In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Lance Morrow laments that the word “evil” has become so debased:
Here we are. The word evil has suffered from severe grade inflation in the 21st century. Just as every college student must now get an A, so, in the hysteria of social media, the most ordinary pipsqueak may now be flattered with the grand honorific. Evil, once an august item in the range of human possibilities, has been reduced to a cliché of political abuse.
How is the word being used today?
Recently I revived my question. I started by asking progressives whether they ever knew someone who was evil. Their number one answer—surprise—was Donald Trump. Do they really mean it? Are they being metaphorical? Hyperbolical? (If Mr. Trump is evil, what would be the word for Pol Pot ?) When they are through with Mr. Trump, progressives mention such lesser devils as Derek Chauvin and Dylann Roof. Then their eyes dart back and forth and less likely names fetch up, people they know from the screens: Josh Hawley, Tucker Carlson. In the end, there is no distinction in their minds between the mass murderer in the church in Charleston and someone with whose opinions they disagree.
Mr. Trump himself tosses around the word evil in a mindless way. He uses it almost as often as he does the word “incredible.” It is one of his six adjectives. Progressives and Trumpists accuse one another, batting the word “evil” back and forth like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck disputing whether it is “duck season” or “wabbit season.”
f you are serious about evil, talk about consequences. You can’t call a person evil unless—as with Hitler or Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot—the evidence is there: the body count. Evil once belonged to the realm of reality. But the 21st century has lost its appetite for objective proof. Feelings are enough. If you feel that something or someone is evil, why then it is so. What you feel (the mirage of your emotions) acquires the status of reality. You must, after all, “speak your truth.”
Talking about consequences is only a gauge for consequentialists not for deontologists. And not for those who fling epithets as primates in captivity fling their feces which is a lot of what I think is going on these days.
I’m suspicious of consequentialism because I think there’s a knowledge problem with it. An act doesn’t suddenly become evil because bad things happened down the road or eventually came into the light. Hitler was widely thought of as a hero until the extent of his evil came to light and some of the very best people supported his “scientific” way of doing things. The same was true of Stalin and Mussolini. That doesn’t mean they became evil then; they were evil all along. And it was not their motives that made them evil; they all had good motives.