Against torture from an historical-materialist perspective

Were I to rewrite the position on the cruelty of solitary confinement from a Marxist historical-materialist perspective (rather than phenomenological), this is what I would say:

Consider the recent article on the social and habitat isolation of the bipolar Colorado mass murderer James Holmes.

Prolonged isolation inflicts a harm, one that can never be justified. This harm is ontological; it dismantles the very structure of our relational being–our species being as a social species, how our senses are built to depend on communicating with other humans. Consider a basic example: Every time someone walks around the table rather than through it, or bumps into a table, my brain quickly mirrors their action and receives an unspoken, usually unremarkable, confirmation of my own experience that the table exists in a specific way in the world, and that my sensory experience of tables is shared by others.

When I don’t receive such implicit social information, I can usually ask someone — but for the most part, we don’t need to ask because our sensations and concepts are already interwoven with the sensations and concepts of many other sensing, communicating beings who relate to the same world from their own unique perspective. This multiplicity of shared perspectives within one world is like an invisible scaffolding that helps order, prioritize, provide boundaries to, and confirm my sensory experience of the world.

If we truly want our prisons to rehabilitate and transform criminal offenders, then we must put them in a situation where they have a chance and an obligation to explain themselves to the others we need them to be accountable to, to repair damaged networks of mutual support, and to lend their own sensations and unique perspective to communities creating both shared meaning and the world beneath and informing meaning.

Consider as well that some people’s epistemologies-ontologies are more robust under torture, as Elaine Scarry famously discussed–In particular, those that recognize human intercourse in terms of “making” and “unmaking.” People whose epistemology-ontology allows them to recognize that someone is trying to unmake their world, for example via solitary confinement torture or other forms of torture that are designed to alienate your bodily senses from you, to unmake your world and impose theirs upon the vacuum that they have created in you– people with such making/unmaking perspectives are more protected from torture, from imperial, colonizing unmaking.

That doesn’t mean it’s easier, knowing that someone is laboring to destroy your world in order to implant their order within you. And being able to resist might mean the prisoner is tortured to death. Torture is to be abjected as an abomination against our social humanity.

Why Do They Hate Our Liberal Feminism?

“American diplomats also cast a wide net to gather information on police brutality, the cables show. Through contacts with human rights lawyers, the embassy follows numerous cases, and raised some with the Interior Ministry. Among the most harrowing, according to a cable, was the treatment of several members of a Hezbollah cell detained by the police in late 2008.

Lawyers representing the men said they were subjected to electric shocks and sleep deprivation, which reduced them to a “zombie state.” They said the torture was more severe than what they normally witnessed.

To the extent that Mr. Mubarak has been willing to tolerate reforms, the cable said, it has been in areas not related to public security or stability. For example, he has given his wife latitude to campaign for women’s rights and against practices like female genital mutilation and child labor, which are sanctioned by some conservative Islamic groups.”


Landler, Mark & Andrew W. Lehren. 2011. “Cable Shows Delicate US Dealings with Egypt’s Leaders.” The New York Times, January 27.

US Torture Report, Spring 2009

Links to US torture reports:

The New York Times

Knowlton, Brian. 2009. “Report gives new detail on approval of brutal techniques.” New York Times, April 22.

Shane, Scott and Mark Mazzetti. 2009. “In adopting harsh tactics, no inquiry into their past.” New York Times, April 22.

Shane, Scott. 2009. “2 suspects waterboarded 266 times.” New York Times, April 20.

The editors. 2009. “The torturers’ manifesto.” New York Times, April 18.

Danner, Mark. 2009. “Tales from torture’s dark world.” The New York Times, March 14.

Krugman, Paul. 2009. “Reclaiming America’s soul.” The New York Times, April 23.

Glenn Greenwald

Greenwald, Glenn. 2009. “The NYT’s definition of blinding American exceptionalism.”, May 8. In which Greenwald points out that the American press calls all non-American-based torture by its name.

“(U)sing the editorial standards of America’s journalistic institutions — as explained recently by the NYT Public Editor — shouldn’t this (non-US-based torture) be called ‘torture’ rather than torture — or ‘harsh tactics some critics decry as torture’? Why are the much less brutal methods used by the Chinese on Fischer called torture by the NYT, whereas much harsher methods used by Americans do not merit that term? Here we find what is clearly the single most predominant fact shaping our political and media discourse: everything is different, and better, when we do it. In fact, it is that exact mentality that was and continues to be the primary justification for our torture regime and so much else that we do.”

B-Team, Sucking As Well: Part I

Thanks to the US’s crappy winner-take-all political system, we have 1.5 parties. Recently, the B-Team was put in charge of the Executive, despite the fact that the US has been successfully converted into a feudal cesspool.

Here is a short list of the shit that the Obama admin has done so far (March 2009) that reminds us of nothing more than the Bush regime:

1) Licked the hairy fat ass of the Likud West: Freeman blackballed from an intelligence post, see “The Freeman Affair” post below. Comment: That’s all right. The more they prevent intelligent people who speak some truth to work for US intelligence, the more lying yes-men they’ll give the jobs to, and the faster the US will implode, which seems to be the trend anyway.

2) The Obama Justice Department is scurrying to prevent torture victims of the Bush regime from seeking justice. What a relief: Tyranny continues unabated. No doubt Americans are really secure now. Especially the jackasses who run the country like it’s their own personal commode.

This list will lengthen. I just want to have a record of how naive I was at the beginning of the Obama administration.