Wednesday, May 06, 2009

1984 and Torture

Unlike my sister, I'm not a reader. I used to love to read. Part of the problem is that I'm a very slow reader. Part of the problem is time. Still, I realize that there are certain books that I should have at least a basic knowledge of. To that end, I've started listening to audio books that I can get from my local library. I first started out with an abridged version of 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand and followed it with George Orwell's 'Animal Farm'. Recently I finished his book '1984'.

I found '1984' to be an interesting story and can see why people would start mentioning '1984' with respect to some of President Bush's policies. In the book, "members of the party" (as opposed to the common people) are in danger of having their every action monitored. If they show any signs of not being absolutely loyal to the party, they are subject to being carted off to prison or killed. (Yes, I realize I haven't done the book justice, but this is not so much a book review as a commentary on how it fits in to modern America. Warning, there will be a spoiler in the next paragraph.) While I don't see us reaching a state of '1984' where every action is monitored in the very near future, I do see our government moving closer and closer to it. We see this with the warrantless wiretaps.

The bigger thing that hit home was in relation to the article Nomad wrote regarding evangelical's views on torture. I understand and agree that we must not torture. On the other hand, I can't answer the question, "What do we do when we know someone has the information and they will not give it to us until we 'break' them?" I've subconsciously justified it as "punishment" since "we know they're guilty" rather than torture. I've also tried to reason how it's necessary and not torture. In '1984', a character is sent to prison because he wishes to overthrow the party. He freely admits it. Thus begins the process of breaking him so that he falls in line with the party. The part that struck me most in regards to torture is the final way the party breaks a person. Since they've been able to monitor them, they know that which they fear most. By threatening it (death by fire, death by rats, etc.) they enact an uncontrollable, instinctual response in which the person will do or say anything to stop the process before it starts. My understanding of waterboarding is that you feel like you are drowning and it is intense enough that people don't last long. In my mind, that is clearly torture. On the other hand, I think that some of the other forces used that have come out in the report are not torture, at least certainly not on the level of waterboarding. I still don't have an answer for what we do when we know someone has information and won't tell us, but I've pretty firmly settled in my mind that waterboarding is torture and that we are not to use it.

I'm waiting on another audio book and also am going to attempt the unabridged version of 'Atlas Shrugged' so in the mean time I've picked up 'Blade Runner' by Philip K. Dick.


Nomad said...

Wedge, Make sure you have PKD's actual book "Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep" and not the novelization of the movie that was put out a few years back that is "Inspired by Philip K Dick."

Overall, my real problem is the idea that it is EVERY okay to "break" someone, in the 1984 sense of deconstructing them to the very lowest level where they are arguably not even human anymore. This is what some forms of torture can do. If we are truly human beings made in the image of God, do we ever have the "right" to do something that inherently damages or "breaks" that image?

quizwedge said...

I agree that we don't have the "right" to "break" someone at that level. In my mind, waterboarding does that. Limiting food, and slamming against the wall doesn't break someone like that.

Looks like it is the novelization: IS the novelization not worth listening to or is the original just better? It wasn't so much that I was planning on "reading" the original as an impulse borrow.

Nomad said...

If it is the novelization (you'll know because the main character is married in the original novel and no wife is ever mentioned in the movie-book) then it is not much worth listening to, except for curiosity. If it is the original novel, it is well worth listening to.

The other PKD book worth getting as audio book is MAN IN THE HIGH TOWER which is an alternate history where Japan won WW2, and now owns America.

quizwedge said...

Oh cool, I got the original novel because it does mention his wife pretty much right off the bat.

MAN IN THE HIGH TOWER sounds EXTREMELY interesting and right up my alley... going to the library's website to see if they have it.

quizwedge said...

bummer, they don't even have the regular book much less the audio book

Nomad said...

Oops, I got the title a bit wrong: MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is the right one. Here is a link to the Amazon page on their AudioBook version:

Definitely worth a read if you can find it.