In Praise of Lewandowsky

There’s a book published in 2009 called “Terrorism and Torture: an Interdisiplinary Perspective”,  edited by by Werner G. K. Stritzke, Stephan Lewandowsky, David Denemark, Joseph Clare, and Frank Morgan.

Lewandowsky is co-author of chapter 1: “The Terrorism-Torture Link: When Evil begets Evil” and of chapter 9: “Misinformation and the ‘War on Terror’: When Memory turns Fiction into Fact”.

You can read the first part of Chapter 1 here:

I haven’t read the book, so I can’t write a review, but I salute Lewandowsky and his co-authors for doing what intellectuals are supposed to do – defend basic humanistic principles of ethics and justice against powerful forces, especially those of the state.

That’s why intellectuals, and particularly those employed by universities, are accorded special privileges by common agreement in civilised societies. Some, like security of tenure for university professors, are written down, but others are just part of the unconscious fabric of society, such as a certain deference accorded to them by the rest of us. Journalists don’t interview academics in the same aggressive manner as they do functionaries or elected representatives, and that’s as it should be.

In return, we expect them to keep to higher standards of honesty and rational discourse than we would expect from – say – the average politician or media pundit. Nobody is supposed to lie in public, but intellectuals are held to a higher standard, which includes the expectation that they will always prefer reasoning to rhetoric, and always be willing to consider opposing points of view. Intellectual life would be impossible if an atheist wasn’t tolerated at a catholic institution, a Marxist in a conservative one, and so on.

This book by Lewandowsky and his colleagues is a clear attack on the policy carried out by governments of left and right in the USA and in Britain, an attack based on the moral values common to all of us, but which most of us do little to defend, through laziness or cowardice. Again, I salute the authors.

It’s not likely (I hope) that the authors will suffer in any way for expressing views which are clearly unwelcome to all political parties in Britain and the USA. Still, it takes a certain courage to say things which will make you unpopular in powerful circles. It’s not impossible to imagine a situation where a politician just a little more crazed than Blair or Bush decided to get his own back on those f*ing intellectuals who were criticising his policies. This thought led me to the following idle fantasy:

A government functionary charged with dishing the dirt on academic critics of government-condoned torture discovers accusations of mendacious and unethical behaviour made against one of the critics by a bunch of obscure bloggers. A little research reveals the criticisms to be valid, and the functionary, using the state’s normal conpiratorial means of media connections, pushes the story, with a view to getting the academic sacked from his prestigious post.

What do you do?

Why, you leap to his defence, of course. I couldn’t vouch for Lewandowsky’s honesty, of course, but I’d point out that we humans are complex beings, whose actions and beliefs can’t be easily reduced to data points on a spreadsheet, and that it is quite possible for an intelligent person to be utterly deluded and mendacious in one field in which he is emotionally invested, and to act with courage, honesty and integrity in another.

So good work Stephan. Keep it up.

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3 Responses to In Praise of Lewandowsky

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  3. Brad Keyes says:

    This side of Lewandowsky is—like anything worth blogging about—unsettling.

    What makes bad people do good things?

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