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Friday, January 07, 2005

Divorcing principle from necessity: the two minds of Keifer Sutherland

Charlie Rose did a fascinating interview with Keifer Sutherland tonite. Sutherland directs the terror-fighting drama 24 hrs, where he also plays the lead character, Jack Bauer. Sutherland is a good actor, and comes across as plenty smart, but there is a consistent inconsistency in his viewpoints. Rose shows a clip where Jack Bauer shoots a smug, uncooperative terrorist prisoner in the femur to extract information. He presses his pistol to the terrorist's other femur and the terrorist, no longer smug, gives up his target. “Do I agree with it? No,” says Sutherland, “but Jack Bauer uses his experience, his knowledge of the stakes and the time, his instinct about what will work, and this is what he does. Later, in a quiet time, he wonders if God will forgive him, and his answer to himself is ‘no’.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

Sutherland’s denial that he agrees with Bauer’s use of torture seems to be based on a philosophically confused distinction between principle and necessity (as if principles don’t comprehend necessity), and this confusion seems to exist both in Sutherland’s own mind and in the character that he and his writers are creating. This was an interesting juxtaposition for me, as I had just channel surfed over from the grotesque spectacle of Ted Kennedy grilling Alberto Gonzales about his role in the supposed perfidy of opining that the President has war powers that Congress cannot outlaw. “If Congress outlaws torture,” Kennedy pontificates, “then under no circumstances does the President have the legitimate authority to order torture.” (Paraphrasing again.) Gonzales stuck to his position that, as White House Counsel, his role was to solicit an opinion on this question from the Justice Department, not to try to decide it himself, but I kept wishing that instead of resisting Kennedy’s attempts to get at the substance of the question, Gonzales would turn around and open it up on Kennedy: “If we have a terrorist who knows where a nuke is planted in Washington D.C., do you seriously believe that Congress can usurp the President’s war-fighting powers and forbid him to torture that terrorist for the location of the nuke? Just what do you think it means, sir, for the President of the United States to have war-fighting powers? Is it not the responsibility of the Commander and in Chief to decide what is and is not a matter of military necessity, no matter what those who are not charged with his war-fighting powers and responsibilities may think?” Hey, if the Democrats want to stand up like spikes on railroad ties, pick up a sledge hammer and slam ‘em home!

Kennedy was acting the outraged idealist in somewhat the same morally confused fashion as Sutherland, presuming that ideals and principles are not responsive to necessity. The difference is that Sutherland DOES recognize necessity. He just thinks it is somehow separate from principle, while Kennedy refuses to recognize necessity at all, perhaps because recognizing military necessity, and the war-powers that spring from it, would empower a president who he considers to be his enemy (the country, the will of the people and the Constitution be damned). Whatever the explanation, where Sutherland is merely confused, Kennedy is clearly perverse.

As the Rose interview went on, Sutherland’s strange two-mindedness continued. Rose noted that Muslim activists have protested a promotional clip from the first episode of the new season because it has Muslim terrorists in it. "It is a fact of the world today that there are Muslim elements that want to commit mass murder in America," says Sutherland, "so that gets into the show." "Good," I’m thinking: "At least he is not so P.C. that he can’t acknowledge the obvious. Maybe when he is done with 24 hrs we can make him secretary of transportation.” But then Sutherland launches into a P.C. expression of concern for "the extreme discrimination suffered by Muslims in America." WHAT??? He pulled that straight out of his ass! Serious discrimination against Muslims is extremely RARE. This is a country where the most blatant terrorist sympathizers find no shortage of friends and champions. Airlines are sued BY THE GOVERNMENT if they disproportionately search Muslims. Of course Islamists have picked up the Democrat trick of claiming that their free speech rights are violated whenever they are criticized for voicing terrorist sympathies, but that is isn't real discrimination. Sutherland’s duality on P.C. is similar to his duality on torture. In “principle” Sutherland is P.C., but necessity, or reality, forces him to be a bit un-P.C.. There ARE Muslim terrorists, but he has to balance this out with phony P.C. presumptions of horrendous discrimination.

Rose next asks Sutherland about another film he is making (Queen something). Sutherland says it is about the Maori uprising in New Zealand in the 1860’s. He talks about how the war was remarkable in that both the English-Irish soldiers and the Maori soldiers often switched sides. “You know it is a really dumb war when people can’t figure out which side they are on,” says Sutherland, an interesting observation, but then he continues: “which makes this story especially appropriate for the times we are in today.” WHAT????? Who doesn’t know what side they are on today???? But then I think about it. Hollywood types. Sutherland is surrounded by people who are rooting for our terrorist enemy. They aren’t rooting for the terrorists to successfully set off nukes in American cities. They are just rooting for the Republican [led] effort in Iraq to fail, just as they will root for whatever Republicans may do in Iran and North Korea and Taiwan and America to fail.

