Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Tortured Conservatism

I am a liberal.  When I encounter a reality, I only come to a determination of its worth after considering it for a while.  Which means, paradoxically enough, that I do not reflexively reject all things conservative.

For example, few things, in my experience, are more anathema to conservatives than the absence of a moral core.

If you claim to hold to a set of values, but seem willing to compromise on your values whenever it seems politically expedient or personally convenient, then--by the metric of conservatism--you are an immoral person.  

Untrustworthy.  Vacillating.  Weak of spirit.  Ignoble.  Unworthy of respect.

If, on that big test, you realize that you have an opportunity to pass it by cheating and you take that opportunity, you have failed morally.  If you beat out competitors and get a business contract by fudging numbers, that victory means nothing.  You are personally compromised.  If, in a committed relationship, you choose to engage in a secret tryst with someone else--and aren't caught--your getting away with it means nothing.  You have still fundamentally violated your commitment.

What matters is not your desire, or your success.  What matters is your integrity, your commitment, your honor.  If you fail to fulfill that duty to your values, you have failed as a conservative.

Our nation's willingness to torture represents just such a failure.  

It is a failure because it violates our honor as a nation.  What makes America great, and a country worthy of respect, is that it stands on principles of liberty that transcend even our own identity as a nation.  The freedoms we so vigorously defend aren't just ours.  They are self-evident truths for all people, written into the nature of existence by our Creator.  We value human beings, and the integrity of individual liberty.  It is what makes us different from our enemies.

When we allow ourselves to act in ways that are monstrous and ignoble for the purposes of expediency, we fail.  When we view any means to an end as acceptable, we have ceased to be moral persons, and a moral nation.

"It's not torture.  It's enhanced interrogation techniques," say the lawyers and the politicians and the apparatchiks, spinning and obfuscating and equivocating.  Language, however, is less important than reality.  The Chinese call their vast network of slave-labor prisons laogai, or "Reform through Labor" camps.  The Soviet gulags were called "corrective labor camps."  The language does not matter.  It is the action that matters.  "Enhanced interrogation techniques" include drowning, beatings, exposure to extreme cold, forced standing, "stress positions," and mock executions.  Those techniques are torture, as we would rightly call them if inflicted on an American soldier in the hands of an enemy.

"To say this disrespects our war fighters and intelligence community," cry some.  This is falsehood, a perversion of patriotism, wrapping excrement in the flag.  What matters, if you care about the values espoused by our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence, is that you live them out.  That we have soldiers and spies is meaningless.  So does North Korea.  So does Iran.  What matters are the values and principles they are defending.  It is what makes us different.  We treat human beings differently from our enemies, or we are no different.

"It gets results," cry others.  This has truth in it, the sort of truth that makes for the most pernicious lies.  Human creatures, subjected to intense pain, will do whatever it takes to end that pain.  When ISIS beats, abuses, and tortures a captive into "converting" to their perverse and monstrous faith, is that a "result?"  Or is that a lie, told to end the suffering?

"It kept us safe," say still others, stirring our fears, appealing to our craven self-interest.  Bad things would have happened, we are told, ominously.  Bad things did happen.  We stepped away from what makes us a nation worth living in, and worth fighting for.  We dishonored ourselves.  Our founding fathers held such moral cowardice in contempt.

Conservatism, in its most gracious form, is a worthy thing. It is about integrity, about having clear morals and ethics, which you pursue even if you yourself do not benefit from them.

What the warped ethic of the right-wing would have us believe is that America can never be dishonored, no matter what she does.  Such a belief not only betrays the dignity of our republic, but also the essence of what it means to be both honorable and conservative.