The Place of Ranting in Mormon Thought: A (Longish) Response to Russell

I have been thinking all weekend about Russell’s post attacking the Mormon legislators who voted in favor of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The post was a rant. Russell is disgusted and outraged, but there was more to the post than that. Russell didn’t simply think that the Mormon legislators were wrong. He thought that they had betrayed their Mormoness at some deep level. I’m trying to figure out whether or not there is any value in what Russell has done.

Of course there is always the justifiable suspicion that discussions of procedure are simply surrogates for substantive objections. I might be criticizing how Russell is talking, but perhaps I simply object to what he is saying. So let me lay my cards on the table, at least in so far as I know what they are. Were I a legislator, I would not have voted for the Military Commissions Act. I do not think that ordinary judicial procedures are adequate for dealing with global terrorism. It seems to me that there are two poles of legality. On one end we have the ordinary criminal process, and on the other end we have the laws of war. The ordinary criminal process contains numerous provisions where we are willing to trade off safety against legal protections for the putative object of government force. The laws of war, on the other hand, allow the government to employ enormous amounts of force – everything from bombing to prolonged incarceration as a POW – with very few procedural protections for the objects of the force. I think the distinction lies in the relative dangers posed by war and crime. Criminals, while they can wreak much suffering on society, cannot unleash the levels of violence that a military enemy can. The “war on terrorism� is not a war, and I think that the source of many of the most egregious mistakes of the Bush Administration lies in their reliance on the analogy of war in dealing with terrorism. On the other hand, terrorism should not be treated as an ordinary matter of criminal law enforcement. The level of violence unleashed on 9/11 massively exceeded ordinary crime and was much more like an enemy air strike than a mugger in a dark alley.

It seems to me that what we need to do is work out procedures that place terrorism on the proper place in the continuum between crime and war. I am opposed to treating those accused of terrorism as prisoners of war, enemy combatants (legal and otherwise) who can be held indefinitely without trial until the conflict is over. I think that POW-style detention must give way to something more akin to criminal incarceration (or execution), and that requires adjudication. That adjudication, however, will necessarily need to rely on information obtained by methods that cannot be reconciled with ordinary methods of law enforcement. That means intelligence gathering that that does not comport with the Fourth Amendment. That means methods of interrogation that cannot be squared with the requirements of the Fifth Amendment in ordinary criminal investigations. I think torture and even hideous methods that the OLC argues are not really “torture� should be outlawed. But, I also think that the requirements of Miranda and its progeny cannot define the limits of interrogation in foreign intelligence gathering. That said, I think that there must be procedures that require the government to eventually try those that it holds. I think that there must be some sort of minimal standard to hold anyone, subject to review by an independent court. Finally, I think that United States citizens not taken prisoners on an actual military battlefield cannot be treated as POWs or anything like it. A citizen who aids the enemies of the United States has committed treason, and they ought to be tried in a full criminal trial. The Military Commissions Act does some of these things, and in some ways it falls very short. On the other hand, I expect that coming up with adequate legal mechanisms for dealing with terrorism is going to require several different drafts. The creation of good law is a cumulative process. Unfortunately, it is a cumulative process that necessarily involves the collision of actual individuals with the grinding power of the state.

That is a long aside. Now to the real topic: Russell’s rant. Ranting, of course, has its place. It can be cathartic for the ranter. It can get the attention of an audience. (Russell got my attention.) It can also have other, less savory reasons, such as sanctimony and the enactment of moral self-importance. (Russell is not guilty of such vices.) Ranting is seldom persuasive or illuminating. Ranting tends to affirm the beliefs of the persuaded, and raises the hackles of the unpersuaded. It can sharpen points of disagreement, but is unlikely to move hearts and minds. Indeed, at times the aesthetic pleasure of the rant takes over. There is a great deal of fun and satisfaction to be found in carefully crafted invective. (Russell and Jonathan, at the very least, have been trying out various zingers on one another.) I like invective as much as the next person (more than most, I suspect), but it develops an internal energy of its own. Often this energy gives ranting its virtues – catharsis and attention-grabbing effect. Sometimes not. What ranting doesn’t do very well at all is analyze, probe, or illuminate. I think that Russell mischaracterized the Military Commissions Act. It’s the nature of the medium.

Russell, however, wasn’t simply offering a political jeremiad. It was a Mormon jeremiad. On one level, I applaud the Mormoness of Russell’s rant. I want to see what Mormonism means for what we think about the rest universe, and politics and law are certainly a part of that universe I’m particularly interested in. Furthermore, unlike Russell, in many ways I like a more theologically insular, less ecumenical Mormonism. Finding the kernels of Lutheranism in the Restoration is less appealing to me that thinking about the significance of Kolob or the possibilities of the King Follett Discourse. Hence, I liked the religious parochialism of Russell’s attack.

And yet. I think that people can be wrong without being foolish or evil. I think that people can be wrong without failures of reason or integrity. Sometimes, problems are just hard, and two smart people working in good faith will reach different conclusions. One of them will be wrong. Such is the world, and often there is no need to seek for childishness or moral failure to find the origins of error. Ordinary humanity is fully sufficient. I think that some of the legislators that Russell excoriated are cretins or clowns. On the other hand, I know that some of them are good and thoughtful men, who simply came to a different conclusion than me. I think that they are wrong. I don’t think that they deserve the vitriol Russell and his friends poured upon their heads.

Disagreement and diversity is a problem for Mormonism. After all, Zion is supposed to be of one heart. Yet working out the implications of Mormonism will require disagreement, argument, and criticism. We must to be able to advance positions such as “The Restoration implies ABC� and have people respond, “That can’t possibly be right for reasons XYZ.� It is fashionable in some circles to dismiss any discomfort with this process as rank anti-intellectualism, but that is not fair. There is no logical connection between criticizing ideas and criticizing people, but there are powerful social and emotional connections. And at the end of the day, I suspect that Zion is more social and emotional than intellectual, for the simple reason that lived experience is so much richer than can be captured by conceptualism. Hence, we ignore emotional and social connections in favor of logical independence at our peril.

One solution to the problem, of course, are the sort of table manners that are very imperfectly contained in the T&S comments policy: don’t attack the faithfulness of others, don’t suggest that others are personally sinful, etc. etc. Table manners, unfortunately, can only take us so far. I think that Russell’s rant was in many ways mistaken and unfair. On the other hand, jeremiads are nothing if not an integral part of the scriptures, the Restoration and the Gospel. Just because reasonable people can come to different conclusions doesn’t mean that people cannot be seriously, even hideously wrong. There are no doubt times when table manners trivialize the issues involved. The problem of Mormon thought is to navigate between the requirements of reasoning together and the requirements of shouting truth from the housetops. And knowing when to do one or the other.

