Evil Is Evil

AntiPattern Name: "Evil" Is Evil

Type: Naming

Problem: Express dissatisfaction with a topic succinctly in a page title.

Context: WikiWikiWeb

Forces: Page author, page readership.

Supposed Solution: Describe really bad things as evil.

Resulting Context: Describing something flawed, foolish, annoying or just plain stupid as evil is probably not beneficial to furthering your aims. Many people will see a page named FooIsEvil and immediately think "CategoryRant" instead of taking the concerns expressed on the page seriously. Even if using the word "evil" is part of a particular author's recognizable literary style, it may not be the best thing to do for this reason.

Suggested Solution: Use alternatives to "evil": examples include contrived, dangerous, [hopelessly] flawed, counterproductive, redundant, broken, outdated, a waste of time and ill-conceived amongst many others the language has to offer.


How about a simple "not" (example taken from WhyWikiWorksNot)?

Because that's not English. Had I created that page, I would have named it WhyWikiDoesntWork (even though that's subject to the ApostropheCatastrophe).

Often even WhyFooDoesntWork is too strict, how about WhyFooIsSuboptimal.


And then there's ConsideredHarmful.

In fact, ConsideredHarmfulEssaysConsideredHarmful. Perhaps this page should be EvilConsideredHarmful?

ConsideredHarmfulIsEvil?!


Use http:like or http:wiki?search=Evil to see more Evil.

What does it mean to declare something evil? It means that people should know better than to use that thing because superior alternatives are obvious. Or alternatively, that they are non-obvious but the people in question have a clear moral and intellectual obligation to have apprised themselves of the alternatives. It means that there is something wrong with them.

Declaring something evil is an accusation that anyone who uses, supports or defends the thing of their own free will is either morally or intellectually deficient. That tends to put adherents of the thing in question on the defensive.

Is using the word evil in a wiki page name itself evil? Is there a clearly superior alternative to the term evil? From the above, I say not.

And even if evil is evil, its adherents can claim they want to put people on the defensive. At that point, you'd have to show that the people who use the term 'evil' have evil goals.

Of course, it goes without saying that merely declaring something evil isn't sufficient to make it so. (Nor necessary, for that matter). Evil, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

And people who insist otherwise are EvilAndRude.


So where do the universal laws of beauty fit into this?

I question whether they exist - at least to the extent that they can be considered universal and/or laws.

Unfortunately they do. And the fact that they do is a big practical problem.

Vague handwaving and "because I say so" arguments aren't enough to convince in this case.

The much-esteemed ChristopherAlexander apparently believes there are universal laws of beauty, and is in the process of explaining his views in the half-finished four-volume TheNatureOfOrder

Appeal to authority won't do it either.

If indeed there are such universals, obviously they will eventually be a branch of cognitive science as much as a branch of the arts, and equally obviously, cognitive science is not up to such a difficult challenge yet. So even if they exist, proving their existing to a skeptic is doubtless beyond the state of the art. Waving in their direction to assist a non-cynic to focus in the right place is probably about as good as it gets, for now.

There is some interesting evidence that some kinds of beauty are universal, e.g. that of the human face, see e.g. http://goldennumber.net/beauty.htm - note btw that although the referenced Dr Marquardt is hung up on the golden ratio, that doesn't invalidate his analysis. Such uses of the golden ratio are transportable to systems not limited by that ratio.

The book ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenance discusses some aspects of this; "There's an entire branch of philosophy concerned with the definition of Quality, known as aesthetics. Its question, "What is meant by beautiful?", goes back to antiquity; when Quality is kept undefined by definition, the entire field called aesthetics is wiped out - completely disenfranchised - kaput."

