Tag Archives: freedom

Thought #57. Is torture ever justified?

 

Does the end justify the means? First and foremost, the mere fact of writing down these questions repels me. We live in a so-called developed world in which governments must uphold the principles of democracy. I would like to express my disapproval towards those countries that profit from information extracted by others under “enhanced” interrogation methods.

Unquestionable as it is that not only our country but the rest of Europe is living under an undying terrorist threat, we cannot move the goalposts at our convenience. By doing that, we would jeopardise fundamental human rights and that would be legitimately punishable by international law. As democracy should oblige, it is not enough to condemn the violation of the rights promoted by treaties such as the Geneva Conventions or the UN Declaration of Human Rights, we ought to obey the rules to the letter and without exception. That is the definition of law, isn’t it?

If a country uses military intelligence reports based on information gathered out of torture, they are backing it up; as clear as day. In face of persuading public opinion, politicians could claim that not by any means is this behaviour tantamount to condoning the violation of international law. It just so happens that, for the vast majority of us, overlooking the means borders on justifying them.

Giving terrorists a taste of their own medicine is not a solution. It is deeply cynical to try to conceal this countenance to torture. Must we applaud those who turn a blind eye? Is torture ever justified? We must respect the law and promote the principles of democracy with firmness. Only by being consistent with the treaties we signed, will we be defending civil liberties.

Thought #25. On free will.

One of the big questions of philosophy is whether free will is tantamount to free action or not. People’s perception of freedom blurs the distinction between will and action because, unless you have lived in a dictatorship or any other kind of system based on the deprivation of liberty, you may not have been confronted with any situation that could undermine your sense of being in control of your thoughts and actions.

Free will is the power of acting without constraints. But will is not action. No matter how much effort you were willing to put in on sunbathing, it would be literally impossible in an overcast winter morning. Many distinguished scholars and renowned philosophers have been trying to unravel the secrets of freedom, and yet the discussion remains inconclusive.

On the one hand, the theory of determinism speculates that everything that happens is predestined to happen in a particular way and nothing could be done to avoid the fate. Should determinism be a sound theory, will would have never existed and, consequently, we should not make value judgments about others’ actions however good or bad they were. Consequently, being morally responsible would be impossible.

But in my opinion, the future, unlike the past, is not yet written; it can be changed. Only in this way  can we set the building blocks of will, actions, and responsibility. Yesterday I read an essay by George Orwell entitled “Shooting an Elephant”. It just so happens that after reading Orwell’s narration of the elephant’s assassination I ended up a bit shocked. Was he trying to convey the message that sometimes people do not have any option but to act against their own will? I have slept on this question.

“Shooting an Elephant” is, like “1984”, a must read. I do not want to spoil your appetite for an excellent essay so I encourage you to actually give it a try. Personally, it has made me reconsider some of my unatoned sins. Sometimes, people are somewhat forced to act unwillingly. Orwell’s essay is full of clues to understand the message he is trying to pass on; if I had to choose a single representative quote from the text, it would be this one:

“I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.”  — George Orwell.

However, to err is human and you can always make the effort to change your ways.

Thought #14. Freedom (not of judgment)

Living is not easy. As long as you are still alive, you had better be ready to make very tough decisions every now and again. When complications arise, some individuals are prone to bury their head in the sand.

You can effortlessly draw a parallel between this behaviour and cowardice, to say the least, but then your comparison would be tantamount to the absurd. From my point of view, more often than not you will have to resort to a bit of imagination if you really want to show sound judgment. Being shrewd enough not to take a dim view of your fellow’s way of tackling problems is again not easy.

Freedom of speech and freedom of thought would have been unthinkable two generations ago. Now that we have these rights, we must be cautious and vigilant about coming to hasty conclusions when assessing whether someone has acted badly or not. That is easier said than done. Luckily, practice makes perfect.