50 comments for “The Place of Ranting in Mormon Thought: A (Longish) Response to Russell

  1. Yes, that was a long aside. I was thinking much the same thing, but, by the time I got to the original thread, the noise over the other parts didn’t leave room for this discussion.

    I also oppose the notion that somehow these legislators violated any rule of Mormonness, and that it is the position of any of us to call them down for violating our own personal version of Mormonness. I’ve been on the receiving end of too many “I expected X of you because you’re a Mormon” when “X” means “doing only things I agree with, without me having to say or justify any of those things” conversations.

    I would have thought that a Mormon liberal would already unready understand that Mormon thought covers quite a spectrum of positions outside of the realm of core essential doctrines (and a bit of a spectrum where those things are concerned), so trying to enforce one’s own political opinion as if it were a standard of Mormonness really surprised me.

    For the record, I don’t owe him, or you, or anybody here compliance with their personal political standards, social philosophy, or anything else. Nor do I owe them to my bishop, my stake president, any GA nor even Pres. Hinckley. The only person I owe them to is God, and he has not been overflowing with lengthy bloviation on matters political around me lately. Ranting at me about the matter will result in the ranter being effectively plonked. Expecting such a thing of me or anybody else is just plain silly. Mainstream Mormons are notoriously conservative both socially and politically, and acting surprised about that is like acting surprised about rain in the Northwest in the winter time.

  2. Nearly everything I was thinking, but not patient enough to express. Instead, I devolved into rants of my own. Thank you for this Nate. It’s causing a lot of reflection on my part anyway.

    Although, despite the claims of Chad Too, I never thought Russell hated Bush (or that anyone else on the thread hated Bush). My complaint was that that type of post really poisons the well of discussion. It only seems to allow for a lot of “me too.” Phrases like “you people” and the off-handedly dismissive “yes, yes” in RAF’s post seem to indicate a real “us vs. them” mentality that automatically excludes the possibility of actual dialouge. Beyond that, the analogies to the Salem Witch Trials (hysteria over a non-existent threat) and Japanese internment (hyesteria over a hypothetical threat) seem to indicate RAF and others actually think there is no threat out there, that the terrorists are just boogeymen Bush (or whoever) created in order to get more power and force an Orwellian nightmare on us. And unless we can all agree there really are people out there who want to kill us and they are going to do it no matter how well behaved we are, then discussions over torture and whatnot will never go anywhere. But if we agreed to that, those over the top analogies would be useless.

    But hey – I’m as guilty (if not more so) than the next commentator of overwrought ranting.

  3. Ivan, I agree that there really are people out there who want to kill us. That they would do this “no matter how well behaved we are” seems to be an unsubstantiated assertion on your part. Maybe a topic for another thread.

    As for Mormon jeremiads…I’ve got mixed feelings. While I might agree that a vote for this legislation seems to violate some of what I hold dear in my Mormon faith, I find a lot that does that in our political economy. I couldn’t attack this latest vote without attacking a whole system of thought. Something few here or at Church seem to have much interest in.

    So, while I applaud Russell, I would much rather see a deeper discussion about the relationship between the gospel and our political system. And also feel like “if thy legislator offend thee, call or emal between he and thee alone”…though maybe that begs the question of how gospel principles relate to our political system.

    Outside of a Mormon context, any citizen who feels like their legislators are eroding civil liberties or supporting brutality, should probably be outraged.

    So as a citizen, I’m outraged. As a Mormon, I’m left shaking my head again as Old Horns makes another play to rule with blood and horror on this earth.

  4. “As for Mormon jeremiads…I’ve got mixed feelings.”

    I’m surprised. In many ways the difficulty that you seem to have in this forum illustrates the real problems of working out Mormon political thought. You hold a number of what folks would consider radical political beliefs, and you seem to believe that these beliefs are dictated by Mormonism properly understood. Hence, your beliefs require that you assert explicitly or implicitly that those who disagree with you are misunderstanding or betraying their faith. On one level, it is precisely this claim that makes your beliefs interesting and worth discussing. On another level, it is precisely this claim that makes an interesting discussion of your beliefs so difficult.

    Healthy doses of outrage create further problems. Yet it is precisely the intensity that gives rise to the outrage that makes the conversation worth while in the first place.

  5. Rob –

    I don’t think it’s an unsubstantiated assertion – it’s rather quite obvious from the facts. We may reduce the number of people willing to kill us if we behave better, but Osama and Al Qaeda are not going to pack up and go home if we stop using waterboarding and provide more aid to the Palestinians. In the end, some sector of the movement is pathological and cannot be reasoned with – and until we come to grips with that, most of our discussions become rather pointless.

    And your final comment about “Old Horns” undermines your entire post. You really can’t have a depper discussion of the issues involved if you are convinced one side is basically being prompted by Satan. Your last sentence (intentional or not) shuts off debate by claiming, in essence, the devil got them (the legislators in question) to do it. We can’t have civil debate if that’s what you really think.

  6. Ivan: I agree with you about the conversational difficulties created when accusations of Satanic influence become part of our political discussions. On the other hand, if we take Satan and politics seriously, we have to acknowledge that Satan may well be a player from time to time.

  7. Nate –

    I think so too, but too often I think we are too eager to jump on the devil did it bandwagon. I’m not calling for an elimination of Satan from the discussion – rather, I think Satan can encourage all sides of the issue (even the one that is mostly correct) to bicker. Rare is it to find a polictical issue where one side is 100% right and the other sides 100% evil. Yet too many are quick to find Satan in “those people” and “you people” rather than in their own positions and arguments.

  8. Nate,

    As I said earlier, a great many of your observations in this post are not only accurate, but also wise. Good work.


    “I would have thought that a Mormon liberal would already understand that Mormon thought covers quite a spectrum of positions outside of the realm of core essential doctrines…”

    On the one hand, your point is a good one; if anyone should appreciate the diversity of belief contained within Mormon thought, it’s someone whose political views put them in the minority within the mainstream American Mormon church. And I do appreciate that….which, of course, means that the surprise that I expressed in my post at Senator Bennett, et al, was at least as much rhetorical as real.

    But on the other hand, I don’t really consider myself a “Mormon liberal.” A liberal in the Mormon context is presumably someone who sees the aforementioned individual diversity as a good in itself, and wants to enshrine it. But I don’t see diversity of opinion as a good in itself; I don’t see it as necessarily an evil, but I don’t think it’s some great accomplishment either. Personally, I think the restored gospel, like Christianity in general, is–far from your claim that God hasn’t been “overflowing with lengthy bloviation on matters political” lately–simply drowning in fairly radical political implications, and I think that means that there is no reason we shouldn’t be expected to account for our political views, particularly those that apparently diverge from our best collective understanding of the words of the prophets, both ancient and modern. Perhaps we shouldn’t have to account for such to our bishops and stake presidents for the purpose of, say, receiving a temple recommend (I am liberal enough in the classic sense to want to avoid the abuses of power which would follow there), but at least to one another, as fellow members of the church.

