Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Poetry and Torture

For this Love is enraged with me,
Yet kills not ; if I must example be
To future rebels, if th' unborn
Must learn by my being cut up and torn,
Kill, and dissect me, Love ; for this
Torture against thine own end is ;
Rack'd carcasses make ill anatomies.

--from "Love's Exchange" by John Donne

I've held out commenting on the whirlwind of talk about torture -- that ugly thing that happened, is happening, has happened. After all, this is a blog about special needs parenting and poetry and funny stuff and chaos. Not politics, not torture. Then I read someone's post about the issue on a blog that I usually admire. It wasn't her post that astonished me (she's obviously conservative and speaks poorly of Obama) but the comments following. I felt so incensed by them that I commented back, shot off my big mouth and had a go at it. And I didn't feel better.

The truth is that I can't believe we're even arguing about whether or not torture is right. Whether there are circumstances that demand it. Or that somehow it's not torture if we're padding cell walls and giving people neck braces for when we toss them against those walls. I mean, YIKES! I'm the QUEEN of the ABSURD, and I feel like this is beyond even my ken. I feel like I live in an alternate moral universe from those who come up with a million reasons why it's "right." I'm not sure that I want to place myself in an alternate moral universe and I know that we're all capable of inflicting great evil on one another. In other words, I don't generally believe that I'm better than another.

But here are my thoughts in a sentence: Torture appears to be the awakening of one of the most primitive and least evolved impulses of human beings, and not admitting that is to enter into one of the lowest levels of Hell, in the way that Dante might describe them.

Here's another quote by the great John Donne from one of his sermons (and who wouldn't want someone like Donne preaching at them?):

Transgressors that put God’s organ out of tune, that discompose and tear the body of man with violence, are those inhuman persecutors who with racks and tortures and prisons and fires and exquisite inquisitions throw down the bodies of the true God’s servants to the idolatrous worship of their imaginary gods, that torture men into Hell and carry them through the inquisition into damnation.

And for lack of better words, go read THIS by the estimable Garrison Keillor. And, of course, you lurkers out there, tell me what you think.


  1. "...I felt so incensed by them that I commented back, shot off my big mouth and had a go at it. And I didn't feel better..."Happens to me all the time.

    Torture's not right - duh! We should all be wwwaaayyy further along than that, by now. Compassion, trust, and empathy...that's the way to go. Torturing = hurting someone else on purpose, physically or mentally. Even the simplest mind would naturally say "no".

  2. Thank you for using the icon of Donne. As an Episcopalian I can say Saint John Donne. He may have been tortured when he was imprisoned for marrying his beloved Anne. In any case, he understood torture far better than those who now justify it.

    Even the utilitarian argument--by torturing one man we can save hundreds of lives--falls short. People under torture will say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear. And so far I haven't seen any evidence that we have saved any lives by torturing people. We've just made things that much more dangerous for our own soldiers.

    But I think Keillor is right about moving ahead with high-speed rail and maglev ("Maglev, not War" was the slogan of the magnetic levitation research group that Reagan killed in 1981) and passing on a war-crimes trial for Cheney and Co. I'm an Amtrak employee, but I would have said the same had I stayed in the history racket and taught.

  3. I think the Keillor piece was excellent, and so are you. Sincerely.

    I wish the answers were easy to find. For me, they aren't.

  4. Violence - emotional, physical, spiritual or verbal - is demeaning to the perpetrator and the victim. It's awful. All people are worth so much more, and we deserve better.

  5. I am actually writing something on the same topic.

    I agree with you 100% and I am absolutely disgusted by what I here.

    Basically there are a few people I will not speak to again because if they believe it is okay TORTURE, then we no longer have anything to say to each other.

    Great post.

    Love Renee xoxo

  6. Renee, thanks for your certitude. I think you're absolutely right -- the only trouble I have not speaking with those who condone torture is that it would involve my own mother and I do love her...

  7. Well yeah Elizabeth that would be a very tough one.

    You can't stop talking to your own mother, that would really be against the rules of life (except if she were a dispicable villan and it is plain that she is not.)

    Okay, everyone else then.

    Love Renee xoxo

  8. The problem lies in how it makes the torturer feel. Lifted up, better, powerful, justified, in the right. As long as those feelings are indulged in ourselves, we will gradually tend toward treating our fellow humans in that extreme way. It's a series of baby steps leading up to that big leap of the water bucket or the padded cell with a neck brace.



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