« Semantic Stopsigns | Main | Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions »

August 25, 2007

Comments

What about rehabilitation? Admittedly, our prison system doesn't do a very good job of rehabilitating criminals - but that is one of the theoretical goals. Maybe it takes time to reflect on your misdeeds in order to change your ways. A long period of incarceration might do this. A short period of torture might not.

I agree with Don, James has completely missed the 4th main role of prison - rehabilitation. Torture would offer nothing in this regard. In addition society striven to be less violent. A move towards torture would go against the basic desire, therefore embracing torture as an alternative to prison would be illogical.

Robin,

no offense, but where is this coming from?

We have an ongoing society-wide debate raging about the morality of torturing people to get information to stop terrorism and you put up a post about torture as an alternative to prison. Do you have a bias against discussing the issues?

Have you ever encountered a person who was tortured? Sat with him after his release from prison in an african country? Seen the fysical and psychological damage?
I have!
Torture can never be an option.

Is this a serious article? Normally I'm used to blogs with reasonably intelligent insight.

This argument rests on the assumptions:

1) Being incarcerated is an equivalent punishment to torture.
2) Being raped in prison is likely.

For the former I think you would have a hard time arguing that with anyone who has ever faced physical torture. For the latter I believe you would need statistics, not episodes of Oz.

"In many situations it would be better to impose a punishment of torture than imprisonment. The fact that the U.S. justice system rejects torture as a punishment is the result of an anti-torture bias."
This seems to be somewhat conclusory as an opening to the discussion.

One point to consider is that torture is irreversible: someone who has been imprisoned for political reasons or otherwise wrongfully can hope to be subsequently pardoned or to have the conviction overturned. This feature of the death penalty has led to an incredibly long and expensive process in the United States, which ultimately results in execution (combined with Death Row) exceeding life imprisonment in cost.

Differences in attitudes toward prison rape and torture as a judicial punishment seem to reflect the general doing/permitting harm distinction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

I would also note that the deterrent effect of caning varies enormously across individuals: for some resilient individuals or practitioners of machismo this may make a very weak deterrent, while others are terrified at the thought. In Singapore, which has not signed anti-torture conventions and uses torture to punish crimes such as vandalism and violations of immigration law, torture is never administered alone, only in combination with prison.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caning_in_Singapore

Don and Andy,

Since the U.S. prison system does a horrible job of rehabilitating I didn’t mention the rehabilitation justification for punishment in the post.

RobbL,

The discussion concerns using torture to get information from foreign terrorists not using torture as a form of punishment against Americans. Perhaps my blog post should have stated that there is a bias against using torture against ordinary criminals.

sodade,

My guess is that the physical and psychological damage of being imprisoned for a long period of time is greater than the damage of being caned, say, 20 times.


Scott Young,

Let X = the number of times someone is caned. Let Y = the number of years someone spends in jail. Nearly everyone would prefer having a punishment of X=1 to Y=50. Similarly, nearly everyone would prefer a punishment of Y=.00001 to X=200. Given some probably satisfied continuality assumptions this means that there are many levels of X and Y for which “Being incarcerated is an equivalent punishment to torture.”

The Wikipedia article on prison rape cites Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc as saying there are an estimated 25,000 prisoners raped each year in the U.S.


Carl,

Once a prisoner has spent time in jail he can never get that time back. You are right that the deterrent effect of caning would vary widely across individuals. But isn’t this also true with imprisonment?


James Miller

I'm skeptical of the equating of caning with torture. Your dismissal of psychological damage implies that you are thinking of corporal punishment, not torture. This is a far less contentious position.

So are you talking of corporal punishment, or of torture in the rack, thumbscrews, rolling the victim in a barrel filled with spikes, etc... sense? If you aren't, then avoid using emotive words language like "torture".

Since the U.S. prison system does a horrible job of rehabilitating I didn’t mention the rehabilitation justification for punishment in the post.

If one has an ideal of a rehabilitative prison system, then as much as the current system sucks, replacing it with corporal punishment is a big step in the wrong direction.

"Once a prisoner has spent time in jail he can never get that time back."
Yes, and for short sentences this consideration doesn't apply, but for long sentences, which impose much larger penal costs, one can recover the large remaining time.

