Incensed by the use of “Evil”

Should we use the term or shouldn’t we, and why?
Have we gone that far? Yep.

This is obviously an important subject but also provocative. There may not be simple answers but there might be limitations on conversation, at least with liberals. Here is my attempt at the topic, which is also a rebuttal to a column on CNN.

I soon realized others have taken issue with it, and one a conservative he singled out in it. I didn’t read the others until after. I included them below in case you want to check them out too. The subject deserves consideration. (It is three parts) You can read his entire column at link. But it could irk you, as liberal academics do.

Should we call ISIS ‘evil’?

By James Dawes | August 22, 2014

Editor’s note: James Dawes, director of the Program in Human Rights at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the author of “Evil Men” (Harvard University Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — When most people look at ISIS, they see the incarnation of evil. Among its many horrific acts, the Islamic militant group beheaded American journalist James Foley and posted the video this week in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. The Pope typically protests violence, but he implied that he supports the use of military force to combat ISIS. Even al Qaeda says ISIS is too violent. Across the political spectrum, public officials and pundits have characterized them as “savages,” a “cancer” and the “face of evil.”

Is ISIS evil?

The problem with that question is that the answer is as easy as it is useless. Yes, ISIS is evil and must be stopped. Saying so over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.

There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil — because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. “Evil” is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.

The flip side is that “evil” is also a word that stops us from thinking.

There is no point in trying to understand evil because it is, in the most typical phrasing, “inhuman,” “senseless” or “beyond comprehension.” It is a fool’s quest to analyze the local realities and strategic imperatives of unthinking savages. There is something almost offensive about trying to understand such evil.

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg tried to shame those who are trying to think seriously about ISIS. In a recent tweet, he mocked the attempt to understand ISIS in its social and political context, suggesting that we should focus instead on one fact: “They’re evil. They do obviously evil things for evil ends.”


The first paragraph generally gets a pass as fairly matter-of-fact.

The word evil may get tossed around, but I think most people know it when they see it.

“Easy” to call it evil, but “useless?” I don’t agree. Their acts speak for themselves, and useless? The repeated use of the term evil makes it “harder to stop them”? So the answer is to stop using the term, so we can stop them. Say what? Thus, evil is a useless descriptor. I think he expects one to make a case just for using the term.

Now be careful about making all-inclusive statements:

There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil — because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. “Evil” is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.

Only one reason? I disagree. There are more than one reason. He is saying our use of the term is based on our intent. He ascribes our motives and intent to the use of the word. What about the evil ISIS? (he’s more concerned with us) A “powerful word”? It’s a powerful concept or force.

I have called some things evil without feeling the reflex to kill them. Likewise, a hunter shoots an animal not because he sees it as evil. I used the term about someone’s actions for years, but never, ever had a desire to kill or harm them. It surely was not my motive for using the word. Wrong. At times I did not wish them the best, that’s quite different. Even if there were reasons not to use the term, one needs to call something what it is – not based on what you want to do to it. So that doesn’t work, nor is it 100% correct. A motive might be to call attention to it or a person, or an effort to demonize them; but that is not an effort to go string them up on a tree. There is room and need for calling some things or people evil though, it is not meaningless.

There are legitimate reasons to oppose and fight it based on what it is. It is a moral repugnance. The ISIS evil is not just a criminal offense either. Anger is justifiable.

“The flip side is that “evil” is also a word that stops us from thinking.”

Use of the word stops me from thinking? Ludicrous and wrong. Now maybe evil nature could prevent its host from thinking? Just suppose it gets easier for these people to do what they’re doing without thinking — searing off any conscience. Isn’t that more the case? And people have given a lot of thought to opposing evil, even predicting its moves. Maybe some are obsessed about understanding it? That is reason to be careful trying to fully understand it. I would agree there is a danger inherent in trying to understand it that: to understand evil is to excuse it[LM]. The point is in trying to understand it you can rationalize reasons for it.

Apparently there is no point trying to understand evil:

There is no point in trying to understand evil because it is, in the most typical phrasing, “inhuman,” “senseless” or “beyond comprehension.” It is a fool’s quest to analyze the local realities and strategic imperatives of unthinking savages. There is something almost offensive about trying to understand such evil.

I don’t believe understanding is the cure. However, no point trying because it is inhuman? That’s pretty absurd. I’m not looking for explanations though. We have enough of that and call it what it is. I agree that what these people are doing is inhuman — what I call anti-human. But that doesn’t change the evil nature. Islamic terrorists are biologically humans. Savages, yes – unthinking, no. But they are taught and aspire to this evil. Sure they have turned themselves into barbaric animals. True some evil is beyond our comprehension and understanding — which is why the objective is not to understand it. Many people do not want to get into the mindset of that evil, and probably never will, but that does not make inquiry irrelevant. From one extreme to the other.

So are Islamic terrorists just zombies incapable of cognitive thought? No. We see what they do think about. They are actively establishing and running a caliphate – of evil but a caliphate. It takes some scheming evil thought.

Then don’t even consider their strategic imperatives? Is that asinine? Are we supposed to be numb to it or zombies ourselves? Of course you have to consider its strategy. And it wants to kill us as part of its grand strategy. But don’t bother with that.

