The politics of politics

By Craig Wynn

For this column I could talk about Thabo Mbeki’s visit, but it’s still Saturday as I write this, so there’s no knowing whether he pitched or not (See: Julius Malema). Time travel would be a cool topic, actually, but nah. How about torture? Now there is a change of subject from South African politics (arguably). Before I sound too random, this idea comes from both the current drama in the States surrounding Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo Bay – and the congress’ disagreement with this – as well as from my awesome English tut about J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.


The topic of torture, which is alleged to happen excessively at Guantanamo Bay, is always a frightening one. The reason being, in my opinion, is because it is also so fascinating to us. It is such an intriguing act in that we all know the evil in torture but, at the same time, can argue over its necessity for ever. Alternatively, we would be able to watch in awe the cell phone videos of an American soldier being beheaded a few years ago by terrorists or see the sick humour in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal. Images like these are almost a racy form of entertainment to many, under the guise of important information.

Many would argue that this is due to the desensitisation of mankind caused by watching too much violent television or playing too many gory computer games. This is altogether possible, but implies that our love for the obscene and shocking is something new, call it the ‘good old days fallacy’, if you will. But what about the public executions back in the day, as well as public torture? These days we all look back and say that those people were barbaric and cruel, but how is it any different to jeer on at a public execution than to Bluetooth a beheading video to a mate?

We’re all still human, I daresay, and we love the gore, baby. Writer, Elaine Scarry, described torture as the act “that permits one person’s body to be translated into another person’s voice, that allows real human pain to be converted into a regime’s fiction of power”. In fact, I wonder whether torture is actually prevalent in all parts of our lives, in every person’s behaviour. Often we’ll use such delicate techniques in arguments or even simple discussions and conversations to alter another’s behaviour or words so to suit our means. Often this is done simply by making the other person uncomfortable with something, kind of like a low-grade version of being naked and in a blindfold. Guantanamo Bay, and other torture capitals, are simply the political big-wigs’ versions of normal human-to-human methods of torture. So then, I say torture still exists on a massive scale and, more scary, is still done in the public more than we know. Politically, I believe, we are still a bunch of savages – throughout the world – and we love it.

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