"You are right that the deterrent effect of caning would vary widely across individuals. But isn’t this also true with imprisonment?"
It's a reason to be wary of overly complete substitution. Given a heterogenous population of criminals, one might improve deterrence by adjusting the mix of torture and imprisonment according to the distribution of preferences among those who commit different crimes. Or one might bundle together different punishments (like Singapore) to reduce the variance in total deterrence across individuals, perhaps also including public 'shaming' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_humiliation) as well.

Imprisonment does not do a good job of deterrence. It's primary value is incapacitation. Like James, I also dismiss rehabilitation. You are correct that torture that does prevent future activities and that is precisely why it will not be effective in lowering crime.

Since I never get tired of plugging it, here's Greene & Cohen's For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything

James,

I disagree with your logic. Your assumption is that at a certain X/Y ratio the preference between them is equal, therefore, they are equivalent acts. I'd argue that perpetuating certain forms of punishment on an individual are inherently less ethical than others, regardless of the convicts preference.

What if instead of changing X from caning, we change it to cutting off a persons hand or burning off a persons flesh. Sure a few people would accept a very low X compared to a high Y in this case.

But what about the people who don't? Assume that the Supreme Court rules that a severe form of torture is equivalent to fifty years in prison. If I were arrested (for albeit, a heinous crime) I would have no say on whether I could endure the fifty years or the extreme form of torture. Therefore, in my individual case the state is perpetuating a highly unethical act against me, even if a few pain-resistant convicts might disagree.

So the state wouldn't use extreme forms of torture? That's a slippery slope, and it isn't one I'd want a civilized country to get on. Where do you draw the line at what is acceptable to do to another human being.

If you're going to argue that the death penalty is similar, don't bother. First, executions are done in as pain-free manner as possible. Second they aren't ethical to begin with, and I'm proud to live in a country that doesn't have them anymore (Canada).

Although I think that Wikipedia statistic is somewhat dubious, even if there were a high amount of rapes in prison, this in no way justifies allowing torture. The fact that we don't always live by our ethical principles doesn't mean we should abandon them.

Call it a "bias against torture" if you will, but I certainly don't want to be living in a country where you are in charge.

James,
Your post isn't transparently rooted in empiricism. Also, it seems like a weird starting point for a more generally worthy topic: bring rationality and empirical grounding to judicial interference with life, liberty, and property (perhaps all reducible to property) of individuals.

This isn't a cognitive bias, it's a judgment on a particular issue.

I think many people would rather be tortured for a week than imprisoned for a year. I would certainly be obligated to choose the former option, if I were convicted of a crime, unless I thought the torture was going to permanently shatter my sanity. And yet I still don't think the justice system should torture. I wonder why I think that.

Eliezer,
If our best evidence is that justice system torturing in certain instances would reducing torturing overall, wouldn't it be irrational for you to oppose those instances of torturing by the justice system? The same applies to imprisonment and executions.

Alternatively, torturing, imprisonment, and execution in certain instances may reduce your and my likelihood of personally being tortured, imprisoned, and/or executed. It's an empirical question though -I don't know what the data says on this stuff.

Elizer, I think that part of the reason is that objecting to things like flogging criminals makes it easier for us to think of ourselves as compassionate, enlightened etc.

We must be enlightened, something inside us reasons, because we have to hide the violence of our acts from ourselves.

Hello James,

I'm trying to understand the crux of the issue here. Is the contention that those who advocate torture of foreign terrorists should also advocate torture of domestic criminals in order to be logically consistent? That's what I'm currently understanding as the main point. However, there has been enough discussion to make me wonder if the point is to explore whether torture is something to advocate in the first place.

Eliezer, I think you have defined cognitive bias well and I agree it is a stretch to call the rejection of torture a "bias" but I think that the word "bias" (stripped bare of "cognitive") is used for more things than aspects of universal human cognitive machinery. There are different ways to demonstrate this, for example by looking up synonyms for the words "biased" and "unbiased", or surveying the uses. A bias is an imbalance that (if uncorrected) precludes a neutral or impartial judgment, and this imbalance can be something that arises universally in the judgment of all humans or it can arise out of an individual's history and be specific to that individual.

