Saturday, June 28, 2008

Deuce Martinez

What should we do if we suspect that our questions may be contributing to a culture of viciousness? Do we imagine that we could run parallel to viciousness while retaining an innocence? All around me I witness displays of psychic violence in the guise of seeking truth. What would an honest refusal to participate in brutal methods of interrogation require? Is there any limit to the refusal to participate in brutality? How would we recognize a commitment to nonbrutality in ourselves?

It should bother us that Deuce Martinez is an educated man. It should also bother us that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is an educated man, but we, those of us who enjoy asking questions, can allow ourselves to concentrate on inquiring after our culture of questioning. In all probability the gentleman from Virginia participated in peculiar methods of interrogation–I think it's reasonable to conclude that he was in fact a participant in the peculiar interrogations of Mr. Mohammed–not because he was born to do so, but rather because he was educated to do so. Here it would be naive to think that education and brutality are diametrically opposed, or that brutality must be innate. We should want to put questioning on trial without employing falsehoods or stupidities. The questioning of questioning represents a necessary intermediary step–a step made necessary by the coming to light of certain brutalities–on the path to a questioning of brutality, a questioning which I am presuming must take place if we are to live without becoming brutality's other victims. To undertake this questioning prompted by a brutality that must be questioned means stepping into an aporia with real felt consequences. Must we definitively remove all doubts by this process in order to avoid being brutalized? If there are right ways and wrong ways of asking questions, are we learning to question brutality in the right way? What should we be asking of our educators?

Should our education prepare us for trauma? How?

Let's ask whether questioning and ethics are truly compatible. Do they suffer together? So far a culture of questioning is just a hypothesis. Does committing to a nonbrutal way of questioning in any way lead to a verification of the hypothesis? How would we assess the reliability of our verifications while refusing to participate in brutal methods of interrogation? I would like to be able to articulate a decent philosophical response to the situation of people having poisoned the well of questioning.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:17 AM.


Anonymous Lloyd Mintern said...

William Burroughs, who was a poseur and a literary lightweight (first class), said falsely: "language is a virus." But Laurie Anderson sang the same words, and singing makes all the difference. (And not the differance as in those many poisoned wells of postmodern literary philosophy making.)

June 30, 2008 8:03 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Though I'm not sure what you mean to get at, I will think about singing our questions.

July 01, 2008 10:19 AM  
OpenID carldyke said...

I could see thinking of questioning as an absolute good, as the most direct and honest way of getting to the truth (which is an absolute good). I could see thinking of questioning as an absolute evil, an illegitimate violation of the subject's absolute prerogative to shape their own engagement with the world.

In the first case truth is the absolute value, in the second individual autonomy is. At the level of philosophical absolutes this is a complete impasse, which is worth noting but perhaps not worth worrying about.

I think both values are important and others besides; my sense is that it's best not to invoke absolutes in practice, but rather to be mindful of what matters to us and try to act in a well-balanced way. I don't suppose that's an entirely satisfactory answer?

(I invoke you Fido, perhaps abusing your autonomy, with the question mark; meaning however only to indicate an openness to discussion.)

July 07, 2008 8:53 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Carl. I'm happy to be invoked to talk about this problem some more.

No, I don't think we should be satisfied to balance concerns for truth and for autonomy. I would be suspicious of both, and quite suspicious of weighing one against the other. As must be clear, I feel that questioning itself must be called into question. We had already begun to do so when we considered Sacks' statement that questioning is learned. Deuce Martinez gives us a compelling reason to question any relationship between questioning and truth, between questioning and intelligence, and between questioning and an open society.

Suppose we were to value a meditative approach to questioning. We might see value in meditating on questions before they are asked. Likewise we might see value in meditating on answers before they are given. How would such a value structure our engagements with questioning? Imagine that the questions you ask won't be answered until many years have passed. Imagine that you don't yet know the answer to a question you've been asked. Are there any prerequisites to cultivating a meditative approach to questioning? I have a thought of something like mnemonic arts being necessary to a culture of meditative questioning, but we may want to approach this with some sophistication or subtlety because processes of remembering questions that are left open may differ significantly from processes of remembering facts, and it may prove difficult to distinguish memory from thought in some instances. What would we mean by "mnemonic" that we wouldn't mean by "noetic"?

I don't know if any of this begins to address the problem of a questioning running parallel to a brutality.

We might have to interrogate urgency rather than simply oppose it. I don't know.

July 07, 2008 2:48 PM  
OpenID carldyke said...

Yes, urgency is an issue here. I'm also inclined to interrogate it, but then so is the Bush administration with global warming. "Too late" is a thing that happens, although if we're beyond good and evil what happens after is fine in its own way.

As I remarked in our other conversation, doubting and questioning are always in principle warranted but for this reason infinitely regressive. We'll need to question the questioning of questioning later, and so on.

Deuce and Al Gore might suggest that the morality of this deferral only makes sense in the utopia of pure thought enabled by the admittedly grungy efforts of folks like them. Action in the world requires a suspension of questioning. We know that there is not an either/or here, and for precisely this reason it does us well to reflect on the imperatives of effective action in imperfect circumstances of information and reflection. Weber, in "Politics as a Vocation," is very strong on this but it's the crux of existentialism.

I very much like the idea of a culture of meditative questioning. This seems a lovely expression of the ideal of deferral and thus, a perfect way to do no active harms (by not doing anything at all). So far the farthest I'm able to imagine going in intercepting the harms caused by my pointy intellectual activism is zen, in which questioning is minimized and action is not deferred, but selfish intent is removed.

Along these lines, I'm inclined to think that making statements is in some ways more authentic and polite than asking questions; although I've often seen the reverse argued.

July 10, 2008 11:18 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Action in the world requires a suspension of questioning.

My premise has been that questioning is an activity.

If I were to imagine action in such a way that questions weren't actions I might be able to approximate an image of perpetual brutality.

July 10, 2008 3:52 PM  

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