Judgment. It’s a pretty naughty word these days. Everywhere I look, I see a message that I should “stop judging people.” Usually the act of judging is made synonymous with puritanical motivations, fundamentalist religion, or bigotry. Here are just a few articles on the matter, all of which point the finger back at the judger for his or her own failings:
We’re told not to judge people for a host of things they wear, do or proclaim:
There are also acceptance movements, to help you get over judging particular books by their relative colors. Fat Acceptance is a good example:
There’s tumblrs dedicated to stopping judgment:
There’s even a wikihow to help you stop:
There seems to be a lot of social pressure out there to “stop judging,” but just what does that mean? Are such sentiments valid? Those of you who know me best know that I’m not going to just echo the sentiments of the writers above. It’s time to dig a bit deeper.
I actually consider judgment one of the fundamental ways we interact with the world and with others. Judgment is how we make pragmatic decisions, evaluate risk, and choose social relationships. Judgment isn’t always negative either. When we choose to do business or be friends with somebody, we have a made a positive judgment; we have not failed to judge.
Because it is so ingrained in the human experience, judgment is something that we are very unlikely to avoid. Doing exactly what we want and expecting nobody to have a negative reaction to it is not a realistic attitude. No matter what, people are judging you, and you are judging them. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
What does it mean to judge?
According to Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/judgment), judgment is:
1. an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought
2. the act or process of forming an opinion or making a decision after careful thought
3. the ability to make good decisions about what should be done
None of these are negative. How about judge?
1. to form an opinion about something or someone after careful thought
2. to regard someone as either good or bad
I think that last, formal definition of regarding someone as either good or bad is what most people think of when railing against the “judging” of others. However, we must remember that you can judge someone as either good or bad. To “not judge” someone does not mean to accept them. It means you have no opinion of them at all. We should also remember that all the other formalities of judgment speak to a careful thought process.
To see someone and immediately think ill of them or “look down” upon them is not judgment; it is prejudice. It is interesting to see in the Webster pages so much this confusion has seeped into common usage. That being said, prejudices (of all kinds, not racial prejudices per se) as part of a judgment decision are not necessarily bad either; they are merely pieces of experience brought from the past to the present decision. If a person conforms to a set of behaviors or image that have had a positive connotation in the past, we will use that prejudice to make a positive judgment on someone. The inverse is also true.
Some examples of judgment and prejudice
Imagine you are hiring a nanny to watch your child in the afternoon while you meet with clients. Because this person will be with your children alone, you wish for him or her to be highly vetted to insure that your child is safe from neglect or abuse. However, the time you have to spend evaluating each possible employee is limited. You will have to use whatever data points are available to make a good decision.
You have two candidates: one is a man, and one is a woman. All other factors being equal, which one would you choose? Most people would choose the woman, but why? Aside from “motherly instincts,” most of us (in American society, at least), have a belief that a man is more likely to abuse a child than a woman. Is that an incorrect belief? The US Department of Justice proclaims that 99% of convicted rapists were male (source). So, in this case, picking the woman yields a better chance at reducing a particular risk.
Is that sexist? Some might argue that it is indeed sexist, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision in this example. All the factors that can inform a decision can, I argue, be logically used when making a decision to arrive at the best outcome possible. This holds true across many different situations and with many different factors. The body fat of a person might be irrelevant when considering her for a nanny position, but might be extremely relevant when considering them for a position as a personal trainer or dietician. Some people have a pre-existing prejudice against tattoos, but I would not expect a tattoo parlor to hire an artist with no ink himself.
Walter E. Williams, himself of African descent, essentially said that if you drafting a basketball team and race was the only thing you had to go on, you would be crazy not to pick five blacks, that is, if you actually cared about winning (http://youtu.be/KKgHc6bWqZ4).
Judgment and social consequences
(The philosophical stuff)
As a libertarian, I do not believe in the use of force. I believe that social consequences should occur however they occur as long as violence is not used, and that this is what orders society in a meaningful, peaceful way. This means that if a person enforces a certain prejudice, whether it be something racial or part of some personal life choice, they should be free to do so (for more, see “Discrimination”). I do not demand that the black panthers cease enforcing their racial preferences (especially since it is a private group centered on pride of a particular race) any more than I demand a baker use his services against his will at a gay wedding. Moreover, I have no desire to join the Black Panthers. Why would I want to? I have no African ancestry. I cannot conceive of why a gay couple would want to do business with someone that doesn’t want to do business with them just because of how they choose to arrange their personal lives.