The words "inclination" and "slant" are synonyms of "bias", and they also are used to describe slanted or inclined surfaces. The word "bias" itself etymologically derives from a word meaning "slant". The word "bias" is sometimes used to describe a badly calibrated measurement apparatus, so for example a biased level will lead us to mistakenly construct objects with surfaces which are slanted rather than level.

This suggests a close conceptual relationship between the idea of bias in judgment, and the idea of an inclined surface. Place a marble on an inclined surface, and it will roll in the direction of the incline. Present someone with a situation that calls for a judgment, and if he is biased he will display a tendency to erroneously judge in a particular direction. A tendency to err is not by itself a bias - in order to be a bias the tendency must have a direction. Having a direction, it must be predictable (to an extent). And, since it is predictable, the possibility of correcting for bias, of overcoming bias, arises.

If you are learning to throw darts, and your darts land all over the board, then that's one kind of failure. But if your darts all cluster close together in one part (say) at the bottom right of the board, then that's another kind of failure and there's a good chance you can correct for it (by, for example, aiming for the top left of the board). I think we can usefully call this kind of failure a "bias".

I think that two important issues are
a) we consider it undesirable to cultivate bloodlust among the lawful populace, as is frequently done with torture, and
b) imprisonment imposes costs upon the government which reduce the government's readiness to use it, while torture does not have such an effect.
Also, as noted earlier, torture doesn't prevent further crimes and thus doesn't protect the public. (less of an issue for white collar crimes etc).

I think Michael Vassar has it exactly right: the biggest problem with giving someone the power to punish someone else is that there are a fair number of people who think harming disfavored others is *fun.* Physical torture is more fun for such people than is imprisonment, and the cost of prison gives the system an incentive to keep a leash on the over-enthusiastic punishers (of whom there would be many more if the system provided more opportunities for such people to get their jollies).

You write:
My guess is that the physical and psychological damage of being imprisoned for a long period of time is greater than the damage of being caned, say, 20 times.

Stuart Armstrong writes:
I'm skeptical of the equating of caning with torture. Your dismissal of psychological damage implies that you are thinking of corporal punishment, not torture. This is a far less contentious position.

What is your idea of torture?
I ask again: have you ever met with a victim?
Since your write : my guess etc... I don't think so.

Believe me, the damage of torture (physical and psychological) lasts for ever.
Even witnessing this in being with victims, helping them, is very traumatic. For years now I'm suffering from it.
And it was about: hitting with a stick, electrocution (let somebody hold the wire in his hands, poor water over him, switch on electricity), hitting the foot soles with a piece of wood with nails in it, nails into the foot sole, making witness torture and execution, no food, being put in prison in the smallest dirtiest place you can imagine, no facility to go to the toilet - just go ahead were you sit, smell of blood, faeces, sweat .... all around.
And so on, and so on...

I think... your 'my guess' isn't worth a lot!

Why did you choose the strongest term, rather than corporal punishment or somesuch?

One other argument in favor of corporal punishment/torture is that it means people aren't getting acclimated to prison culture.

An argument against is that many government which used cp/t abolished it. We should at least look at their reasons--they have more experience with its effects than we do.

More generally, people underestimate how much they're hurting others, perhaps especially when the pain is framed as punishment. Admittedly, this applies to prison as well as physical punishment.

Why do you dismiss rehabilitation?

Why did you choose the strongest term, rather than corporal punishment or somesuch?

One other argument in favor of corporal punishment/torture is that it means people aren't getting acclimated to prison culture.

An argument against is that many government which used cp/t abolished it. We should at least look at their reasons--they have more experience with its effects than we do.

More generally, people underestimate how much they're hurting others, perhaps especially when the pain is framed as punishment. Admittedly, this applies to prison as well as physical punishment.

Why do you dismiss rehabilitation?

Why did you choose the strongest term, rather than corporal punishment or somesuch?

One other argument in favor of corporal punishment/torture is that it means people aren't getting acclimated to prison culture.

An argument against is that many government which used cp/t abolished it. We should at least look at their reasons--they have more experience with its effects than we do.

More generally, people underestimate how much they're hurting others, perhaps especially when the pain is framed as punishment. Admittedly, this applies to prison as well as physical punishment.

Why do you dismiss rehabilitation?