Sutherland thinks principle and necessity are on opposite sides and he keeps going back and forth between them. The Maori war is the perfect metaphor for his decent but confused mind. I take him as another example of why most Hollywood types should stay out of politics. Acting is about feeling, not logic. But at least Sutherland is not perverse. In fact, in the persona of Jack Bauer, he is all about necessity. Maybe someday Sutherland will figure out that principle is all about necessity too, and he can stop wondering if he is on the right side. In the meantime, kick that terrorist ass Jack.

UPDATE: Hey, an Instalanche! Thanks for visiting. I have updated with a couple of your corrections. Decentralized editing, whew! Check out some of my other cool junk if you have a few minutes. Too bad no one ever read this one, for instance, and only a couple of hundred people so far have met my friends Solomon and Jeffer.

Great points.
Why would anyone care what opinion about a moral of philosophical question an actor and drunk like Sutherland would have. The times are too serious for that kind of waste of time.
Sutherland: He's an Islamic terrorist...not that there's anything wrong with that.
All well and good, but it's not a Republican effort in Iraq. It's an AMERICAN effort in Iraq.
This is amazing...I think you have described exactly what is wrong with Hollywood, and better than anyone else has so far. This completely explains why actors with the most muddled, idiotic opinions often make movies with clear moral and necessity-based values and action. They understand, somewhere in their heads, the need for law and order, for punishment, for rationality, for a real response to (and prevention of) terrorism, but in real life they are so committed to pomo transi multi-culti PC crap that they come off as enemies of the state and utter fools. Maybe this is why they are drawn to more Red State-like characters -- so they can play-act what they know deep down to be true rather than the garbage they mouth.

Even knowing or imagining this to be true, it comes too late for me -- I have long since given up patronizing the movies, shows and music of the bigmouths. Even if I agree with their macho play-acting, it is ruined by the lunacies and idiocies we read and hear. I've lost all respect for them. But I do feel I understand them better, so thanks for that.
Great Post!

FYI - It is NOT

Commander AND Chief


Commander IN Chief

To verify check out Article II Section 2 of the US Constitution

Article II Section 2Thanks

Great points, and I will merely add (gilding the lily?) that another current trope, that Gonzalez somehow divorced treatment of terrorists from the Geneve Convention, is also fallacious in a similar manner. The GC defines enemy POW's and describes appropriate treatment for them. The administration's position is that the terrorists don't meet the definition and therefore are not entited to its protections.

Agree or disagree with that position, folks, but claiming (as I have seen people do) that the Administration is wiping its arse with the GC and throwing it out the window (at the same time!) is silly.
The show's called "24," not "24 hrs."
Great, interesting post on the Sutherland interview.
Sutherland's mother (Shirley Douglas) s a raging lefty. His grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was recently voted the "Greatest Canadian" thanks to his role in introducing socialized medicine to Canada (we're still suffering as a result of his "greatness"). Think some of this might be responsible for Sutherland's "inconsistency"?
All of you are raging crazies!!!!!!
I am a progressive who has lived in Taiwan for a period, and I support Taiwanese independence. The Republicans' support for Taiwan used to be something I gave them a lot of credit for.

But what exactly has the Bush administration done to support Taiwan?!? Absolutely nothing that I've seen, and Powell recently became the first US SecState to state that there is 'one China.' Freedom's on the march, unless WalMart's bottom line might be in jeopardy.
I listed Taiwan because it is high on MY list of concerns, but you are right that the Bush administration is giving Taiwan short shrift now, right when China is eying whether the U.S. might be too busy to try to stop an invasion. I think it is a huge mistake for us to be sending weak signals, but the real mistake was made--was it during the Nixon administration?--when we stopped Taiwan from developing nukes. With nukes, Taiwan could defend itself. Now it is dependent on us, and stretched thin, we are not reliable. This is where Europe not being of any help really hurts. With the whole West behind Taiwan, China could be deterred. Instead, the situation is precarious.
I think you should rent the DVD of the first season. In one episode Jack Bauer... *WARNING SPOILERS: STOP READING HERE*...

Bauer is seeking information from a Muslim suspect in connection with a nuclear weapon that is loose in the United States. Bauer has the suspect's family rounded up. He then shows the suspect a video link of his wife and three children being tied up. When Bauer fails to extract any information he orders one of the children shot. You then see the child fall forward. The suspect then starts talking.

Later you are shown the family is tied up, yes children too, but nobody was actually shot. It was an elaborate setup that surely would have the Congress throwing hissy fits. Then again this is Jack Bauer, Fox and Television.
Excellent post. Would love to hear more on principle and necessity.

