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Toward a classless society.

June 11, 2009, 5:59 pm

The snark about whether erstwhile torture advocates want to torture terrorist Scott Roeder is legitimate snark, of course, but it is sometimes worth drawing out into the open what lies underneath the apparent hypocrisy. Remember this famous passage from Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, in which James Wormold (who’s British) is chatting with Captain Segura (who’s Cuban)?

“Did you torture him?”
Captain Segura laughed. “No. He doesn’t belong to the torturable class.”…
“Who does?”
“The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with émigrés from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal…. One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don’t recognise class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or the prisons of Lisbon or Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress.”
“We’re not shocked by that any longer.”
“It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.” (pp. 164-165 in the collected edition)

What Greene, and Segura, are wittily gliding over here is that the torturable class consists almost entirely of poor people, most of them with brown or yellow skins. Not the citizens of welfare states. Which raises the question, what about Americans? We don’t exactly have a welfare state, do we. And apparently some of us are torturable, to those who believe in torture. Just not ones who look like Scott Roeder or James von Brunn.

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