You seem to have confused me with someone else

By Megan McArdle

SomeCallMeTim used to comment on my old site. He disagreed with almost everything I said, and occasionally was a little over the top with his attacks, but he was a sharp interlocutor who forced me to think. I miss him.

Hence, I was a little surprised to find, in the comments of Jim Henley's fascinating quest for libertarian arguments against animal cruelty, SomeCallMeTim characterizing me thusly:

This is going to sound like snark, but it’s genuine: seriously?

She was OK with Padilla, OK with Hamdi, and thought the Administration was more protective of civil liberties than a Kerry Administration would be. Those seem like bright-line tests to me.

But I willingly acknowlege that my understanding of “libertarian” is informed by what Mill and Nozick we read in college, as well as things said by you, Julian, and other libertarian bloggers (and things pointed to by the same). I will happily take your opinion as definitive, and stop making “schmib” references about Megan, Insty, or anyone else self-labeling as libertarian. And I sincerely retract and apologize for all such previous comments.

I still think those positions are deeply and grievously wrong. But if not actually anti-libertarian, I should (and will) stop saying or implying otherwise.



I was surprised because this is what I've said about Padilla: i.e., nothing. Here's what I've said about Hamdi: also nothing. And here's what I wrote1 about Bush v. Kerry on civil liberties:

Civil Liberties [I support] Neither. I used to think that Janet Reno was the embodiment of all evil, after she helped gut the fourth amendment and pioneered the use of the paramilitary force to resolve child custody issues. Now I think that whoever becomes attorney general is driven mad by dreams of all the good they could do if only they had a lot more power. Both sides endorse the execrable drug war, which has done more to destroy civil liberties than any post-9/11 moves.



I was probably wrong about this--to the extent that one can know a counterfactual, that is. Though I stand by my assertion that the Clinton administration was pretty amazingly crap on civil liberties . . . as was Bush I . . . and this is why I don't write about civil liberties; it's too depressing. But it isn't what Tim seems to have thought; it was a generalised "pox on both their houses" feeling, the eternal weary burden of any libertarian, not a rousing endorsement of the Bush administration.

I often have this feeling that people on the web are arguing with some other libertarian. I'm fairly frequently confused with Jacqueline Passey or Kerry Howley, even though we don't actually look alike, write about the same things, or for that matter, agree all that often. Even more frequently, I am assailed for my position on some issue upon which I cannot remember having ever taken a position . . . or in some cases, upon which I have taken the opposite position. For example, I am weirdly being described as a "pro-torture" libertarian.

This is the closest thing I have ever written to something "pro-torture", an exploration of how we'd feel about torture if it were unmediated by the state.


I want you to imagine that there's a terrorist group that is threatening, not some faceless person somewhere, but your kid. Your husband or wife. Your beloved brother or sister. Your mother or father. They are planning to kill them. You don't know exactly when, or how, and hence you know that you can't protect them without taking away the liberty that makes their life worth living. Picture the face of that person you love. Picture them dying, horribly, from poison gas. The terrorist group is planning on doing that to them. You know it's going to happen, unless you can somehow prevent it.

Now I want to picture that you have a member of that terrorist group tied up in your livingroom. He probably knows about the plans, and if he doesn't, he certainly knows how to get the people who do know about them. Only despite the best efforts of the Feds, he isn't talking.

Now, are you going to give him back to the Feds to be sent to Gitmo in the hopes that a couple years down the road, he might tell you something -- if they haven't already gassed your child, that is? Or are you going to whip out the toolbox and get to work?

I think it's important to think of this in two ways. First, if you endorse torture, you should be willing to perform it yourself, for you are on the same moral level as the torturer. And second, all the victims of terrorists are someone's beloved sister, mother, son. You should not be more willing to sentence them to death for your high principles than you are your own loved ones. The torture debate is ineffective because it's debated at such delicate remove from our own lives.



In the end I concluded what I think most people believe: there are rare circumstances in which almost all of us would endorse the use of torture, the proverbial ticking time bomb in Manhattan. But that doesn't mean we should legalize it. If there really is a nuclear time bomb in Manhattan, and the CIA can find it by torturing one of the conspirators, I'm pretty sure they will regardless of the law. Meanwhile, if you legalize it, they'll start torturing people in ordinary cases, because well, it's legal, innit?

I've written this latter point over and over and over again, but somehow, only the post they think they disagree with (when it's actually discussed, we all pretty rapidly agree) sticks in their head.

I don't know why people think I'm pro-torture, except that I suspect they are angry that the morality of torture can even be discussed; they want to put it in the same basket of questions we dismiss with visceral horror, such as "Child pornography: good for society?" So even though I agree with them as a policy matter, and even as a moral matter2, they are angry that I don't agree with them in the right way. Then they hear other people talking about how I supported Padilla and Hamdi, and this reinforces this increasingly unrealistic mental portrait of me.



1It ought to go without saying, but just in case: obviously, the conclusion I reached about whom to vote for was wrong, though I stand by many of the sub-analyses; in particular, I was most wrong about the administration's staggeringly awful foreign policy, and amazing general incompetence.

2I haven't actually found anyone but a couple of Quakers who is actually willing to argue that if, say, their mother had been kidnapped by terrorists; and one of the terrorists were right there in the livingroom where you could stomp the information out of them, the appropriate course would be to forgo violence. Ditto ticking nuclear bombs in Manhattan. Yes, it's unlikely, but we're trying to clarify a moral principle, not set policy; we already agree on the policy, which is that torture should be illegal.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/08/you-seem-to-have-confused-me-with-someone-else/1762/