Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Torture

(May contain triggers--discussion of violence)

So...I am in a contemplative mood, precipitated by some extra Valium this morning related to my recent hospital visit. And I've been looking at the "political systems" chapter of my Kumquatson textbook.

Through a series of mysterious circumstances, I happen to work in a Third World Shit-Hole that has experienced a recent and quite severe civil war. In an attempt to rebuild the country, TWSH created mechanisms for both victims and perpetrators of violence during that war to come forward and tell their stories. Violence is suffused in the culture of TWSH, both because of this war and an ongoing lively belief in the power and danger of witchcraft. During one of my stays in TWSH, my neighbors locked a woman in her home and set it on fire. She burned to death. I remember standing there gaping and numbly dialing emergency services (which do, oddly enough, exist in TWSH) only to be told that "no one would come" and to watch several young men point at the stupid foreigner who didn't understand "how things were done" in the area. I also travel to an adjacent TWSH sometimes, and there I've spent time with amputees...ATWSH was drawn into the armed conflict in TWSH and its population victimized.

I have a series of photographs of torture perpetrators (I find these, actually, the most unsettling) and victims. One of the strangest images (in my own head) is a picture of the tortured and torturer together, several years out. There is also the woman with the man who killed her son by pushing him out a 9th floor window.

I can teach this chapter of the textbook without talking about any of this stuff. In fact, Kumquatson makes it possible for me to teach without...actually...ever saying or doing anything in my classroom that isn't scripted by them.

But a nasty part of me wants to show some of these photos because I want to shock them out of being, for just a moment, Beautiful and Unique Snowflakes and to consider that, indeed, life sucks pretty hard in other parts of the world. Of course, in the BAUS mind, evidence of torture in other political regimes can just become one more piece of evidence about why the American way is the best way and why, indeed, the Third World IS a shit-hole.

Do I show them the photos to instruct (I have a good patter about the linkages of state violence to individual bodies) or do I just let it go?


  1. My response to that situation would be to get the fuck out before I got pushed out of a window. Or set on fire. Seriously, I can't offer you any advice but to leave. Working the check-out at Wal-mart seems a better alternative than staying where you are. Or begging on the streets.

    That the "American Way" is the "best way" is open to debate, but it's certainly better than the insane shit you're dealing with now.

  2. Show them. But tie it down: Abu Gahrib wasn't because of a TWSH, the wars in most of these TWSH are highly profitable to western arms industries, and we are off fighting for "freedom" somewhere else that has oil or pipelines.

  3. Show them. You job is to educate them, and it would be useful to shock them out of their complacency. They might even stop texting, for a few minutes anyway.

    That, and I also suggest you get yourself to a safer place to work. Can you really be any help where you are now, anyway?

  4. OK, wait a minute. "I happen to work in a Third World Shit-Hole that has experienced a recent and quite severe civil war." Why do you need to show the pictures to students in TWSH? Presumably they've got perfectly good ones in their heads. Unless they've grown up in a gated community.

    Later on, it's "Of course, in the BAUS mind, evidence of torture in other political regimes can just become one more piece of evidence about why the American way is the best way and why, indeed, the Third World IS a shit-hole." This implies that you're teaching American students, presumably in America.

    Or are you teaching embassy kids in a gated-and-locked community? In that case, why worry so much about being dropped out a window for showing the pictures? I doubt that any kid in that place, who is sheltered enough to need to be shown those pictures, is likely to know anyone who will be upset that you showed them.

    Color me confused.

  5. Don't show them. If you never show them, you can tell yourself they don't know any better and you can tolerate them for the rest of the term. If you show them, then you'll know they know better and you'll have to despise them with every fiber of your being and you'll be stuck with them for 10 more weeks.

    I went from teaching at a private school with a crazy billionaire president benefactor who would go to second world pee holes and scrounge up students to teach for free, to a spoiled rich kid private school the next county over. The paying-their-own way students at the first school were pretty nice kids because they lived WITH the second world pee hole kids. The spoiled rich kid school kids were completely unbearable and no anecdote, with or without photographic proof, could change them.

