Saddam's Brain

Richard Dawkins, fresh from his merciless treatment at the hands of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is arguing that Saddam Hussein should have survived the gallows so the West could have poked and prodded his grey matter.

Imagine that some science-fiction equivalent of Simon Wiesenthal built a time machine, traveled back to 1945 and returned to the present with a manacled Adolf Hitler. What should we do with him? Execute him? No, a thousand times no. Historians squabbling over exactly what happened in the Third Reich and World War II would never forgive us for destroying the central witness to all the inside stories, and one of the pivotal influences on 20th century history. Psychologists, struggling to understand how an individual human being could be so evil and so devastatingly effective at persuading others to join him, would give their eyeteeth for such a rich research subject.

Kill Hitler? You would have to be mad to do so. Yet that is undoubtedly what we would have done if he hadn't killed himself in 1945. Hussein is not in the same league as Hitler, but, nevertheless, in a small way his execution represents a wanton and vandalistic destruction of important research data.

Dawkins gives no consideration to what Iraqis would have thought of this, which is almost refreshing - the argument that "it was up to the Iraqis" to decide what happened to Saddam during the trial was always bunk. Why was an idea like Dawkins' completely absent from public debate? Is the shadow of Mengele over any proposal of "experimenting" on a captured prisoner, no matter how bad the prisoner and how promising the experiment?

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  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Is there some Reason office memo requiring mention of Parker and Stone so frequently, or are staff writers merely angling to hook into some of those cable television freelance writing big bucks?

    Meanwhile, back at the theme, Dawkins' implicit theme here would seem to be that Hitler's and Hussein's brain must have been in some detectable way different from the average human brain, that what? They were wired differently? That some biochemical differences would somehow map discernably to their capacity for ruthlessness? What sort of experiments would Dawkins have in mind (no pun intended) here?

  • Richard||

    Studying Saddam's brain sounds good to me -- but only if Dawkins allows the same to be done with his. Dawkins is brilliant.

    Besides being childish, barbaric and self-serving, the execution of Saddam -- and Bush's lauding of it as if it were some kind of personal triumph -- demonstrate how Saddam, Bush and our 21st century religious war with Iraq have carried us back to the Middle Ages.

    I hope evolutionary biologist/atheist/champion of reason and science Dawkins and the few others like him can pull us out of this medieval intellectual abyss.

  • ||

    The point of executing former political leaders is not simply to dispose of them, but to send a message to the populace that they can never go back to the old regime. While Saddam or Hitler is still alive, there is a hope for their followers that the old regime could be restored.

    Admittedly, this is a cold pragmatic view of the situation, not taking into account of any of the morality of the death penalty.

  • :-||

    Saddam, Bush and our 21st century religious war with Iraq have carried us back to the Middle Ages

    Hyperbole, anyone?
    Wait, what's the word for being so far off the mark there's no word for it?

  • ||

    D.A. Ridgely, while I enjoy Dawkins books I am not sure what he would expect to find. Maybe some aspects of the brain, such as the size of different features (pituitary gland, thalamus, etc).
    However, how a persons brain is "wired" can really only be be viewed while the person is alive, as an example, an fMRI, which measures the changes in blood flow. While chances are good that Saddam vilolent temperment is rooted in some sort of biological/gentic base, it is also just as likely that his childhood/young adulthood had as much to with it as anything else (of course such nature vs nurture issues are complex and are almost always intertiwned).

  • Pat||

    Saddam was a tyrant and he got what every tyrant deserves. I'm not sure that postponing justice in the name of science is such a smart move.

  • Warren||

    Ugh. I've been admiring Dawkins lately as a 'bright' spokesman. He's been very well spoke, advocating a controversial position with conviction, while engaging with his critics.

    But I don't think he's making much of a point here. It's not that I disagree with him, but I think he's under rating the value of having Saddam's head on a stick. Plus, he's over selling the current state of psychology. As a branch of science it's still plagued by a great deal of scientifically weak theories, and unscientific debate within the profession. I'm sure there are lot's of people that would like to have Saddam as their lab rat, but we are nowhere near being able to make meaningful statements regarding the causes of despotism in the human mind.

  • ||

    "Wait, what's the word for being so far off the mark there's no word for it?"

    I think "bullshit" will do nicely.

  • Larry A||

    We put a great deal of effort in trying to show how "bad" people are different from the rest of us. That way it's not just a case of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

  • ||

    Is the shadow of Mengele over any proposal of "experimenting" on a captured prisoner, no matter how bad the prisoner and how promising the experiment?

    Yes. Unless the prisoner gives consent (consent given under alternative interrogation techniques doesn't count). But Mengele has nothing to do with it. Prisoners are still human beings. Both how "bad" the prisoner is and how "promising" the experiment is are judgement calls (sometimes politically motivated) that IMO cannot be used as any basis for violating fundamental human rights.

