TO A COUNTERARGUMENT: A couple of people pointed out the risk of error; and it's always possible that we're going to convict the wrong man. That's a decent argument against the death penalty generally, though I'm not persuaded by it. And it's certainly a great argument for fixing problems that may increase the risk of wrongful conviction — locking up the wrong man for life isn't much better in my book than executing the wrong man, especially since the chances of exonerating the wrongfully convicted lifers are, I suspect, pretty low.

But I don't see it as much of an argument for a painless execution as opposed to a painful one, or an execution by anonymous bureaucrats rather than one in which the victims' relatives participate. It's something of an argument, and I do think that there should and probably would be a higher threshold of felt certainty required on the jurors' and perhaps even reviewing judges' parts, just as I suspect that in practice most jurors today require a higher level of certainty to vote for a death sentence than for other sentences. But it doesn't, in my view, carry the day against the counterargument outlined in my original post.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:05 AM on March 18, 2005


Quite frankly, I'm surprised we've got so many goddamned Mother Teresas around here throwing their hands in the air and making noise about what a monster this guy is. He seems a helluva lot more human to me than someone who would claim they'd have no impulse at all to hurt the criminal who,

Right here, Schroedinger, your argument falls flat on its face, breaks its nose, and then trips again when it tries to get up. Almost everyone understands the desire for vengeance, and some on this very thread have expressed that.

But that is rather different from what this idiot Volokh is saying, now isn't it? He is talking about amending the Constitution so that state-sanctioned torture and murder by the victims would be allowed. That is LIGHT YEARS away from the natural desire to lash out when you've been hurt.

Grown ups and decent people know to control their reptile brain in a civilized society. Volokh has proven himself neither grown up, decent, nor civilized.

Really.
posted by teece at 1:26 AM on March 18, 2005


fucking y2karl sock puppet accounts
posted by angry modem at 1:27 AM on March 18, 2005


Eugene Volokh has no interest in an open-ended discussion, or an exchange of ideas. The people who believe in such things have gone to forums and fields where people love to see their own ideas develop and mature. Such people welcome counterarguments as a means of growing.

The rest of the world -- and it looks like a huge portion of the world -- like to plant their flags on the top of the hill and piss on anyone who gets near their flag. That is, Eugene Volokh will NEVER BACK DOWN ONE INCH AND HE IS UNPERSUADED BY HIS ENEMIES.

My god we're getting dumber. Frozen harder and harder into our own stupidities.
posted by argybarg at 1:33 AM on March 18, 2005


He seems a helluva lot more human to me than someone who would claim they'd have no impulse at all to hurt the criminal

Second angry modem's point. No one here made that claim.
posted by argybarg at 1:35 AM on March 18, 2005


A sociopath is someone with no empathy. Volokh has empathy for the victims of terrible crimes but not the perpetrators (as, I think, do most of us). He's misguided, but not a monster, wrong but not dangerous.

It's also worth pointing out exactly what Volokh has and hasn't proposed. He wants to allow torture for mass killers, and committers of genocide -- but not for their relatives, and not for murderers and sadists in general. State-sanctioned torture is unspeakably dangerous, but perhaps less prone to spiraling into state-of-nature blood feuds than decentralized, socially accepted torture.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:44 AM on March 18, 2005


OK, Volokh's addition about "appeals to humanity" is hardly appealing. I'm not on his side. But I'm equally frustrated with response to the people crying about the downfall of America and equating this guy with Dahmer because he expressed the idea that victims would get a measure of relief from participating in the execution of a criminal, or that people who are pro-death penalty are "no different from the killers they torture and execute".

As I stated, we shouldn't give in to the reptilian brain. But we shouldn't pretend it's not there, which a few posters seemed wont to do.

On preview: What Tlogmer says.

(What's y2karl's age, gender, sexuality, political leanings, and favorite food? I'm not quite ready to believe I haven't any individuality yet, so I'd like to see how alike we really are.)
posted by schroedinger at 1:55 AM on March 18, 2005


As I stated, we shouldn't give in to the reptilian brain. But we shouldn't pretend it's not there, which a few posters seemed wont to do.

In what way is the state's practicing torture not giving in to the reptile brain? The rule of law has evolved in a consistent direction, as orthagonality points out. That direction is away from emotion-based punishment. That Volokh doesn't see how practicing retributive torture would diminish him or us argues that he has no business being involved in law.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:25 AM on March 18, 2005


What orthogonality said.

I add only that pretty much none of the popular "conservative" figures today are really conservative.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:38 AM on March 18, 2005


y2karl sock puppet? Jesus, it's just a long quote. Worse crimes have been committed.

