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April 29, 2013

The demise of evil

(Continued)

Turn on the news or watch any sitcom and this becomes immediately apparent. All lifestyle choices are equal in American culture as are all faiths, which has almost silenced substantive discussions about the largest issues in life for people living in fear of being labeled a racist, homophobe, or hater.

Our language reflects this decision to suspend critical thought. Many news outlets, for example, no longer use the term “illegal immigrant.” Among the reasons for the change is that interest groups find the term dehumanizing and lacking in diversity. The Associated Press said it is changing its widely used stylebook because “'illegal' should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

Likewise the government does not like to label people or actions with terms that could provoke questions about the non-judgmental dominant worldview. That is why the murder of 13 innocents at Fort Hood by Maj. Nidal Hasan in 2009 is classified as “workplace violence” instead of a terrorist attack despite his screaming of “Allahu Akbar” during the massacre and despite the numerous e-mails found between him and the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

This divorce of moral significance from the words we choose likely will not end soon.

One in three under 30 claim no religious affiliation and so many of the rest of us view faith as a means to self-fulfillment rather than a worldview with right and wrong.

But no matter how hard we try to erase judgment from our vocabulary and culture, it cannot eliminate the dark side of human nature. And because our language reflects how we think and vice versa, as George Orwell noted in “Politics and the English Language,” understanding, anticipating, and ultimately labeling evil will become more difficult for Americans.

“If you see something, say something” is a good idea for identifying suspect backpacks, but what will be the strategy for identifying suspect minds in the U.S. when “evil” has been removed from the AP stylebook?

— Marta H. Mossburg is an independent columnist. Contact her at marta@martamossburg.com.

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