Health is Not Morality

Don’t couch a moral evaluation in medical terms.  Don’t describe a deliberate, conscious choice with a metaphor that likens it to something that is not.

Stop using “sick” to mean “evil”.

Stop using “crazy” to mean “evil”.

Stop using “psychotic” to mean “evil”.

Stop equating physical and mental health with the ethics of people’s conscious behavior.  Being sick is not a sin.  Having a mental illness or disorder is not a sin.  There’s no worthwhile point in regarding immorality as a matter of inherent brokenness.  Choosing to be selfish is not anything like falling ill.

There are many evil things in this world, and I want to see people using the word “evil” more often when they attempt to describe them.


18 responses to “Health is Not Morality

  • myatheistlife

    ‘To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. ‘I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right — though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now — and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents —’

    ‘Certainly,’ said Alice.

    ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they’re the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

    ‘Would you tell me please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’

    ‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’

    ‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

    ‘Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

    I believe that you might want to write to the Internet and ask them to stop using words in ways that you don’t like.

    • acetheist

      Initially trashed this because I thought it was spam at first. Presuming it’s not:

      …Really? Are you telling me it’s bad to tell people what to do… which you are yourself doing, by telling me what to do? Or is it that you’re saying it’s pointless to tell people not to talk in ways you disapprove of? Isn’t it also pointless to leave this comment, then?

      • myatheistlife

        Yes and yes. It is pointless to tell people not to talk in ways you disapprove of. That’s like asking for self imposed censorship. Further, the definition of evil is rather loose to begin with. I get people upset for using the word ‘ignorant’ in it’s proper manner. It’s well defined but has a common usage too.

        We have enough trouble trying to get children to learn English as it is. Your desire that they learn specific meanings for words that do or might have religious connotations is taking it too far. It’s quite impractical.

        I’m of the opinion that Humpty Dumpty is never spam.

        To have simply said ‘good luck with that’ is boring. To have quoted only a short bit of that section of the story would have been very confusing.

        • acetheist

          …You don’t even notice that you’re contradicting your own logic. Amazing.

        • myatheistlife

          Then you are starting to understand. Read the Humpty Dumpty story and then your own writing and tell me the difference?

        • acetheist

          You mean you want me to backtrack and explain to you the basics of semiology?

          What is even your objective here?

        • timberwraith

          Ah. So atheists shouldn’t challenge people when they use “godless” as a synonym for evil, immoral, and unethical? Should people continue to use “gay” to mean stupid and socially awkward? Should people have full reign in using common words as slurs, regardless of who they harm or what prejudice is unwittingly promulgated?

          Why stop there? We should bring back all of the slurs that have been abandoned to antiquity. After all, were they not once a part of most people’s lexicon? Didn’t people have to engage in self-censorship once the linguistic tides had turned?

  • Calum P Cameron

    Hmm. I hadn’t even thought through the implications of using “sick” as synonymous with “sickening”. I hadn’t even realised I was doing it until now. There’s a word for that – where you take the adjective to describe how you feel as a result of something and apply it to the thing itself – but I don’t remember what it is.

    • acetheist

      Oh, there’s a word for that? Interesting. I presume that’s also what people are doing when they call other people “hot”.

      • luvtheheaven

        I think you’re (Calum P Cameron, you are) kind of right that some people call something sick when what they mean is “it’s making me feel sick”, and that it’s similar to (what acetheist just said about) people calling other people “sexy” when what they really mean is “I personally am sexually attracted to them”.

        But in your (acetheist’s) original post here, you began a parallel, and I agree that many people use “sick” to mean “evil” in a parallel manner to many people using “crazy” or “psychotic” to mean “evil”.

        When they say that, they’re not saying “I feel psychotic because I’m witnessing your actions”. Not at all.

        People have prejudices against various types of mental illnesses, especially certain types that have gotten a bad stigma over the years like schizophrenia. If someone actually says “That person is acting schizophrenic” and they don’t sound like an objective diagnoser, but rather their tone of voice implies “ah they’re acting really weird and I don’t like it”, this is a problem for everyone who actually has schizophrenia, especially since a lot of myths have been spread about the nature of that illness.

