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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

What Mark Kleiman said.

Basically he says "suggestion below that training for jobs whose holders may feel justified, or sometimes be justified, in deliberately inflicting pain on others -- police and prison guards, for example -- ought to include a Milgram-like scenario." A Milgram like scenario is to order them to violate someone's rights with torture (fake electric shocks). No true shocks used.

Kleiman notes a problem "Yes, after a while there would be some leakage of information back to the recruits, which would diminish the value of the drill." I think this means that the test of refusal to follow criminal orders must be a test. That is, in the drill, the orders are not always the same and they are not obviously criminal. For example, in a more recent version of the Milgram experiment, ordinary people use a (fake) stun gun to stop someone who someone from escaping after someone else in a uniform told them to. This would be criminal if not all staged, but it is not as obvious as the original experiment.

I also think the drill should be a test in the sense that trainees must pass the test to get the job.

One other thing is that, in this post, saying such a drill is bad because it is psychologically traumatic is like saying Socrates had it coming. I think there is something to that view. I mean no hemlock or anything but I think some aspects of our psyches and our conciences don't bear inspection.

In the post with the original proposal, Kleiman praises a taboo -- the taboo on torture. He argues (and I agree again) that this taboo is useful as a taboo, that is, that it should not be subject to rational criticism.

Think is there no situation in which you would consider torture acceptable ?

Think of someone who has hidden an H bomb with a timer which can be switched off in Mexico City or Sao Paolo (biggest city in the world anyway) and you are with this guy but have no sodium pentathol on hand or obtainable within the time left before the bomb blows up. With torture you can get him to tell you where the bomb is. Do you have a right to keep your soul clean and let tens of millions die ?

I think it was wrong for me to write that argument. I did it because almost no one reads this blog, but I think it is better to not think about such things. Our horror at torture should not be subject to rational scrutiny because, at best, taboos which have been scrutinized lose some emotional power. The taboo against torture is precious and, as we have recently seen for the nth time, too weak.

I note the intellectual tension in Kleiman the paladin of self knowledge who values a taboo.

Back to the H bomb. I think it might be morally obligatory to use criminal means sometimes. I also think such moral crimes should be punished. It might seem cruel to punish someone who did what had to be done even though it was criminal. However it is a way to make the slippery slope much less slippery. The suffering of someone punished for a necessary crime is, like the suffering of the victim of that crime, a bad means necessary to a good end. I personally think that the suffering of someone punished for a selfish malicious crime is similarly a bad means to a good end.

But please don't think about such things.

update: very bad typo corrected. An earlier version had " I don't think such crimes should ever be forbidden" when I meant "I don't think such crimes should be pardoned," which, as typos go is about as bad as it gets.