Writing in the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson describes certain technical difficulties that result from abandoning moral language for clinical language:

Some terms, such as “narcissist,” straddle the line between medicine and pop culture. We love to engage in amateur diagnosis and to pathologize our rivals, family members, romantic disappointments, etc.

In other words, some of what people say (probably much more than they think) doesn’t actually mean what they think it means. Moreover, instead of opening a window into the mind of another human being, their pathologizing tends only to open a window into their own mind. People use words they don’t understand to describe people they don’t really know. And they seem to be unaware of what this says not about the people they are allegedly describing, but about them.

We should strive to be better people.

It is entirely appropriate to point out specific things someone does that are in fact wrong and simply say, “That’s wrong. That specific thing that he or she just did is wrong.” However, the moment we veer off the road and begin using “pseudo-medical language” (or even medical language, for that matter) to broadly describe the mental disposition of another human being for why they did what we think they did (we often get this part wrong too) is the exact moment we can be sure not only are we out of our depth, but, more importantly, we’re outside the lines of basic human decency.

To be sure, not only are they not who we say they are, but we are not who we say we are, either.

They are no more the mentally disordered people (necessarily) we wish them to be any more than we are the clinicians, much less the god-like creatures capable of peering into the heart and mind of another human being, we pretend to be.

And this is the point at which most people get lost. We must be able to recognize immoral behavior. That is a given. However, we must also be able to recognize a) context matters, and b) our innate inability to fully (if at all) understand why a particular person engaged in the behavior we understand to be immoral. Other than our awareness of human nature generally, the complexity of why people do what they do should cause a certain degree of humility as we embark on the tremendously treacherous task of judging people not just accurately, but righteously and responsibly.

We struggle to understand, much less appreciate, evil. For this reason, we prefer to use clinical language rather than moral language. But this is lazy. And inaccurate. And wrong. Indeed, we might even call it evil.

Or as pop culture would have it: narcissistic.

Free Checklist

Enter your details below and I'll send over your free self assessment guide right away to the email address you provide.

You have Successfully Subscribed!