Stuart

I consider torture to be the deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain. I don’t dismiss the psychological damage of torture and believe it could be part of the reason that the threat of torture would deter.


Nick

Crime is often a rational choice so I suspect that many criminals can’t be rehabilitated.


Carl

You are right that there is a greater opportunity to correct state error when the state imposes a long prison term than when it tortures someone.


TGGP

You write “imprisonment does not do a good job of deterrence.” I don’t agree. I suspect, for example, that fear of imprisonment prevents many people from stealing from their employers


Scott

You wrote “I'd argue that perpetuating certain forms of punishment on an individual are inherently less ethical than others, regardless of the convicts preference.” Perhaps I’m too much of an economist but I strongly disagree with this. If a criminal prefers to be tortured than imprisoned and the rest of society is better off if the criminal is tortured than imprisoned than I would consider it extremely unethical to imprison rather than torture the criminal.


Hopefully Anonymous,

My post wasn’t meant to be rooted in empiricism.


Eliezer

If you can’t find a reason to oppose torture and you accept that there are good reasons to torture prisoners than if you are rational (and don’t worry about what other people think of you) you will change your views to supporting torture.


John Newman

I am deliberately not considering the treatment of foreign terrorists. The crux of my argument is that if you support imprisoning criminals then in some situations you should also support torturing criminals. But most Americans support only the first of these punishments.


Michael Vassar and David Balan

Michael wrote “imprisonment imposes costs upon the government which reduce the government's readiness to use it, while torture does not have such an effect.” This is a valid argument against torture but it is even a stronger argument against the use of fines as a form of punishment.


sodade

You wrote “Believe me, the damage of torture (physical and psychological) lasts for ever.” I’m sure you’re correct, but the harm of being put in prison for 20 years also lasts a lifetime. Do you really think being tortured for a week in a way that does no significant permanent physical harm is worse than being locked up in a small cage for 20 years? I am not trying to downplay the harm of being tortured; rather I am arguing that the harm of being imprisoned for a long period of time is also very high, so high that a person who supports long imprisonment terms shouldn’t say he opposes torture because torture imposes too high a cost on its victims. It would be consistent, however, for someone to oppose both torture and long prison terms.

Nancy,

My guess is that going to prison increases the chance of a person committing future crimes so prison is worse than useless at rehabilitation. Prisoners make contact with and learn from other criminals and so become better at crime while in jail. In contrast going to jail makes it harder to get a legal job and long jail sentences cause a prisoners’ human capital to erode. Thus, it’s rational for ex-cons to be more willing to engage in crime as a career after they go to jail than before they are incarcerated. Considering rehabilitation strengthens the case for torture.


James Miller

Sorry James, I didn't read the name at the bottom.

My point is that is that there is a heated debate about torturing terrorists. If you want to discuss torture, why not discuss where it is being used instead of raising the issue of torturing criminals? This is not a live issue in the real world. This is like the grownups are discussing what movie we are going to and you pipe up and say "I like going to Disneyworld".

If you want to discuss torture why ignore the political discussion that is underway. If you want to talk about prison reform, lets talk about that. I certainly agree that it is disgusting when people joke about prison rape. Using the word torture as a an alternative is not serious...unless you have a bias against people taking you seriously.

Hi James,

Your definition of torture may be an impasse for further discussion. "...the deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain" is a significant understatement of my understanding of torture. Upon your definition, a daily pin prick similar to glucose monitoring or participation in a Pilates class could suffice for torture. In fact, all someone would have to do is say, "yeah that hurts" and the day's torture is done.

James, what did you think of my link.

I think most people that don't steal from their employers are more deterred by the reputation costs than the fear of prison.

But I don't believe in long term emprisonment. There have been studies (regret I can't point out which - I only recall having a discussion with friends amongst whom one is a lawyer in court (and who also engages in human rights etc.) that imprisonment after (I believe it were) seven years, is less becoming less effective. I don't talk about costs. It is said that many people find 'redemption' (? I don't know whether this is the right word - hope so)in punishment for a crime they committed through a period of imprisonment. They need this (as do victims - to 'pay back' for what they did. After this period of 7 years the person who's held in custody will not 'learn' anymore from his punishment. That will only happen in the first 7 years. Beyond this period of time (s)he will start building up anger and resentment.
But no matter what you write, you will never find me in any way agreeing with the smallest kind of torture - any torture. IT IS WRONG,IT IS IMMORAL. And if you argue this only from point of cost effectiveness... well, well, well... Don't you think there are other ways to cut in a state's cost?

