Two Wrongs Make a Right Mess

U.S. Senator Cruz speaks to members of the Texas Federation of Republican Women in San Antonio, Texas

(Image: Reuters/Joe Mitchell)

It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture….I would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe. 

– Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz believes torture is wrong. So it’s a good thing waterboarding doesn’t “meet the generally recognized definition” of torture. Otherwise, how could he excuse using it to torture people?

Incidentally, we don’t know who he means when he says “generally recognized.” More than likely, it’s anyone who agrees with him that waterboarding isn’t torture. Or, anyone who knows it is but wants a loophole that allows them to do it anyway.

We also don’t know, because he didn’t say (nor did anyone ask him), where he got his claim that the legal definition of torture specifies “excruciating pain that is equivalent to losing organs and systems.” The UN definition references “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” and which is undertaken “at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

I dunno. Sounds like waterboarding to me…

Of course, Cruz at least tried to maintain a foothold on the moral high ground. Then there’s Trump, who in characteristic fashion hurtled the wall between good and evil and left it in the dust: “I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” The Donald may be right: Ted Cruz may not have a heart. But it’s fairly obvious that Trump has no conscience. It’s not that he’s not aware of the difference between right and wrong. He just doesn’t really care.

So, we have one guy who’s at least inferentially open to whatever form of torture is most likely to yield results, and another guy who’s redefined the concept of torture into near meaninglessness, so that he can do whatever he wants. And, heading into New Hampshire’s primary, these are the two Republican front-runners.

See, hard as David Muir tried to shed light on a murky subject (murky, at least, to those who believe ends justify means), he only granted the candidates leeway to make it even murkier. Why? Because the question he asked wasn’t the question that needs asking.

Not “Is waterboarding torture?” Because if we can argue, however transparently, that it is not, then we can remove it from the larger conversation of right versus wrong. If torture is wrong, but waterboarding isn’t torture, then waterboarding may be conceived of as value-neutral, merely a tool of truth’s trade. And so “enhanced interrogation techniques” enters the American lexicon, by way of dodging moral obligation and our own national rhetoric.

The real question is this: “Whether or not it fits Webster’s definition of torture, is waterboarding right?”

We can say, with Marco Rubio, that there is a difference between law enforcement and anti-terrorist operations–which, while true, avoids the question instead of answering it. Does the presumed urgency of a situation alter its moral nature, or our obligations within that situation? Maybe yes, maybe no–either way, we have a much richer conversation here than with either Cruz or Trump.

But even Rubio’s dodging the question: this is as much about where we’ve been as it is about where we’re going. So much of our self-image as a nation seems to rest on a fictitious moral superiority that, when the least bit of scrutiny is applied, vanishes in a puff of smoke and mirrors. And we know it. And it scares us. So we jingo all the more.

You see, we never ask the same question Muir never asked the Republican candidates last Saturday night: Is what we’re doing right? We never ask; we just assume it is because of Who We Are. We are America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. And our shit smells of rose petals and lavender water.

If any other nation on earth treated American prisoners the way we have treated Middle Eastern prisoners, we would go to war. (Incidentally, perhaps we’ve solved the riddle of continued radicalization around the globe.) Just like if another nation tapped our president’s phone; or anytime another country shows signs of developing nuclear capability. We can do whatever we want, and it’s in the interests of Truth, Justice and the American Way. If anyone else does it, they’re chalked up as a Bond villain at best, the devil himself at worst.

As we gear up for November, and face the real possibility of having our own raving megalomaniac at the switch (pick your poison), it pays to think these things through. Newton taught us that every action produces a reaction; the Eastern sages taught us that karma’s a bitch; and anyone who ever ran up to a moving carousel knows that what goes around comes around, and tends to knock one on one’s ass.

We cannot just assume we are right, or change the definitions whenever it suits us. What we do as a country, who we are as a people, how we behave ourselves as global citizens–these things matter. And there is more than semantics at stake here. If a given action is deemed evil when enacted by our enemy, then it is equally evil when we do it ourselves, no matter how just we judge our goals to be.

