Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Be Judgey!

Ironically, there seems to be this idea out there -- out there only in the girly blogosphere? I don't know -- that one shouldn't be judgmental.

"Don't judge! I got my thing going on that you don't know anything about and even if you did it's not your place to have opinions about my life 'cuz it's mine anyway and you're not my mom so just, like, don't get all judgey!"

I say "ironic" just because what are internet conversations except occasions to be judgey? OK, I'm exaggerating, but if you're posting on any sort of blog about celebrities, or gossip, or fashion, all it is is fucking judging.

But whatever. We can leave that irony aside. What makes it OK to complain about people being judgmental?

Surely it's OK to judge other people. We do it all the time. The person who beats his kids, the guy who rapes women, and the woman who commits identity theft? All properly judged as morally wanting. The guy who jumps onto the subway tracks to rescue someone? Properly judged a hero.

I figure the subtext of the demand not to be judgey is something like, "don't be judgmental about things that aren't moral wrongs, but are just, you know, things I'm doing."

And I think this is fair and reasonable. Often the demand arises in connection with something that is in the moral margins. You know, like judging whether someone may withhold certain information in relationships, or whether someone may lie in some circumstance, or whether it's OK to let your kids drink alcohol in your home.

These kinds of cases are on the moral margins in the sense that we think there's some moral aspect to the situation, but we know everyone isn't going to agree on whether it's a case of moral wrong -- "oh, no, you mustn't" -- or moral permissibility -- "I wouldn't, but hey, knock yourself out."

Knowing that it's a marginal case, the defensive person feels it's his right to judge for himself. Not to be judged. Or maybe the defensive person feels that in whatever context the conversation is happening, the demands of politeness or friendship or community are overriding, so that as long as its a marginal case, she shouldn't be judged.

I think this is a fair demand, and I just want to pause here to note that it rests on what I think of as a "traditional" model of morality.

On the traditional model, there are things that are morally charged, and things that aren't, and a few things in the vague area in between. As long as someone's doing OK with the morally charged things -- like not abusing kids -- they get to do what they want with the non-morally charged things. Morality only covers a small subsection of life.

There's been a kind of interest lately in overthrowing the traditional model, in favor of an even older, but also newer, "holistic" model. On the holistic model, life isn't divided into a kind of moral domain and non-moral domain; instead, a life as a whole can be well-lived, or not. So the philosophers talk of "virtue ethics," rather than "rights-and-duties." Live a life of virtue!

On the holistic model, the aim is to live a good life, and to worry less about moral rules and transgressions and more about how one's life works overall.

When you put it this way, the holistic model sounds nice: open-ended, flexible, accomodating.

But I just want to point out one thing. On the holistic model, there's no escape from "judgey."

Since there's no non-moral domain, everything you do is up for evaluation, by yourself, and by others. There's no defense of acting in the moral margins, because there are no moral margins -- there isn't even any non-moral domain of life, really.

To me it's a huge problem with the holistic model. Hey, you know, if I want to live a stupid life, what's the problem? As long as I'm not hurting anyone? The main good thing about the traditional model is that the answer is clear: "Nothing."

On the holistic model, the answer is, "Well, maybe lots, depending on how stupid your life is." The range for judgey is huge.

So just to say. Next time you're thinking it would be better to junk all those moralizing rules, or the inflexibility of the demands of rights and duties, think of what you're missing: the right to say, "Don't judge!"

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