Wednesday, September 3, 2008

McCain and Torture

I want to ensure that I am demonstrating my non-partisanship. Hence, I will post a commendation on John McCain and a defense of some of the compromises he had to make.

John McCain has had more real life experience on the issue of the treatment of POWs than any canidate out there. That has helped him formed a much better moral judgment on the way we conduct this war (note: this does not excuse him for cupably giving Bush congressional approval for going into Iraq). He has helped pushed interrogation reform (including revising the Army Field Manual) and the Military Commissions Acts. Now, both pieces of legislation are improvements over what was (or what failed to be) in place, and showed his willingness to critique the administration of basic human rights.

Unfortunately, like with so many issues in this messy business we call politics, he had to compromise. Bush and the administration opposes restrictions and oversight over its (unjust) conduct of the 'war on terror.' Failing to even try to give lip service to Jesus' injunction to 'love your enemies' (at least even to respect them as human), he resisted efforts to ensure that Bush abides by just laws. Hence, even though both bills represent improvements; there are still major flaws.

Unfortunately, compromise is necessary for improvement. McCain had to compromise to pass these improvements. I think McCain, if elected, will continue to improve our treatment of our enemies (and work to apply the rule of law to them). Of course, so will Barack Obama; however, McCain, as de facto leader of the Republicans, will be able to use the added clout to push his party (it would help, and be morally obligatory, for evangelicals to ensure that they side with and pressure McCain to continue in that direction).

Politics is messy, and both canidates are pushing for changing their party (Obama in taking seriously religious concerns and inserting "reducing abortions" in the party platform- with help of evangelical Tony Campolo and McCain in ensuring we are conducting this war ethically). In both canidates we have a much better pick than between Kerry (or Gore) and Bush; and both canidates, to various degrees, come closer to Christian values. However, both canidates also have serious flaws (McCain about Iraq, Obama about abortion). Christians could, in good conscious, vote for either one AS LONG AS THEY CONTINUE TO PRESSURE BOTH TO WORK FOR JUSTICE.


Luke Van Horn said...

Hmmm, I guess I'm technologically incompetent, since I've failed to make my comment appear (I've actually never commented on a blog entry before). Here's try number two (I hope this doesn't end up appearing twice):
Okay, given your comment that one can in good conscience vote for either candidate, I thought I'd run the following scenario by you. I didn't come up with a perfect analogy (is there such a thing?), but I think you can see where I'm going with this.
Consider a world very much like ours wherein a man is running for president of a republic much like ours, with the exception that it is legal in that country to kill Jews for pretty much any reason (and about a million are killed every year). This candidate agrees that Jew-killing for any reason should be legal (however, to his credit, he thinks government should restrict/prohibit killing Jews who are within a couple months of leaving the country permanently). Nevertheless, for reasons he has so far not explicated, he thinks government should try to reduce the number of Jew-killings. He pushes for increased access to contraception for Jews (after all, the fewer Jews that are conceived, the fewer there are to kill), alternative ways to vent anger for those angry with Jews, better and more available housing for those who want to kill Jews and occupy their homes, etc.
Consider further that there is one other candidate for president who opposes Jew-killing on demand. He also has good (or at least morally permissible) views about the environment, government corruption, torture of prisoners, etc. Unfortunately, he has made some pretty poor decisions in the past (e.g., he supported an ill-conceived and immoral war which has led to many deaths). Nevertheless, he's an improvement over the currect president by any sensible measure.
My question is, could someone in good conscience vote for the former candidate? There isn't an entirely obvious answer, since the president can't do anything to directly outlaw Jew-killing (but he can appoint judges who could by pointing out that all 50 states prohibit the murder of persons, and Jews are persons). However, the president can in some cases directly affect how federal money is allocated to various programs (he could, for example, refuse to fund certain programs that encourage killing Jews). Speaking for myself, my intuitions are against the permissibility of voting for the former candidate when the latter is available (the latter isn't a great candidate either, but seems to be the better choice, all things considered).
Am I off my rocker here? Are my intuitions unreliable in this case? Or is there an important and relevant disanalogy between this case and the actual currect election?

G said...

Breif comment before chewing into your always penetrating thoughts:

I have wondered if I can universalize my vote, regardless of how I vote. On the one hand, I see my vote as a moral decision. Also, moral relativism is false. It seems that if my vote is a moral decision, and what is moral for me is moral for everyone in relevantly similar circumstances and other people's voting circumstances count as relevantly similar, I must conclude that I believe that everyone ought to vote as I do.

However, I also agree with separation of powers; that it is important to have a divided government; that power corrupts absolutely. If everyone voted as I do, then that seems like it would undermine those values.

This is not as precisely stated as I want, but I hope you track the main thrust.

Dan said...

An interesting approach to the issue by Mr. Van Horn - a way to further help visualize the unborn as being actual human beings.

However, if the latter candidate who opposes "Jew-killing" otherwise supports a political platform that in some ways could be considered contrary to the teachings of scripture, doesn't that make him just as 'guilt-laden' as the former candidate?

James 2:10-11 reads, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker."

