Regardless of how you feel about the bulk of Sarah Palin's video response to critics claiming she and her right-wing ilk helped inspire alleged Tucson, Arizona, gunman Jared Loughner, one thing is glaringly certain: It is stupid for the former Alaskan governor—and others—to invoke the word "evil" when discussing the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy, and everyone should stop doing that immediately.
To begin with, evil is a nebulous word with so many religious connotations that using it to discuss outwardly secular situations is unjust and inaccurate. If you would like to go over in your place of worship the concept that the devil is evil and God is good, more power to you. But if you're trying to contextualize the news of the day with terms that should be used for Satan, you run the very high risk of condemning flesh-and-blood human beings and man-made entities as inherently, unshakably bad.
For a perfect example of this, consider the dialogue swirling around Loughner. Palin called him "a single evil man," while Slate's Jack Shafer wrote that the 22-year-old's mugshot is a "living avatar of evil." In an appearance on Fox News, one of Loughner's former college professors said Loughner had an "evil stare," and if you Google "'jared loughner' 'evil'" you currently get nearly 200,000 results.
That so many people are willing to literally demonize a person is scary regardless of the situation, but what makes this case far more dangerous is how all the "evil" talk is being juxtaposed with Loughner's mental health.
Though a medical specialist has yet to release a professional diagnosis of Loughner, based on the testimony of acquaintances and Loughner's own words, it seems a given that what we're dealing with is a deeply troubled individual. And yet, instead of treating Loughner as such, everyone from Palin to Perez Hilton is calling him wicked and evil, sometimes while also fully acknowledging his mental health problems (in her video, Palin goes on to call Loughner “deranged”).
What we’re left with is a sick, creepy conflation of mental illness and spiritual corrosion. Loughner isn’t someone to be pitied as a tremendously sick individual whose dementedness was his downfall; he’s a monster filled with dark hatred and, yes, “evil.”
Ancient peoples used to equate illness with evil, and they would drill holes in the skulls of the sick in order to let the demons escape from their brains. This surgery was called “trepanning,” and it was barbaric and dumb. Apparently, our society has gotten only slightly better.