The Moment of Truth — November 10, 2007

Alan Dershowitz and the Writers’ Strike

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: rehab for the whore of Babylon.

I’m on strike. I’m in the WGA, the Writers’ Guild of America (East), and I’m on strike. That means no writing for money, no working Guild jobs, no crossing picket lines, no scabbing. I can write for this show, because it doesn’t pay. What I can’t do is research anything for any reason, because that research could become knowledge that I might one day use in a script written as part of a Guild job. Or worse, I might accidentally divulge that knowledge to a scab, who might then write something based on that knowledge—so it’s safest if I don’t learn anything new. It’s too much of a threat to our collective bargaining power.

Obviously, no one can remain entirely ignorant of what’s going on in the world. Not even the President. It’s unavoidable then that, here and there, this or that might leak out of the zeitgeist and into my brain, on strike though my brain may be.

Case and point: a friend of mine told me Alan Dershowitz had an op-ed in last week’s Wall Street Journal defending torture. Ordinarily, my learning such information might constitute a breech of union solidarity. I might begin to wonder what sort of defense Alan Dershowitz had come up with for torture, and there would begin the inevitable process of fantastical and fabulistic invention and imagination—exactly the thing I’m on strike from. I might even be tempted to read Mr. Dershowitz’s op-ed to find out what his argument is.

Luckily, none of that is necessary. I mean, it is, after all, an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz defending torture. It not as if someone has figured out something persuasive to say about why torture is a good thing. There can be no fabulistic invention or imagination, because there is nothing to spark it. There can be no flights of fancy, because for flight, one needs air, and there can certainly be nothing as substantial as air, not even hot air, in an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz defending torture. Dershowitz cannot possibly have presented anything new or insightful or remotely worthwhile, it’s plainly inconceivable.

And don’t you dare call me closed-minded. It’s not that I would be unwilling to be persuaded by a persuasive argument written by Alan Dershowitz, it’s just that Alan Dershowitz is zero-percent certain to present one. Think about it. Be honest. Do you really need to read an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz in favor of torture in order to better inform yourself? Will it help you better participate in our democratic republic? Do you really need to read an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz for any reason whatsoever? Wouldn’t your time be better spent taking a shower? Or chewing tobacco? Or planning a preemptive strike against the Crouton Creatures from the Caesar Salad Planet?

Now, if a horse or a bear wrote an op-ed defending torture, that would something.

But it isn’t merely that Alan Dershowitz isn’t a horse or a bear that makes it so unlikely his op-ed defending torture contains anything at all persuasive or insightful, or is in any other way worth even a nano-second’s glance. Most of the op-ed writers in the Wall Street Journal aren’t either bears or horses, yet it is certainly possible one or another op-ed piece written by one of them could in fact contain an insight or two.

But there is no such possibility when it comes to an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz defending torture.

Who is the person who hears, “Alan Dershowitz has an op-ed defending torture!” and is impelled to immediately rush out to buy a copy of the Wall Street Journal? Is there such a person? If an infinite number of persons had an infinite amount of time to react to the news that Alan Dershowitz has an op-ed defending torture in the Wall Street Journal, even then would there exist someone impelled to rush out and buy a copy?

Are you that person? I ask you to look into your soul. Well, if you have a soul, you’ve already answered the question.

One might as well ask, “Is it necessary to read an op-ed by Ozzy Osbourne suggesting we bring back debtors’ prison?” or “Do I really need to read an op-ed by Robin Williams advocating infecting the entire population of Maine with polio?” or “Should I take a circular saw and a mirror and attempt to remove the stone of madness from within my head?”

If someone were to stand before me and say, “You should really read Alan Dershowitz’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week. I once went along with what most of Western Civilization decided in the waning days of the Middle Ages—that torture was nothing more than a brutal way to force a prisoner to admit to absolutely anything an inquisitor wanted to hear, and that it was immoral not merely for the physical mutilation it caused but for the way it was used to support a cruel and perverted system of justice, a system of justice rendered that much crueler by its employment of torture, but now that I’ve read Alan Dershowitz’s op-ed, I think a little torture is a healthy thing.” If someone were to stand before me and make such a statement or recite some similar formulation, I have no doubt Annihilation itself would appear between us like an irreparable wound in the fabric of the universe, the universe would pull itself inside-out through that rupture, and creation would have to begin again in the hope that that moment would not repeat itself.

Because it is not even the degree to which torture is perceived as bad by this or that reader of Alan Dershowitz’s op-ed, let alone the fact that Alan Dershowitz is neither a horse nor a bear—none of those conditions is the reason for absolute certainty that no new insight can possibly emerge from a perusal of such an op-ed, whether in the Wall Street Journal or in any other journal.

The simple fact is simply this: the idea that Alan Dershowitz is somehow going to offer up an earth-shattering revelation about torture that will bring anyone around to thinking as he does—such a notion is balked at by the human mind, the way anti-matter is rejected by matter. Much like the mind’s inability to contemplate complete nothingness, its inability to envision, coming from the pen of Alan Dershowitz, an earth-shattering, or even doughnut-shattering, revelation about why torture is a good thing—here the human rational consciousness encounters a kind of mental “event horizon,” the edge of an intellectual black hole beyond which nothing can exist, not even the wildest hope or fear.

This is knowledge we might call a priori in the context of the human condition. It is in our essence before we even begin to reason, like one’s knowledge of possessing a body. It exists prior to language. I might even go so far as to term it a prerequisite to knowledge itself. It is innate in the weft of the fabric of human consciousness, and any consciousness that somehow muddles its way to existence without it can in no way be called human.

It is sad to think of the Wall Street Journal or any other journal on any other street paying for an article which is one hundred percent guaranteed to contain nothing of value whatsoever.

But even sadder is to picture Alan Dershowitz himself coming to the conclusion that he should write an op-ed defending torture. “Torture is good, I know it is,” he says to himself, pacing the floor in the middle of the night. “I know it I know it I know it. I just don’t know why. I can’t think of a single reason that hasn’t already been discarded as bullshit by every human being who thinks or feels as an ethical, rational member of a society of laws. But can I write an article defending torture without such a reason?” He paces some more. He drinks a gallon of Slivovitz. He injects himself with stupidity serum. He paces some more. Nothing.

“By golly, I’ll do it!” he says, oblivious to the excruciating non-sequitur he’s just uttered.

It is a leap of logic that would be admirable in its audacity if its landing place were not the starting line of a sickening race against no one to nowhere.

But it is exactly that very same pointlessness which allows me to discuss Mr. Dershowitz’s op-ed without having to break the kind of mental sweat the writers’ strike forbids. Without it, there would have been no essay this week. So, thank goodness Alan Dershowitz sucks.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!