But They Deserve It!

I’m listening to the Painfotainment episode of Hardcore History. The subject is torture. Specifically, the role and perception of torture in human societies.

Carlin discusses the psychological difference between torturing people and torturing bad people. He concedes that a modern audience would generally be horrified and outraged at the prospect of someone being tortured on live TV… but he wonders if that outrage would be as strong if the victim was a bad person. What if we’d captured Osama bin Laden and we were going to torture him on live TV? Would people still be outraged, or would people be accepting, since Bin Laden is a person who “deserves it”?

I think the answer is self-evident.

It seems to me that a similar phenomenon in manifest with regards to honesty. Everyone recognizes and hates slander when the person being attacked is “good.” A lie impugning the character of a “good” person is unacceptable: about “good” people we must always tell the truth, and always give the benefit of the doubt. But if the person is “bad,” then suddenly our standards of honesty slip to almost nothing.

It is wrong to lie about a good person, but a bad person deserves to be lied about, so lying about them is okay.

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