chapter  1
33 Pages

The ticking bomb: speed, democracy and the politics of the future

It’s called ‘the ticking bomb scenario’: imagine a terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in a major metropolitan centre. The terrorist has been captured, and knows where the bomb is, but the bomb is set to go off soon and torture is the only way to find out its location. Do you torture the terrorist? What’s important about this particular thought experiment is not the

extreme utilitarian calculus that it seems to call into being (the lives of many versus the pain of one) but rather its very explicit temporal element. It is not just that there is a bomb, but that it’s a ticking bomb. The imminence of the threat precludes any action other than torture (or at least so the scenario claims). Implicit in the narrative is the idea that the pace of events makes following traditional moral prohibitions – not to mention legal rights and due process – unfeasible and inefficient.1