Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tortured by Incompetence

Everyone knows that humans torture humans. People of all colors, all genders, all religions, all ethnic groups, all nationalities, all countries, torture. Have, are, will.

Americans are hardly unique in their belief in their exceptionality or virtue, though we are particularly athletic and obnoxious about it. I like to think the best about me. You like to think the best about you. We’re kind folk, generous, big-hearted, peaceful. But my daughter is kidnapped, I capture the kidnapper? I’m going to blow torch his torso until he reveals the cellar he’s stashing her. So would you yours. Most people would rather not think about torture, though they accept its necessity no matter how much shocking a man’s testicles with jumper-cables attached to a car battery is the antithesis of turning the other cheek.

Which is why the whirlwind over torture is not about the torture, it’s about making us think about torture and our own discomfort with our own ambivalence towards torture and our own hypocrisy over torture. Step beyond the moral arguments - and moral arguments can be made logically in both major directions: the current maelstrom is not a product of Bushco zeal for torture and not a product of Liberal pacifist agitation. The debate over torture needs constantly to be waged, but right now this is all about Bushco incompetence - these dumb bastards can’t even torture correctly.

We have a deal with our government: we trade our innocence to protect our innocence, and the government does the necessary dirty work cleanly. Our illusions are maintained, the government’s power is maintained. We can pretend we’re nobler, more enlightened, more exceptional than other countries, and the government protects those illusions by any means necessary by all means quiet.

And right now we can’t pretend. We are ruled by raving, delusional incompetents. The build-up to war, the prosecution of the war, the aftermath of the war, the failure of the war; the continuing strengthening of Al-Qaida, the continuing existence of Osama bin Laden, the continuing groundswell of anti-Americanism; the budget, the deficit, the national debt; New Orleans. And now we got to think about American torture chambers again?

Bush is at 35% not because of his policies, not in spite of his policies, but because he’s an embarrassing reminder of the unexceptionality of America. We are torturers: have been, are, will be. Debates against torture may be largely disingenuous in the scheme of political realism, but they reveal the basic disingenousness of the cult of American exceptionality. And that’s what’s pissing of Americans right now.


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