Friday, February 9, 2007

In the Short Term

When most people discuss the primary downfall of humankind, the focus is of a religious nature. You're apt to hear phrases like "turning away from God" or doing "the devil's work". Others, who come from a more psychological bent, will tell you that people make poor decisions or take rash actions because they want to increase pleasure or decrease pain.

From my humble perspective, a better way to explain this phenomena is that we humans tend to focus on short-term benefit at the expense of long-term effect. We tend to look at the here-and-now and only give lip service to the future, ours or someone else's.

Of course, our current economic system -- capitalism -- undergirds this mentality. For the capitalist, maximizing short-term profit is the end-all be-all goal of everything. Yes, it might be nice to ensure long-term stability, but making sure you show a profit at the end of the current quarter is what matters most.

I was thinking about this general concept while I watched a program on the History Channel about the history of torture. The use of torture is bound up completely in this idea of short-term benefit.

In the first instance, torture is a method for extracting revenge on your enemies. At some point, they injured you (or it was perceived that they did or will injure you), so now you get to exact the utmost pain upon their existence.

Torture is also a means of terrorism. Of course, it causes abject terror for those it is being inflicted upon, but it also terrorizes the community at large because no one knows who might be subjected to it next.

While the use of torture may reap some short-term benefits, it concurrently leads to some nasty long-term recriminations. The most obvious of these is payback. Like a blood feud, the subjugated or their allies will not always be under your boot. One day they will rise up and they will want to repay you in spades.

Thus, torture inevitably breeds more torture. It's a closed loop system.

Another problem with the use of torture is that, when used to get information, the information is usually faulty. When we humans are subjected to intense pain, terror and the real possibility of a gruesome end to life, we'll say or do almost anything in an effort to stop the blood lust orgy.

Yet another aspect of torture -- one that seems counterintuitive -- is that too often throughout history it has been sanctioned by religious authorities. From what I've learned from my various studies throughout the years, ALL religions stress peace and doing right by our fellow man.

Be that as it may, let's take a look at but one example. In the United States today, the Bush administration has adopted numerous policies that endorse the use of torture on "enemy combatants". While there has been a strong public outcry repudiating this effort, there has been one group of Americans who have steadfastly supported this use of torture -- fundamentalist Christians.

Yes, the very people who believe that we should "do unto others as we would have them do unto us" and that we should treat others as ourselves seem to have no problem whatsoever with terrorizing and dehumanizing individuals who oppose US foreign policy.

I'm not suggesting this is solely a Christian problem. Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and a host of other religions have embraced the use of torture at various times in history -- some continue to endorse its use today.

In the final analysis, torture is a stain on the life process. It begets hatred and revenge. Until we decide to focus on the long-term of our collective survival, torture will continue to replicate negative energy until, at some point, it will consume us all.

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