Maybe you do think too much like an economist. In any case, you made me think enough to write two comments. More than most people do, so keep it up. I like a good cognitive challenge to my viewpoints!

James Miller writes "My post wasn’t meant to be rooted in empiricism." Neither are a lot of the responses. So what are all these writings, not meant to be rooted in empiricism, other than bloviating?

Giving the government the power to levy fines is only a problem if the government official doing the fining actually gets to keep the money. This is generally not the case, whereas the government official doing the torturing actually gets to do the torturing, or at least gets to order it.

This sort of bloodless rationality is quite sickening.

We don't torture people because we don't want to be the sort of people who deliberately inflict pain on others, who violate a person's bodily integrity, who invent and adopt technologies of pain. We don't want to have a government that has the right to torture its citizens. We don't want to establish a class of people whose job is to inflict agony.

At least, that's the theory. In fact, torture by violence and rape is extremely common as an informal practice in the penal system, and in the intelligence and military worlds torture has been an institutionalized practice for decades. We are already living in a torture state, so you have ample opportunity to bolster your theory with some facts. Go study some torture victims and see if their

Here's a tip: if your rationality leads you to conclusions that any decent person would find sickening, that's a sign that there might be something wrong with your reasoning, your premises, or your general methodology. Certainly if this is rationality, give me irrationality any day. It's the same sort of rationality displayed by Eichmann.

Bingo. Following this especially from Germany since yesterday I have hold to my self. If this is "reason", humanity has lost. Future of Humanity?

There was a time when "any decent person" in the South would have found sickening the idea of desegragated drinking fountains. Or abortion. Or democracy. And so on. Popular repugnance is an imperfect guide.

We don't torture people because we don't want to be the sort of people who deliberately inflict pain on others

All forms of punishment exist to inflict suffering on others. Every single one. All that changes is how that suffering is inflicted. The point of objecting to punishment-by-inflicting-pain is that inflicting pain makes it impossible to hide the fact that you are exerting power over someone to make him suffer.

Crime is often a rational choice so I suspect that many criminals can’t be rehabilitated.

Well, it's far from clear that rehabilitation is universally or even usually impossible. (And I'm glad you're not in charge with that attitude.) You could see rehabilitation as changing people's utility function to be less antisocial/more empathetic, as opposed to changing their rationality level. And as I said, rehabilitation is at least conceivable given imprisonment, but not given corporal punishment (or "torture").

Also, what Michael Vassar said.

James, do you seriously think that every judgment with which you disagree is a bias?

More to the point however, there are so many other considerations against torture that this post doesn't even begin to consider. For example, what does torture do to the torturers? I think it's reasonable to believe that *being* a torturer is either going to be highly traumatic or totally cauterize one's sense of empathy, and that's a huge cost both to the torturer and to society.

Giving the government the power to levy fines is only a problem if the government official doing the fining actually gets to keep the money. This is generally not the case, whereas the government official doing the torturing actually gets to do the torturing, or at least gets to order it.
What? The torturer doesn't actually grab utility stolen from the torturee. He only gets the satisfaction of having tortured someone. Could it not be the case that a government official gets satisfaction from fining people, even if he doesn't receive the funds? I don't know, but you need to present an argument for why it should be so different from torture.

I find it very hurtful that it needs so many words to discuss this theme - to even consider torture.
There should be only one word: NO!

Over and over again: NO!
NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

Popular repugnance is an imperfect guide.

True enough, but it's a pretty good heuristic. And at some point, your value system has to ground out in something.

All forms of punishment exist to inflict suffering on others.

There is suffering in the form of a parking fine, and suffering in the form of having your testicles electrocuted. I hope your analytical scheme is capable of drawing a distinction between them.

I have a question for the torture advocates -- when you imagine the scene of a prisoner being tortured, by whatever methods you prefer, do you see yourself as the torturer or as the torture victim? Or are you incapable of projecting yourself into either role? Is torture, like war, something that happens only far away to people that aren't much like you?