One observation: You wrote:
"He talks about how the war was remarkable in that both the English-Irish soldiers and the Maori soldiers often switched sides. "You know it is a really dumb war when people can't figure out which side they are on," says Sutherland, an interesting observation..."

Maybe. I think the comment likely reflects ignorance about warfare in history. Many people seem to have a superficial acquaintance with WWII and maybe Vietnam (though their knowledge on that is almost always exclusively about politics and society). The fact is that changing sides in war is very common, though not so much in the wars Sutherland may be familiar with. Does that feature make for a "stupid war"? Maybe, maybe not. But I doubt Sutherland has reflected very seriously on the question.
When you say 'Sutherland is surrounded by people rooting for...' etc etc - you know this how? Or are you just assuming that ALL actors are Democrats? Are you forgetting that the Republican Governor of CA used to be an actor?
Besides, why should someone being an actor preclude them from having a poitical opinion? Anyone can express their view - just have you have done in this blog. It seems that you're merely using his name as a staging post for your own vitriolic rant.
Just a tip - if you want people to really listen to what you're saying don't speak as though you know someone else's mind. 'Sutherland thinks principle and nessecity are on opposite sides...' You dont know that for sure. And again - he's entitled to his view. Just because you dont agree with it doesn't make it any less valid.
Any relation to another philosopher, John Rawls?
Also, when you're writing about 'Keifer Sutherland', remember that it's "'i' before 'e' except after 'c'", as you might have learnt in English class.

As in 'Kiefer Sutherland'...
"...he's entitled to his view. Just because you dont agree with it doesn't make it any less valid."

Being entitled to have your own view does not make your view valid. There is such a thing as right and wrong in the world.

As for whether a person can have grounds to comment on another person's thought process, the thought process of the person who left the above comment is clear. He suggests that because not ALL Hollywood types are on the left, it is wrong to say that that Hollywood is full of anti-American Michael Moore fans. That is an obvious non-sequitur. Probably he is imagining that the P.C. prohibition on "stereotyping" will substitute for logic here, but what is certain is that he is striving for any straw he grasp at as an excuse to dismiss what he does not agree with. Ditto with thinking I spelled "Keifer" wrong.

This absurd nit-picking, without any regard for whether the nit-picking is even right or not, is a clear manifestation of what I call "backwards thinking." Instead of following reason and evidence (thinking frontwards), the backwards thinker starts with his presumptions about what is right or good or in his interest, and devotes his mental faculties to trying to support those presumptions. The problem is that, because the backwards thinker does not follow reason and evidence, nothing that he presumes to be right can possibly BE right, hence the title of this blog (Error Theory), which dissects the consequences of backwards thinking, along with the other stereotypical ways that people fail to think straight.

The left is utterly engrossed in backwards thinking. This explains why they embrace the propaganda of someone like Michael Moore. They already lie to themselves.
Someone can't be right if they don't follow 'reason and evidence'? Who's reason? And which evidence? Reason is entirely subjective, based upon someone's personal view of the world. A psychopath could reason that killing people is a good thing - if he believes the victims to be unworthy of life in some way. Because it's reasonable to him, does this make it right?

As for evidence - how do you know the evidence is reliable? You've taken one interview with a guy and neatly pigeonholed him into a set of values that you've given to every 'Hollywood type' there is.
What I'm disagreeing with is every sweeping generalisation you've made. You're disagreeing anyone else's view - because it doesn't fit with your own. Thats what it boils down to. You're obviously politically right-wing and that is - more than obviously - skewering your viewpoint. And you think that people are stupid for listening to Michael Moore? Why should they listen to you? You've stated that anyone that doesn't follow your 'reason and evidence' line is a backward thinker. Who the hell do you think you are?!

And I'm a 'she' BTW.
Dear She: There is such a thing as faulty reasoning. You can have your own reasons. That does not mean you are being rational. As for evidence, no one gets to have their own facts. The facts are what they are a person is either honest about what she has grounds to assert, or she is dishonest. The problem is the number of people who don't hold themselves to any standard of honest reason and, as I put it, think backwards.

Serial murderers are not rational. They may be instrumentally rational, or partially rational, using the most effective means to their chosen end, but they cannot be fully rational, or morally rational. Moral rationality requires husbanding and following evidence of value, so that one comes to see what there is to value in the world. One of the things that anyone whose eyes are open to value in the world will come to value is human life, thus the serial murderer can be seen to be morally irrational.

One can claim that human life displaces other valued ends, such as the health of the environment, as Oliver Stone did in Natural Born Killers, and try in that way to make a rational case for mass murder, but such arguments are subject to rational scrutiny. In fact, the neo-Malthusians are wrong. An additional human being on average does more to advance technology and prosperity than to diminish it by overstressing resources. This is why we keep getting richer as population, not poorer as Malthus predicted. We can do more with less, placing less stress on the environment as we get richer, not more. If humans are not allowed to progress, this analysis can work out differently, but the correct answer in that case is not to murder people, but to secure the liberty that enables progress.

