Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, March 02, 2008

  What our beliefs reveal

My friend Milo told me of a strange thing he heard on le Show. A little digging turned up this news account from Utah about a company named Prosper Inc.:

A supervisor at a motivational coaching business in Provo is accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe...

["Team" leader Joshua] Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told [employee Chad] Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill...Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs.

Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgens' mouth and nostrils - like the interrogation strategy known as "waterboarding" - and told the team members to hold Hudgens down as he struggled...

"At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded"...

This is ironic almost beyond belief. A motivational coaching business using waterboarding to motivate its own employees. Its motto:

"We strive to make the road to personal achievement meaningful, rewarding, and enjoyable."

It turns out that Milo and I weren't the only people interested in this story. Several bloggers had already commented on the report. What's most striking about all the commentary I've seen is that everybody assumes that the waterboarding story is accurate. Think of that.

At almost any time in the past I'd have said that, if somebody gave me a story about a boss waterboarding his employee for any reason, my assumption would have to be that it was a joke. And yet here we are, inhabiting a present in which many of us accept that an employer might well do such a thing. And it's not as if the news report doesn't give us some grounds for skepticism. For one thing, the allegation is the basis for a civil suit by this former employee. And for another, the company claims it investigated the charge.

Prosper president Dave Ellis responded that the allegations amount to "sensationalized" versions of events that have gone uncorroborated by Hudgens' former coworkers. "They just roll their eyes and say, 'This is ridiculous . . ."

So what does our belief in this story of casual waterboarding say about us and about American society under George W. Bush's Torture Inc.?

As for Dave Ellis' Prosper Inc., don't shed any tears for the outfit. You see, they do seem to employ waterboarding after all. It's just that the torture is voluntary, as it turns out.

Ellis said the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. Socrates responds by plunging the student's head underwater and telling him he will learn once his desire for knowledge is as great as his desire to breathe.

However, Ellis said Christopherson explained the exercise before Hudgens volunteered, no one held Hudgens down and Hudgens was free to get up if he was uncomfortable. "It was meant to be a team-building exercise," Ellis said. "Everybody was . . . involved and enthusiastic."

So it's the Socratic method of waterboarding, something every American should be able to get enthusiastic about.

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