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Judging Those Who Never Judge

To pass judgment is to be human

Last Judgment by Raphael Coxie

Many people are profoundly reticent to share an opinion, take a stance, or commit the mortal “faux-pas” of casting a judgment. Heaven forbid! Typical clichés include “I don’t mean to judge,” “who am I to judge?” and “I am not one to judge.” The refusal to judge and the ability to equivocate ad nauseam is considered admirable, as it demonstrates that you are a “tolerant” and “progressive” person open to all points of view. To judge is conflated with dogmatism and narrow-mindedness. I contend that the ethos of perpetual non-judgment is intellectually dishonest if not outright cowardly. Casting judgments is an integral feature of what makes us human. World history is shaped both positively and negatively by people who judge. Great leaders are not proverbial fence sitters. They judge. They opine. They challenge. They fight for their vision. Think of the most interesting person that you know. I bet that he/she is opinionated and hence judgmental. Pathologically non-judgmental people are unlikely to be charismatic conversationalists.

I recently appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience and the Adam Carolla Show. Both hosts are hugely successful within their respective niches in part because they do not shy away from passing judgments. Joe and I had close to a three-hour chat about countless topics including my scientific work and its detractors, political correctness, and the thought police. One of the elements of our conversation that perhaps resonated so well with the audience is that neither of us is tepid in sharing our strongly held opinions on a wide range of topics. As long as one can offer a compelling rationale to support his/her judgments and is willing to revise said position in light of new incoming information, there is nothing gauche about being judgmental (in the positive sense of the term).

Where does the current “non-judgment” zeitgeist that is so prevalent within some Western circles originate? I can think of three sources: 1) There are several passages in the New Testament that speak ill of judging others including the infamous Pericope Adulterae in which Jesus admonishes the crowd for judging an adulteress who is about to be stoned to death (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”), or Matthew 7:1-5: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Of course, individuals who subscribe to these “non-judgmental” edicts ignore the endless other religious teachings that are inherently judgmental by definition. 2) The ethos of cultural and moral relativism, a form of secular religious belief among the intelligentsia, rejects the premise that we can judge the practices of “the other” lest this might be construed as a form of cultural imperialism. None other than Justin Trudeau, the current leader of Canada’s Liberal Party and prospective Prime Minister of Canada, was “offended” by the use of the word “barbaric” to describe horrid religious/cultural practices such as honor killings and female genital mutilation (see here). This moral and cultural relativism runs deep within the Trudeau family, as his father Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a former Prime Minister of Canada, was a key architect in having Canada adopt an official multiculturalism policy (see my earlier Psychology Today articles on moral relativism and multiculturalism), a central feature of which is to extend unlimited acceptance to, and unconditional understanding of, the practices and beliefs of incoming immigrants. Apparently, it is “bigoted,” “racist,” and “phobic” to criticize otherwise abhorrent religious and cultural traditions. 3) Postmodernism is another “intellectual” movement that rejects any “privileged way of knowing.” All is relative, except of course the one universal truth that all is relative (the irony escapes many postmodernists). This anti-science movement breeds non-judgment, as all views are acceptable, all ways of knowing are valued, and all opinions are to be respected (see my earlier Psychology Today article on postmodernism). “Liberal progressives” don’t judge. They accept and tolerate.

In The Open Society and Its Enemies, the philosopher of science Karl Popper famously stated: “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” Inherent to his brilliant quote is the notion that as thinking beings we are able to cast judgments as to the difference between tolerant and intolerant ideologies. As I explain in another of my Psychology Today articles, our ability to discriminate is an evolved perceptual and cognitive trait. To judge is a central feature of our capacity to discriminate between tolerant and intolerant ideologies, moral versus immoral prospective business partners, or trustworthy or untrustworthy prospective spouses. To navigate through the complexities of daily life is to pass judgment on innumerable stimuli, objects, ideas, beliefs, and people. Regrettably, as often happens in a language, a word can carry two meanings, one of which is positive with the other being negative (e.g., pride has both connotations). In the case of “judgmental,” the term is now largely associated with its negative implications whilst its other more neutral meaning has largely been erased from our collective lexicon. Yes, in some instances to judge is to err. In other cases, the suspension of judgment is wrong if not immoral. There, I’ve judged!

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