“Live Chat” Exchange with Mark Shea on Waterboarding

“Live Chat” Exchange with Mark Shea on Waterboarding January 30, 2015
Head in Hands
Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal (1896) in Tuileries Garden in Paris, France. [Wikimedia CommonsCC BY 2.0]




I tried, folks. I mightily tried. I summoned (only by God’s grace, believe me) every last fiber and nerve in me of patience, and was willing to be a punching bag for two hours, in order to achieve rational dialogue with Mark. You be the judge. This took place in the wee hours of 1-30-15 and was about 75 minutes in duration. Mark’s words will be in blue.
* * * * *

The huge irony in all this insofar as I have been attacked is that I am agnostic on waterboarding (as to whether it is torture or not), not an advocate of it, let alone for torture. I have moved closer to thinking that waterboarding may be torture, based on an excellent article I read on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam website, and by dialoguing with a certain person who is able to talk about the issue minus the gratuitous and juvenile epithets. I sure ain’t gonna change my mind through the tactics of being compared to Holocaust deniers, Nazis, and Americanists. As always, I change my mind by rational persuasion and being shown either compelling biblical or magisterial data.

I don’t enjoy being an agnostic about anything. It’s not my nature. But I’d rather be that than intellectually dishonest. So here I am. Insult away, or else try to use reason, that I am altogether willing to hear and interact with.

Mark Shea said that anyone holding my position [agnostic on whether waterboarding is torture and intrinsically evil] is “insane”. . .]

Moi aussi. I’ve had almost no conversation with you, Dave, but somehow you’ve decided to apply stuff I’ve said in other contexts to yourself. If the shoe fits wear it, I guess. But I have no idea if the shoe fits you. You decided that for yourself. So I don’t even know what I’m supposed to apologize for.

You said that anyone who held this position was “insane” during the short time you visited my Facebook page (which is quite in “my context”). It’s a simple logical deduction:

1. “Anyone who believes y is insane.”

2. x believes y.

3, Therefore, x must be insane.

Surely you can grasp this logic. It has nothing to do with whether I decided if the shoe fit or not. I have never believed that I was insane. You decided that all of us who disagree wear this “shoe” of “insanity” (and a host of other things). Then when called on it, this is the lame response you invariably make, as if we are paranoid and illogically applying what you said yourself.

I didn’t ask you to apologize. I merely mentioned you in connection with my observation that those of your position have come up with “a very colorful collection of epithets.”

Another prime example of the ridiculous sophistry that you regularly bring to this topic is to say that folks are advocating “drowning” when they think waterboarding is permissible. Newsflash: it ain’t drowning: which results in a dead person. It’s not even attempted drowning. But that doesn’t stop you from your sophistry.

And the weirdest thing about it is your assumption that your readers are too stupid to not know that waterboarding is not drowning . . . It sounds great as a magnificent insult, I guess, so it is used repeatedly, no matter how inane and vacuous it is. 

Waterboarding is an attempt to make a person in his fright and fear (and based on the normal reaction of the instinctual portions of the brain) think he may be drowning.

But as I have said, if soldiers are routinely trained in it, then they know going in that they ain’t gonna drown, and that seems significant to me, though I grant that it likely wouldn’t make the experience much less frightening than it is. The person would simply know in their mind, “they are not gonna kill me by drowning.”

Mark doesn’t “respond.” He preaches and polemicizes on these sorts of issues, and I’m not interested in that.  “Dialogue” (ha ha) with him is nonexistent after he gets on his soapbox.

Mkay. Whatever.

Yes, whatever. The usual . . .  

Dave: What do you want? I offered to discuss it. You come back with the stuff above, so I drop it. . . . Sheesh. 

I don’t want anything from you. You don’t discuss this issue.

What issue? What are you talking about?

I am sick and tired of sophistry and hyper-polemics. Period. It’s not personal. It’s not being sensitive or being hurt. It is a principled objection to your warping of discussion when waterboarding comes up.

Dave; The only sophistry comes from people who have labored for ten years to pretend that torture is compatible with Catholic teaching, that waterboarding (for which we hanged Japanese) is not torture, that torture is so mysterious and impossible to define that we have to just go ahead and approve of whatever it is the CIA did to prisoners. Beyond this, my point to you, if memory serves, is that it is the height of folly, after the disclosure of the horrors of the Senate Report, for Catholics above all to continue to try to split hairs over waterboarding. It’s like abortion defenders deploying millions of word to argue over whether Kermit Gosnell washed his hands or only wiped them off on his smock.

Like that matters.

And yeah, that is insane.

