The two articles I chose to examine regarding my puzzle on the ethics and motivations of torture by global superpowers are both interpretivist analyses of factors that have potentially allowed for the United States to practice torture on foreign nationals without a great deal of moral outcry from the American public. “Comfort, Irony, and Trivialization: The Mediation of Torture,”¹ published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies by Marita Sturken, asserts that the American notion of “comfort”² as a justification for questionable security practices has led to a lack of vulnerability by the public that prevents them from being empathetic to detainees subject to torture. Sturken analyzes pieces of pop culture such as comic strips and t-shirt slogans to get a better understanding of the public perception of state-sponsored torture. “Governing Uncertainty in a Secular Age: Rationalities of Violence, Theodicy, and Torture,”³ published in Security Dialogue by Luca Mavelli, concludes that theodicy, or “how to reconcile the existence of God with the presence of evil in the world,”⁴ has led many to adopt racist and stereotypical notions of torture victims as deserving of their treatment.
Though Mavelli and Sturken take distinct positions on the issue of torture the two articles are not necessarily contradictory. While Mavelli’s claims point to causes for indifference in a population to its state’s own torture practices, Sturken focuses more on the effects of this indifference on the issue as it persists in a society. Sturken and Mavelli are just two voices in a much broader conversation on the ethical implications of torture on a society. From what I have seen so far, there is already a substantial amount of scholarship answering why, generally, societies turn a blind eye to torture. I have noticed, though, a fascinating lack of literature on what may cause a society to accept torture in certain situations and not others. Both authors’ theories of comfort⁵ and theodicy⁶ could potentially be used as variables in a comparison of different empirical instances public perception of torture in my research.
¹ Marita Sturken, “Comfort, Irony, and Trivialization: The Mediation of Torture,” ed. Lilie Chouliaraki and Shani Orgad, International Journal of Cultural Studies 14, no. 4 (July 2011): 423-440.
³ L. Mavelli, “Governing Uncertainty in a Secular Age: Rationalities of Violence, Theodicy and Torture,” Security Dialogue 47, no. 2 (2016): 117-132.
⁵Sturken, “Comfort, Irony, and Trivialization.”
⁶Mavelli, “Governing Uncertainty in a Secular Age.”