Since the massacre of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School, calls have rung out for improving “mental health services.” This deflects from actions that would save lives. Such calls blur the distinction — and I now dispense with the euphemisms — between what is crazy and what is evil. Further, they compound our national reluctance to face facts about what can and cannot be changed.
In modern scientific parlance, the label “crazy” centers on delusions, hallucinations and bizarre beliefs. More commonly used technical terms are “insane,” “psychotic” or “schizophrenic.” While less precise, crazy is no more or less pejorative than the scientific terms.
“Evil” is at least as ancient a concept as crazy. Its hallmark is a narrow moral circle in which other people are objects of moral indifference or hatred, people deemed not to deserve to live. In this usage, the label evil is not mysterious nor derived from a belief in “the devil.” Rather, it is clarifying; it denotes people inclined to be violent and to put many other people at risk.