What? Is Evil not the same as Cool?

It is not my intention to enter into polemics with the Learned Noders above (even if I’m leaning toward Orange Julius as far as the argument is concerned, and toward TheLibra for some pseudo-etymological giggles).

Dwelling on terms

Rather, I would like to dwell for a moment on the terms "evil" and "cool", as they may appear to (1) unreflected audiences of down-to-earth Earthlings and to (2) dispassionate observers from Outer Thereabouts.

In an everyday conversation "Evil" and "Cool" have clear-cut usages:

"Evil" is used for specifying negative behavior that should be avoided

"Cool" is used as a positive statement about something likeable or admirable.

Usage vs. meaning

But usage is not the same thing as meaning. Meaning presupposes an objectively ascertainable reference. The observer from Outer Thereabouts, having made some serious statistical surveys of how "evil" and "cool" are used by Earthlings, would get into significant trouble when trying to identify specific references that could be termed uniquely "evil" or decidedly "cool".

Killing is sometimes termed "evil" (Sept 11), sometimes "cool" (Saddam's son Uday), sex is as "evil" (for Judeo-Christian-Moslems) as it is "cool" (for the rest of us). In fact, the observer’s statistics might very well indicate that the converse of the statement "Evil is not the same as Cool" can be regarded as equally true as the statement itself, statistically speaking. This apparent contradiction is perfectly resolvable, provided that the terms "evil" and "cool" don’t have any objective reference, i.e. if they are in fact completely meaningless. So Evil is Cool, and Cool is Evil.

Analytical morals

Well, the above is of course nothing else than a pedestrian presentation of the way analytical philosophers like A. J. Ayer and C. L. Stevenson tried to do away with the categorical moral imperatives of Immanuel Kant and that lot. It is anybody’s guess whether they succeeded or not, but the phenomenon itself may still be worth pondering.

Beyond divine absolutes bekcons democracy, sort of

A way of practically tackling the problem might be to think of moral statements and ethical systems as strictly intra-societal affairs, devoid of applicability outside mundane human contexts. We seem to have an unfortunate subconscious tendency of understanding morals as something absolute and immutable. This may be due to the fact that most time-honored moral systems refer to absolutes outside the human sphere, to "extra-human" divine absolutes.

If we were to restrict ourselves to the human sphere exclusively, then our morals would become what we –- as responsible members of society -– choose to make of them. Of course, this is what morals in advanced societies have tended to develop into, over the centuries -– into an ideal of an active democratic society, a society that places more moral responsibility on our human shoulders than on some Divine Scriptures or Categorical Imperatives. A different question is whether this ideal is attainable, so let us not digress.

Make my day

However, if you want to make Evil into Cool, or Cool into Evil, then you are welcome, provided that you get my vote, the votes of the Jones’s and the votes of most of the rest of us. This doesn’t happen every day, but regularly enough.