As to the exhausted, futile, and deeply stupid question “Is waterboarding really and truly torture?” I totally concur with and always recommend this exhaustive look at the question: Posts About Waterboarding on Zippy CatholicBut at this late date, the whole stupid attempt by Catholics to justify this filth is like a defense attorney at Nuremburg throwing all his energies into trying to show that Goering was not guilty of jaywalking. The gnat/camel inversion ratio would be comically crazy if it were not such a humiliating stain on “faithful conservative prolife” Catholic honor.

Is any physical interrogation permissible at all? This is what bothers me and what hardly anyone seems to want to work through. I suspect that if someone could give me a clear principle on that, that I could resolve my own agnosticism on this.

Dave: Tolle, lege: [link to the book, How to Break a Terrorist] The guy is a professional interrogator. We had long-standing rules for ethical interrogation before Bush/Cheney authorized torture. Instead of trying to figure out how brutal we can be, why not ask “How do we treat prisoners humanely and get the intel we need?” Turns out those two projects are not in opposition. 

Sure. How do we do that? That is my question. Is anything physical whatever permissible towards that end? Can, e.g., a cop can kill a child abuser holding a sexual slave (i.e., in the classic hostage scenario), but he can’t slap him on the wrist to find out about said slave’s whereabouts?

I repeat: Why is it so urgent for you to find out how much abuse you can heap on a prisoner instead of asking “How can we treat prisoners humanely and get the intel we need?” It’s like its more important to find a rationale for abuse than to get the intel. Read the book. it’s about the answer to your question.

That book talks about non-physical methods (which are great: more power to him). I am asking whether we can ever lay a hand on anyone at any time (because the Church has certainly sanctioned some version of that for centuries). You say no to that, too?

I’m not trying to abuse anyone. I’m trying to find out the underlying ethical principles that can guide us in this stuff, just as just war theory guides wars.

I will read the book. But I need to have other questions plausibly answered, too, in order to become persuaded of your position.

You apparently missed my question: So a cop can kill a child abuser holding a sexual slave (i.e., in the classic hostage scenario), but he can’t slap him on the wrist to find out about said slave’s whereabouts?  

I am a Socratic.  

There is no Catholic document delineating every species of torture just as there is not document delineating every conceivable form of sexual perversion. The Church does not proceed by saying “See how close you can get to mortal sin but don’t quite do it.” It starts with the good. In this case, the good of human dignity. The Church gives a positive command, not a list legalistic prohibition attached to the words “Simon Peter says.” There. is. no. definitive. list.of. torture, Dave. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. There is the command to treat prisoners humanely. Do that and you will not accidentally torture them or waste time trying to figure out how hard and often you can punch or drown them before it’s torture. Why is it so important to want to know that you can beat up a prisoner?

Are any physical methods of interrogation permissible, in your view? Simple yes or no answer. You don’t have to psychoanalyze me, engage in psycho-babble, polemicize, spin, use wonderful turns of phrase. Just Yes.Or.No.

I don’t want to do anything. I want guidelines and I want to understand and work through the premises involved in this.

So we are left with the expertise of people who do this work, Matthew Alexander is an expert in interrogation. Bishops are not. They give the guideline and good interrogators give us tips on how that guideline has been met without torture and abuse.

Why are you asking people with zero experience in interrogation? Why not read Alexander and find out how humane interrogation is done?

I assume you mean by “physical” “inflicting pain or terror”? Why do you want to do that so badly when it is not necessary?

You do get that just war and human interrogation are not opposites but the same thing, right?

The guideline is “treat prisoners humanely”.

AKA “Do what the Army Field Manual said to do before Bush/Cheney broke with decades of practice and started torturing people. Not complicated.

What did that manual say? Could POWs be physically dealt with?

The premise is “man is made in the image and likeness of God”. Therefore do not torture him.

No one is advocating torture.
It’s like pulling teeth to get answers out of you. If people want to hide things, they avoid simple questions, as you have been doing again and again.

Why do you keep saying “physically dealt with” when you mean “subjected to physical pain or terror in order to break his will”. That is what you mean, right?

No, Dave. Prisoners are to be treated humanely.

Can the person who has sexual slaves who are starving be slapped in order to find out where they are?

So prisoners can’t be touched at all?

Of course they can be touched. But you can’t beat them up, as you clearly long to do. Because the goal is to get intel, not torture them. I’m saying they cannot be slapped. That’s abuse.

So the touching is stroking their hair? I get it.

I’m also saying that is sick and weird to hear a Catholic apologist laboring with intensity to try to figure out when a defenseless prisoner can be beaten.

Do you understand what a socratic discussion is, Mark? 

And now we get the old “It’s torture or kisses on the nose” lie.

Oh, brother. 

Maybe not. Probably not, by the looks of it.