    In short, my rant may be faulted for many things, and I may even grant most of those criticisms. (The discussion will no doubt continue, whether here or elsewhere.) I will not grant, however, that ranting as a Mormon to other Mormons about something I see as potentially connected to Mormonism is in itself necessarily a problem.

  9. “I will not grant, however, that ranting as a Mormon to other Mormons about something I see as potentially connected to Mormonism is in itself necessarily a problem.”

    It will making talking to you difficult, however, if it is your primary mode of communicating your political thought. Also, if you want the rant to have any meaning beyond pyschological release, it is worth thinking carefully about what can and cannot be said and done via ranting.

  10. All true, Nate. Which is why 1) jeremiads should not be one’s primary (or even secondary!) mode of communicating political ideas, and 2) there are certain topics one cannot productively issue jeremiads about. But, unlike Blain’s denial of any normative relevance to explicitly Mormon-membership-based political arguments, neither of your perfectly reasonable cautions amount to an argument against Mormon ranting per se.

  11. I think that Russell’s last point is important: as much ranting is inappropriate for any form of discourse, it is useful to point-up various sentiments that must be brought to the table from time to time. Personally, I appreciate Russell’s rant so much because it comes from a man who ( and I believe we might all agree on this ) thinks deeply. His discourse is filled with reason, and so his post is all the more poignant for its peculiarity.

  12. For me, ranting undercuts the rule of law.

    The rule of law, as I’ve come to think about it, is the rule of reason–the rule of principle.

    When we stop trying to clarify the reasons and the principles that are at stake and get distracted into all the hurley burley of politics, we begin losing our way.

    These are the main threats to the rule of law that I see:

    earmarks and other forms of local and private legislation that, by not applying to everyone, escape the scrutiny we apply to laws that we know will have universal application (including us). We descend from debating principles to horsetrading.

    faction (which fosters ranting, diagnosing opponents rather than debating their arguments, lying, cheating, emotionally-based campaigning, etc. etc.

  13. “Sometimes, problems are just hard, and two smart people working in good faith will reach different conclusions. One of them will be wrong. Such is the world, and often there is no need to seek for childishness or moral failure to find the origins of error.”

    The above sums up my sentiments of the past ten years. I was saddened when so many American church members during the 1990’s questioned the “Mormonness” of liberals (and many still do) and can see that many liberals now feel justified in doing the same thing to conservatives. I consider myself reasonably intelligent, well-read and at least left-of-center, and yet I don’t share the hatred, vitriol and apocalyptic gloom that many in my camp constantly express toward the Bush administration. At the very minimum, we are not living in the Book of Ether and our society is moving “away” (tho’ we were never there to begin with) from the setting of the “Handmaid’s Tale”.

    Nate, you have shown the value of the words of Ibrahim Karawan (“complexify, complexify”). Over the past few years my bubble has burst when I have learned that of the many compatible definitions of “liberal”, two are not necessarily so. These two are: 1) a person who has the ability to view problems in their true complexity and entertain ideas without passing judgment on them and 2) espousing views left-of-center.

    The former liberals don’t engage in rants, but the latter have made it their signature.

  14. Nate, the legislation at hand was not the usual bill for paving over wetlands and clubbing baby bunnies for sport. It was about chipping away at some of the core principles of our country. Arlen Specter thought the law was unconstitutional. Is the most important issue really whether Russell should be ranting rather than…what, writing legal briefs about it?

    Do we want to look back in ten years at what Mormons thought was a big deal in September 2006 and discover that the most heated controversy of the day was the difference between quietness and reverence in primary children? I think Russell’s full-blooded rant is a necessary complement to your disembodied legal reasoning. I’m not overly concerned if you feel no outrage about this particular law; these days, we’re living in a target-rich environment for outrage, and I’m sure you’ll find something.

  15. Ivan, when you write, “the analogies to the Salem Witch Trials (hysteria over a non-existent threat) and Japanese internment (hyesteria over a hypothetical threat) seem to indicate RAF and others actually think there is no threat out there,” you’re a few thousand miles away from the most charitable possible reading, no? Moving away from “what the writer probably meant” into “inventing something that sounds awful but has no basis in reality,” perhaps? I’m sure if you poked around enough, you’ll find evidence that Russell believes in terrorists. In fact, you really should check what someone actually believes before accusing them of not believing in the threat of terrorism. It’s not like Russell is known for keeping his opinions secret or anything.

    The Salem witch trials are useful reminders of what coerced confessions will lead to. Under durress and in an attempt to please their captors, people will admit to awful crimes they didn’t commit: witchcraft, rape, murder. There are already well-documented cases of innocent people confessing to being terrorists while being tortured, which does nothing to apprehend or punish actual terrorists. Whatever one thinks about intelligence gathering, coerced statements have no place in any judicial proceeding.

  16. Jon Green-

    well, I did say “seem to indicate” rather than plan ol’ “indicate” for a reason.

    It may not be the most favorable interpretation, but it’s far from the worst. Since those two acts were two of the most evil acts comitted on American soil, it could be argued the analogy also claims Bush is evil. But I don’t think it was meant to go quite that far. It does seem to indicate that those making the analogy see Bush as the real threat and the terrorists as distant and not all that threatening.

    However, it would be nice if people like you and Russell also gave Bush and his supporters more charitable readings as well. That’s the real problem: There’s no charity in any of these discussions. In fact, Russell’s post was devoid of charity.

    Here I am, someone who doesn’t like the legislation (I think it suffers from the “Something Must Be Done! – oh, look: here’s something” syndrome) and not inclined to support Bush, yet I can’t align myself with the “Bush is the real terrorist!” or the “blame the victim (it’s all America’s fault)” crowd that constantly parades across the media and the internet.

  17. Jonathan: I am sorry that I made the horrible mistake of taking Russell’s post seriously and then thinking about it. I am sorry. In the future I will try to simply type “Amen” as expected. I’m sorry if you dislike “disembodied legal reasoning.” (Incidentally, if you think that this post counts as “disembodied legal reasoning” then you have no idea what legal reasoning looks like.) Frankly, I think that Russell has the chops to do much better in terms of political commentary than he did in his post. If Mormon politics is just Daily Kos (or Rush Limbaugh) gone to Sunday School, what is the point? Finally, Russell at least has the grace to realize that I am trying to make arguments and claims, rather than simply reasserting his right to be outraged.