He only gets the satisfaction of having tortured someone.

Torture regimes require a professional class of torturers. Such a job description attracts natural sadists, and encourages them to develop their proclivities, and empowers them politically. The prison guard lobby already has an unholy amount of power in California, and in part is responsible for the extraordinarily high incarceration rate we have. Do we really want the torturer's union setting up a lobbying office in Sacramento, pushing for more torture, for more crimes? And just think, it's saving money at the same time!

I'm sure some government bureaucrats get off on being able to deny someone a building permit, but I hope you can see the difference in the situations.

Sodade, I'm sympathetic to that argument - I sometimes give similar advice to people who are trying to be clever about when to believe falsehoods. "Just Say No To Self-Deception" is a far more reliable rule.

But you still have to be able to talk about why the "Just Say No!" rule is justified, even while following it. Otherwise, one day, one of the things you didn't let yourself think about will jump out and bite you. You have to be allowed to talk about it, even if you don't do it.

RobbL,

You wrote “Using the word torture as an alternative [to discussing prison reform] is not serious.” I would like to change this. What better place to start than on a blog in which people are supposed to put reason above emotional biases.


Jon Newman,

My definition of torture is “The deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain". By this definition painful medical procedures don’t count as torture because the infliction of pain is an unfortunate side effect of the procedure not the purpose of the procedure.


TGGP

I skimmed the paper at your link and it seems interesting. Reputation costs are certainly an important reason why people don’t steal but fear of jail is another reason.


sodade

If a criminal would prefer to be tortured for a week than to be imprisoned for 10 years why would it be more immoral to torture rather than imprison the criminal?


Scott Young,

Thanks.


Hopefully Anonymous

These writings are meant to be logical arguments.

David Balan

You wrote “Giving the government the power to levy fines is only a problem if the government official doing the fining actually gets to keep the money.” I disagree. The politicians who set the fines are the ones who get to spend the money generated by the fines.


mtraven

You wrote “if your rationality leads you to conclusions that any decent person would find sickening, that's a sign that there might be something wrong with your reasoning, your premises, or your general methodology.” Perhaps, but it could also be a sign that there is something wrong with your sense of sickening. For example, many people find the buying and selling of human kidneys to be sickening. Consequently, most governments ban trade in kidneys. As a result of such a ban, however, thousands of people needlessly die. It should be part of the job of economists such as myself to convince people to get over their irrational distaste of practices when such practices can improve the human condition.


Pseudonymous

You wrote “We don't torture people because we don't want to be the sort of people who deliberately inflict pain on others All forms of punishment exist to inflict suffering on others. Every single one. All that changes is how that suffering is inflicted. The point of objecting to punishment-by-inflicting-pain is that inflicting pain makes it impossible to hide the fact that you are exerting power over someone to make him suffer.”

This is a very smart observation. If I ever publish my thoughts on torture in another forum I will use this argument.


Nick Tarleton,

If prisons rehabilitated then it would indeed reduce the desirability of torturing criminals.


Paul Gowder,

You write “being a torturer is either going to be highly traumatic or totally cauterize one's sense of empathy, and that's a huge cost both to the torturer and to society.” But won’t forcing a man to spend 30 years in a small cage where he is at frequent risk for being gang raped also cauterize peoples’ sense of empathy.


TGGP

I agree.


sodade,

Again I ask you to answer the following question “If a criminal would prefer to be tortured for a week than to be imprisoned for 10 years why would it be more immoral to torture rather than imprison the criminal?”


mtraven,

You write “The prison guard lobby already has an unholy amount of power in California, and in part is responsible for the extraordinarily high incarceration rate we have.” So if we substituted torture for some incarceration we would have fewer prison guards and fewer people pushing for long prison terms. It requires far fewer government employees to torture a man for a week than to the keep him locked up for a year, so substituting to torture as a form of punishment would reduce the number of government workers who have an incentive to advocate for harsh punishments.


James Miller

James Miller,
Since you have specific evaluations of the world we live in, and specific prescriptions, how are they logical arguments if they are not rooted in empiricism? Is any other reader baffled by this claim, or just me?

