In literature and film, we are drawn into a story and care about it because we believe, at some level, in the truth of the narrative. This requires what’s called a “suspension of disbelief.”
Of course, we also know about what is actually going on in the world through media that present us with narratives. We are drawn into these stories and care about them because we believe in the reality of them.
Part of the difficulty with the present period is that the political realities with which we are presented make it difficult, psychologically, to suspend our disbelief in the truth of the narratives we read.
So when we see that our government is not only engaging in torture secretly, which is horrible but consistent with historical precedent, but debating and passing legislation that permits us to engage in torture out in the open, there is a certain surrealistic effect, and we tell ourselves, in some part of our souls, that it is “only a movie.” The real world consists of our friends, family, coworkers, shopping, and entertainment; the world of news broadcasts, though it may be “real” in some way, is psychologically in the same category as fiction – all the more so the more unbelievable it becomes.
This phenomenon, which is perhaps related to what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil,” leads the world slowly into an increasing state of horror, as the human response of the world’s citizens is dulled and neutralized.
The answer is to pay attention to the political reality of the world as reality.
So, here are just a few links relating to US torture, which I encourage readers to approach with reality in mind:
American Library Association: A Resolution Against the Use of Torture as a Violation of the American Library Association’s Basic Values
Center for American Progress Action Fund: Torturing Democracy
Ariel Dorfman editorial in the Washington Post: Are We Really So Fearful?
United Nations: Convention Against Torture