Volokh seems to me to be, without any hyperbole, a sociopath. There's certainly a huge difference between the Iranian (am I misremembering his nationality?) child molester and Volokh, but that difference is NOT that Volokh is a more ethical man by any means.

But how can I say that? The executed man was a child molester, for christ's sake! True. I may not have all the facts of the case at hand (I'm tired, just got off of work. don't want to look everything up) but I remember that this child molester turned himself in and volunteered a full confession, right? Chances are he's a deeply disturbed individual who couldn't help himself. He recognized the horrible things he'd done and sought retribution for himself.

Volokh, on the other hand, genuinely seems to like the idea of torturing anyone that meets his criteria for "monster." When I read that blog, I didn't feel any passion. Just cold rationalization for a stance that endorses torture. He doesn't seem to me to be so filled with fiery anger on the matter that he'll advocate such an extreme measure. No, he seems calm and perfectly willing to accept that, while others may think less of him for it, he just likes torture in certain cases.

So, yes. I can see someone saying he's "no different." I can also see someone disagreeing with that sentiment, but not for the same reasons that Tlogmer and Twiggy have. To my mind, the difference is that Volokh seems like he has no internal appreciation for the difference between right and wrong, whereas the deceased DID, but was simply too fucked in the head to stop himself in the act. Sociopathy is one of the scariest things a person can be afflicted with, because all it takes is for a person to suddenly be associated with the "bad guy" in a sociopath's mind, and suddenly you have a killer, torturer and who knows what else on your hands.

Of course, calling what I just wrote "Armchair Psychology" would be extremely generous, so take it with a ton of salt.


on preview: huh. the spellchecker doesn't have blog, sociopath or sociopathy in it. weird. Doesn't have Volokh, either.
posted by shmegegge at 3:36 AM on March 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


Didn't John Kerry find himself having to respond to accusations that he was soft on terrorism by assuring the audience that he, personally, wanted to kill bin Laden with his bare hands? I found that a bit scary at the time - that the fellow auditioning for the leadership of the free world ostensibly on the ticket of not being a foaming nutbar was having to claim a desire to squeeze the life out of America's enemies not metaphorically, militarily or economically but literally.

Perhaps the UK's own Stephen Millington was simply ahead of his time and a bit confused.
posted by tannhauser at 3:40 AM on March 18, 2005


That formatting's really fucking obnoxious. Someone's a total arrogant asshole for trying to force me to read their preaching-to-the-choir article.

Well the joke's on you because I saw the huge block of text before I starting reading. I saw the word "torture" and that's it. Ha ha! expriest made the most amazing, significant post ever and I'm not going to read it because he's a fucking fascist who tried to force me to do it. Up yours!
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:42 AM on March 18, 2005


Over on his blog, John Scalzi writes about the conflict between rationalists and irrationalists for control over the political discourse. He points out that this axis is orthogonal to traditional conservative/liberal politics, cutting as it does across political lines to bear on how political views are expressed and implemented; and I think it's a dead-ringer for this particular storm in a teacup. Eugene Volkoh has gone over to the Irrationalist side on this issue: he wants the warm fuzzy glow of revenge and sod the moral justifications and philosophical questioning. It's as simple as that.
posted by cstross at 3:45 AM on March 18, 2005


Volokh's argument is weak. I'm not persuaded. He admits that this "comes down to a fundamental difference in how people view the world" and it is composed of "moral axioms and visceral reactions" yet he is willing to suggest amending the US constitution to allow for such arbitrary opinion.

I find it humorous, in a sickening way, that he is so dismissive of the potential of torturing and killing, a perfectly proper term, the wrongfully convicted. He admits it's a "decent argument" but then comes up with this most lame apologia: "locking up the wrong man for life isn't much better in my book than executing the wrong man, especially since the chances of exonerating the wrongfully convicted lifers are, I suspect, pretty low." I guess as long as he isn't the innocent being whipped at the post and throttled to death by some misinformed victim's relative, he has the luxury of being so unconvinced by speculative statistics.

Asshole.
posted by effwerd at 4:46 AM on March 18, 2005


What bothers me about Volokh's idea is not how wrong it is, I think that's been covered, but how intellectually wanting it is. With all the legal problems in the world that would require a Solomon to fix, that's the best he can come up with?

