Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FMM Wins the Lottery-Megan McArdle Discusses Torture

Update:Just to be clear for anyone who might second guess; yes Megan was not originally anti-torture.

Megan's talking about torture. Read the post or just use your imagination. It's all the same.

I've long said that we shouldn't waste time arguing that torture doesn't work. For one thing, the evidence for those arguments seems empirically shaky, especially since many people employing them insist on arguing that torture basically never works, rather than that it doesn't work very often and therefore has a bad cost-benefit ratio. For another, arguing that something doesn't work isn't necessarily an argument for not doing it--it could just as easily be an argument for improving our technique. And if advances in brain scanning research let us develop a reliable lie detector, as seems possible in the relatively near future, then torture will work very, very well.

If that happens, we're in a nasty spot. Most people who make this argument do not, in fact, care whether torture works. They would still be every bit as much against it if waterboarding worked perfectly. Yet when they argue about whether torture works, they're conceding that torture's effectiveness is relevant to the question of whether or not we should engage in it.


Thus I think it is much safer to keep arguments about torture on solid moral ground: we shouldn't torture because it's wrong.
Megan's stupidity checklist:

Claim that opponent's arguments are invalidated by evidence she makes no attempt to cite: Check.

Claim that even if opponent's arguments are right, they are still wrong because of something that hasn't ever happened but could conceivably happen in a fantasy world that she periodically visits: Check.

Claim that opponent's response to counter arguments of her side undermines opponent's own arguments because their position is not based around her presumptions: Check.

Statement about her positions which matches none of her arguments and is clearly designed only to make her seem like less of a monster (Fat chance, bean pole): Check.

Oh, and, uh, dear, the people who supported torture don't get to become the "we" who are opposed to it later on. It's like how you don't get to be an Obama supporter when you never say anything positive about him, ever.

She closes with a long blockquote to which she offers no commentary (Check!). You can read it yourself, if you're looking for one of the lamest anti-torture arguments ever. Needless to say, the guy who wrote it is as shallow as you'd expect from someone that gets linked to by Megan.

He claims that the non-torturers won WWII (I guess the Soviets lost?) so torture doesn't work. He doesn't really back that up with any evidence of course, which is hilarious given how easily the argument can be made -- provided one makes even a cursory attempt to learn about spying during WWII. The espionage successes of WWII are almost certainly the best examples of how good intelligence can be without coercion. By the end of the war, German espionage in the UK was completely co-opted. Many historians believe there wasn't a single German spy that wasn't compromised to the point of uselessness, or an outright double agent. A man in Spain actually completely fabricated a network of English spies and convinced the Germans that it was authentic. He then used his imagined network to feed them false information throughout the war. There wasn't a single piece of information the Germans were getting through back channels that wasn't either wrong, or provided intentionally by the English.

This is one of the principle reasons that D-day was successful. Misinformation kept German reserves away from the actual landings because they believed they were only feints for the "real" landings coming at other locations. Naturally, these same double agents made gathering intelligence on the Germans relatively easy. It's pretty much a classic example of how easy it is to attract people to your side when your opponents are complete monsters. But of course, why would we ever want to win the hearts and minds when we've got so many bombs?


Malaclypse said...

So The Atlantic is now pro-torture. Seriously, words fail me. Snark can't fix this - it is just plain wrong beyond belief.

Marshall said...

Wait I go off to the library all day doing research on actual economics and this devil twit makes what appears to be the dumbest fucking argument in the world and I wasn't there. Oh thank god.

Chad said...

For another, arguing that something doesn't work isn't necessarily an argument for not doing itI think I can only respond to that one in the same way as a character from a Japanese console RPG, like so:


NutellaonToast said...

I'm also a big fan of 0_o

Dhalgren said...

OMG! OMG! Breaking newz! Must credit The, I mean Megan!

fledermaus said...

For another, arguing that something doesn't work isn't necessarily an argument for not doing it--it could just as easily be an argument for improving our technique.So while smashing my computer with a sledgehammer did not fix it, that is only because my hammer was not big enough. Gotcha