Friday, May 15, 2009

What a "random" thing to say!

I was seriously considering talking about moral relativism, then I realized we need to set some foundation stones. Before we talk about those who redefine the universe according to their own personal, fleeting feelings, I want to talk about a strange and possibly dangerous trend.

Have you noticed how a lot of folks, especially teenagers and young adults, are saying things like, "Wow! That was a really random thing to say." or "I was on my way home and just randomly went to McDonald's."? I'm rather disturbed by this, and I think you should be, too.

Let's start with our basic definitions. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "random" as "a haphazard course". This of course led me to look up "haphazard", which was defined as "chance". After finding "chance", we really get to the meat of the issue. This is what Merriam-Webster has to say about "chance": "something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause", "the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings : luck", and "the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence : contingency". You will note several elements here.

First, I see it says "without ... human intention or ... cause". If a human says or does anything at all, it is, by definition, not random. Next, we see that it is "impersonal", which would preclude the actions of a person. If somebody is a somebody, they are hardly not a person. Lastly, it is "incalculable". Anybody who is gregarious can be calculated to speak soon. One who is hungry, or perchance lacking impulse control, can be calculated to stop for food. These are straightforward, simple facts.

So why would people say "random" about their actions or the actions of others? Well, basically, it is an excuse. I have coined the term, "exculpification" (based on the Latin culpa, meaning guilt), to describe these behaviors. People want to feel that it "just happened". (It is quite reminiscent of the oft-heard unplanned pregnancy discussion. Q: "How did you get pregnant?" A: "Well, it just happened." As if the voluntary act of sexual congress had nothing to do with the current condition.)

I am convinced, by observation, that people mean "spontaneous" ("arising from a momentary impulse", Merriam-Webster), but do not want to assume responsibility. We all make choices, and many of our choices are poorly made. If we say that we did something "randomly", we are taking our decision-making authority away from ourselves. In short, we are lowering ourselves to a near-animal state, claiming that we cannot control what we do and just bumble around by instinct.

Help me to stamp out the use of "random", unless we are talking about random number generation software, or possible statistical sampling methodology. Don't use it on people.


  1. Yes, you are. God bought you with the blood of His only begotten Son, didn't he? ;-)

    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here. God bless you, Russ!

  2. UPDATE: There is already a word, exculpate, which expresses what I meant when I tried to invent exculpify. Feel free to sue me for all this blog is worth! ;-)