How about, just for instance, and I'm not trying to derail here, a way to bring our darker brothers and sisters into the fold in a fair way without pissing everyone off? Can he talk about that?
posted by atchafalaya at 5:06 AM on March 18, 2005


Eugene Volokh should get his own fucking blog.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:29 AM EST


Heh! Thanks for the laugh. Gonna be here all week?

fucking y2karl sock puppet accounts
posted by angry modem at 4:27 AM EST


Who told? Dammit! I'll get it out of you if I have to burn you at the stake! Witch!
posted by nofundy at 5:10 AM on March 18, 2005


Why shouldn't one say that our humanity is diminished if this monster is allowed to live on, or even to die a painless death, when his victims and their families endured unimaginable pain?

*shakes head*

This is like first year critical thinking class. You take a principle that seems reasonable, like the golden rule (Don't torture others if you don't want them to torture you when they're in charge), and find the most extreme example of the implications of that principle (But this one guy is really evil, and we really want to torture him, but we can't) and wow, suddenly you question that principle. The rest is just rationalization (Hey, I don't feel so bad about torturing any more).

This exercise in itself is worthless if we don't go back and ask why we came up with the principle in the first place. OK, so Volokh is willing to discard this principle and even to blog about it. Should I point and shout, "Another one!"? It's structurally like the debate about oil drilling in a nature preserve -- we said we shouldn't do it, but now we really want to.

Well, I sure hope people who are faced with decisions like this continue to decide against discarding the principle they originally agreed to, and I hope Volokh doesn't gain the power to legally torture anyone anytime soon.
posted by sninky-chan at 5:31 AM on March 18, 2005


Actually Volokh is pretty restrained, for which you should be grateful. I'd like to see cruel and unusual punishment brought back for annoying misdemeanors. After all, what's forbidden is the cruel and unusual, and if it weren't unusual that would be enough to pass constitutional muster.

The stocks for instance. Think how mall-rat loitering would drop off. And the brank for morons who talk on the phone while driving and in movies. And sockpuppets.
posted by jfuller at 5:41 AM on March 18, 2005


You know, this kind of writing is exactly why bloggers aren't treated with credibility as media sources. The biggest hinderance to the blogosphere appears to come from its biggest benefit- that fact that absolutely no one has an editor, or an advisory board, or any sembalence of prior public interest.

Essentially, because the blogosphere, unlike every other media outlet in the world, doesn't have anyone telling the author in advance, "Jesus, you're a fucking asshole," the casual reader would estimate that about 95% of all high-tier webloggers out there are, in fact, fucking assholes.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:10 AM on March 18, 2005


He seems a helluva lot more human to me than someone who would claim they'd have no impulse at all to hurt the criminal who, say, raped and murdered their baby boy or girl, and hurt that criminal very, very badly. It's a natural impulse--you see it in toddlers. It doesn't mean they're demons, it means they're people.


I could see having the urge to kill that person immediately. Shoot them in the head without even thinking about it? sure. But tie them down and torture them? No fucking way. I seriously doubt anyone who'd recently had a relative murdered would desire to be up to their elbows in blood and gore. This guys a freak. Inflicting pain on others to make youself feel better (which is what the's proposing here, no doubt about it) is always wrong. I think most people would find the idea repulsive.
posted by fshgrl at 6:10 AM on March 18, 2005


At the very least, decisions about whether torture is used and to what degree should not be made by people who so clearly get off on it.
posted by troybob at 6:11 AM on March 18, 2005


I will be overjoyed when the Nuclear Option is used to confirm Volokh to an important judicial post, while all the lefties bemoan his lack of sympathy for child molesters.
posted by MattD at 6:18 AM on March 18, 2005


If, as a society, we are going to inflict pain and death upon those we deem worthy of it, the aggression should be carried out by the general voting public, not by employees of the state. Having the state act as proxies for our gut sense of justice is where the potential for abuse comes from.

It should be like jury duty. Grandma should be required to flick the switch on the electric chair. The defense attorney gets to dismiss a few overly biased folks from the executioners pool, but this should be a mandatory part of participating in democracy.
posted by bendybendy at 6:36 AM on March 18, 2005


I would ask but one question: what is to be gained
by the approach Volokh suggests?
posted by Postroad at 6:40 AM on March 18, 2005


My #1 problem with most US Christian groups: They say one thing and mean another. One of the easiest ones for me to hit them on is having the 10 commandments outside of courthouses, but still be in favor of the Death Penalty. I fail to see where it is/was written "Thou shall not kill or we'll kill you back". Granted it is also in the old Testament eye for an eye, etc. I belive that rotting in the US prison system for life would actually be worse than most forms of torture/death.

