Torture and Killing as Virtue

April 28, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

In a 2008 post I wrote (here)
Sarah Palin was standing up for torture, and the Republicans cheered. It was then I finally realized: these people actually like torture.
She’s back, and things haven’t changed in six years except that the wingnuts have become more explicit in their exaltation of torture. It’s now a sacrament.  As Palin told the NRA
If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists. [here at about the 7:20 mark]
The gunslingers of course cheered on cue. So far, not many Christians have voiced objection or even wondered what Jesus would do or who He would torture.

The reaction marches side by side with the “righteous slaughter”* fantasy, most recently enacted by the people who brought out their guns in defense of Cliven Bundy’s “right” to free government handouts. (The part about using women as shields didn’t quite fit with the machismo, but hey, nobody’s perfect.)  In the fantasy, it doesn’t matter whether you are the torturer or the torturee. The point is to test one’s manliness. 

Those who have experience with torture – even conservative Republican’s like John McCain – rarely entertain these romantic and cavalier notions. I wonder how many of the “citizen soldiers” who rushed with their guns to defend Bundy** had been real soldiers who had been shot at and who had seen battlefield death.

* My post with that title (here) was about the attempts to view George Zimmerman as a hero for his having killed Trayvon Martin. Unfortunately, his virtuous deed does not seem to have had the ennobling effect on Zimmerman that some might have hoped for.

** Like Zimmerman, Bundy soon turned out not to be the hero that his champions (Sean Hannity, et al.) thought they had.


Simply Aaron said...

Doesn't some form of "righteous slaughter" exist in most cultures though? Even the liberal left has birthed such groups as the Black Panthers and Weather Underground (not to mention all the creepy extrajudicial execution support I see from Obama supporters). I hardly think that we can attribute this to something unique about Christianity, the NRA or John Wayne wannabe chickenhawks in general.

It just seems like typical human tribalism to me and most people who are not devote pacifists seem to be susceptible to it.

Jay Livingston said...

Aaron. The Weather Underground and the Panthers are pretty far from most of the left. They are marginal groups (do they still even exist?). The TeaParty/Palinist/NRA folks are much closer to the mainstream right. They swing much more weight in the GOP. I also don’t recall even the extreme left cheering and laughing at the death and suffering of those they don’t like. Even in the radical days decades ago, I don’t recall much cheering for killing of cops by the Kathy Boudin group. Or for the death of a researcher in the Sterling Hall bombing. Or any others. Maybe it’s there, and I just haven’t noticed.

Simply Aaron said...

Sure, I would agree that the Left's cheering of death is on a much lower level at this point than it is on the Right. The fact is though that it is still there. Yes, long gone are the days of the Weathermen and the Panthers, but I can recall all through my school days all sorts of death wishes for Reagan actively joked about in popular culture. Then when he finally did die it was like Christmas for some. A more recent example would have been how "Ding dong the witch is dead" was a 2# seller on iTunes the day Margret Thatcher died. There are tonnes more examples like this, and some much more violent (Black Bloc activists, enviro/animal rights activists and many anti-gun folks come to mind), the main point being that the Left also cheers and hopes for the death/misery of others based solely on nothing but tribalism.

As far as marginalizing the groups that are engaging in more "emotional" displays of dislike we also have to factor in that mainstream Liberals are currently engaging in an active retreat. Many political scientists are saying that they have reached someplace politically just Left of center? And nearly all are terrified of how they are perceived in the public eye, especially if they hold views that even approach radicalism (this is meanwhile embraced on the right). Take for example the Occupy movement, largely panned by the politicians and pundits, yet widely supported by the base. This is of course going to tamp down some of the more impassioned arguments. I would say that the apparent lack of violent fantasy on the Left these days is less common sense and more a tactical decision/political shift based on fear of the Right, but it is still there. It will resurface again, I'm sure, but still maybe not at the fever pitch of the Right. We both know that the Right loves to feed the wolves when it comes to these sort of Us/Them situations, they are strategically milking what is already a well know human trait for political gain.

Jay Livingston said...

You're right -- I'd forgotten about the Reagan and Thatcher jokes. But they seemed to me to be just an exaggerated form of "I never liked her anyway" rather than wishing one had been able to cause her suffering and death. As for the reasons for the left's better manners these days, I have no speculation. But my sense is that their fantasies run more to scenarios where their villains suffer huge financial reversals rather than physical agony and death.