        Mental illness in general has a similar problem.

        I feel weird about ever calling someone “Evil”. Actions can be evil, but when describing a person perpetrating an action I believe is horrific, horrible, immoral, or just simple irrational, sometimes I do think it makes sense to call the person “crazy” or “likely mentally ill” or call them out on a specific mental illness that it is known that they do have.

        I feel personally invested in this topic and am torn about how to handle it because I grew up thinking (and I’m sure saying that) my mom was “acting crazy” when really she was acting verbally and emotionally abusive because of undiagnosed mental illnesses. When I was 17 and my younger brother was 15 and *finally* a social worker was evaluating our family and suggested she likely had Borderline Personality Disorder, my dad, my brother and I were shocked to learn that all of that “Crazy” was actually a legitimate mental disorder, something diagnosable at all in the first place. We were relieved and felt validated in thinking she was crazy all of that time. But we also felt like idiots for not realizing that if you want to call someone crazy for years and years and years that maybe they “actually are” crazy. (It turns out her problems are more nuanced than just BPD, but Personality Disorder symptoms are certainly heavily present and she definitely needs mental health treatment.)

        The term “Evil” never felt right for my mother. She wasn’t/isn’t exactly evil. She was often frustratingly irrational, and I was a rational minded person, so that itself did make ME feel driven crazy, yes. She was often mean. She was scary. She was controlling. She was full of rage.

        She was “abusive”. That’s what I should’ve been saying all that time. And what I should stick to calling her today. Although a few of the things I’d like to describe about her are not her abusive ways exactly. It’s other “mentally unhealthy” things such as her Dysthymia which I didn’t know she had at the time but which made her quite unpleasant to be around. It’s really hard to love someone, even your own mother, if she’s never happy, in addition to often being abusive. Calling her “Crazy” doesn’t really help solve problems. Rather, it stops her from wanting to accept that she needs to see a mental health professional, because she doesn’t want to be “Crazy”. It means she’s broken in a way that is too extreme and cuts to the core of who she is.

        Calling her “Crazy” makes me seem unsympathetic to her struggles, and I’m not. I understand that people with depression, phobias, eating disorders, and all sorts of mental health issues struggle with admitting they have them, even with admitting the disorders to themselves, because words like “crazy” are so ingrained in our vernacular as a derogatory comment.

        It’s just complicated for me. I don’t like the term evil either. I think it’s used too often and should mainly be applied to actions rather than human beings. But people call people evil far too often, and I think people are a little too complicated for that to be the go-to-word to describe a person who has committed an evil act.

        • acetheist

          “When they say that, they’re not saying ‘I feel psychotic because I’m witnessing your actions’. Not at all.”

          Haha, yeah. True.

          “I feel weird about ever calling someone ‘Evil’. Actions can be evil,”

          Agreed.

          “but when describing a person perpetrating an action I believe is horrific, horrible, immoral, or just simple irrational, sometimes I do think it makes sense to call the person ‘crazy’ or ‘likely mentally ill’ or call them out on a specific mental illness that it is known that they do have.”

          If you know them to have an actual mental illness, and you know the action/thing you’re reacting to is specifically caused by (or in part caused by) the mental illness — well, having that much knowledge about the situation, it’d make sense to use a more specific word that applies (in a manic state? hallucinating? etc.). When talking about general situations/strangers you don’t have that much information on, though, the horrific/horrible/immoral should not be likened to or attributed to mental illness.

