The Danger of American Anti-Semanticism (this is not a typo…)

So often, when we hear of another horrendous act of violence against innocents (such as the Pittsburgh Massacre, and the all too frequent terror attacks in Israel and elsewhere), we recount the event by describing the perpetrator(s) with words like:
Etc., etc.

This is a natural response, because, we ask ourselves, ‘Who in their right minds would possibly ever commit such atrocities?’

But there is a problem with this response.
A big one.
Because, (with very rare exceptions,) committers of atrocities are not crazy – they’re evil.

Throughout history and until today, there are many functional, rational, intelligent people who wittingly choose to grievously harm others.

Their motivation may be ideological, it may be financial, it may be vengeance, lust, or simply hate. But their actions are calculated, deliberate – and evil.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, you might say. After all, it’s just a matter of semantics.

Not so.

This is a crucial matter; for when we indiscriminately label perpetrators of atrocities as insane, we are declaring them innocent, diminishing the heinousness of their actions, disrespecting the suffering of their victims, and rendering ourselves and society less aware of reality and thus more vulnerable to future aggressions.

Evil has become a dirty word. Somehow, it seems to have almost become a societal truism that the only evil is the audacity of declaring something such. Therefore, we’ve learned to substitute ‘insanity’ and its synonyms as euphemisms to depict that which we intuitively know is morally abhorrent yet we dare not declare.

Why that is, isn’t my topic for now. What concerns me is that we wake up and realize that the words we use have real implications and that we start to take them – and the lives of innocent victims – seriously enough to call things what they are.

No, the Nazis weren’t whackos.

The massacring Crusaders weren’t lunatics.

The Spanish inquisitors weren’t nutcases.

And the KGB torturers weren’t crazies.

They were evil.

And so are the vast majority of the perpetrators of atrocities today.

And yes, it’s true, no one in their ‘right’ minds would commit the acts they did, but it’s crucial to remember that this means ‘right’ as opposed to to ‘wrong’ and not ‘right’ as in ‘rational’.

About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.