When I go back to Zimbabwe, I will ask the guy who was tortured for 3 weeks ( or is that too long - you say 10 days - regret, I don't know anybody who was tortured only for 10 days) what he would prefer 'next time'.

@ Eliezer Yudkowsky : you're very right. It has to be possible to talk about this, about everything.
I'm afraid I'm a bit too close to the subject and I know my reactions are more emotional instead of very logical.

"My definition of torture is “The deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain". By this definition painful medical procedures don’t count as torture because the infliction of pain is an unfortunate side effect of the procedure not the purpose of the procedure.--James Miller"

So if someone came into a cell and pricked a finger SIMILAR TO doing a blood glucose test but only did it to cause pain is that sufficient by your definition to be torture? If so it seems to me that your definition of torture is lacking. I agree that pain is most typically the modality of torture but it is not by itself torture. At least not on my understanding.

If a criminal would prefer to be tortured for a week than to be imprisoned for 10 years why would it be more immoral to torture rather than imprison the criminal?

Externalities, like creating public toleration of torture and a torturers' union.

If prisons rehabilitated then it would indeed reduce the desirability of torturing criminals.

You miss the other half of my point, which is that even if prisons don't rehabilitate now, if we give up and start torturing criminals instead, rehabilitation will have no chance, even if it would have been possible. You generally speak as if prison universally is, and always will be, defined by brutality and rape; I doubt this.

HA, this is speculation. Speculation without data can be meaningful, to an extent.

Nick, first, a lot of James Miller's language is not speculative, from the opening line "In many situations it would be better to impose a punishment of torture than imprisonment." Second, it seems rational to attempt to inform speculation with the best available data when possible. I see no indication that James Miller is doing that, or has an interest in doing that, from the OP or from his follow-up comments.

There is suffering in the form of a parking fine, and suffering in the form of having your testicles electrocuted. I hope your analytical scheme is capable of drawing a distinction between them.
I think we all recognize that most would prefer the former to the latter. If there were any people who preferred the latter to the former, that might actually count against torture in that specific case since it is less of a disincentive, but on the other hand it would likely be less costly.

I have a question for the torture advocates -- when you imagine the scene of a prisoner being tortured, by whatever methods you prefer, do you see yourself as the torturer or as the torture victim? Or are you incapable of projecting yourself into either role? Is torture, like war, something that happens only far away to people that aren't much like you?
I'm not a torture advocate, but honestly I envision myself as neither the torturer nor the torturee because that is most likely what I will be. I think no one is really capable of projecting themselves but only imagines they can. That is why so many people they don't understand how people could behave in a certain way because they cannot see themselves behaving in that way.

Torture regimes require a professional class of torturers. Such a job description attracts natural sadists, and encourages them to develop their proclivities, and empowers them politically. The prison guard lobby already has an unholy amount of power in California, and in part is responsible for the extraordinarily high incarceration rate we have. Do we really want the torturer's union setting up a lobbying office in Sacramento, pushing for more torture, for more crimes? And just think, it's saving money at the same time!
Every governmental instrument requires a professional class to administer it and will disproportionately attract those without a greater disincentive for taking part in it. Fines/confiscations are unique in that they have the added incentive to transfer from the victim to the official. My point is that if the finer does not receive the fine it does not become unlike other instruments but rather the same. You use the current bad situation with imprisonment as a reason not to use torture, but the point in the original post is that prison is bad enough that torture should be considered as an alternative.

I'm sure some government bureaucrats get off on being able to deny someone a building permit, but I hope you can see the difference in the situations.
I think most people would rather be denied a building permit than tortured.

James, that was a great point with the kidneys. I don't think there is an objectively correct position on any normative issue, but I would personally prefer if people thought more like economists and I suspect many people that do not do so would still be happier in a world where policy was set by those that do.

You miss the other half of my point, which is that even if prisons don't rehabilitate now, if we give up and start torturing criminals instead, rehabilitation will have no chance, even if it would have been possible. You generally speak as if prison universally is, and always will be, defined by brutality and rape; I doubt this.
I don't understand why we won't be able to try rehabilitation after we've tried torture. Also, what do you think is the probability that within the foreseeable future prisons will successfully rehabilitate to a significant degree rather than being defined by brutality and rape?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Less Wrong (sister site)

May 2009

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31