  • ||

    Hmm...man put to death by the state, after a farcical trial...where's the libertarian outrage?

    Instead we get "he deserved it", as if the state can decide whose rights it can morally be allowed to violate.

  • ||

    Upon reading this, did anyone else flash back to the obligatory scene in old Godzilla movies where the head military guy argues that they should blow Godzilla out of the ocean before he reaches Tokyo, and the head scientist guy always says that they shouldn't kill Big G because he should be studied?

  • Pat||

    Hmm...man put to death by the state, after a farcical trial...where's the libertarian outrage?

    Did he not get what he deserved? I would've preferred a hanging by the people without any form of trial after storming his residence.

    I oppose the State's "right" to put people to death but I support the hanging of tyrants. Lemme try this one on... I opposed his hanging before I supported it. Yes, that'll do.

  • VM||

    (the obvious reason)

    [80s DARE ad]
    This is Saddam's Brain.

    This is Saddam's Brain on drugs.

    This is Saddam's Brain on drugs with a side of bacon, home fries, and the bottomless cup of coffee special.

    Any questions?

    [/DARE]

  • Sam Franklin||

    Saddam had to die so that there is no way he could ever talk.

    Dawkins proposal is a non-starter politically for that reason.

    Being pretty ambivalent about the death penalty and unfond of brutal dictators, I am not that torn up that the US required Saddam to be hanged. It is disturbing to see that so many people don't understand the US role in the hanging and the reason the US chose to play the role it did.

  • ||

    I agree to the extent that searching a person like Bush's brain wouldn't yield much as there is very little there.
    www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com

  • b||

    You'd have to be an idiot to believe in Richard Dawkins.

  • ||

    Where's the link to the "merciless treatment at the hands of Trey Parker and Matt Stone"? That's something I'd be interested in reading.

  • ||

    I see that Dawkins is going with the Mad Scientist persona. Therefore, it's surprising that he overlooked something which would have immediately occurred to any half-decent Mad Scientist: Kill Saddam, but save his brain. The headline of this thread points to that solution, which worked with Hitler, after all.

  • ||

  • ||

    We would learn more about how Hitler convinced so many to follow him by studying our own brains rather than by studying Hitler's brain.

    Also, there are probably plenty of folks about who are as dastardly as Saddam but who just never got a chance to run a country. And we already study them.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    We shouldn't have hung Sodom, we should have experimented on him?

    And you guys are complaining about Gitmo & Ahboo Grab? And hanging is sooooo oooohhh, uncivilized.

  • VM||

    "Also, there are probably plenty of folks about who are as dastardly as Saddam but who just never got a chance to run a country. And we already study them."

    Mummers?

  • ||

    FIrst of all, this is insane. Yes, the shadow of Mengele is over this suggestion. Get real! Some ideas should just repel you instinctively - doesn't this one?

    Second, didn't Saddam have plenty of chance to "talk" already? Could he not have spilled plenty of secrets already in the numerous public statements he was allowed during his trial?

  • lunchstealer||

    Is the shadow of Mengele over any proposal of "experimenting" on a captured prisoner, no matter how bad the prisoner and how promising the experiment?

    Umm, yeah. And rightly so. I don't care how bad you are, the basic human right to not get experimented upon without your consent are inalienable. To experiment upon a person without their consent is a crime. That "he started it" is no defense in 4th grade, and certainly isn't for any civilized society. If you want to experiment on Saddam, get his consent. Anyone who experiments upon any prisoner without their consent should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, and if the prisoner dies during the experiments, should be eligible for the gallows Hussein swung from.

  • ||

    Political scientists of the future, studying the processes by which unscrupulous leaders arise and take over national institutions, have now lost key evidence forever. But perhaps the most important research in which a living Saddam Hussein could have helped is psychological. Most people can't even come close to understanding how any man could be so cruel as Hitler or Hussein, or how such transparently evil monsters could secure sufficient support to take over an entire country.

    What were the formative influences on these men? Was it something in their childhood that turned them bad? In their genes? In their testosterone levels? Could the danger have been nipped in the bud by an alert psychiatrist? How would Hitler or Hussein have responded to a different style of education? We don't have a clear answer to these questions. We need to do the research.

    Really, I don't think Saddam or Hitler was so unique that they are one in a billion type creatures that need to be preserved. I bet many gang members, common criminals, even grocers and butchers are just as evil. They're just not charming or competent enough to become dictators.

    And Dawkins needs to shut the hell up about trying Bush and Blair for war crimes. He's cute when he's smug about religion (when he's right) and terribly annoying when he's smug about politics.