    Look, at the end of the day I think that it is a mistake to think of the present moment as some sort of apoclyptic day of truth in which we preserve or lose those sacred rights that we have inherited. Rather, I see it as a time when we are gropping toward coming up with laws to deal with a basically new phenomena. We ought to be very careful in how we do this, but we also ought to realize that it doesn’t make any more sense to think about terrorism as routine law enforcement than to think about terrorism as “war.” It is neither. Rather, it is something new and we are going to need a new legal regime to deal with it. The fact that laws change and evolve to meet new circumstances shouldn’t shock anyone.

    Look, at the end of the day I am not sure that I care all that much that you are more interested in “full-blooded rants” than careful thought. I am sure that you’ll eventually find something in current events to think carefully about. It’s a target rich enviroment after all.

  18. Nate, you said it best on that thread when you said that you find righteous indignation unappealing in yourself, and you like it even less in others.

    For my part, I think the post and the comments that followed were a predictable and tiresome exercise in smugness and arrogance. Sure, we could try to think and discuss, but that would require that we actually, you know, READ the document in question and formulate a coherent thought or two. it is much easier, not to mention more cathartic, to simply jump on the old high horse and go for a gallop.

    The post is an example of disingenuous finger-wagging in another way, too. We can agree that RAF’s political positions are difficult to pigeonhole, but most of the commenters seemed to think right away that his post was simply a blast at the administration, and he did nothing to correct them. So we were treated to pronouncements from George Clooney, who I guess some people think is the second coming of Pericles, and the astonishing assertion that GWB just wants to deflower our daughters. But when Ivan W. showed up around comment 40 or so and characterized the post as a partisan shot, Ivan was accused of dragging partisanship into the discussion, if it can even be called that. And then we got the predictable reminder to keep comments civil, etc.

    If Adam G. or Matt E. addressed pro-choice people with the greeting “Are you for real?” and then wondered if they ever paid attention in church or listened to the sacrament prayers, and speculated whether they could even call themselves Mormons in good conscience, the fur would have flown. I’m guessing most of the legislators RAF excoriated would describe their positions on the bill using may of the same words pro-choice people use to describe their positions re: Roe v. Wade. I am personally opposed to (torture) (abortion). Take your pick. I think it (torture) (abortion) should be safe, legal, and rare.

    Finally, this post is instructive politically. It is commonly said of those who tend to vote right of center that they see the world in black and white because they are such simple folk. Since conservatives are really just half-wit Neanderthals who are dense enough to bend light, we shouldn’t be surprised that they are incapable of grasping nuance or complexity. The comments that followed RAF’s post should serve to remind us that right of center voters do not have a monopoly on self-righteousness or poorly formed opinions.

  19. 8 — Not going to play a label game with you on that one. Making that long of a screed about why Mormons, simply due to their Mormonness, are betraying their faith by supporting a conservative position (with little regard to what that position is) is a hallmark of a Mormon liberal. It’s certainly not a hallmark of a Mormon conservative.

    I have no particular problem with ranting (I tend to think it’s dumb, but not evil) in much of any context (so long as it doesn’t become abusive, and I don’t think you did). I don’t even mind a discussion on how a given choice strikes you (or anybody) as failing to live the true principles of the Gospel. That can be very interesting.

    The problem comes in when folks are accused of betraying their faith community by taking an action that is in no way precluded by the accepted standards of that community. This is akin to accusing someone of being a fallen leader for violating the Word of Wisdom by not eating enough barley. It could be correct, as your point could be, but it’s not a widely accepted community standard, like avoiding adultery and whisky are.

    And you lose party-points for leaving the “around me lately” out of my quite about God’s bloviation. Stripping a quote of not only it’s context but it’s qualification to make it easier to contradict is very uncool. It is not a way to extend my participation in the conversation beyond correcting the behavior. If you wish to continue in conversation with me, I’d suggest not doing it again.

    Boiling my point down, I refuse to accept you as the arbiter of who is and isn’t being a Good Mormon based on their political activity, and that was the position you were implicitly taking on in your post. It was that, specifically, that I was disagreeing with, and I continue to do so. If you want to come off your high-horse and just have it be a discussion of how and why you disagree with what they did, then that’s fine, and I’ll ignore you because that’s not a conversation I want to participate in. But you simply lack the authority to claim this kind of position, no matter how mad you are at them.

  20. I think you’re right, Nate, that a rant is rarely productive. But it might not be giving RAF a fair reading to characterize his post as nothing more than a rant–you own comments on his post seem to me to demonstrate that RAF did raise serious questions for serious discussion. His rhetorical flourishes expressed digust, indignation, and lamentation, but to my mind, there is a big difference between expressing serious objections with flippant sarcasm and being only flippantly facetious with no underlying message. But then, I know that you (and me too) are obsessed with form, so it’s easy to see where you are coming from.

    But let me actually address what I think is your question–is it okay to rant? The old testament prophets certainly ranted alot. I think my favorite ranter is probably Samuel the Lamanite. On the other hand, it could be argued that these prophets had the anointing of God and the prophetic mantle to be able to rant. Maybe ranting is alright as long as you’re authorized. I suppose we could also argue (though I know nothing about this) that RAF or any other mormon ranter also has the gift of the holy ghost and a testimony of Jesus and is therefore also a prophet. But it’s important to note that when these prophets were ranting, they were ranting to the converted, to the people of the covenant. Isaiah didn’t rant to the Assyrians, he ranted to Israel. I tihnk this goes to the point you made that ranting helps to strengthen the converted in their positions–but I would go further and say that it also awakens those who are converted but do nothing–those who sit on their thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor. Russel, it seems, sees his opposition to the bill as a function of his mormonness and so it makes sense that he would try to awake that mormonness in others to rouse them to actually care about it
    (and maybe get involved, I don’t know). But there are also others, like you, who can see mormon values giving place to another view, which is why you challenge his message on rational grounds.

    In my mind, ranting serves a very limited purpose–it’s a function of audience. It only really works for the converted but uninvolved. It can reinforce the already involved but only temporarily; and it will only alienate the unconverted. It works, in this limited space, in a religious context, and in a political context, but the melding of those spheres is problematic–not for discussion, but for ranting. RAF lost me a little when he attacked those senators for betraying their mormonness. But on the other hand, we should be clear that Russel’s appeals to Joseph Smith were not overly religious (if it is possible to make an appeal to the prophet without being religious). At least, if they were religious, they were connotatively so, and not denotatively (sorry for the linguistics jargon). He appealed to JS as a historical figure, one that these senators have a historic link to, but he did not say that Joseph Smith said that God wants us to have habeas corpus for enemy combatants. Instead, he said that as a victim of false prosecution, Joseph Smith would have been in favor of additional procedural protections for the accused that Russel sees the bill as threatening.

    We should not be afraid to tell other mormons why we think what we do about politics, but we should be careful to not threaten their faithfulness if they disagree. I think RAF walked that line (a la Jonny Cash) but ultimately did not overtly cross it. On the other hand, I can see why someone would think he did, I just hope that they would respond by challenging the arguments (as you did), not attacking the person.