Two wrongs do not make a right. No matter how hard we insist that they do.

 

High Res Newsolutions

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“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

– L.M. Montgomery

2016 is upon us, and as I prepare to bridge the New Year with a late anniversary trip to Santa Fe and points beyond, I want to inject a bit of optimism into the proceedings.

My whole life has been an exercise in mediocrity. (No, that’s not the optimistic part.) I have always been very good at being moderately accomplished in a variety of contexts–a sort of Renaissance-ish Man, if you will. I can play the piano, the viola, the drums, and a bit of the guitar, and I can sing…well enough to get by, to amuse myself, and no more. As a theater student, many moons ago, I could act my way onto a stage and off of it, without overly impressing or depressing anyone. I can write, and I dedicate myself to my craft…whenever the mood strikes, which isn’t terribly often. In other words, I coulda been a contender, but instead, I’ve rarely cleared the ceiling of “intender.”

But that all changed yesterday. Yesterday, instead of just carping on a cause, I stepped up and actually did something concrete. You see, yesterday, I officiated for the first time at a same-sex wedding. I’m not just talking about LGBT rights anymore; I’m standing up and doing something about it. It was in my power to offer something to someone that they hadn’t had access to before. And yes, I know anyone can perform these ceremonies now; I know someone else could have done this for these wonderful people. But it wasn’t someone else. It was me.

So that’s my New Year’s resolution: I’m done with the “just okay” approach to life. From now on, it’s balls to the wall. I’m going down swinging.

I hereby resolve:

  1. I will think not just outside the box, but outside the concept of box-ness. There are no boxes, as far as I’m concerned, anymore. It’s time for new and crazy-ass ideas, because today’s crazy is tomorrow’s hope for change.
  2. I will use this blog as a starting point, but it will be just that–a springboard for actual action, in the real world, because, while words are important and powerful, on their own they just aren’t enough.
  3. I will throw myself back into my work like never before, because at the end of the day, what you do and how you do it is who you are. Point me to my sled and tell me to mush; I’m ready to pull like my life depends on it. Because I firmly believe that in some cases, some people’s do.
  4. I will be a friend. I will answer my phone. I will help when asked, no matter who asks me. I will smile, even when it hurts, because it’s only dark until someone turns on a light. And my hand is on the switch.

Expect a post a week from me in future (if you’re listening); anything else takes up too much time, distracts too much from actually living a life that touches the lives of others. Unless your blog is how you touch the lives of others, in which case, blog away, and may it give you purpose.

But if you do seek to change the world by means of the blog, remember: hate breeds only more hate, bigotry cuts both ways, and there are real faces sporting real lives and back stories behind the little icons on your screen. So proceed with love and caution.

Happy New Year to you all,
and may 2016 be our moment, as a species,
to shine!

Shine On!

If nothing we do matters,
then all that matters is what we do.

-Angel

This could be heaven for everyone…

Stop thinking in big, defeatist pictures, and start thinking in kibbles, bits and pieces. Not what can we do. What can I do?

What can you do?

We can build heaven together, but it takes all of us, acting individually, to act together. No one can do it but us. Baby steps. Smiles here, caring touches there. That waitress that keeps dropping stuff? Don’t tip less; tip even more than you normally would. Life’s not about being served. It’s about serving. About being of service to the strangers around us, in the interests of abolishing the term forever. About acting in ways that surprise, that take expectations and dash them to pieces. That transcend the status quo in order to establish a new one. That raise the bar, set a higher standard, that turn human nature on its head and give the human spirit a fighting chance at survival.

It’s not about retribution; it’s not about getting our own out of a situation. It’s about taking what should be our own, and cutting ties with it, giving it away, giving it up. Leggo your ego. Let. It. Go.

Put your self down and step away slowly.