There is no mystery about the rationale of torture. It is to save innocent lives. This is why Jeremy Bentham, the great utilitarian, thought torture justifiable. Critics say that torture is unlikely to produce usable information. That's a factual question. What critics cannot say is that there is no chance that torture will produce usable information. In other words, there is some probability, however small, that an act of torture will produce information that will save innocent lives. Given the magnitude of the evil prevented, torture could be justified even if the probability of its producing usable information is small. Critics are on dangerous ground in arguing that torture is ineffective, for surely they would oppose it even in cases in which it is effective. They oppose it not because it doesn't work but because they think it intrinsically wrong.
Opponents of torture care a great deal about those who are tortured. Do they care about those whose lives might be saved by torture? The only relevant difference is that we know the identity of the person being tortured. We do not know the identity of those whose lives are saved. While it is psychologically easier to identify with a known person than an unknown person, this has no moral significance.
Assigning greater weight to known individuals than to unknown individuals occurs in other contexts as well. A recent study concludes that capital punishment has a significant deterrent effect. Each killing of a convicted murderer prevents at least 18 murders, and thus saves the lives of at least 18 innocent people. Do we know who these people are? No. We do, however, know the identity of the murderer. I don't understand why people hold vigils outside death chambers. Do they not care about the innocent people whose lives are going to be saved by the killing?
This may be a case in which progressives emote rather than cogitate. They see a living, breathing human being about to be put to death (or, in a case of torture, tortured). They do not see either the victim(s) of the murderer (who are no longer around to speak for themselves) or the people whose lives are saved as a result of the execution of the death sentence. My friend Dr John J. Ray can tell us more about the psychology of progressives as opposed to conservatives. My sense, based on long experience, is that progressives let their feelings cloud their judgment. This drives their policy prescriptions. Emotion is a poor basis for social policy.
Mark Steyn nails it. Individual liberty won't be taken away all at once. It will be taken away little by little, until one day we wake up in tyranny. If you don't want that to happen, you must begin to resist. Not tomorrow; today. I'm not advocating violence. As many of you know, I oppose violence even when it is a means to noble ends, such as the protection of animals. I'm advocating working within the system to preserve our traditions of liberty, self-sufficiency, and personal responsibility.
Everyone is poking fun at 24 for being unrealistic, so let me join in. In the space of 16 hours (8:00 A.M. to midnight), FBI agent Renee Walker has been shot in the neck and buried alive. She has jumped onto a departing tug boat in the dead of night, swum away from a terrorist, and gotten dirty when she clambered ashore. She has cried, or at least been emotionally distraught, several times. But she is fresh as a daisy, right down to her pink lipstick. Her clothes are unsoiled.
Finally, there is the question of civil unions. Some politicians and others say that they are against same-sex marriage but in favor of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, with all or most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, only falling under a different rubric. If law and policy are at least to do no harm to marriage, it is critical that they avoid treating nonmarital conduct and relationships as if they were marital. There are clear moral lines—and not merely semantic ones—between what is marital and what is not, and the law should respect them. If they are blurred or erased, the public understanding of the meaning of marriage will erode.
Some of the benefits traditionally associated with marriage may legitimately be made more widely available in an effort to meet the needs of people who are financially interdependent with a person or persons to whom they are not married. Private contracts between such people should be sufficient to accomplish all or most of what they consider desirable.
If, however, a jurisdiction moves in the direction of creating a formalized system of domestic partnerships, it is morally crucial that the privileges, immunities, and other benefits and responsibilities contained in the package offered to nonmarried partners not be predicated on the existence or presumption of a sexual relationship between them. Benefits should be made available to, for example, a grandparent and adult grandchild who are living together and caring for each other. The needs that domestic-partnership schemes seek to address have nothing to do with whether the partners share a bed and what they do in it. The law should simply take no cognizance of the question of a sexual relationship. It should not, that is, treat a nonmarital sexual relationship as a public good.
It would be just as wrong for the government to compete with private insurers to provide health insurance as it would be for the government to compete with G.M. or Ford to build taxpayer-subsidized “public automobiles.”
The unfair competition from a public plan would destroy the private health insurance industry. The inevitable result would be the rationing and other horrors of a Canadian-style single-payer system, which most Americans neither wish nor deserve.
Note from KBJ: That this man is a medical doctor is irrelevant to his argument. Nothing in his letter draws upon his medical expertise. His credentials, therefore, should have been omitted. By putting them in, the editors of the New York Times invite people to commit the fallacious appeal to authority. Having said that, I agree with the man's (not the doctor's) argument.
We become cognizant of the value of good health when we suffer from a disease. We enjoy the natural beauty of rural surroundings when such surroundings are contrasted with the glittering commercialism of our crowded cities, and our esthetic appreciation may be dulled when the possibility of comparison is absent. For example, it is evident that those who dwell among surroundings of natural beauty are often incognizant of this fact and conduct their lives as if the natural beauty were not there, while strangers who come to the same region are sensitive to its esthetic endowments.
(William S. Kraemer, "Ethical Subjectivism and the Rational Good," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 12 [June 1952]: 526-36, at 532)
Note from KBJ: When I moved from suburban Detroit to Tucson in August 1983, I was stunned by the natural beauty of the Old Pueblo. I couldn't take my eyes off the Santa Catalina Mountains. Every day, I thanked my lucky stars for being able to live in such a scenic, historic place. Some of the people I met in Tucson had lived there all their lives. They took the natural beauty for granted and thought that I was odd for talking so much about it. How sad.