    I once made the mistake, in the middle of tantrums about the prospect of having to take science senior year, of telling them about one of the second world pee hole kids. She was a third world shit hole native. She was 20 and in the 11th grade because she was on the lamb from what would have been the equivalent of 3rd grade through 6th grade because she'd watched her father murder her oldest brother and brutally beat her middle brother and mother. He had plans of killing them all so he could remarry without baggage, but middle brother knocked him out from behind with something like a wok and threw little sister in a wagon or on bike or something and ran. Their mother ran too, but they were separated for days before they were able to find each other (it's hard to find your mother when you're hiding from your father). When they finally escaped to an adjacent second world pee hole country that wouldn't send them home, she and surviving brother were able to go back to school without being afraid of being found.

    Spoiled rich kid responses ranged from "that's awesome" at the part where middle child knocked the father out, to "that's messed up" about 20 year old being in 11th grade. The icing on the cake was "She should just do manicures or something. [because TWSH country of origin is in South East Asia] I would never go to HS if I was over 18. Gross."

    So I guess I don't really suggest holding out on that basis. But be prepared to hate them more rather than less.

  6. Ditto

    And not only should you show them the photos, but you should really fuck with their minds by photoshopping the photos to make them ten times worse than reality. And change your woman-burning story to make it an entire school full of screaming kindergarteners locked inside and burned to death. Embellish the shit out of it. And wrap it all up with a terrifying climax like, "And here's the worst thing of all: The kindergarteners didn't even have facebook accounts." That will bring tears to your students' eyes.

  7. If this country is where I think it is*, then these photos need to be shown to the `flakes, but you should also show photographs of places like Flint, Michigan or Detroit to show that it's not as rosy in the US as the `flakes might think it. You've done such a good job of covering your tracks, BlackDog, people here are assuming that the civil war is still going on.


    * This state is somewhere in Africa, possibly a landlocked nation....unless you were crazy enough to go to the Horn. Of course "recent" might be ten years or more so this place might be in Asia or Eastern Europe (in the case of the latter, it was a decent "second world" country until it split up.) I'm guessing Africa or Asia.

  8. Content should be presented independently of instructor agenda - present content that justifies itself in the context of the course.

  9. There is a low-grade civil war going on where I live. When the snowflakes come to grub for grades part of me wants to beat them with an ugly stick, part of me is glad that they are as normal as Canadian students.

  10. Hells yeah, show them. Slap a little reality onto things. BUT know that someone will go to the chair and complain, so be ready with your reasons why you wanted to supplement your lecture with some visuals.

    I taught a course last year that had some difficult and disturbing content. I gave them a strongly worded disclaimer in the syllabus, and told them repeatedly in the first couple weeks, this course is going to cover some nasty, nasty shit, kids. If nasty shit upsets you, withdraw now. No one did, hell that probably made them stay. And just as sure as damn, two of them went to the chair to complain that Dr. Cranky showed some Really Awful Data and they were really upset about Dr. Cranky's Really Awful Data. The chair asked, "Were you warned up front?" "Yes." "Well ok then."

  11. A bit of clarification: I have a social science job so I "work" in TWSH part of the year, but I "teach" in First World Snowflake Land during other parts of the year. "Work" = "hang out with the natives" and oddly enough, they kind of like me and get angry when I don't visit them more often. Plus, not all of them are busy setting their neighbors on fire.

    I do absolutely no good there whatsoever past putting two kids in my adoptive family through elementary school. I'm okay with that, and it seems like people around me in TWSH are okay with it. They also like that I tell people in the U.S. about their culture (but they want me to emphasize, and rightly so, that not everyone is setting Granny on fire.)

    When I teach about the civil war, I also make sure to point out the U.S. role in it...both that of transnational corporations and the U.S. Government itself.

    Thanks for the thoughts!


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