    Mark IV–I see your point, but I don’t think it’s really pertinent to Nate’s post. If I understood him, Nate wanted to explore the idea of when, if ever, is it okay to rant, and what are the implications of ranting specifically in a Mormon (or perhaps even more specifically in a Mormon and political) context? I have to admit that I find it strange that you saw RAF’s post as predictable and tiresome, and yet you still read it, and the posts that followed. Are you just really bored and can’t find anything more interesting, or was RAF’s post less tiresome than you seem to be willing to admit? I think you’re right that many of the posts amounted to nothing more than partisan or idealogical sniping, but that should not prevent us from seeing the valid points made by RAF and others. Ivan did present the other side, but he seemed to mirror the other partisan hacks by only ranting and not providing any substantive responses as Nate did. Your last two paragraphs seem only to try to resurrect what you already condemned–degenerating from well-reasoned discussion into partisan one-liners.

  21. I wish to apologize for my Liberal and chicken-hearted comment on the Russel thread.

    I was misunderstood and that was my own fault because I was not clear in what I wrote.

    What I saw was a controversial subject that I think is very important. I thought, seat of the pants guess, was that maybe 80% of the people on this blog are on one side and maybe 20% are on the other. (That is probably not accurate either.) And at the time I made the response it looked to me like the discussion was going to just wilt. Only people from the less numerous side had responded. And I was very busy, without time to respond and not the best voice for the other side.

    So my chickenheart swipe was unskillfully directed at the other side, trying to stir them up. I couldn’t believe that not one person in this group was going to step up and defend Bush.That is what I thought was chicken-hearted. I never thought Liberals in the current LDS church are chicken hearted. It takes courage to voice liberal opinions in the church today. It was suppose to be an equal-opportunity double back-handed inflamatory swipe at Liberals and at chicken-hearted so-far-at-that-point-silent Conservatives to get the discussion going. I guess that makes it twice as bad. Anyway, I don’t play with this computer except at work. So I missed out on all the “fun” in real time and I am way late with this.

    Do you think my comment is the only one not completely understood?

    I believe a LDS person could read through that threat and get a variety of perspectives on the issue. Perhaps it is not all up to high academic standards. But this is the Internet, certainly a fair beginning point for further study. I think that it is useful as long as we don’t get so mad at each other that we can’t function. Don’t let crackpots like me get your goat! If you actually knew me, y’all would probably like me. That might be true for all of us. The great danger of the Internet is that because it is devoid of all the non-verbal cues, it tends to de-humanize us. I enjoyed reading the 100 plus responses on the Russel thread and I have more sympathy for the opinions different than mine. I’m not mad, and I admit I might be wrong.

    Do or did any of you ever play street basketball? According to Rod Tueller and Jim Harrick, good old Mormon coaches who taught me how to play basketball many years ago back in Utah (at church no less), “trash talking” is part of the game. You have to be able to make shots under pressure; like when your opponent has his greasy finger in your eye and he is telling you that he did something unholy to your sister. So it was our duty to trash talk and get our team mates used to it during practice. Then it didn’t matter in the games that counted. At the end of the day, we shook hands and were friends, fellow members of the household of God and forgot it. Let me assure those of you who have not, that the discussions here are tame by church ball standards. What I mean by that, least I be misunderstood again, is not that we should all start trash talking. But that some of us old crows do it habitually and need to be whipped.

    Hence, I apologize.

  22. MLU:

    “For me, ranting undercuts the rule of law.”

    Depending on how much you want to conceptually pack into the phrase “rule of law,” you may be correct. Ranting, or jeremiads (take your pick), do not aspire to make law; they aim to condemn, reveal, praise, or challenge someone or something on the basis of appeals to religion, instinct, custom, revelation, or history. By so doing, they often make legislation difficult. Ranting when one should be legislating would be a very bad thing for a society which values basic liberties and procedures. But a society (including a religious community) which tolerated no ranting at legislation is a society making a fetish out of the wrong things.


    “At the end of the day I think that it is a mistake to think of the present moment as some sort of apoclyptic day of truth in which we preserve or lose those sacred rights that we have inherited.”

    A reasonable position. I hope it is true. I also hope we don’t ever get to point where events make it absolutely clear whether or not it is true. That’s a testing that I would prefer not come to pass, as I am no longer entirely confident in what the answer would be.


    “Making that long of a screed about why Mormons, simply due to their Mormonness, are betraying their faith by supporting a conservative position (with little regard to what that position is) is a hallmark of a Mormon liberal. It’s certainly not a hallmark of a Mormon conservative.”

    We’re using words in different ways, and since you say that you don’t want to play the label game, I won’t attempt to explain the ways I’m using them. Suffice to say that I don’t think the Military Commissions Act represents a “conservative” position. Considering the sort of stuff I threw into my post (e.g., all sorts of invocations of prophets and sacred rights and the Constitution), I think it should be clear that I consider this act potentially radical, and in fact insufficiently “conservative” of those good things (the balances of power, etc.) which the Founders put down in the Constitutional text.

    “And you lose party-points for leaving the ‘around me lately’ out of my quote about God’s bloviation.”

    I left it out in order to keep my comment shorter; my apologies if it misrepresented your position. I didn’t see your argument against treating membership in the church as having normative force in terms of political expectations as hinging upon the whatever God or the prophets have said “lately.” If it does, then I will concede that the prophets have for the most part been quiet about politics over the past few generations. (Though I have to ask: does your insistence on the importance of the “lately” qualification mean that you also concede that earlier prophets, either in this dispensation or in the scriptures, actually did have some fairly radical political messages to convey?)


    “RAF lost me a little when he attacked those senators for betraying their mormonness. But on the other hand, we should be clear that Russell’s appeals to Joseph Smith were not overly religious (if it is possible to make an appeal to the prophet without being religious). At least, if they were religious, they were connotatively so, and not denotatively (sorry for the linguistics jargon).”

    Very true, and I appreciate the linguistic distinction. I think part of what you’re identifying is something that I referred to when I mentioned that I didn’t see my condemnation of these politicians as arising from a deep reflection on politio-theological matters; I saw it as much more “parochially” (to use Nate’s term) tied to our Mormon history and collective understanding of the Constitution.

    “I think RAF walked that line (a la Jonny Cash) but ultimately did not overtly cross it.”

    Anyone who compares me to Johnny Cash has just praised me far more than I could ever possibly deserve. Say it ain’t so, JKC!

  23. Johnathan Green:

    Minor threadjack coming. Regarding the Salem witch trials, those who confessed lived– they were offered absolution and, for all intents and purposes, were released from formal punishment. It was those who refused to confess that eventually died from their interrogations at which point they were declared not to have been witches and therefore were not convicted. So, how does that apply to the Military Commissions Act?

