Jesse Pinho

"Evil" is a lazy word

I want to use fewer "value words."

I've noticed myself feeling tempted lately to use the word "evil" to describe certain people or groups of people. There was an article in the New York Times about how coal industry lobbyists were effectively manipulating politicans to confuse the public about climate science and loosen regulations on coal, thus making those in the coal industry richer. And my first reaction -- an ironic and self-contradictory one, since I'm a moral relativist -- was to think, "These people are evil."

It's a useless thought. It allows me to stop far short of investigating their motivations and tactics. As a result, I forfeit the opportunity to learn a lot about the nature of the climate science debate.

What might be more interesting -- what might prompt more investigation, and thus be more engaging and educational for me -- is if I were to think of the lobbyists more descriptively, without using words that indicate value judgments: "These people know what is required to accomplish their goals." "These people have incentives that are foreign to me." "These people have lengthy experience in working with government."

Until I start using that language, my learning, and my understanding of the world, will be limited.