Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Prisoners" and hurting people

The US Government has just released a report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, in other words on the use of torture by the CIA. You can get it as a pdf if you like >500-page documents full of horrifying details and the word [REDACTED].

David Simon has written the most basic and heartfelt howl of pain and outrage about it, echoed here by Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism. Doug Muder at The Weekly Sift does a more analytical breakdown which is also good. The fellas over at Mind Hacks have a really interesting article about how the directors of this particular torture initiative either totally misunderstood or criminally misrepresented the psychology that they based their operations on, and how (terrifyingly) the CIA fell for it regardless.

Between the Doug Muder and Libby Anne piece, there's a pretty good indication as to how the CIA got it so badly wrong here. What Muder refers to as the "bomb in New York scenario"* is seductive because it connects the very human desire for immediate revenge on wrongdoers with the promise of an immediate, tangible, and morally valuable aim. If you read Libby Anne's roundup of right wing US commentary on this report, you'll see the basic structure of the bomb in New York repeated over and over again.

In his article, Doug Muder does a pretty good job of taking this argument to bits, moral-logic-wise.

On the other hand, I've been reading a bit of research that suggests that humans cling to stories above all else, and tend to reject facts that get in the way of our preferred story (hence the persistence of Andrew Wakefield's MMR-causes-autism thesis, flouridation panics, so on and so forth). The suggestion seems to be that having a counter-story is a more effective way of dealing with faulty information.

If that's the case, I would strongly recommend watching Prisoners, and getting other people to do so as well. The basic setup is that two young girls disappear, and in the absence of any progress from the police, one of their fathers kidnaps the initial suspect in order to try and beat the truth out of him. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, the striking thing about Prisoners is its absolute condemnation of revenge and vigilantism. In this film, without fail, every single act of vigilantism, torture or retributive violence is counter-productive, and makes the overall situation much much worse.

I think that's a story we need to hear told more often.

* This scenario (and variations thereof) is beloved of people who want to be able to say that torturing people is OK when the "good guys" do it, and it goes as follows: "There's a bomb planted in New York that will kill thousands - maybe tens of thousands when it goes off/ You have a guy in custody who knows where it is, and torturing him is the only way to get that information. What would you do?" 


Review update for those interested in such...

It's been a while since I posted anything, but I've kept writing reviews so those have been stacking up a bit. Love & Pop has currently got my reviews of:
  • Muscle Shoals - a fascinating look at the disproportionately influential Muscle Shoals music scene, and the improbably tragic life of one of its central figures. It's a must for music nerds (like me) but my less-nerdy co-watchers said they could have used more music and fewer talking heads.
  • Lucky Bastard - a found-footage thriller about murders at a porn shoot which is also a commentary of a sort on male entitlement and the violence it engenders.
  • The Angriest Man In Brooklyn - a minor Robin Williams vehicle that suffers (I think) from unfortunate proximity to his death. If it could be safely ignored, it'd probably annoy people less.
  • Enemy - Jake Gyllenhaal plays two unpleasant men who are exact doubles. Giant spiders stalk above the Toronto skyline. Everything is a ghastly piss-yellow. (It's actually frustratingly, tantalisingly good, and will glue itself to your brainpipes tenaciously.)
  • Savages Crossing - an Aussie thriller hoping to capitalise on the menace of John Jarrat's "Mick Taylor" character from Wolf Creek, and the star power of Craig McLachlan. Falls flat through lack of commitment.
I'm working my way through a giant boxed set of Jacques Tati films, and will be reviewing those in a bit. It's slow going at the moment, though as people in my household are resistant to the (to me) obvious charms of French-language physical comedy.

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