February 19, 2005

"Every ideology presupposes an anthropology"

Example

The above quote is from a book by Edward Peters simply titled Torture. The full quote is this: "Every ideology presupposes and anthropology--an idea of what human beings are and how they are to be treated in order to create the society that each ideology requires." It was published in 1985, just before Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, a must-read for anyone wanting a full-on theory for understanding the total effects of pain on humans. (Note: Scarry goes to great lengths to explain how God is a concept created by the human mind. She sees God as Mankind's greatest act of imagination.)

Anyway, the reason I bring this quote to your attention is that it bears thinking about in terms of our culture. I don't want to get started on some rant about cosmetic surgery and hair removal via laser, nor do I want to talk in terms of pro-life vs. Choice or the death penalty. However, what Peters is helping me to understand is that this modern notion that the body is the site of political oppression, control and violence is a view of the world without God. The anthropology manifest here is that we're no more than rats in a cage.

What does this have to do with torture? Well, Peters is explaining how torture has been defended in the late twentieth century. In Earlier centuries torture techniques focused only on pain as a way of extracting information. There was no "sophistication" to what they were doing; there was no psychology or neurology involved. Torturers utilized a crude equation: more pain=more truth. But, Peters points out, the late twentieth century has seen the variety of torture increase--from subtle psychological torture using digitally enhanced images to preying upon a culture's sexual taboos--as well as the explotation of sketchy legal norms to make allowances for it. There is a new anthropology afoot, an anthropology that "subordinates individual human beings to a new transcendent good"--a good that is spiritually bankrupt.

So to bring it full-circle here, we're living in a time when the human body is interpreted as being owned by no one except ourselves. If we do not see our own bodies as sacred--imbued with purpose, meaning and power--then how can the bodies of others be of any real concern?
The ideology resulting from this anthropology gives rise to a culture that devalues life. It allows for people to vociferously oppose abortion but still cry for war. It allows people to support a woman's right to choose but vociferously oppose war.

What's the solution? A theological anthropology.

Peters quotes Francesco Campagnoni: " . . . It seems to me that one of the central doctrines of theological anthropology is the absolute preeminence of man's dignity as a creature . . . This dignity, autonomous in the face of any juridical institution or community whatever, is the reason why, even after the worst (and verified) crimes, there is always the possibility of repentance.

This goes for the victim, the torturer and the society that supports torture.

DG





1 comment:

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