As I said, there really is such a thing as right and wrong in the world. Moral reason does not give determinate answers to all questions, or even to very many questions. Where it does yield determinate answers, people can have different ideas, but they can't all be right.
So who decides who has the right ideas?
We have to decide democratically. That is why it is so important to that the people think frontwards rather than backwards. Frontwards thinkers will all have their own admixtures of sense and non-sense, but because they are intellectually and morally honest, their tendency is to learn from each other, so that they make progress in their understanding, both individually and together, completing and correcting each other's understanding. Backwards thinkers, in contrast, resist comprehension wherever it seems to militate against their presumptions.

Ultimately, cognitive style may be the most important determinant of whether a republic succeeds in achieving moral competence. Cognitive style--frontwards vs. backwards thinking--establishes a process that either promotes or resists progress in practical and moral understanding. Only if we secure a process that advances moral competence will we ever attain moral competence.
I am in no way PC! To hear that so many people have their heads in some toxic cloud about right and wrong is, to say the least, frightening. Please, as much as I like Mr. Sutherland as an actor, never let him into any government office. Or any others like him. America will be doomed.
Communist said that they would not have to invade America to see her death, she would die from the inside out.
All of us have dual personas. There is never a clear line between the two. the character of Jack Bauer of "24" is the best characterization of a real person. This character struggles between right and wrong and has to make quick decisions. Simetimes his ddcisions are good sometimes he is wrong. Aren't we all like this? This character is refreshingly not politically correct.
I seem to remember that Mr Sutherland dropped out of school at 15 years of age. I do not recall any mention of his return to formal study. Unfortunately it shows! This is an example of why we all should do what Mom and Dad tell us and finish school. Secondly, he is an actor playing a part. He does not have any other expertise than acting. A few classes after the next movie might help; or marry someone like Atlanta Dare (child protection lawyer and speaker) and learn what really argument and defence of your beliefs is about. Darn!, forgot she's got a big time education and probably would not want to hang out with a blue collar boy like Sutherland - she'd laugh in his face.
Who cares? Keifer Sutherland is awesome, his show 24 is the best, why is it that his every word is so digested? Give him a break, you asked the questions, you started it - if you're so disgusted with him, you should never have done the interview in the first place, and who are you to decifer his every word? Pathetic....Keifer is very successful, you're certainly not.
There is no profanity in the above comment, but I am still tempted to delete is just because it is so fantastically stupid.

I interviewed Sutherland? That was Charlie Rose.

I am disgusted by Sutherland? I give the man his props.

We shouldn't be so picky as to "decifer" when Sutherland says outlandish things like that people can't figure out which side they are on in the war against terror, or the Iraq war?

Since anonymous thinks 24 is awesome, I'm pretty sure he CAN figure out which side he is on. Does he really not find it strange to hear "Jack Bauer" of all people expressing ambivalence on that question?

At least anonymous and I are in agreement about one thing. 24 definitely is an awesome show. I love the weak-president story-line, preposterous as it is. Great cautionary message. No weaklings in the presidency please.
People, Get a life..There are more important things in this world to be concerned about than the opinions of some spoiled, ego-maniac Hollywood pretty boy..
He is a good actor but Kiefer..stay out of politics ..We have enough to deal with having that moron George Bush in office...
i've given up on you right wing pseudointellectual "forward thinking" wolf-in-sheeps-clothing jerks. don't try to argue logic - you're too stupid for it, and to be honest it just doesn't look natural on you. just because you're puttin' on lipstick now and wearing a "no...we WANT discourse" tank top doesn't make me wanna kiss you any more; it just make you look like a cheap carnival whore. how about you stay where you belong, in the cutthroat world of smear politics quid-pro-quo backroom deals. please, don't try to change now just because your man Bush screwed the pooch. or, if you must change, why not change into something more your style, like BROWN SHIRTS.

yeah...i gave a shit once about reasoned argument with the likes of you. but we're way past that now.

oh, and have a nice day!
Kieffer has stated many times that his politics are nothing like those of his character Jack Bauer on the show "24". He's a good actor and an intelligent guy, not some reactionary blow hard hiding behind a smile like Glenn Beck.
Kiefer didn't get his left-ish politics from Hollywood. He got them from his family. If anything, living in the US has influenced him to swing more to the right--which is why he might sound a bit contradictory. He's trying to reconcile his beliefs with his socialist upbringing.
And don't worry about it--he won't run for office in the States. As far as I can tell, he still holds Canadian citizenship.
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