“It is a fool’s quest to analyze the local realities and strategic imperatives of unthinking savages. There is something almost offensive about trying to understand such evil”

The reasoning here seems to be not to label it evil. Maybe this type of sinister illusion prevents its defining, and the application? Maybe a waste of time is what human nature would like us to think? At least know enough to guard against and predict it as possible.

I remember many people taking the criminal approach to terrorism pre-9/11. But possibly that itself is a passive participation in evil, to dismiss it as just another criminal deed.(that requires ignoring a lot) People do grow tired of an overuse of a term. As they say: “all that is needed for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing”. How would you fight something without understanding what it is?

I have a huge problem with other words there, like calling them unthinking. Now we have gone from one extreme to another — from scheming evil to unthinking. In fact, it would appear that a lot of thought goes into their actions. And there is a deliberate nature to it. It is actually work to do what these savages do. But unthinking? Unaware of what they are doing? I don’t think either works. It seems as systematic as what Nazis were doing. Then there is the political motives, which are at the very definition of terrorism. And not for one minute would I ascribe that they didn’t know what they are doing. Just the opposite, they incorporate a psychological propaganda campaign designed to affect their opponents.

Something offensive about trying to understand such evil. We should be offended by it, it is evil after all. But calling understanding a fool’s errand? We had to understand some of what created Hitler and the Third Reich did, and its nature, to see it doesn’t take hold again. After WWII, the Germans were led through the camps to see what their society had done. It is called denial. I”m certain it left many with questions how all this came to be? And who exactly permitted it? Crushing and tough questions.

I find that people who refuse or don’t want to use the term evil have an agenda , and often a reason for it. To recap, he has attacked both sides: he attacked using the word, and also attacked even trying to understand it. Though he did admit the evil involved. That would be hard for a person with a new book on Evil Men to deny. Well, he would not want to deny evil, having written on it. But don’t bother trying to understand it, something that is inhuman. When evil inhabits men then humanity is involved. That’s a different story from understanding perps and terrorists’ social culture.

In no particular order, here are the bullet points:

  • Do not use the word – evil.
  • Do not even try to understand it.
  • Will make you stop thinking.
  • Using it will cause us to lose the battle
  • The only reason to use the word is to kill the person or thing.
  • Don’t consider its strategy or goals
  • It is offensive to try to understand it
  • He criticizes the ‘evil is as evil does’ notion

As background, I include a statement about his book Evil Men. His description gives a flavor for his treatment of the subject. But he is talking about evil men, not ideology or ideas, and apparently labeled them evil based on their deeds.

As readers, what are we to do when we read such testimony? Can torture narratives teach us anything? Isn’t the endless circling around stories of atrocities a form of obscenity itself? When does the fight for justice and truth end and human rights pornography begin? Evil Men is painful to read. Horror and terror are etched into every page. Atrocities are reflected upon – sometimes calmly; other times with cold fury. The book’s author, James Dawes, forces us to think carefully about the ethics of telling stories – true ones – about acts of staggering cruelty. Disturbingly, it is a book about friendship, too. When we are brought face to face with men who raped, tortured and murdered men, women and children, where should we look? Straight into their eyes, he advises.

Other columns:

Jonah Goldberg’s rebuttal None Dare Call It Evil?
Kevin Jackson also takes him to task:CNN writer implies calling ISIS evil is a bad idea
Conservative Firing Line took issue with him Liberal cautions that U.S. faces a danger in calling ISIS ‘evil’

Part 2
RightRing | Bullright

6 comments on “Incensed by the use of “Evil”

  1. Hardnox says:

    Evil will triumph when good men do nothing – Sir Edmund Burke

    That stated, there is only one cure for evil. The sooner the world recognizes that simple fact, the better. In the meantime, the leftards of the world will demand that we negotiate, or simple make an effort to understand evil, and to listen to evil grievances.

    When evil visits our shores here in the USA, then, and only then, will the remedy be understood.


  2. Davetherave says:

    Bull, I’m well known for calling a spade a spade and not giving a rats ass about today’s PC bull shit.

    ISIS is evil…period! There is only one way to deal with evil and that is extermination. Wasting anyone’s time calling them anything but evil is absolutely stupid. Calling them evil does not make them harder to defeat. Reagan called the USSR evil and they got knocked down without a single shot fired. Why shouldn’t evil be called evil? Should we now say Satan is not evil, but he’s just misunderstood???

    Evil has already visited our shores and it is squatting in our WH. Evil begets evil and allows evil to thrive and what has O’Bastard done during his entire tenure as president? Great article Bull, but I find the fact you have to write an article defending calling evil exactly what it is to be complete bull shit. This PC shit will be the end of us and CNN once again proves what f*cking morons they really are.


    • Bullright says:

      Dave, perfect, well said. Great example, Reagan. He didn’t exactly convene a committee to study it, and make recommendations based on cultural, social traditions.LOL Reminds me why they hated Reagan so much. It sucks that some thing needs explained.

      And you hit it on the head, no matter what his stated reasons are, it boils down to P/C not wanting to offend someone. But even that they don’t state. Good thing they didn’t try that in WWII. The only thing is these are just the people mallet head listens to.


  3. Bullright says:

    Check Goldberg’s column, insulting how his tweet comments were twisted used in this piece.


  4. […] Incensed by the use of “Evil” […]



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