Using the Gripping Hand on the Trolley Problem: Dick Cheney, Torture, and the Way of Escape

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle published  a classic scifi novel 23 years ago, called The Mote in God's Eye. Recommended. The "Motie" aliens in the book have three hands, the third of which is the strongest. "On the gripping hand" means, among other connotations for the book's aliens, a third choice, which is neither horn of a dilemma.

Former US VP Dick Cheney says he'd authorize the CIA to use torture (such as water-boarding) again to prevent another terrorist attack on American citizens. This is simple "ends justify means" utilitarianism, a common CIA operative's viewpoint. Wear a black hat if it keeps more of those wearing white hats alive. Dick Cheney would switch the trolley, and he'd push the fat man on the tracks, to save multiple American citizens, it seems.

Torture in the pursuit of our enemies is not a traditional Christian ethical viewpoint, though it is a traditional Muslim one (e.g. Surah 8: Al Anfal). Though Cheney is not putting himself forward as anything other than the executive of a secular government, it still worries me that we as a nation are choosing to become more like our enemies when we fight them. What does the Christmas story say? That we choose peace and humility over arrogance and war. How can we do that and prevent further terrorist attacks? The promise in scripture is that there are ways out of our dilemmas. Said Paul, himself no stranger to dilemmas: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

I believe there was and is an alternative to torture in intelligence gathering. Just as, given any reasonable amount of time, there should be a third way out of the trolley problem. All that is lacking in Dick Cheney's dilemma is a bit more creativity.

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