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OnWords: Evil


We use the word “evil” when we want to stop thinking about the roots of unacceptable behavior.

Look at how often the word “evil” is preceded by the words “just plain,” as in “Them Moozlim ter’rists is just plain evil, is all it is.”

This use runs across lines of party and principle, and it serves to literally demonize the other side. Liberals label giant corporations evil, and conservatives have used the term on Hillary Clinton.

As recently as 50 years ago, the subject of evil was up for philosophical debate. Today, we don’t try to understand it at all.

There’s danger, after all, in attempting to figure out why people do bad things. If we can understand them, doesn’t that mean that we are capable of thinking the same way?

And if so, doesn’t that make us evil?

But here is where words save us: words allow us to abstract the idea from the act. So the deeper we explore evil, the better the words we use to describe it, the more likely we are to solve the problems it represents.

To use the word “evil” as an end to thinking is to admit defeat before it.