Vovinoiad (vovinoiad) wrote in theouterchurch,
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Discussion: Torture

Everyone is a potential torturer


All humans are capable of committing torture and other "acts of great evil". That is the unhappy conclusion drawn from an analysis of psychological studies.

Over 25,000 psychological studies involving eight million participants support this finding, say Susan Fiske and colleagues at Princeton University in New York, US.

The researchers considered the circumstances surrounding how individuals committed seemingly inexplicable acts of abuse in the midst of the US military’s torture of Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004.

"Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners? I would have to answer: ‘Yes, just about anyone could have.’", Fiske says.

Many forms of behaviour, including acts of cruelty, are influenced as much by authority figures, peer pressure and other social interactions as by the psychology of the individual, she says.

"If we don’t understand the importance of social context and accept that almost anybody could commit acts of torture under certain circumstances, then we are setting ourselves up for situations where Abu Ghraib [atrocities] will occur again," Fiske warns.


Peer pressure

The researchers identified situations where individuals feel provoked, stressed or taunted - such as during war - as conducive to causing aggressive acts. And they say that the need to conform to their peer group and obey those in authority - or act in a way that they believe their superiors would approve of - could lead individuals to behave in a way that they would usually consider unacceptable.

"Certainly, acts of torture can be committed by almost everyone - not just psychopaths," says Ian Robbins, a clinical psychologist who has treated victims of torture and torturers themselves at the traumatic stress service in St George’s Hospital, London, UK.

"A process of ‘grooming’ occurs, whereby the perpetrator is introduced to small acts of abuse - perhaps an occasional slap - and then over time these acts of abuse are built up to levels of extreme torture," he says. "All this is carried out in a social context of acceptability, where the perpetrator is made to feel special for carrying out the abuse, and it is singled out as a special secret activity."

Fiske points out that the alienation and exclusion of certain groups renders them "contemptible, subhuman and disgusting" in the eyes of the torturer, making abuse of such dehumanised victims far easier to carry out.

And she points out that strongly cohesive social populations such as the military can either encourage prejudice - as in the case of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners - or actively discourage it. For example, the US military offers the country’s best example of racially integrated cooperation between black and white Americans, she observes.


Climate of disrespect

"Our national leadership could act to see everyone as equal and connected, or as foreigners who can be ignored and excluded. If Iraqis fought alongside the US military, it would be harder for soldiers to dehumanise Iraqi prisoners," she says.

Robbins believes the general US prejudice against other nations is deeply ingrained. "Calling Iraqi nationals ‘insurgents’, ‘ragheads’ or ‘baddies’ automatically dehumanises them and leads to a climate of disrespect," he says.

But, as the researchers note, there are always those few individuals who dissent from the group - "whistle-blowers" who alert authorities to abuse and prevent it continuing.

"People who opt out often have a strong sense of moral values or religious conviction that allows them to override their natural inclination to follow their superiors or fit in with their peer group," Robbins says. But they are few, and because under certain circumstances almost anyone can commit torture, situations that could foster an atmosphere of abuse must be controlled, he believes.

"Any processes involving locking people up and interrogation need to be open to public scrutiny and not carried out by the military in secret," he told New Scientist.

"I find it extremely frightening that the American military in the Pentagon have been discussing which kinds of torture are acceptable and which are not," he adds.

Journal reference: Science (vol 306)


Gaia Vince



vovinoiad 's addendum:

What are your thoughts and opinions on the use of torture? In which situations would you deem it "necessary", and in which situations would you be capable of torturing another human being? (Try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of "Oh, I could NEVER do that." Think on the concept for a moment..what if one of yor loved ones was threatened, or was taken by someone? Think of a scenario in which you WOULD torture someone.)

Discuss.
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If someone were to deeply hurt a loved one it'd be a definite possibility. Actually when I was a freshman in college I did what could be considered torture to a person who had tried to rape a close friend of mine. After roughing him up making him appologize I forced him to eat dirt, and pick which arm I was going to break, which I then broke. I'm not exactly proud or ashamed of that moment. I suppose naturally I have justified the behavior. I think visceral experience of our darker nature is vital to our development. a lot of folks talk about balance, but there has to be an experiential role in that. Do something evil and then something good before you come at me with talk of balance.

I think those terms are pretty mutable, but each of us after semantic games are done have a concept of doing something awful and something good for/to another person.
well, first off, there are different forms of tourture...
one tourture to one person, could be a absloute joke to the next...
it all depends on what that person considers torture

in the same sense, the universal means of tourture (rather then psychological) is physical, and with that, there is endless possibilities of any sort...
but again, very rarely, some physical tourtures could be considered pleasureful to different people...

but saying we put that trait aside,
torture, in my mind, isnt evil in any sence...
if some one in my family was threatned with tourture, they probably deserve every agonizing second of it untill they die horribly: drawn&quartered, flayed, wiped, pissed on, Chaka tourtured, then cast to the iron maiden...
but there is always more for that...if your creative, youll think of something usefull and well worth your time doing...

well, to elaborate on why i think that toruture isnt evil, is because if you are tourturing some one, you have to enjoy it to a degree...
and, we all know, if you didnt enjoy it, you probably wouldnt be tourturing that person...
now, if a person is able to enjoy such a thing, that means there are/is more people out there that share that same trait...
the enjoyance of some one elses tourture...

now, to deem a time when tourture should be "necessary"
i would guess that (putting mental tourture aside, that happens to everyone every day, all the time; so i wont count that in)
it would be usefull any time some one felt like using it...
for any reason they needed at the time...
its all relative in my opinion...
I could torture someone if I could kill my victim at the end of the session and no one would ever find out. No one. However, I believe this is an impossibility, because when I say no one, I also mean myself.

I'm sure there are other circumstances that would allow me to torture someone, I just can't seem to think of what they are, or why I would care too.
All that I have to say to this is, with enough anger you are capable of anything.

I say that mostly because that is what would push me to torturing someone. I know that at that moment I would have to feel as though i have nothing left to lose. At that time, nothing matters anymore because everything that made me care is gone. I'm not a very violent person, but I know that if I was to do something like that, I would go all the way. If I'm going to get in the same amount of trouble for stealing a jet as a pen, then steal the damned jet.

The other times that I think that torture is valid is war. At that moment, when information could lead to the death of many American troops, I think that any measure should be taken to make the person talk. Wars are not nice. They are not won by patting someone on the head. They are won by leveling a country. If you are going to fight, then you had better make damn sure your enemy goes down and stays down. Second chances are the result of someone not doing it right the first time.
...the torture, if it should be used in the context that seems to be here suggested, would be an active participation with full self-knowledge of what I, the doer, am doing to the done.

Yes, agreed that under properly engineered situations, anyone can be made to do anything.

Yet when this is done, it begs the question: when coercion is used, is there still a moral choice? If a thing can be called an act of great evil, the person has to have first the liberty of a moral choice.

Anyway, why oppose the option of saying Never? There are those who would rather die themselves than visit the torture on the level of the severest extremity on another person, even an enemy.

As to the question, i would torture only on the condition that some injustice has been deemed to have been perpetrated and unpunished. Yet, make note, breaking the teeth and the fingers with a weighted object is enough; even against someone i would raise extreme prejudice, i find it hard to take in the concept of red irons, nails, salt, switches, and all the creative implements of pain being inflicted by me on them, and not feel even a twinge of emphatic pain, myself.