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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals - Jane Mayer Sheesh. What Brian said. What many say -- this is a precise, unshowy, utterly-persuasive account of the development and failures of Bush's (or is that Cheney's?) torture policies. I'd read much of this work in The New Yorker, but the effect of the integrated narrative is as compelling a critique as you could find.

I'm fascinated by the recent rumblings of the newly-visible Dick Cheney, stomping about cable news to assert out of the corner of his mouth that torture works, that it's had some results that have mattered. Mayer's book serves as a damning refutation, but I guess I'm not surprised that Cheney would get to air his opinion--cable news has a genetic flaw, where airing two sides is necessary for the best dramatic tension, even if one side is batshit crazy. (See, e.g., any number of discussions on global warming, or the lifework of Alan Abel.) I am surprised that Mayer's and other's refutations don't get much airplay, isn't as dramatically interesting as Cheney's assertion. In short, I think we have a gut-level (cultural? psychological?) assumption that torture probably should work. That it would produce information.

That interests me--where does this assumption come from? I don't know how many conversations I've had with relatives who'll say, oh, well, of course torture is wrong, but you have to do it sometimes, it is after all effective when time's tight. How does such a belief get normalized, become so ingrained into our baseline assumptions of how people behave? Why would we assume that torture works, and have to be given evidence otherwise?

I'm also fascinated by how torture has crept into the pop vernacular, in fictions of many stripes. I'm no 24 fan (I just don't like television that demands I watch every week, like I need more obligations), but I gather that the show's been flirting with the usefulness of dropkicking Genevan conventions to get to the ticking bomb for years now. I'm more of a horror film fan, and there has been a marked uptick in what some call torture porn of late. (I started a conversation with myself, 'cause my friends won't watch this stuff, at a movie blog--see here, if you're interested.) These fictions get at something not just about the internalized notion of torture's efficacy, but a conflicted cultural fascination with the dedicated inflicting of pain on others.... e.g., what is it about the dark side that is so seductive?