  24. I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I add my perspective.

    I work for the Air Force JAG Corps. People I work with every day either have gone or will soon go to where all the shooting is. One of the young females emailed us a photo from Iraq showing where a large bullet came through her camp and pierced several buildings before it (thankfully) finally hit the ground harmlessly. I have worked with, and talked to, the men who dropped the first bombs on Baghdad. The discussion is not an abstract, academic one for me. I have also been trained both in criminal law and in the law of war, so I know the distinctions; one of my real-life duties has been to advise on whether certain targets were legitimate ones.

    The so-called “war on terror” is, as Nate points out in the post, a legal no-man’s land. The previous administration treated terrorism as a criminal matter, and the current one is treating it like a “real” war, and it is, strictly speaking, neither. I’m not sure the best way to deal with the terrorists, but I do know that treating them as mere criminals was ineffective, and as unlawful combatants under the Geneva Conventions doesn’t quite work. The Geneva Conventions were not written with the current situation in mind.

    Another thing I know is that some of the best legal minds I know have been working long and hard for many years to try to come up with an appropriate legal framework for dealing with the terrorists/detainees. To date, habeas corpus has not been suspended to the extent Lincoln did, and Muslims have not been rounded up and put into camps the way FDR did to Japanese (including members of my wife’s grandmother’s family), so I’m not convinced the current legislation is the worst abuse the Constitution has taken in our history. I will admit though, that there is something to the characterization that it falls under the “Something Must Be Done–oh, look: here’s somethingâ€? syndrome (thanks, Ivan). But I think it is a step in the right direction.

    My perspective on RAF’s rant? I stopped reading once he told us how Joseph Smith would have reacted. And that is the danger with rants, no matter how “worthy” they may be–they preclude any thoughtful discussion. I know I immediately disengaged; I have better things to do with my time. And though I often disagree with RAF, this is the first time I was convinced that his mind was closed to any other point of view. The fact that it was based on any so-called Mormonness just disappointed me even more.

  25. See, Nate, that’s the spirit. Didn’t that feel good? Cathartic, even? What could be more appropriate than a rant about ranting? It not only lets you express your irritation with me, but it nicely thematizes the topic of discussion and drags the conversation back to the topic you want to address, namely, reasoned discourse vs. overimpassioned ranting. I think this illustrates the effectiveness of a good rant at just the right moment, and I quite agree with the final point of your original post that it’s really a matter of taste and timing.

    After working out the substantive differences between you and Russell, which are not insurmountable, what remains is a matter of differing tastes about whether now is the time and season for ranting. I think the mistake you make is not in disagreeing with Russell as to whether this moment is the proper occasion for ranting, but rather that you want Russell to write a post more to your taste rather than according to his own preference. The achievement of his rant is that it motivated you to write the post you wanted written in the first place.

  26. As the author of a rant to which RAF’s has been favorably compared (meaning everyone thinks that his is better than mine was), I feel a need to comment. Both Nate and RAF acknowledge that there are problems with the law just passed. Nate and RAF seem to agree that the problems with RAF’s rant was one of decorum and, perhaps, the inappropriateness or appropriateness of calling into question another’s believes.

    I remember a couple of months ago when G. Palmer’s testimony was called into question and RoastedTomatoes felt that it was uncalled for. At the time I thought RT was right to question the propriety of bringing the man’s beliefs into an intellectual discussion of his arguments. So, it appears that the first question in our mind is, “Is it ever appropriate to call into question the (presumably) deeply felt religious beliefs of another?”.

    When I went on my rant, I thought that it was appropriate because President Bush portrays himself as someone who is deeply interested in being true to the Christian God. With Palmer, he wished to portray himself as an insider with understanding of LDS doctrines and beliefs. I think that it would have been more appropriate to call his testimony into question if he had attempted to portray himself as holding “mainstream” Mormon beliefs, but I don’t know that he ever did.

    In my rant, I said that Bush doesn’t behave like someone who is being true to the Christian God. This brings up the second question, which is, “Who am I [are you] to judge someone else’s testimony?”. Obviously, I ain’t God. I am not acquainted with the frequency or quality of Bush’s prayers. What right do I have to criticize something about which I so obviously know nothing?

    The answer is that I have every right in America. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I am right or that I am acting in good taste or with good manners (as myself and the commenters over in the thread that erupted from my rant demonstrated). In fact, I was surprised that I was taken so seemingly seriously (I did say Bush worshipped Molech, after all). It was hardly the height of civility.

    The purpose of a rant is to shock. I was angry when I wrote the post and, I hope noticably, less angry in the discussion that ensued. Rants are, I think, largely acknowledged as the net equivalent of the primal scream. It is curious to me that they draw so much attention. It is the posting equivalent of trolling in many respects. That said, I don’t know that they aren’t necessary. If a rant gets sufficient amens in the comments, it seems to me that there is an issue to be discussed. When people offer amens to rants, it is because other avenues of discussion seem closed to them. Every rant picks at a sore that other people would prefer remain unpicked.

    So, rants are controversy generators, first and foremost. In fact, that is all they are. As a result of my rant, people got a better idea of what our nation sometimes does in the name of intelligence gathering. As a result of RAF’s rant, some people have gone over the Military commissions act with a fine toothed comb. Perhaps as a result, we will all get a better idea of what we are dealing with, even if we wind up agreeing to disagree.

  27. Jonathan: You misunderstand me. I am not saying that the issue of when to rant or not to rant is a matter of taste. That is way too subjective in my opinion. There are certainly times when ranting is dumb, regardless of one’s taste, just as there are forums when it is inappropriate regardless of one’s tastes. At the very least, RAF would no doubt strenuously object to the notion that his decision to rant at this moment can be reduced to something as subjective as taste.

    As for invective, my use of it against you is not a matter of taste, but of justice ;->….

  28. EN: It has been a long time since I read anything on the Salem witch trials, but as I recall no one was tortured into confessing, but rather folks were convicted on the testimony of the adolescent girls who claimed to be the objects of demonic posession. There was one guy who was crushed to death by stones, but not to exact any confession, but rather to force a pleading to the inditment. Am I remembering this wrong?

  29. Is it appropriate to use this forum to rant against LDS and other Christian legislaters of whom we strongly feel are not doing enough to battle for our core beliefs.

    I’m sure that there are many here that have been frustrated that not single piece of legislation has been put forward in either Congress or the Utah Assembly to stop the onslaught of Pornography. Yet GBH spent more time on this subject Saturday Night than on any other subject.

  30. JKC, # 20 –

    Mark IV …Are you just really bored and can’t find anything more interesting…

    Alas, JKC, you have discovered my secret. Please keep it to yourself, though. As for my reason for reading the thread, I can only say that I find a lot of enlightenment in hearing smart people say smart things. I also find a lot of amusement in hearing smart people say dumb things.