I still like my idea for sorting this out: Survivor: Alcatraz: We've taken 40 of the worst Death Row inmates and dropped them on Alcatraz, they will never be allowed to leave and will have regular food drops, no guards, no escape, always on TV. That would make for some reality TV that might actually turn a few stomachs.
posted by Numenorian at 6:42 AM on March 18, 2005


I'm surprised it hasn't been said, but Volokh's suggestion is completely un-Christian. As well as un-American. To quote Pink Floyd: Careful with that axe, Eugene! You're on a slippery slope to Hell. Maybe its time for a sabbatical.
posted by xowie at 6:42 AM on March 18, 2005


No, there is a difference.
Good and evil boils down to who goes first.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:05 PM PST on March 17 [!]

That is the smartest thing I've heard all week.
posted by ao4047 at 10:08 PM PST on March 17 [!]


"War does not determine who is right - only who is left."
-Bertrand Russell

Some other relevant quotes from Russell:
"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

"Most political leaders acquire their position by causing large numbers of people to believe that these leaders are actuated by altruistic desires. It is well understood that such a belief is more readily accepted under the influence of excitement. Brass bands, mob oratory, lynching, and war are stages in the development of the excitement I suppose the advocates of unreason think that there is a better chance of profitably deceiving the populace if they keep it in a state of effervescence. Perhaps it is my dislike of this sort of process which leads people to say that I am unduly rational."

"I am persuaded that there is absolutely no limit in the absurdities that can, by government action, come to be generally believed. Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of the population believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State. Of course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would not put the kettle in the refrigerator when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics would be 'frozen' at the stake. No person who did not enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed to teach or to have any position of power. Only the very highest officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish it all is; then they would laugh and drink again."
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 6:54 AM on March 18, 2005


Some guy named Russ Bertrand says:

Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man...

Good thing we don't pay our enlisted men much, and frequently treat 'em like shit once they're out. Though my second-generation USAA benefits are nice.
posted by bendybendy at 7:04 AM on March 18, 2005


XQUZYPHYR said:

You know, this kind of writing is exactly why bloggers aren't treated with credibility as media sources.

Isn't that statement kind of like saying, "You know, the Weekly World News is why newspapers aren't treated with credibility as journalism sources?" I mean, I know that there is a debate raging over the blogosphere and in print journalism about the relevance and accountability of blogs, right now. But every medium has its trashy ridiculous examples that aren't taken seriously without detracting from the medium as a whole. One day this whole debacle will be forgotten and each blog will have to stand on its own merit outside of the weird stigma that capital B Blogs are carrying around right now. On that day, Volokh will be ignored (hopefully) and Boingboing will be credible, and the fact that they're both technically blogs won't be an issue, anymore. But Volokh will most likely still be blogging, just like The National Enquirer is still publishing. He's not the problem. Public perception and accountability is.
posted by shmegegge at 7:06 AM on March 18, 2005


>the casual reader would estimate that about 95% of all high-tier webloggers out there are, in fact, fucking assholes.

They're just appealing to their regular audience, of course. I thinkbelieveknow this is pertinent.
posted by gsb at 7:09 AM on March 18, 2005


assuring the audience that he, personally, wanted to kill bin Laden with his bare hands? I found that a bit scary at the time

That scares you? You need to get out more. Most people I know, including some of the most liberal lefties on the planet, have admitted to feeling the same way. As someone says, there's a part of just about everybody's mind that craves violent revenge when wronged. I've even said to people that I can certainly agree that when confronted by a Bin Laden or a Dahmer, that we shouldn't give in to that blind rage, but I have difficulty relating to people who don't, at least for a moment feel that rage.

That said, I don't believe that's what this Volokh character is about. Seems more like someone who wants to exploit natural (if dangerous) human emotions for political gain. But that's just a theory.
posted by jonmc at 7:14 AM on March 18, 2005


Very interesting discussion so far.

I'm disturbed by the idea of torture becomming commonplace in our justice system.
posted by agregoli at 7:27 AM on March 18, 2005


I'd argue that there is a difference between feeling like killing someone in a rage and feeling like torturing them a whole bunch. There is no equivalent to "manslaughter" for torture.
posted by fshgrl at 7:30 AM on March 18, 2005


I'd argue that there is a difference between feeling like killing someone in a rage and feeling like torturing them a whole bunch.

Agreed. But I do think that Volokh and his ilk tap into understandable rage to push their agenda, including the tacit approval of torture. Whereas most people, I believe, deep down draw the line at torture, I'd imagine torture is an easier sell to an angry body politic than a calm, happy one.
posted by jonmc at 7:32 AM on March 18, 2005


I do think that Volokh and his ilk tap into understandable rage to push their agenda, including the tacit approval of torture.

