Helplessness, learned or otherwise

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Even if you believed torture methods worked to gather useful, lifesaving intelligence — although you have to construct extremely elaborate improbable scenarios to do so, not that there seem to be any shortage of people making the effort — and even if you believed that it were ethical to save lives this way, you must at least agree that inducing a state of learned helplessness is counterproductive. The thus conditioned person is one who has lost the incentive to avoid aversive stimuli. Under any theory of “useful torture”, the avoidance of aversive stimuli through cooperation must logically be the goal of the torture sessions. So someone that is learnedly helpless has no notional incentive to “constructively” engage the torturer.

(I presume the thin “logic” under which the learned helplessness idea was sold was as a way of overcoming the other reason why torture in ineffective: the desire of the torturee to avoid aversive stimuli by giving useless information in order to make the torture stop. Solution: make the torturee stop trying to avoid pain. Therefore making them…do what? It’s the Underpants Gnomes theory of torture. You shouldn’t fail to notice that now, you can simply claim that their non-cooperation is because they aren’t helpless enough…)

And yet, it turns out that the CIA paid two psychologists tens of millions of dollars precisely to exercise such a counterproductive theory of learned helplessness against clandestine detainees. Despite the fact that their own interrogation experts warned against it and objected to the idea, people higher-up (I’m assuming the Cheney-ites) appear to have overruled them.

This circle can only be squared if you accept that the purpose of the torture is not, in fact, to gather information — little or none of which, quite predictably, was thus gathered. And what it was actually for was worth it to the tune of hundreds of millions (if you count all the presumable expenses, not just the 81 megabucks going to the psychologists).

So what was it actually for?

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on December 13, 2014 3:09 PM.

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