    HP, # 26 –

    Fair enough points, I guess. But you describe a blogging dynamic that is troublesome to me.

    If a permablogger is allowed to go right up to the boundary of propriety and say X, it is absolutely certain that the commenters will step over the boundary and say X + Y. Since this is an entirely predictable phenomenon, the permabloggers themselves bear primary responsibility for the vitriol in the comments. It doesn’t make sense, to me at least, for bloggers to pass out matches and gasoline and then decry the ensuing brush fire. They ought to spend some time policing their own ranks.

  31. Nate:

    I misspoke in my pinultimate sentence. The last pharase should have read “…they were declared not to have been witches and therefore had their convictions invalidated.” You are correct about conviction being based on the testimony of others. The confessions were sought “post” conviction in order to try to compell repentance out of the convicted and torture was a common practice for eliciting said confessions. My criticism of using the Salem trials as an analogy to what is going on today with the use of “torture” resides in both scope and scale. The scope problem is that comparisons to Salem are inaccurate as a matter of history– torture was not used to secure convictions. The scale problem is that what many want to call “torture” today pales in comparison to the atrocities perpetrated during the Salem trials.

  32. Mark IV,
    You’re right, of course. I suppose I assumed that there is a “roll eye” function that occurs when most people encounter rants which leads them to disregard the matter simply because it was brought to their attention as a rant. That RAF or I struck a nerve may be because neither he nor I are particularly noted for ranting and, generally speaking, we keep our political cards close to our chest (if Matt Evans, Adam G., or Kiskilili did it, it may not be considered out of character). That the rant came from someone perceived as not being vitriolic is partly what made the rant interesting. Coming from someone who is always obviously angry, it would be more easily ignored.

    In the comments on my rant, I really didn’t do much to calm the invective. The worst abuses I ignored, those that could be corrected I tried to correct. It worked for me, but I can see how it might drive those seeking to hear the pleasing word of God away.

    A while ago, I added my name to the list of bloggers who made RT’s pledge of civility. I made the commitment because I had weathered a lot of political, religious, and personal bluster in my brief span and assumed (wrongly, it turned out) that I wasn’t going to encounter anything that would really make me angry. It seemed like an easy commitment to make, one that looked nice but required no real effort on my part. When I first encountered something that really made me angry, I immediately disregarded the commitment I had made (and forgotten about, because I wasn’t actually all that invested in it) and wrote my little screed. In the comments at the time, I thought that I was unjustly portrayed, but in hindsight, most adversarial commenters weren’t treating me any worse than I was treating Bush.

    In any case, while I am disappointed in my own rhetoric, the overall experience of having ranted was instructive and positive for me. That of course doesn’t excuse my involving you in the rant, but this is the internet after all. I am not, and won’t be, forcing your eyeballs my way. Perhaps as a permablogger somewhere I have a greater responsibility to tone down my rhetoric, because I am some kind of community model. All I can say is that I will repledge to RT’s standard, with a better appreciation of what that means. Not because I think ranting in and of itself is bad, but because I am conscious of a responsibility that I have to make the blogs where I post a welcoming place.

  33. CE Eric: Thanks for your comments. It would be nice for all involved in this discussion to realize that the JAG Corp of the various services, which is the body that will be running any sort of military justice, is not made up of mindlessly violent automatans who will sign off on whatever legal position their superiors happen to take. I have been consistently impressed by the intellectual ability and basic integrity of the JAG lawyers that I have known.

  34. Responding only to the original post:

    You know Nate… “ranting” is essentially what Abinadi was doing in King Noah’s court.

    The priests even called him on it and asked him why he couldn’t phrase his message in a more constructive and uplifting manner (“how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that…”). Why the harsh words man? You’re not convincing anyone here.

    And what about Samuel the Lamanite shouting “hurting words” from the wall? I guess you could say he convinced those who were already sympathetic and alienated those hostile to his message but failed to substantially “advance the debate” in any real sense.

    Obviously, Russell isn’t quite a prophet and the divine source of his message is debatable, but I’m just saying…

  35. “Obviously, Russell isn’t quite a prophet and the divine source of his message is debatable, but I’m just saying… ”

    Seth, that is why I explicitly said:

    On the other hand, jeremiads are nothing if not an integral part of the scriptures, the Restoration and the Gospel.

  36. Russel (22),

    Well, I guess you fought the law, but the law won.

    I’ve yet to see a discussion that wasn’t enhanced by references to Cash.

  37. Alright, actually attempting to add something to the discussion (we’ll see how I do):

    I think ranting often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of powerlessness. It can often be the province of people who think they don’t have any realistic chance of swaying the debate anyway. So why not blow off some steam over it?

    Giving it a hard look, I think the current conservative assault on “procedure” in favor of “raw results” over the past few years has very-much put me in the camp of those who feel powerless to do anything about some very disturbing men with very disturbing agendas.

    It’s for this reason that I deliberately try to avoid talking about Bush when my mom and dad are visiting. I just can’t seem to keep it civil for some reason. I’ve always been annoyed with the Republicans ever since they took Congress. But Bush infuriates me in a way that is really hard to talk about rationally.

    So much of what he has done in the areas of structural governance and foreign policy has been either spectacularly unsuccessful or just plain scary (or both). Yet he just… keeps… at… it… without alteration! Disaster can’t stop him, Congress can’t stop him, scandal can’t stop him, lack of public support doesn’t even seem to faze him, lack of funds doesn’t seem to matter, reality has been suspended in his case. Like that cursed Energizer bunny! It really is infuriating!

    And apparently there isn’t a darn thing I or anyone else can do about it.

    In such cases, the rant becomes more and more attractive.

  38. I’m guessing most of the legislators RAF excoriated would describe their positions on the bill using may of the same words pro-choice people use to describe their positions re: Roe v. Wade. I am personally opposed to (torture) (abortion). Take your pick. I think it (torture) (abortion) should be safe, legal, and rare.

    This makes no sense at all to me. I can see a person feeling the need to obtain a abortion, but I’m having difficulty picturing someone going from doctor to doctor pleading with them to inflict a little torture. The root function of torture is coercion, the hope that if just enough pain is inflicted we can get to the bottom of something and find the truth of a matter.

    Maybe I should start to wonder when our missionaries will be properly trained in torture techniques so as to help investigators determine the truth of our message in a more expedited manner.

  39. “Sorry Nate.

    What’s a “jeremiad?â€? ”
    It’s poetry or stories that usually talk about the moral downfall of a society. The Book of Lamentations is a jeremiad because it talks about the Jews taking a turn for the worse (I think).