But what's it to him if people get tortured or not? Does he have a list?
posted by fshgrl at 8:19 AM on March 18, 2005


For some reason, this Volokh character seems to be very short sited in his dismissal of state sponsored torture. I don't remember very many societies in recent history, aside from 3rd world military despotisms and most probably Nazi controller Germany, where the state authorized the imprisonment and torture of citizens of the governed people. And the thought of the state (in our case, the judge, or some police deputy, or prison warden) handing a knife to a civilian citizen in some basement room in a prison stinks of a horrendous dystopian nightmare. Imagine, if you will, the arguement of the pacifist liberal commie whatever, namby pamby sissy boy fuckyoujock ghey wussie little girlie-boy whose parents are killed by some maniac (or just your local hick on a drunken shooting spree after finding out his wife ran off with the dog). This young man, who has lived a peaceful life in suburbia, raised by good wholesome family values, played in the high school band, did charity work at old folks homes, blah blah blah, all american good boy (imaginary, remember), is handed a tray of metal implements. Spikes, blades, corkscrews. A hacksaw. He is told he is to deliver his punishment to the prisoner, who was convicted of killing the boys parents. He is escorted into the room of the prisoner, who is tied to a chair with a hood over his head. Now let your imagination go for a few minutes on that thought.

Now we will take you to the scene after the screaming has stopped. The boy is no longer the nice young man who had suffered from losing his parents to a random act of violence by another. He is now the deliver of pain. His role is no longer that of the agreived. He has had his retribution. Now please imagine what that would feel like. Before, he had never harbored the thought of harming another human, except in acedemic competition, where you can always play again, and there were no marks to leave. Now he has felt flesh rended by metal, under his own will. He has stepped over the line of simple citizen of the society. He will never fit in again. He will always be one of the few, those chosen at random by fate, to perform an act of vengence upon one who murdered his family. As much as I love a good comic book revenge fantasy, I always come back to the aftermath of the story. There is no happily ever after in revenge stories (except some of the poorly written ones that have nothing but cliches). This is the main reason why our justice system is supposed to be blind. It is also supposed to remove the personal connection between the crime and the punishment. A person commits a crime, the victims testify against the suspect, the suspect is judged by strangers, the convicted are sentenced by a judge, and the punishment is carried out by the prison system. Yes, the victims suffer. But their suffering is needed to teach others of pain. Sorry, but I'd rather watch a grieving relative that be the greiving relative. Call me callous, call me unsympathetic (though, in reality, I am actually being more sympathetic, mainly because I can empythize with the victims, where as to me, it seems that these advocates of torture just want to deal with the victims quickly to shut them up and stop thier bellyaching. Let them get a nice emotional release by torturing the criminals, then get on with their lives. But I digress a lot), but I really think trying to turn the tables on the actions of murderers and other heinous criminals is ultimately what will lead to the destruction of "moral values" and bring about a new age of unreasonable strife, not in the world, but right here in our own backyards.

"Never let someone who preaches death to be your leader in life." - me
posted by daq at 8:27 AM on March 18, 2005


Has anyone read The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem? There was a sadistic society in that book that constantly envisioned the torture and debasement of everyone around them but still carried on with their daily lives for the most part.
It seems like so many regular people are either advocating torture or dismissing torture these days. It's frightening.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2005


See also soldiers (child), problems with re-integretation.
posted by fshgrl at 8:35 AM on March 18, 2005


I find the notion that Volokh is a sociopath because of something he wrote to be laughable. Saying something stupid is not the same thing as doing something stupid, unless that something is 'I do.'

I agree with XQUZYPHYR, this is a problem with Blogs. Volokh is not the Weekly World News, he writes a blog that many people take quite seriously and use to argue for the high quality of online 'journalism' (or at least reporting). It's the mix of rational argument and commentary with off-the-wall speculation that is damaging. Not the notion that there are some blogs that do one and some the other. The latter situation would be much easier to digest.
posted by OmieWise at 9:35 AM on March 18, 2005


While I can find some common ground with his sentiment, its wholly inappropriate for him to publicly declare these things. A government that condones torture and mistreatment of its prisoners is in the process of crumbling.

But, on the emotional side, I can see where he's coming from. People always talk about the lack of a deterrent effect the death penalty has. What if you were publicly tortured, humiliated and then executed?

