Sorry, this is not “Orwellian language” … D- on your paper. Next vocabulary lesson: “ressentiment”

“Orwellian language” refers to using a word that connotes more socially acceptable ideas as a euphemism for something monstrous. It can refer to a radical inversion of concepts, such as “War is peace.” But one thing “Orwellian language” does not refer to is leaving something out of discussion and not wanting people to hear about it. (Would anyone say that The Dish has never been guilty of that?) A fulminating post today on The Dish:

One failed bomb attempt on a plane and one of Cheney’s flunkies is already banging the drums to bring back torture. He uses Orwellian language, of course, the kind we became used to under Cheney’s criminal regime:

Instead of looking for ways to release these dangerous men, we should be capturing and interrogating more of them for information on planned attacks. But that is something the U.S. no longer does. President Obama has shut down the CIA interrogation program that helped stop a series of planned attacks — and in the year since he took office, not one high-value terrorist has been interrogated by the CIA.

My italics. […]

What he is really saying is that we are not hooding them, freezing them to near death, waterboarding them, hanging them from shackles to create excruciating pain, exploiting phobias, stripping them of clothes, beating them and hounding them with dogs.

That’s putting words in Thiessen’s mouth. Thiessen might be saying a tad less than that. I have no doubt that I disagree with Thiessen on what constitutes torture, but I wasn’t aware that made him in favor of hooding, freezing, waterboarding, hanging from shackles,  etc.

Sullivan’s post is called “Thiessen: Bring Back Torture.” What The Dish flagrantly neglects is that most of the people who are in favor of morally wrong interrogation routines are not of the belief that those routines represent “torture.” To get them to change their minds, it doesn’t help to do what Andrew does and unleash one’s ressentiment by comparing them to the worst torturers throughout history. Andrew has only discussed Nietzsche’s idea of ressentiment in the context of American torture and the insecurity of hostile Republicans. Yes, these are good examples of ressentiment but Andrew, who has a first-class intellect, has totally missed the central point about ressentiment in Nietzsche’s work!

A while back — when I was starting to get disenchanted with a growing portion of content on The Dish — I commented under a League of Ordinary Gentlemen post on Sullivan:

When Nietzsche wrote about torturing convicts [in On The Genealogy of Morals], he saw it as a symptom of the torturers’ resentment, but he also saw the same instinct of resentment at work in religious moralism, the sadistic desire of a clergyman to torture the conscience of peoples with the idea that they are reprehensible creatures, unless they follow his creed. Andrew has that unhealthy instinct.

The Dish loads invective and condemnations on people who disagree with Sullivan about interrogations, and this involves accusing them of supporting tortures they are not in favor of and accusing them of torture as a cardinal sin, torture in toto, evoking the guilt of every torture imaginable (and imaginable by those clerics of different faiths who extensively theorized/rhapsodized about tortures in hell).

And to find an example of this psychology of not-sublimated-enough cruelty, we don’t have to look farther than the end of Sullivan’s post:

[…] beating them and hounding them with dogs. This is what Thiessen and his comrades yearn to get back to: the tools of torturers. One overwhelming reason to hope that Obama manages to keep terror attacks at bay – by luck or design – is that the neo-fascist wing of the GOP is chomping at the bit to get their hands on the machinery of cruelty once again.

Well, something about this post does evoke the idea of “chomping at the bit” … But I digress. How would almost any Republican — note that I said almost — in disagreement with Andrew Sullivan react to this. He might say, “That’s ridiculous, I’m not in favor of putting violent dogs in people’s faces or stripping people nude. I’m certainly not in favor of igniting lighter fluid in people’s belly buttons like in that Stephen King book. It’s clearer than ever to me that what I’m in favor of is not torture or even like it.” It’s not like Sullivan is persuading people to a more moral judgment. In some cases he is merely helping them confirm their old judgment even as he would protest that he is only fighting for The Good in this life.

What has Andrew accomplished with this kind of discourse other than rallying up the anger (and probably, the ressentiment) of the choir and elevating his own sense of spiritual worth? Not so much, I think. From a religious standpoint, isn’t that seen as some kind of sin too and somehow unhealthy for the world?

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