Tuesday, March 04, 2003


On the radio show Coast to Coast they were talking about the human shields in Iraq, the Americans protecting the enemy. The host and guest said the shields made their blood boil. "Are they traitors or just stupid?" "Just stupid." "Yes." "They mean well."

You see, that's what Kekes is talking about (see Kekes posts below). We are living under a regime of thought according to which someone can choose to do evil and get a pass, on the grounds that he's stupid and means well. But the shields are obviously not stupid. And they are in full awareness doing evil. So, they are evil. Do they believe they are doing right? There is no determinate answer to that, I think. There are elements of malevolence, hatred, and envy, as well as moral judgment in their decision. But it isn't straightforwardly true that they think they are doing right. Even if they do think they are doing right, their cognition of right is in such disorder that they are disposed to do evil. They are not deluded, mind you; their thinking is perverse. One is responsible for the perversity of one's thinking. It's not like being slipped a hallucinogen which causes one to have a psychotic episode resulting in murder. No one is responsible to be cognitively prepared to resist that sort of influence. The shields are evil and traitorous.

The only other question is whether it's okay for me to hope that they die when we bomb. This is like the question of whether it is okay to torture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, to death. It would be good if moral monsters knew that an unspeakably miserable death awaited them were they to act on their inclinations. Yet, wiser heads than I say that an execution of this kind would be wrong. But I worry that the temptation to refrain from meeting the darkness with the full force required to repel it is cowardice disguised as wisdom. One thing I am sure of is that it is okay to torture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to make him speak. In fact, it's obligatory. It may even be obligatory to torture him to death afterwards, let alone permissible. Won't moral monsters think twice, knowing that if they act, the unspeakable awaits them? Shall we allow another monster to kill thousands because we recoil at the prospect of delivering this punishment? Be careful: To say that you don't want to descend to that level, that you'd rather take the high road, is either begging the question or worse.

UPDATE: See the link just above. I suppose Applebaum wouldn't mind allowing Stalin to kill millions more, if that were the necessary consequence of her declining to torture him. In any event, she supplies no argument for the anti-torture position.