Would that act as a stronger deterrent to the commission of capital crimes? I would think it would but I'm sure there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

I don't agree with him saying it but I certainly understand the sentiment and the desire to make the criminal "pay" for his crimes before paying the ultimate price. I don't condone it but I understand the sentiment.

As I've said before, its probably a good thing that I'm not in charge.
posted by fenriq at 10:21 AM on March 18, 2005


It's a good thing that any number of people are not in charge.

Lacking any guarantee that any particular group will never be in charge, it remains a good thing that Jefferson and Washington and Madison and Franklin, rather than Volokh and his ilk, wrote the Constitution.

Try a few searches in the form [people] torture to see how many different candidates there would be for the kind of execution Volokh seems to be suggesting the United States adopt.

... Abortionists torture and kill the tiny, vulnerable children they victimize ... www.catholiclubbock.org/forward.htm

... RESEARCHER'S HOME TARGETED FOR PROTEST (US) ...... pm Friday (990 Lake Shore Drive). "These researchers torture and kill animals ..... csf.colorado.edu/archive/animal/msg00900.html
posted by hank at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2005


I don't condone it but I understand the sentiment.

Which is exactly the crux of the issue. I think most people understand it. But Volokh's sentiment really is a serious condonement (is that a word?) of state-sponsored vengeance, torture, and murder. Which is pretty disgusting.

And Hank's point (which I also made way up-thread), is the most important. This system would be almost guaranteed to spiral out of control. You absolutely should not be giving the state the right to condone torture and murder and some sense of righteous vengeance.
posted by teece at 12:06 PM on March 18, 2005


I'm surprised it hasn't been said, but Volokh's suggestion is completely un-Christian

He's jewish.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:01 PM on March 18, 2005


My #1 problem with most US Christian groups: They say one thing and mean another.

See above.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:09 PM on March 18, 2005


and it looks like a huge portion of the world -- like to plant their flags on the top of the hill and piss on anyone who gets near their flag. Eugene Volokh will NEVER BACK DOWN ONE INCH AND HE IS UNPERSUADED BY HIS ENEMIES.
posted by argybarg at 1:33 AM PST on March 18
Easy with the broad brush there. I would hate to ask how you know for sure that he'd never back down, especially if presented with the right argument. Wouldn't he say the same thing about you and your assertion?
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 1:12 PM on March 18, 2005


Easy with the broad brush there. I would hate to ask how you know for sure that he'd never back down, especially if presented with the right argument.

Umm, because he's a weblogger. You're aware of how this works, right? When you're a weblogger, people confront your lies and insane statements, and then you write a follow-up in which you chastise your opponents for trying to stifle you with their (opposing agenda here) hatred of the (your agenda here). Then you wait a week, and realize despite having a three year archive on your blog, no one will read it.

Hey, did you hear Al Gore said he invented the internet?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:16 PM on March 18, 2005


It seems like so many regular people are either advocating torture or dismissing torture these days. It's frightening.

Frightening, yes. Surprising, no. Atrocities continue precisely because the masses of "normal" people are all too content to have them perpetuated.
posted by PsychoKick at 1:43 PM on March 18, 2005


I'd like to approach this from the other side. If someone hurt my family I would likely hunt them down and torture them - if I had the means (probably just kill them). Call me sick, I recognize the problem with it, but my rage would likely unbalance me, perhaps perminantly.

Being the sort of person I am, I don't think I would have a crisis of conscience though.
However I recognize the Kantian arguement here - if everyone was like that....
and I recognize that it does not serve any purpose other than self-gratification.
Self-gratification cannot justify morality. It is not even utilitarian. We do not spend all day masterbating (obviously - some of us type on metafilter...perhaps some with one hand?).

I get no joy out of disciplining a child other than the gratification that in the future the child will not do the same wrong thing. The act of discipline itself has no value other than a tool to achieve an end.
Therefore it remains only to discuss torture as a tool for discipline.
- Which brings us back to the very cogent arguements from daq,
orthogonality and sninky-chan and the long history of torture that proves it's hazards as a tool.

Although I would say orthogonality - the world would be a lot more interesting if it were the jets & sharks. (now I've got that rumble song and "When your a Jet" in my head - thanks).
posted by Smedleyman at 1:57 PM on March 18, 2005


My apologies - spell check doesn't seem to be working for me.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:58 PM on March 18, 2005


People always talk about the lack of a deterrent effect the death penalty has. What if you were publicly tortured, humiliated and then executed?

Would that act as a stronger deterrent to the commission of capital crimes?


I doubt it. Did people stop committing crimes in the middle ages, when these kinds of things were done?

