Torture and Sex: Moral Relativism or Morally Unrelated?
Kevin Drum observes,
When the subject has anything to do with sex, the right in America is the party of moral absolutes. We know what’s right, we know what’s wrong, and even if there’s a price to pay we can’t shirk our responsibility to set a proper example and do the right thing.
But when the subject is torture, suddenly it’s all about carefully weighing the costs and benefits. Having an honest debate about how far we should go to protect ourselves. Understanding the context of what happened. It’s just not possible to flatly say that waterboarding and sleep deprivation and stress positions are barbarisms unfit for use by a civilized country. It’s much more complex than that.
I’m both anti-torture and generally opposed to the government mucking around in our bedrooms. But even leftists, ranging from Alan Derschowitz to a goodly portion of the Democratic congressional leadership, think that there may be occasions when extreme measures are called for in protecting our national security. Conversely, I’m hard pressed to think of occasions when adultery, rape, bigamy, incest, or pedophilia would become circumstantially necessary. For that matter, while I don’t oppose the right of homosexuals to have sex with each other or form legal unions, there isn’t exactly a “ticking time bomb” equivalent.
The only issue that “has anything to do with sex” where the comparison would be at all apt is abortion. I’m personally largely ambivalent on very-early-term abortion, including the so-called “morning after pill,” and am pro-contraception. I even think there are circumstances, such as extreme risk to the life of the mother or extreme deformity of the child, where later term abortions are morally reasonable. But I can understand the logic of those who are anti-abortion absolutists. If one truly believes that at a human being exists at Point X (whether conception or some biologically logical later point), then it’s hard to make the case for exceptions.
Conversely, one can believe that torture is morally wrong and bad public policy and still countenance doing it to very bad people to prevent very bad things. Most people aren’t Kantians.
Photo by Flickr user kharied, used under Creative Commons license.