Question of the Day:

Is there a useful way to use the idea of evil when writing about politics and the ethics of living as a citizen?

Specifically, is the term ‘evil’ more accurate and more descriptive that merely ‘bad’ or ‘unethical’ when describing certain actions, ways of being, or ways of organizing a state?

I ask this because I have been thinking quite a bit about prison reform, long-term solitary confinement, the war on drugs, and prison overcrowding in California, where I live.  I can think of few terms more descriptive than “evil” for the practice of locking men away for decades without sight of the sun or the touch of a loved one.  But I am worried about gaining emotional force at the cost of emotional distance and the ability to distinguish clearly. 

I want to be able to use the word ‘evil’ to describe a political state which permits its agents, tacitly or explicitly, to be deliberately cruel; I think the war on drugs and long-term solitary confinement are cruel.

Also, ask me what I think of the mental hospital to homelessness to prison triangle.

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One Response to Question of the Day:

  1. I’m not a religious person. Though I tend to respect people’s faiths, even if I find them incomprehensible.
    I’ve seen the word “evil” as a potentially confusing religious term at worst, and at best, an emotionally incendiary term that could get in the way of clear thinking.

    Hot emotions, like blind faith, can be counter-productive to critical thinking.

    So, my preferred word is, by far, for many years… “egregious”

    It has all the distinct meaning of “evil”, with none of the particular baggage.

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