Social consequences, which is in a sense the sum of all personal judgments, is similar to concepts like rights to free speech and association in that it comes as a package deal. We do not, external of individual situations, get to make the determination on what non-violent social consequences are used when, just as we cannot on a per-item basis determine which speech should be permitted and which speech should be silenced. The right to judge, that is, the right to make decisions about other people, is central to freedom, rights, and enterprise.
This is why I have often said that a libertine society is not a libertarian society. This is because when you remove violence from human interaction, what is left is the freedom of individuals, communities, and societies to use their voluntary rights of association to deny access individuals who exhibit unwanted behavior. This is not necessarily a negative. The baker is free to say no to gay weddings, but everyone else in the community, if they are of a different mind-set, are free to not sell him flour, electricity, or water if they disagree. On the whole society arranges its behaviors non-violently; there is no need to bring a gun to the playground and force people to play nice with each other.
In this way I consider social pressures legitimate, but amoral, that is, not good per se. We pressure people to be thin, but being thin is legitimately healthier than being obese. I’ve never stopped being friends with someone because of his or her weight, but I desire good outcomes for them in life and health, which means ultimately I want them to be different than how they are. I have judged that obesity is not a condition I want those I care about to have. I don’t stop caring about them because of it, nor do I judge them to be inferior in some moral way.
The same goes for people on welfare (society wants people to be productive), people who drop out of school (society wants people to educated), or people who fail to pay child support (society wants people to be responsible). The sum of our collective judgments on conditions and behaviors makes up what we perceive as social consequences and social pressure.
The best part about social attitudes is that they can be changed non-violently by convincing others of your position. Homosexual relationships in the USA did not become acceptable because of government, but because of social activism. Activists convinced others to alter their judgment processes.
I shouldn’t be judged just because of X
Behind most of the complaints about judgment is a dislike of the social consequences listed above. I’ll just barrel through a few of them I see often.
Don’t judge me by my past. I don’t live there anymore.
Then what, exactly, should we judge you by? Your hair color? Your past is merely the sum of all the actions you have done and is also the best and likely only evidence of what future behavior is. What you have done in the world matters. This claim is literally the opposite of objections to racial prejudice; it is an objection to being judged on the content of character, for what else is your character besides your actions?
Don’t judge me by what I wear.
We wear clothes for other people, not ourselves. Otherwise, we would wear nothing. Wearing a suit sends out one set of signals, while baggy pants and bandanas send out a different set of signals. The same holds true for women’s dress. Fashion is a social construct, not some absolute expression of self. If you want to dress a particular way that is your right, but don’t be upset when people make assumptions about you based on those signals.
I shouldn’t be kept from a career in X just because I have tattoos.
Tattoos, like clothes, are for other people. If the art was for you to look at, you would hang it on the wall and look at it, not put it on your back. Sometimes people make assumptions about others based on their tattoos, or dress. You should consider this before you get a tattoo, and not all tattoos are equal. Having a person’s name permanently written on your face is different than having a butterfly on your shoulder.
Think about this. If your were a judge (the literal kind, in a court) and in the many cases you have seen in your career all the criminals were covered in tattoos while the lawyers, bailiffs, reporters, and police were not, what would you assume when you saw a lawyer with a neck tattoo?
Why can men do/wear X while women are judged for it? Or vice versa.
Certain superficial things, like hair, dress, and certain types of behavior are subject to prejudices. Men get can’t wear long hair, but women can. Men can go topless at a pool, but women cannot. Stepping outside societal norms sometimes has consequences. Certainly, I have cut my hair many times to fit in as a male. While I prefer my hair to be a bit longer, I have never felt judged because employers want someone to adhere to social norms as a part of their business. They understand that pre-existing prejudices are part of judgment. When all I did was play music, long hair wasn’t an issue. We all have to make a judgment on just how much we will yield to such pressures. They are not moral issues.
Keep on judging!
Whether you are looking for a new nanny, a new boyfriend, or a new car, personal judgment is useful. Continue to take important pieces of data into account when making careful decisions, and understand that those around you are doing the same. Prudence is almost never punished, but hasty and poor decisions are punished frequently. Always use your best judgment.