  • VM||

    Lunch -

    You're totally right. Unfortunately, you highlight the 4th grade mentality that our dealings with Iraq bring out:

    Don't forget that we have people who are all gung ho about torture, so that kind of unethical barbarism (even against a pig fucker-and-BLT-eater (it's the love that keeps on giving) such as the late SH) would be applauded by them.

    They're also the ones who wouldn't understand Idiocracy, as the joke is on them.

  • lunchstealer||

    Hmm...man put to death by the state, after a farcical trial...where's the libertarian outrage?

    If there were even the slightest doubt that a non-farcical trial would have had a different outcome (not in terms of sentencing, but in terms of conviction) I'd have more outrage. I find it irritating that we couldn't do a better job of it. But as for the hanging itself, I'm pretty sanguine about it. I'd make a comment about watering the tree of liberty, but I'm afraid that this particular tyrant's blood isn't going to make it to the roots of ye olde liberty tree. I think this is just going to run off into the gutter of tribalism, which doesn't especially need any more blood.

  • Robert||

    Shoot Wiesenthal twice to be sure you kill him.

  • Sam Franklin||

    Second, didn't Saddam have plenty of chance to "talk" already? Could he not have spilled plenty of secrets already in the numerous public statements he was allowed during his trial?

    No. This was not a meaningful opportunity to talk. that is what kangaroo courts are about: giving a party an apparent venue to put on a defense, but limiting what evidence they can show so that they have no meaningful opportunity to make their case.

    Don't believe the hype.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    That "he started it" is no defense in 4th grade, and certainly isn't for any civilized society.

    I think I know what you really meant but yes, this is a valid basis for self-defense. It used to piss me off that the bully starts the fight and you get kicked out of school for defending yourself. Screw that. They used to play that game in basic training too. Ladies, Private Smith screwed up and now you're all going to pay.

  • Taktix||

    This movie clearly points out the dangers of experimenting on Hitler's brain:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077269/

    The Boys from Brazil

  • lunchstealer||

    TWC,

    No, I wasn't impuning self defense. If somebody starts a fight, hit him back.

    But if you're a grown adult running a country, and you catch a guy who had a different country and was a murderous tyrant who experimented upon his people (theoretically, some of the gas attacks were field tests of his chemical weapons and he just decided he'd kill two birds with one stone and take out some troublesome villages) you don't just say "well he did it, so it's ok to do it to him." I was not impuning the rights of the individual to fight back when under attack.

    It's the idea that Saddam is so bad that we can treat him literally like an animal, and perform experiments on him without his consent. Fighting back is one thing, but experimenting on a captive Saddam is not the same as hitting a bully to keep from getting pummelled.

    Be it Mengele, Tuskeegee, whatever, it's utterly unnacceptable to experiment on anyone without their consent. No exceptions for people we don't like.

  • p-ter||

    Richard Dawkins, fresh from his merciless treatment at the hands of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, is arguing that Saddam Hussein should have survived the gallows so the West could have poked and prodded his grey matter.

    whoa. nowhere in the article does Dawkins claim he wants to do anything like that. To prod Saddam's grey matter, you'd have to kill him, which Dawkins is explicitly arguing against. I get the impression he was talking about doing interviews and maybe drawing blood.

  • ||

    p-ter is closest yet: Dawkins seems to be saying that we should have studied Saddam -- but there is no indication that he meant by way of vivisection or anyting else Mengellian. (Mengoloidial?) In fact, there doesn't appear to be anything that Dawkins wrote that would appear to be an endorsement of even the drawing of blood, contra p-ter.

    Nothing I've read in accounts of Saddam so far has suggested that he would have been averse to talking about his life and exploits. Exactly whether or not such studies would have yielded anything of value is questionable, but to interpret Dawkins article (unless I just read it too fast) as suggesting that he should have gone Hitler on Saddam reads to me like a violation of the rule against Hitler-comparison deflation.

  • p-ter||

    from the article:
    What were the formative influences on these men? Was it something in their childhood that turned them bad? In their genes? In their testosterone levels?

    to get testosterone levels, you'd probably have to take blood. To get DNA, blood is the best way (you could store a lot for the future or even make a Saddam cell line, which you couldn't do with a cheek swab, for example).

    but yeah, people are reading way too much into this, which says more about them than it does about Dawkins. Scientific study doesn't involve torture, people. sometimes (a lot of the time?) it's even just observation.

  • ||

    Dawkins's remarks aren't about "psychological experiments" in some Army-CIA/MK-ULTRA/Mengele sadistic sense. They're about keeping the fucker in jail and letting criminologists, historians, and journalists ask him questions once in a while ... just like Charles Manson or any other famous convicted criminal.

    Of course, killing Saddam is more convenient for folks like Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam's other unindicted co-conspirators.

  • ||

    Just please don't use my brain.

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