Sunday, June 22, 2008

Torture-Directed Cruelty

Cruelty as I have regarded it below could be linked with sadism -- we get our jollies by making the other guy suffer. Much more in the news these days is directed cruelty, or torture. the administration, for example, deprecates the idea of torture -- except when its necessary. I don't stick the electrodes into you to amuse myself, it's only to save lives, to enable our side to win. This makes a fairly interesting moral issue -- the desirability of hurting some human beings in order to avoid having other human beings hurt. Usually these other people would be hurt more seriously, possibly killed -- or at least they would be on our side. This is a tough issue -- so it tends to get stepped around: The New York Times today had an article about the terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in which it turns out that a friendly interrogator got much more information out of him than some others who used "harsh" methods. The moral here is, torture isn't the most efficient way of getting information anyway, therefore we shouldn't torture. I wonder if this argument isn't often wishful thinking -- nobody likes to face the tricky tradeoffs involved in violence to stop violence!

Monday, May 19, 2008


Having lived in the times of the Holocaust, the culture of torture in French Algeria, and the ethnic cleansings in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, etc., it is perhaps naive for us to regard the Middle Ages as a time of unusual cruelty of man to man (homo homini lupus) -- see King John's Karma, above. Nevertheless, I have the perhaps unsubstantiated impression that peoople in those times were more casually cruel to each other -- and that suffering at the hands of others was accepted with a greater sense of fatalism. At least I chose, in my novel "Dark Princess"(as yet not published), I was inspired to have my kind of Dudley Do-right hero kill women and children without thinking much about it. But maybe I was wrong, I don't know. The dark side of human nature doesn't change, I would suppose -- but maybe the extent to which we tend to express it does.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

King John's Karma

I have just been arranging for the publication of my novel, "Me and King John," and I now am suddenly wondering whether I have chosen the right "take" on the much-maligned monarch. Using my "intuition"-- which the king, in the novelistic conceit I adopted in the book, always urges me to do -- I found that I was attributing all sorts of sadistic actions to him -- not all of which I could back up in the documentary records. On the other hand, those were cruel times -- a little later, the heroic Henry V, for instance, was well known for hanging all the inhabitants of towns that didn't surrender to him with sufficient promptness. It makes you wonder: was he called "evil King John" for some political reason, for example, because he offended the church? Or was he really such a bad guy?

I'm posting my first chapter on my website, so anyone interested can take a look at my imaginings.