He also quotes Poincaré: 'The true work of the inventor consists in choosing among these combinations so as to eliminate the useless ones, or rather, to avoid the trouble of making them, and the rules that must guide the choice are extremely fine and delicate. It's almost impossible to state them precisely; they must be felt rather than formulated. The subliminal self, Poincaré said, looks at a large number of solutions to a problem, but only the interesting ones break into the domain of consciousness. Mathematical solutions are selected by the subliminal self on the basis of "mathematical beauty" of the harmony of numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. "This is a true esthetic feeling which all mathematicians know," Poincaré said, "but of which the profane are so ignorant as often to be tempted to smile." But it is this harmony, this beauty, that is at the center of it all.' -- DougMerritt


Rather than say "Don't do X" alone, I find it far more productive to say "Don't do X - do Z instead". In this wiki context, rather than saying "ExIsEvil?", I would prefer pages of the form "ZeeIsBetterThanEx?". -- DavidCary
Evil has become a slang word to describe something that is inconvenient or unfortunate, especially when many promote the same thing as a feature or advantage.

"If you hate an evil, you create another evil." -- JaneRoberts


Long ago, Gotos and Lambdas were considered merely harmful, but now they have become evil. It is my opinion that people who decree things to be evil simply lack the imagination to see how they can be used properly. -- JohnFarrell

It is my opinion that people who believe that EvilIsEvil simply lack the imagination to see how it can be used properly. Yeah, seriously.

Points for it:

Points against it:

Of course, none of this means that an individual declaration could not be wrong, but that would not make the declaration evil, only wrong.

Blind faith that something is good or bad is never a GoodThing, of course. A decree of evil is often a good way to spark some interesting debate, however. So: decrees of evilness are evil if they are believed with blind faith. Decreeing something as evil might be good if it leads to a thoughtful debate.


We risk trivializing the idea of evil if it's applied to that which is unimportant in the big scheme of things. We destroy that which is evil so we are saying when something is evil it does not have the right to exist. There is nothing in computing that meets this standard.

Nothing? I would nominate the explicit policy for the Linux kernel to break driver binary compatibility frequently, for the purpose of discouraging people from distributing binary-only drivers. That's a technical decision with political effects.


I think PageTitlesWithConclusions? in general are a terrible problem on Wiki. I'm beginning to wish that the Wiki had a rule declaring that page titles must not be value statements or other arguable conclusions. It's not the controversy that's the problem, but that the backwards process of naming a discussion before it has begun artificially lends more strength to one side of the argument no matter how inane it might be. (e.g. the ridiculous StoredProceduresAreEvil) That's particularly a problem on very long ThreadMode pages where smart, irrefutable arguments against the title conclusion get buried so far down that they are not seen by most readers.

Agreed. See also WikiPolarization.

Making a statement like "orange juice is evil" or "turnips are not carnivores" or "butterflies are superior to marshmallows" might be a great way to start a discussion. But it's a terrible way to name that discussion, because as often as not the opposite conclusion is later reached.

See also: TheQuestionOfOrangeJuice?, TurnipEatingHabits?, ButterflyVsMarshmallow? :-)

For DocumentMode pages, PageTitlesWithConclusions? are the best way to go. The title should be a summary of the thesis of the page. Counter-arguments or opposing views should go on separate pages. If you think that StoredProceduresAreEvil is a ridiculous statement, then don't contribute to that page; instead create a new page called BenefitsOfStoredProcedures? or whatever, and state what you think. There are too many ThreadMode pages in the wiki; naming a page with one particular "conclusion" or "opinion" is an attempt to reduce argumentative clutter (generally an unsuccessful attempt, unfortunately). Wiki should not look like UseNet.

Disagree. Again, see WikiPolarization.

See also: ShouldPageTitlesBeQuestionsOrAssertions

In the end, you can complain about it or be pro-active about it. I just renamed that to StoredProceduresAreOk. -- Costin. And that page has been ReFactored into StoredProcedures.


The Gematriculator (http://homokaasu.org/gematriculator/) indicates that this page is in itself 48% (previously 34%) evil, so beware!


CategoryAntiPattern, CategoryEvil (of course)

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