I don't agree with him saying it but I certainly understand the sentiment and the desire to make the criminal "pay" for his crimes before paying the ultimate price. I don't condone it but I understand the sentiment.

What do you mean by "understand?" I can understand the connection between someone killing your loved ones and then feeling hatred and rage towards that person, but I cannot understand the advocacy of state-sponsored torture and execution.

Does torture make society safer? Does torture do anything to heal the victims of the crime? No, and no. All it does is cater to the violent urges which a healthy society must restrain in order to flourish. So no, I don't find this argument understandable at all; I find it utterly incomprehensible, since it is entirely irrational. Under what philosophical system is this justifiable, or preferable? The author makes no argument in favor of torture other than "It would be satisfying." Poorly-conceived, poorly-argued.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2005


un·chris·tian
Pronunciation Key (n-krschn)
adj.

1. Not in accord with the spirit or principles of Christianity.
2. Not Christian.
3. Uncivilized; barbaric.
posted by xowie at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2005


Smedleyman: I get no joy out of disciplining a child other than the gratification that in the future the child will not do the same wrong thing. The act of discipline itself has no value other than a tool to achieve an end.
Therefore it remains only to discuss torture as a tool for discipline.


Maybe you could clarify that for me? Does 'discipline' in that context stand for corporal punishment? Because it's been well established that there exist many forms of non-violent discipline in child rearing. I've always thought that using the word like that - euphemistically - sanitises the act of bigger people hitting smaller people.


Still, at least Volokh avoids doing that. On his latest update, he's still sticking to his guns. I find it quite astonishing. Perhaps the low odds of him ever implementing his fantasies, allowed him to give them voice.
posted by dash_slot- at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2005


I am in complete agreement with the posters here who made the insightful comment that Eugene Volokh is worse than Jeffrey Dahmer. In fact, I think that Volokh should be tortured, and that all persons who oppose immoral government should actively lobby the government for Volokh to be tortured and executed in the name of liberal humanism. This is hardly an overstatement.
posted by esquire at 3:53 PM on March 18, 2005


I find the notion that Volokh is a sociopath because of something he wrote to be laughable. Saying something stupid is not the same thing as doing something stupid, unless that something is 'I do.'

How else does one get an impression of the character of a weblogger? Do you personally meet and clinically diagnose every blog writer you read? Even though you don't, I bet you have opinions on what they're like as people either way. Like I said, it's not even amateur psychology, but there's certainly reason to doubt the man's moral terpitude.

I agree with XQUZYPHYR, this is a problem with Blogs. Volokh is not the Weekly World News, he writes a blog that many people take quite seriously and use to argue for the high quality of online 'journalism' (or at least reporting). It's the mix of rational argument and commentary with off-the-wall speculation that is damaging. Not the notion that there are some blogs that do one and some the other. The latter situation would be much easier to digest.

What is a problem with blogs? The probem I was referring to was public perception of blogs. The problem with public perception of blogs isn't that anyone can write one. It's also not that some of the widely read bloggers are possibly insane and condone torture. See, these things self-police, in a way. Volokh's reputation has been damaged by this entry, but that doesn't mean a crushing blow has been landed against blogs in general.

It sounds like when you say "This is a problem with Blogs," you're saying that Volokh and people like him are a problem with the blogosphere in general, like a poison or something. I don't see anything supporting this. If, when the dust settles, blogs are widely rejected and have no credibility any more it won't be because the public found out about Volokh. There are plenty of other genuinely fucked-in-the-head bloggers with more than negligible readership for him to blend in with. If blogs are rejected it'll more likely be because of people like Drudge, or it'll be because 99% of blogs don't investigate news, they just link it.

But then maybe you're just saying that Volokh is why you think blogs are bad. If that's the case, then there'll be no convincing you otherwise and I wonder why you have a mefi membership. I doubt this is what you meant, though.
posted by shmegegge at 5:33 PM on March 18, 2005


Although I would say orthogonality - the world would be a lot more interesting if it were the jets & sharks.

No. It may make for a more interesting comic book or movie, but in reality, if the world were like that, life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish & short," as at least one person above inferred.

Feeling anger & desire for revenge is normal but not a goal toward which we want to work. Some people argue that not feeling that is inhuman or unsympathetic. I don't think that's true. Tragedy makes people sad; sadness sometimes drives people to anger. But killing the killer does nothing to actually alleviate the pain. It would be a rush of adrenaline, the way anger is, but once the burst of anger is over - you don't necessarily feel better. Sometimes you feel worse. I don't think it would satisfy a thoughtful person in the long term to be able to get revenge. It might provide a momentary feeling of pleasure for some, but that is not a justification.
posted by mdn at 5:49 PM on March 18, 2005


Topics like this make me wonder about something that might or might not be a political strategy...if someone here could cure my ignorance on it, that would be awesome.

