Bryan Caplan  

Sigmund Freud Meets Jack Bauer

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The modern world's most prominent proponent of torture has to be 24's Jack Bauer. How many fictional lives has he saved by bringing on the pain?

But let's not give Bauer too much credit. He's building on the shoulders of giants like... Sigmund Freud. During World War I, many young Austrian men claimed they were unfit to serve in the (conscript) army due to "war neuroses." Austrian psychiatrists "treated" their condition with electrical torment. After the war ended, some people raised questions about this practice. Freud answered the critics in his "Memorandum on the Electrical Treatment of War Neurotics". You don't have to try hard to read between the Orwellian doublethink:

Since his illness served the purpose of withdrawing him from an intolerable situation, the roots of the illness would clearly be undermined if it was made even more intolerable to him than active service. Just as he had fled from the war into illness, means were now adopted which compelled him to flee back from illness into health, that is to say, into fitness for active service. For this purpose painful electrical treatment was employed, and with success.
In short, if mental hospitals are scarier than the Russian front, soldiers will choose the front.

Not clear enough for you? Try this, from "Introduction to Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses":

Thus the precondition of the war neuroses would seem to be a national [conscript] army; there would be no possibility of their arising in an army of professional soldiers or mercenaries.
How do you make a war neurotic fight? The same way you get anyone to do something he doesn't want to do: Threaten him. If you put aside the jargon and talk about "conscious" versus "unconscious" motivation, Freud is saying what an Austrian Bauer would have said: Vee haf vays of making you fight.

But at least Bauer would have felt bad about it afterwards.


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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Daniel Klein writes:

Excellent.

Matt M. writes:

I understand you're using Bauer as a set-up to your larger point. Setting aside the fact that Bauer is a fictional character, is he really the most prominent proponent in the modern world? Maybe it depends on how you define "prominent;" some combination of name-recognition and degree-of-advocacy-for-torture makes sense to me. By that measure, I'd say Saddam Hussein "wins" out...but he's dead now. How about Kim Jong-il? Ahmadinejad? While I can't single out an individual militiaman in Sudan, how about the Janjaweed in general? Or Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir? Purely by nature of their frequent and punitive use (as opposed to Bauer's information-gathering purposes), I'd say they all trump Bauer in terms of prominence.

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