  40. Wikipedia sez:
    A Jeremiad is a long literary work, usually in prose, but sometimes in poetry, that bitterly laments the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective, and often contains a prophecy of its coming downfall. . .
    As such, the name jeremiad is given to moralistic texts that denounce a society for its wickedness, and prophesy its downfall. Authors from Gildas to Robert Bork have had this label hung on their works. In contemporary usage, it is frequently pejorative, meant to suggest that the tone of the text is excessively pessimistic.

    This site ( ) sex:
    The term jeremiad refers to a sermon or another work that accounts for the misfortunes of an era as a just penalty for great social and moral evils, but holds out hope for changes that will bring a happier future.

    Here: ( )
    A literary work or speech expressing a bitter lament or a righteous prophecy of doom.

    Hope that helps.

  41. I’m all for rants, if I agree with them.

    (Note: any trace of sardonic knowingness in the above comment is entirely cover for the author meaning the comment wholeheartedly).

  42. 22 — When I said I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t kidding.

    Apology accepted, although the reasons sound pretty silly — the only part of the statement you cut for length were the qualifications placed on an otherwise general statement, and then, strangely, it was the general nature of the revised statement that you disagreed with. Very odd coincidence.

    In the past, prophets of God have said a number of politically charged things. I’m looking for the relevance here, and the only way I can see any is if you’re claiming to be a prophet of God. And I don’t think you are, so why bring that into the picture? My point was that you are not the one who determines what the normative values of the Mormon community are. I thought I stated that with excruciating clarity, but you’re still tap-dancing around other things and ignoring that point, so I’m restating it again. You can rant til your fingers bleed and I won’t care. But you don’t get to decide what Good Mormon Behavior is for anybody other than yourself.

    And I am not engaging on the content of your comments, just in case that wasn’t crystal clear.

    That’s as much as I’ve got. Unless you address my real points, it’s all I’m likely to bring.

  43. “I’m guessing most of the legislators RAF excoriated would describe their positions on the bill using may of the same words pro-choice people use to describe their positions re: Roe v. Wade. I am personally opposed to (torture) (abortion). Take your pick. I think it (torture) (abortion) should be safe, legal, and rare.”

    This makes no sense at all to me. I can see a person feeling the need to obtain a abortion, but I’m having difficulty picturing someone going from doctor to doctor pleading with them to inflict a little torture. The root function of torture is coercion, the hope that if just enough pain is inflicted we can get to the bottom of something and find the truth of a matter.

    Look at it from the point of view of the fetus and it makes sense.

  44. One thing ranting does is it allows your opposition to easily brush you off as a ranter – one reason why ranting rarely works and only earns accolades from those who already agree with you.

    For example, here is this commentator ( ):

    It’s a shame that the Left has focused so much misplaced energy and capital in trying to prove that Gitmo and CIA overseas interrogation are secretly Treblinka. Abuses and atrocities are, regrettably and rarely, committed by our side in cases like Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and a decent, principled Left would have saved its outrage for these cases when it counted, and thus acted as a conscience to check our worst martial impulses. Instead, their cries of “torture!” and “Gulag!” have faded into one long undifferentiated drone that lulls us to sleep instead of waking us up.

    The Left has cried nothing but Wolf since the war started, and it’s hard to take their outrage seriously anymore, if we ever did.

    Ask me if I agree with everything that commetator said: no. But, he can easily brush off the ranters because rants are usually so over the top that they make anaogies and claims that bear little resemblance to the reality many of the undecided middle actually see.

    Or, we could just let the Snarker give the best commentary on Russell’s post:

  45. Speaking as a non-Mormon, I\’d just like to add a comment on: \”On the other hand, I expect that coming up with adequate legal mechanisms for dealing with terrorism is going to require several different drafts. The creation of good law is a cumulative process. Unfortunately, it is a cumulative process that necessarily involves the collision of actual individuals with the grinding power of the state.\”

    We, meaning Americans, Europeans, and many other peoples of the worlds, have already learned a lot from the previous collisions. The first thing is that people who have control of the machinery of the State, with very rare exceptions, are not trying to keep things out of the public eye for good reasons. Back in the first Gulf War, a US reporter who strayed over the Saudi/Kuwait border was captured by Iraqi troops, who took him to a prison. He recounted that, as he was led down a hallway, a prisoner (US airman, shot down and captured) saw him, and realized that he wasn\’t an Iraqi. IIRC, the airman recognized him as a US reporter. The airman shouted out the reporter\’s name, and identified himself – name, rank, and that he was an USAF officer. The reporter said that he told the airman \’Sorry, I\’m a prisoner as well\”.

    Why did the airman call out his name, when he saw that an outsider was there? The obvious answer was that, if one is a secret prisoner, one can be disposed of, or tortured, with much less bother. When one is a non-secret prisoner, there will be more bother (depending on the system, enough to protect the prisoner, or merely enough so that the prisoner\’s imprisonment, torture and death are known to posterity).

    That\’s the situation here. The administration has already tortured people, and claimed the right to do so. I will not accept any honest debate about the definition of torture – I accept that those who claim the right, aren\’t doing so for theoretical reasons. In addition, the definition of torture has come up before in US law – IIRC, \’torture\’ is one of the aggravating circumstances which can lead to the death penalty, for federal-jurisdiction murders. Torture is also a reason for asylum, for refugees. The US military has a definition of torture, for captured enemies who mistreated US prisoners of war. This definition recently came up when some war-crimes trials of Japanese soldiers were declassified; forcing a US POW to hold a salute for 30 minutes merited 11 years at hard labor.

    As for the excuse (and it is just that, for the non-ignorant) that we\’re dealing with \’enemies captured on the battlefield\’, please stop, and consider the truth. After 9/11, the US paid Afghani and Pakistani bounty hunters for \’Taliban\’, and \’Al Quaida\’ members. I use quotes because, when the US offers X dollars per body, with a total budget of Y dollars, then any bounty hunter who\’s not incurably lazy will come up with Y/X bodies; if innocent people are all that\’s available, well, they\’re probably easier to capture.

    Now, I would have done the same thing – pick them all up, and sort them out later. But I would have been conscious of the fact that sorting was, indeed, necessary. The administration\’s position is \’that\’s our business, and nobody else\’s\’.

    It was also recently revealed that the policy of the (IIRC) 4th Infantry Division, in Iraq, a few years ago, was to round up all men of military age (15-65) in a villiage, if shots were fired from or near that village. They\’d send them to Abu Ghraib, and let the MI guys sort them out. And we\’ve seen how well that worked out.

    Now, I might have done the same thing – pick them all up, and sort them out later. But I would have been conscious of the fact that sorting was, indeed, necessary. The administration\’s position is \’that\’s our business, and nobody else\’s\’.

    We\’ve watched the administration lie repeatedly about the war, the reasons, and how things are going. We\’ve watched the administration lie repeatedly about just about everything. We don\’t have the honest excuse that \’we didn\’t know\’.

    We do.

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