Is it a known or proven political strategy to bring in extremists on a subject in order to 'pull' opinion more in that direction, but not to meet that extreme a point of view? For instance, the death penalty argument is ongoing, and it flares up now and then when a particular type of case comes around. Is it possible that an extremist like this guy would be enlisted or promoted in order to make the death penalty itself more palatable, in essence by showing that the punishment could be even worse? (as in: Hmm...i've never really been sure about the death penalty, but it is certainly a much better option compared to torture killing).

Advertising kind of works like that, huh? You have for instance, a woman who is in a panic because her little-league son's whites aren't as white as the other boys', and so she rushes out to buy tide or cheer or some such...we wouldn't necessary buy into the supposed importance of the situation, but it pulls us in that direction, and plants the idea that indeed, those whites are maybe a bit more important than i thought...

I'm just curious. Maybe it's something that is just obvious as a political tool and I'm just uneducated about it, or maybe I'm a savant political analyst who has just unwittingly invented a strategy to go into iran (let's tell everyone we're going to nuke them, then they'll be relieved and will go along when we just invade).
posted by troybob at 6:51 PM on March 18, 2005


Feeling anger & desire for revenge is normal but not a goal toward which we want to work.

Agreed. But to ignore those feelings is to let them fester, which can lead to all sorts of things. We did this after Vietnam, which indirectly led to the debacle that was the 80's. Feelings of rage need to be acknowledged, understood, and directed in a constuctive direction; as in "Yes, I'd like to strangle Bin laden too, but that's not gonna help anything, instead you should etc."

Just my two cents, but i believe it'll save us a lot of diffuculties downthe road.
posted by jonmc at 6:54 PM on March 18, 2005


Volokh backs down.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2005


Agreed. But to ignore those feelings is to let them fester, which can lead to all sorts of things.

Jon, I just think pain manifests in different ways in different people or in different cases. Sometimes it will be anger, but sometimes it will be hopelessness or depression, or a feeling of sickness, nausea... Basically, just because someone doesn't express their desire to strangle bin laden, that doesn't necessarily mean they're repressing that desire. They may simply have responded to the tragedy in a different but just as "human" way.

Personally, I didn't feel angry after 9/11. I just felt broken. I don't think I was repressing anything, and I don't think my reaction was any better or worse than anyone else's, because it was a simple emotional reaction, not a choice. I do get angry at some things, but somehow the bad guys felt too abstract for me to really get angry with after the WTC. When someone I know personally does something despicable, I feel anger, but I can't get mad at generalized impersonals.
posted by mdn at 9:45 AM on March 19, 2005


and it looks like a huge portion of the world -- like to plant their flags on the top of the hill and piss on anyone who gets near their flag. Eugene Volokh will NEVER BACK DOWN ONE INCH AND HE IS UNPERSUADED BY HIS ENEMIES.
posted by argybarg at 1:33 AM PST on March 18
When you're a weblogger, people confront your lies and insane statements, and then you write a follow-up in which you chastise your opponents for trying to stifle you with their (opposing agenda here) hatred of the (your agenda here).
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:16 PM PST on March 18
Mark Kleiman's post, which has persuaded me to change my views on the advisability of deliberately painful executions...
Update by Volokh
I've got forks and spoons, looks like the humble pie will be served fresh and hot.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:07 AM on March 19, 2005


Basically, just because someone doesn't express their desire to strangle bin laden, that doesn't necessarily mean they're repressing that desire. They may simply have responded to the tragedy in a different but just as "human" way.

I agree completely. I just think that those who do respond with anger shouldn't be dismissed as cranks or jingoists neccessarily, because that can cause resentment.

mdn, I meant "ignoring," more in a sociopolitical context, that is to say that as a nation we shouldn't make decisions based on rage at a Bin Laden or a Dahmer, but we definitely should....allow (for lack of a better word) the populace to have and express their anger and disgust. Otherwise that can fester into a kind of generalized resentment.


I don't think I was repressing anything,


I wouldn't accuse you of that. Like I said, I meant more in the general societal sense.
posted by jonmc at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2005


for future reference, a gem:


(At its core, the nation-state is all about killing; everything else is window-dressing).

-- Prof. InstaPundit, channeling Charles Bronson
posted by matteo at 12:16 PM on March 21, 2005


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