Conversely, if you do not commit murder but do commit adultery, you have also become a lawbreaker, equally detestable in the Lord's eyes. (Praise the Lord, though, for sending his Son to take on our due judgments!)

Therefore, I would argue that if the latter candidate supports a platform of drilling for oil at the cost of destroying natural habitats, which would be burned in cars and consequently destroy more habitats - if you the voter are convicted that this would be a violation of God's appointment of man in Genesis 1:28 to exercise dominion over His creation (which can be translated in Hebrew to mean 'caretaking' and 'nurturing') - doesn't that position put this candidate in the same 'detestable' sight in the Lord's eyes as the former candidate's position on Jew-killing?

I see this as being a stalemate, where only Jesus Himself can be found to be without fault. Therefore, I do not consider it wise to disregard a candidate's position on many issues for the sake of one position alone. From this, I would say that each voter will have to decide which candidate would overall be better for the country, knowing that neither will be blameless in the end.

(By the way, I intend no judgment of my own against John McCain for his past relationships; I retained the comparison of murder to adultery simply because of the scriptural reference).

G said...


Here are some items to consider to test your intuitions.

What is more important: criminalizing (and punishing) wrongdoing or working for better consequences (bringing out better states of affairs)? In asking this question, don't misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that these are mutually exclusive choices (i.e. one could possibly bring about better consequences and, or through, criminalizing wrongdoing), nor am I saying the two hypothetical canidates, call them Q and McX (Q is the former canidate, McX the latter) only stand for one or the other. What I am asking is which is more important, which has more moral weight, which (if one is FORCED to choose) one ought to choose over the other. Which is a more appropriate goal for government?

While it would not quite be accurate to phrase this solely in terms of a disagreement between utilitarianism (which holds that ONLY consequences are morally relevant) and deontology (which holds that ONLY rules are morally relevant), it does ask us to compare, in this situation at least, the comparative values of 'enforcing rules' or 'promoting better consequences.'

You concede that this case is morally ambiguous (and I would have to agree). However, I think that someone could appeal in good conscience to the greater weight of consequences in this situation and (all things considered) either see it as favoring canidate Q or (more likely) rendering a vote for either Q or McX permissible.

Luke Van Horn said...

Good points, Sam. My intuitions in normative ethics are deeply deontological, which probably explains why when I try to imagine myself voting for Q, I have a strong reaction against it, while when I try to imagine voting for McX, I merely have a feeling of dissatisfaction and resignation. Various moral principles are violated by both candidates' positions, but the violation of the right to life of the innocent strikes me as much graver than the failure to fulfill duties to, say, provide health care assistance to the poor or prevent possible environmental contamination due to oil drilling (but remember, McX has good environmental policies in the thought experiment!).
The question is whether the graver violations by Q's policies are outweighed by the consequences of McX's policies, or alternatively, whether there are enough good consequences resulting from Q's policies to make up for their defects and are also greater than the good consequences resulting from McX's policies. As is well known, it is sometimes quite difficult to answer questions of this sort, since the consequences of future actions are often unknown. Suppose one has good reason to think that Q's policies, if enacted, would reduce the number of Jew-killings by 200,000 per year, a significant decrease. Suppose that one also knows that if McX were elected and he had the opportunity to appoint two supreme court justices, the Jew-killing question would be returned to the states, and Jew-killing would be outright banned in somewhere between a third to half of the states. There would of course still be illegal Jew-killings in some of those states (Jew-murders, as it were), and some people would drag Jews to other states to kill them, but there would still be a significant decrease in the overall number of Jew-killings per year (especially among the southern black community, where Jew-killing is rampant, since the southern states would be among those likely to ban Jew-killing).
Given these two suppositions, is voting either way morally permissible? Again, this is hard to tell. On the one hand, there is a high likelihood that Jew-killing would be reduced if Q is elected (although the 200,000 number may be overly optimistic). On the other hand, it's hard to know whether McX would have the opportunity to appoint any judges if elected. Nevertheless, the pundits claim that it is not improbable that the next president will have the opportunity to appoint a judge (so, I guess assign this a probability of .5).
I think a consequentialist would probably say that the morally obligatory action is to vote for Q. However, my (corrupt?) deontological intuitions tell me that the obligatory action is to vote for McX in the hope that he'll get to appoint judges (sometimes you've just got to stand on your principles, consequences be damned). But I freely admit that intuitions are a frail reed, and in this case mine aren't particularly strong or clear.
So, I guess at this point, all I've concluded is that it would be impermissible for me (or anyone with my intuitions) to vote for Q, but I'm not yet convinced that it is impermissible for those who lack my intuitions.
Man, now I know why I'm a metaphysician. Ethics is hard.

Lee Jones said...

I just want to leave a comment. I don't have a candle to hold up to the other words typed here, but I've read them. :-)

I suppose I don't see ethics as being such an important part of presidential elections. Sure, I don't want an obviously evil person running the country, but does the President really set the ethical tenor of this country?

I think we'd be better off expending that sort of energy and effort while electing all judges at the local level. After all, are these the same judges that eventually get to sit on the Supreme Court?

I could be horribly wrong and ignorant. I am not a political creature of most cultural issues escape my attention. If I am wrong, please feel free to correct me. :-) Seriously.