Only By Sacrificing Our Civilization

Appleyard responds to one of my posts on torture:

John Gray...used the legitimation of torture as evidence of his conviction that there is no such thing as progress. This makes more sense as it rests on a more persuasive definition of civilisation, not as an absolute progression, but as temporary respite from at least some aspects of our fallen condition.

To Gray, torture is an inevitable human crime that, with luck, we can periodically suppress. I take this to be a validation of Sullivan's view that torture must be absolutely forbidden. The reason is that civilisations can only exist on the basis of absolutes. These may be delusory, they may be brutal, but their role is vital - the sustenance of a civilisation's self-belief. Via Christanity and the Enlightenment, our civilisation is based on the irreducibility of the individual, on restraint and on the quality of mercy, on, in fact, the absolute wrong of torture. Maybe we can fight a war better with torture, but only by sacrificing our civilisation, which is what Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld chose to do.

If we believe we can defend our civilization through torture, we have already ended it.