Living Within A Lie

Was torture necessary? Was actionable intelligence available without it? What moral culpability lies with me, average citizen, for living quietly in a country that, since the disturbing event of 9/11, has sanctioned the use of torture?

Barot DhirenThe latest Senate Intelligence Committee release (according to the Seattle Times) from the U. S. Justice Department’s report on CIA activities, suggests that James Ujaama, the Seattle man who pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban, cooperated with British authorities (and thus earned a lighter sentence) by helping them track down Dhiren Barot, the person believed responsible for planning a London terrorist attack. This latest claim contradicts the CIA’s claim that it was “harsh interrogation” techniques that produced the information that helped authorities track down Barot. The CIA’s response? “Program not effective? Simply not true.”

Okay, there are competing reports. And outrage is easy. Too easy. Is there a part of me that wants to shrug and say, well, in any case, torture is distasteful, morally objectionable, even horrific, but what can I do? And isn’t that shrug, in effect, a kind of tacit acceptance?

Havel VaclavVaclav Havel, the playwright and imprisoned dissident who went on to become president of the Czech Republic, writes that for a totalitarian government to persist, individuals need not necessarily believe the rhetoric, but: “They must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.”

The condition Havel describes as living within a lie of course refers to how otherwise intelligent, educated, well-meaning people, much like ourselves, tolerate living under a Soviet totalitarian regime. Easy for us to point a finger and say, not I!

Yet, here we are. The CIA’s own report reveals that torture was used, that it’s use was sanctioned by our government, that the intelligence that led to the arrest of Osama bin Laden and other terrorist masterminds was known and put to use BEFORE the arrested suspects in question were tortured, and the CIA was aware of this and continued to apply the torture anyway, and denied having done so, under oath, in testimony before the U.S. Senate.

Here we are. We are condoning the use of torture. We are. We. Us. Me. Me and you. We are the system that condones.

Okay, you don’t like it. What can you do? Again, I defer to Havel: “His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth… Most of these expressions remain elementary revolts against manipulation; you simply straighten your backbone and live in greater dignity as an individual.”

Straighten your backbone. Revolt against manipulation. Live in greater dignity. If in a small way we each of us refuses to to live within this particular lie, maybe just maybe the system that condones torture will bend to our collective will. We are that system. If change is to happen, it’s up to us.


Scott Driscoll’s Univ. of Washington, PCE Literary Fiction I writing class currently open for registration:


UW Literary Fiction I: Intro to Literary Fiction

 The Hybrid on-line and on-campus Course WRI FIC 110

To register, go to:

Course dates: January 10 – Apr 7 Foundations, and April 11  – June 27 Capstone

Meets on campus once a month on designated Saturdays

Currently open for enrollment

Resources for WRIFIC110:  Required Textbooks, websites, etcs.

  1. Writing Fiction, The Eighth Edition by Burroway, Janet, 2011, Paperback: ISBN: 978-0-205-75034-4
  2. The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks, Houghton  Mifflin Harcourt: ISBN: 978-0-547-24216-3
  3. How Fiction Works by Wood, James, Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-3741-734-01

Course/Lesson Summary

Course description)
110  is designed to explore fiction writing as craft.  We will cover points of technique (plotting, character development, point-of-view, etc.), read from and discuss stories, and do occasional “sudden writings” in class to practice technique.  You’ll be given opportunities to bring in your own work for workshopping.  In the final class meeting, all participants will be expected to workshop a finished story (or novel chapter).  
Course learning objectives By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify writing techniques such as plotting, character development, and point-of-view;
  • Read stories and discuss writing techniques
  • demonstrate writing techniques in their writing
  • Complete a short story



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