A “Textbook Case” of Thought Control

There’s a pro-torture statement in the following college-level English textbook:  Evergreen:  A Guide to Writing with Readings, 8th edition, by Susan Fawcett, Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 576-578.  The statement is entitled “The Case for Torture” and is credited to a Michael Levin (described in Wikipedia as “a libertarian philosophy professor at City University of New York.”)

“The Case for Torture” appears with some other essays on different topics.

Consider the following position:  “White Americans are inherently more intelligent than African-Americans.”  Does this position deserve a fair hearing in the pages of textbooks?  If textbook publishers fail to include this position, are they exercising “censorship”?

“Well, people who advocate racialist ideology are outside the cultural mainstream, whereas the torture debate is occurring within the cultural mainstream.  Therefore it is valid to present some part of that debate in a textbook.”

How do you determine whether a position lies within “the cultural mainstream”?  Is it a question of numbers?  Would that position then become acceptable?

“Well, a lot of people really do believe in torture.”

Do they believe in it, or do they just accept it?  The authority structure generated this issue through a campaign of mass indoctrination.  It is folly to assume that, just because a media pundit expresses a given position, that position is automatically non-insane.

“Well, I don’t support torture, but we have to at least consider what the pro-torture advocates are saying.”

However, we don’t:  We don’t have to consider or grant the slightest validity to what they are saying.  That we should do so is precisely the objective of the indoctrination effort.

The phrase “an insidious act of propaganda” is apt.  Inserting the piece sends a message that it has something plausible to say.  It doesn’t.

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1 Comment

  1. acilius

     /  March 1, 2010

    I agree absolutely. The remarks from your colleagues reminded me of one of the strangest things I heard from peace-minded types in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when George W Bush was flinging the word “evil” around. Of course there were many reasons to find fault with that usage on his part. But one that left me mystified was a response specifically to his description of the 9/11 attacks and the people responsible for them as evil. That objection was that the word “evil” is a “conversation-stopper.” I heard this from several people. To each I responded that there are times when it is appropriate to stop a conversation, and when you’ve found that your interlocutor is responsible for acts of violence of that sort such a time has most likely come.

    Likewise with torture. The “case for torture” has received so much publicity and has held up so poorly under criticism that it would be hard to justify putting it on an equal footing with other arguments even if it were harmless. So that from one perspective including an essay making “the case for torture” is like including an essay making the case for the flat-earth theory. You might include such an essay in a certain kind of textbook, but none of the arguments your colleagues made would justify such an inclusion. In view of the real-world consequences that follow when torture is legitimized as an instrument of policy, it’s far worse to present “the case for torture” than it would be to present, without comment, a case for some idea that is merely mistaken.

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