Dude, go read the Alexander book. At present, your obvious goal is to figure out a way to rationalize beating prisoners, since you assume that is necessary in the fantasy scenarios you are constructing to rationalize beating prisoners. I’m saying get out of your fantasy world and go read something by somebody who has done the work without torturing anybody.

Right, Mark. Gotcha.  

Shea out. Too much surreality for me.

Too much sophistry for me. 
* * * * *

[the next day]

Dave: When your entire approach is to seek a rationale for slapping a defenseless person and to spend tremendous intellectual energy on trying to figure how hard you can slap him, how many times, and how to do that without being nailed for torture and abuse–all in the name of Catholic apologetics, don’t be surprised when somebody says, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”The real Catholic approach is not to try to figure out how much abuse you can get away with, but to ask “How do we treat prisoners humanely and get the intel we need?” The witness of reality is that these two projects are harmonious, not opposed. 

My entire approach is to seek truth by means of the socratic method, as I have always done (well, at least since Philosophy 0101 in 1977). You obviously understand neither socratic method, nor elementary Christian ethics, because you are lightning-quick to accuse and mind-rape. This is serious sin.

Dave; With respect, your quest to find a rationale for slapping defenseless people is as socratic as “when did you stop beating your wife?” Begin with the wrong question, arrive at the wrong conclusion.

Your bullying tactics don’t work with me, Mark. I’m not scared of you and never have been. You don’t and won’t shut me up by your ranting and raving and chest-puffing and “orthodoxy cop” schtick (that you condemned for years and now do yourself). You can whine and squawk and use sophistry all you like. It doesn’t work. I see right through it. I know what is in my own head and in my heart. You do not, and never will, as long as you use your considerable intellectual abilities and energies to lie about others and slander and caricature.

Ranting and raving and chest-puffing? What are you talking about? I’m stating facts. The Church begins with “treat prisoners humanely”, not “Try to figure out a rationale for slapping and drowning them”.

I don’t think you’re lying and neither said nor implied that. I think you are proceeding from a set of unconscious assumptions and therefore beginning with the wrong question, Dave.

To the contrary, if I repeatedly clarify, “I am not thinking x at all,” and you come back repeatedly with “why are you thinking and asserting x??!!” then you have assumed that I am lying about my own internal state, whether you actually say that outright or not. It follows from inexorable logic. It’s neither logical nor charitable thought. I’m the world’s biggest expert (among human beings, anyway) on what goes on in my own head and heart.

When you repeatedly press for a rationale for slapping and drowning people, don’t be surprised if people hear you pressing for a rationale for slapping and drowning people and respond accordingly, Dave. You may not realize that is what you are doing, but that is what you are doing.

Right. You’re incapable of true philosophical discussion: at least if it is a topic that you preach and rant and rave about (as this one is). You don’t know how to do it. Actual philosophers (Feser and Beckwith) noted this years ago (on this topic).

You don’t get it. So because you don’t get what I am doing, and can’t grasp it (because it is a different view from your own), you feel compelled to caricature it and come up with this pompous bilge of “You may not realize that is what you are doing, but that is what you are doing.”

Mostly it comes from hostility, which confuses clear thinking every time. A non-hostile Christian would never in a million years treat a fellow Catholic the way I have been treated here. It’s disgraceful. The hostility poisons personal relations and logical thought alike.

There’s the “drowning” thing again, which is a fallacy from the get-go. No one is drowning. No one is advocating it. Nothing is drowning (except for the idiotic pseudo-“thinking” that resides between your ears when you engage in such sophistry). You are drowning in sophistry and stupid rhetoric. That’s the only “drowning” here.

In short, Dave, I am not your enemy. You have repeatedly pressed me for my views on torture and the sundry apologetics for waterboarding (aka torture). I’ve given them. I’ve also made clear that, since the release of the Senate Report, Catholic attempts to rationalize waterboarding are like attempts to show that Goering was not guilty of jaywalking. Folly, and a source of scandal. Beyond that, I have little to add. if you approach the question as the Church does, asking “How do we treat prisoners humanely and get the intel we need?” you will get reasonable answers to reasonable questions. If you start by trying to figure out how much slapping and drowning you can inflict on a defenseless prisoner, you will end in confusion and anger, because you are starting wrong. You can tell me I’m incapable of a truly philosophical discussion all you like, but them’s the facts and pretty much all I’ve ever had to say. God bless you, Dave. I hope you come to peace, truth, and light about this. 

Thank you and God bless you too. I hope you stop grossly caricaturing and lying about others’ views and motivations, minus which you can’t possibly have peace of soul and heart, because it is serious sin.

God bless you, Dave.

* * * * *
[see also the accompanying Facebook discussion about this]

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