          “When I was 17 and my younger brother was 15 and *finally* a social worker was evaluating our family and suggested she likely had Borderline Personality Disorder, my dad, my brother and I were shocked to learn that all of that ‘Crazy’ was actually a legitimate mental disorder, something diagnosable at all in the first place. We were relieved and felt validated in thinking she was crazy all of that time. But we also felt like idiots for not realizing that if you want to call someone crazy for years and years and years that maybe they ‘actually are’ crazy. (It turns out her problems are more nuanced than just BPD, but Personality Disorder symptoms are certainly heavily present and she definitely needs mental health treatment.)”
          “She was ‘abusive’. That’s what I should’ve been saying all that time.”

          You shouldn’t have had to go through all that, and if it’s not too much to say — while I’m glad you got to be validated in realizing you were right about her, this seems like a downside to using the word “crazy” this way, when really, what was happening was abuse, and talking about it in nonmoral terms doesn’t recognize that. But you’re right, it’s complicated, and I can acknowledge that.

          “I don’t like the term evil either. I think it’s used too often”

          Too often? Really? …You must be coming for a very different context then. Seems like I hear people avoiding the word “evil” even when it’s the most sensible thing to be used. Then again, there’s a jarring disparity between the ways we talk about reality and living people vs. the ways we talk about fictional characters and events.

          To give you an example of the sort of thing that led to this post: I was watching an LP of a horror game, and the player came upon a bunch of torture chambers and unsettling flashbacks of what had happened there, which caused them to lament that “this is so sick” and grasp and search for words to describe how disturbing it was. It’s not just sick, though. It’s evil. Torturing people is evil. That’s not an extreme statement to make. Yet I regularly see people skirting around the word, even when the circumstances are unambiguous, and reaching for health metaphors instead.

        • luvtheheaven

          Lots of great points. Thank you for your response. ;)

  • madcap86

    I think sometimes we use words like “sick” or “crazy” or the like to avoid words that make us uncomfortable. To call someone’s behavior “abusive” means to own up to the notion that it IS abuse. And if their behavior is abuse, what does that make the person who the behavior is towards? An abuse victim, which carries a lot of connotations that people are uncomfortable with.

    Evil is a word that is difficult to through around. What is evil? Or rather, what is the opposite of evil? If something is “evil,” how do we fight it? The opposite of “evil” is “good,” but both are so vague. How do you define them?

    By saying something is “sick” or “sickening,” we imply that there is a “cure.” Maybe that’s not the conscious implication, but it’s there.

    I do agree that we should not use this term when it comes to things that could perpetuate stereotypes against mental illness. But I have issues with the word “evil.” There are some acts (very few, in my opinion) that can be classified as “evil.” Molestation, rape, torture. But I have also lived through events that some would classify as “evil” that I do not. My father murdered a man. Some would say that is evil. But I know the circumstances behind it, and as such I know that that act is not the same as someone murdering someone in cold blood.

    All of this is a very long-winded way to say that the world is by and large grey, not black and white. Even trying to label an act as “evil” is more difficult than it sounds. I do agree that language is a tricky and special thing, and that we must choose our words with care. And that in some cases, we should absolutely educate others when their language choices are offensive. Otherwise, slurs and inappropriate comments run rampant.

    • Spade

      I’m not sure how much of your questions were rhetorical, but addressing the fact that people are uncomfortable using the word “evil” even when it’s clearly appropriate is part of my point.

      Difficulty of assessment, to me, is not the same thing as morally “grey”.

  • On Repression and Oppression Terminology | The Ace Theist

    […] 2) I purposefully avoid using the “phobia” suffix to refer to acts of bigotry and oppressive ideologies, and I advocate for others to do the same as well.  I want to preserve the meaning of “phobia” as referring to a psychological disorder that is not the person’s own fault and which they cannot fix by simply changing their mind.  Analogizing a flawed and violent ideological position to a psychological disorder only serves to demonize mental illness and/or treats the matter as if a bigot simply cannot help what they do because they have an illness.  Oppressive ideas are a failure of morality, not a psychological disorder.  People with phobias don’t deserve their involuntary conditions being likened to oppressing people.  Health is not morality. […]

  • The Sick Role | The Ace Theist

    […] Remember that short post I wrote about how health is not morality? […]

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