Sunday, 10 June 2007

I can't take this!

Torture – that most obvious of subjects to discuss over the Sunday morning coffee. There are different degrees of torture, most of them operating on the simple assumption that if you put up with a something until you can no longer bear it, you are more willing to acquiesce to another something that you would have resisted before. Sometimes this is used for nefarious ends, to extract incriminating or damning statements, say. Sometimes as the catalyst that spurs you on to bigger and better things. The woman who screeches at a truly unbearable level in the office, encouraging you to find that better job, for example.

The subject came about in an innocent enough discussion, flowing from boyish competitiveness that leads to comments of a questionable nature, used to belittle or score points off of others – to wedding rings, and their use in barter situations – to waking up on the tube miles from home and wanting to pay any price to be able to climb into your bed and fall asleep.

This last one was mentioned as a few months back a friend and I rode the last tube south on the Northern line. A young guy was sound asleep next to us, and, as we reached near the end of the line we figured that it would be better to wake up a station or two early than at the very end of the line in Morden – a tough place to get out of in daylight hours, with little or no cabs available at the closing hour.

“Where are you wanting to get off?” we asked.

“High-bree, ish-lungte” slurred the reply.

Not only on completely the wrong line, but also the wrong side of the river Thames, the wrong side of London – a long way from home, a good sixty-pound cab at this hour ride.

And so to torture…

There are times when torture is presented as heroic, as daring – men are real men when resisting torture at all costs; Bond did it, Rambo did it, Jack Bauer no doubt does it a few times during one of his many terrible days. John McCain looks a tougher and better politician for his five-year stint in a Vietnam POW camp. All strong men, often their hearts being the only breaking point for them.

There is a part of me that would love to know my breaking point – how stubborn can one be in the face of adversity? On the other hand, as my friend pointed out, there are two downsides to knowing this breaking point. The first is that you have to go through the process of finding it – not many people would volunteer themselves for torture just for the sake of sociological self-discovery experimentation. The other is that you would have to live knowing what your breaking point was – if it was low, you’d live with that knowledge forever. How would that affect someone? Hollywood loves to show bullies getting their comeuppance, finding their breaking point and collapsing into nothingness – could you live like that?

I once walked home from London Bridge to Wandsworth, every step brought me closer to the bed that I craved on that coldish urban night – but I’m not sure this would translate into torture resistance – unless part of the torture process was taking people for long strolls.

Perhaps it’s best not to know ones breaking point – perhaps if we maintain the hero inside we will move forward and attempt to better ourselves. Perhaps torture isn’t as exciting after all.

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