I want to write another blog post later today, but found myself wanting to use a word that I feared would be misunderstood. Hence, I am breaking my sickness and paperwork induced blog silence by talking not about something grandiose, but rather minute by comparison to my usual topics: two words, and why I prefer one to the other.
The first word, "evil," is one that I try to avoid using as much as possible. Not, mind you, because of some sense of moral relativism, but rather because of the connotations of the word. To many people, evil necessarily derives from some external evaluation of the world, be it by a god or authority figure. To me, however, being a utilitarian (at least to a rough approximation) means that any evaluation of what is good or bad must come from a rational argument and not the decree of another. Of course, this sense of the word "evil" is far from universally held, but it would be truly unfortunate for my writing to be misunderstood by virtue of such a colored meaning.
In preference, I choose to emulate Richard Dawkins in his use of the word "wicked." Specifically, I call wicked that which is directly, intentionally and needlessly harmful to other intelligent beings, their bodies and their rights. Moreover, I call wicked those value systems and philosophies that compel their adherents to wickedness towards others. On this latter point, I likely deviate from others, such as Dawkins, in applying the word to what is inherently a matter of thought rather than action. My motivation is not to ascribe to any individual a responsibility for the thoughts in their heads, but rather to examine what could compel an otherwise decent agent to act in a wicked manner towards their peers.
By using this word in preference to "evil," I hope to avoid my meaning being lost in the noise of cultural connotations. (Plus, the word sounds cooler, anyway.) It is important that my meaning makes it though, as something wicked truly this way comes.