2004 01 12

This is a long, interesting, and sensible guest-post on the topic of evil over at Normblog.

I was thinking about this subject the other day as I read over an old Hitchens article in Slate criticizing people for sneering at Bush’s use of the term “evil”. Whether deliberately or not, Hitchens seems to miss the point. When people like myself sneer at Bush for using the term “evil”, we’re not sneering at the term “evil”, we’re sneering at Bush-using-the-term-”evil”. I agree with Garrard that the term “evil” is an indispensible part of our moral vocabulary and that objections to it are usually misguided. The problem with Bush’s use of the term include, but are not limited to, the following:

a) We feel that it is connected intimately with Bush’s moral arrogance, his refusal to examine his own behaviour. And we see that as dangerous.
b) We feel that, however justified the use is in a particular case, Bush comes by the application of the term dishonestly. For Bush, it is a symptom of lazy thinking (which we righly see as dangerous), even if many uses of the term aren’t a symptom of lazy thinking.
c) We feel that in the wrong hands the term functions (and is intended to function) as a debate-stopper rather than part of an attempt to inform or articulate a principled position. We can’t help noticing that many people who use it in the current political climate regard themselves as exempt from the need to defend their position in any detail, when in fact their own favoured position is not the only response to the evil we both recognize. The objection, then, is not to the use of the term “evil” – it is to the mere use of the term evil in contexts where more desperately needs to be said.

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2003 02 11
[Letter on Brooks]

I sent a letter to the NYTimes today:

In a recent column fantasizing about President Bush’s interview with Tim Russert, David Brooks feels obliged to trot out that old canard that liberals have trouble grasping evil. As a self-identifying liberal, I would like to assure Mr. Brooks that I have no such trouble. I cringe when Mr. Bush uses the word not because I disagree with him about the application of the term to Saddam Hussein or bin Laden, but because Bush’s use of the word is usually a prelude to some new piece of stupidity. It’s not evil I have trouble with, Mr. Brooks, it’s inept and incompetent responses to it.

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