“Men are so judgmental!” she wailed. “They are always judging us!” This was relayed to me by a woman in her mid-thirties who had been single for a while and was looking for a partner.
“I know,” I nodded sympathetically. “It’s most odd that a middle aged man who has accumulated substantial assets and enjoys a certain reputation both professionally and socially should carry out some sort of character assessment on those who he is looking to share his entire life with. Me, I just don’t get it.”
There is a phrase I hear and read quite a lot these days, and when I hear it I find it is always worth looking at who is saying it and why. That phrase is: “Don’t judge!”
On one level I can agree with the sentiment behind it. As I wrote here, one of the principles of freedom and liberty is that two consenting adults ought to be able to do what the hell they like with one another (provided they don’t frighten the horses) free of societal judgement that comes in the form of laws and penalties. So from that perspective I quite agree with the sentiment behind the words “Don’t judge!”
Unfortunately, that’s not how the phrase gets used. Usually it is deployed against an individual who might be about to reach a conclusion as to somebody’s character that is at odd’s with the person saying it. Two things annoy me about this phrase.
Firstly, let’s be honest here. Everybody judges everybody, all the time. It is as reflexive to humans as breathing: any kind of interaction between people involves the gathering of information, categorising it, and drawing conclusions based upon it. Some of these processes are entirely subconcious and happen in milliseconds.
He’s handsome. He’s tall. She looks happy. That man wants my attention. I like her glasses. She likes me. He is trustworthy. We could get along. Nice coat. Awful hair.
Human interaction is literally impossible without judging people. So saying “Don’t judge!” is like saying “Don’t look and think!”
Also, take a look at who is using this phrase the most often. Chances are…nay, scratch that. It is a guarantee that those who use this phrase are themselves the most judgmental people you’re every likely to come across. Next time you hear somebody saying “Don’t judge!” ask them what they think of white, male Republicans in South Carolina. Or people who own guns. Or Leave voters. What they mean is “Don’t judge us, but we will judge you!”
But that’s the minor point of this post; the main one is what I referred to in the opening exchange.
It is one thing for society to judge and impose laws restricting individual freedoms. But as Maggie pointed out, society is merely the term used to describe the aggregate of individual actions and behaviours. And on that basis I don’t think there is anything wrong whatsoever in individuals judging the behaviour of others and treating them accordingly. Indeed, it is perfectly consistent with the rights of free individuals to do so. And if this aggregates across society to mean society as a whole judges certain behaviours, then so be it. Provided no laws are passed banning these behaviours, then the principles of freedom and liberty are upheld. Each individual makes their own choices regarding who they interact with and on what level, and if they have judged certain behaviours to be beyond the pale then that is their right. You wouldn’t expect a hardcore, third-wave feminist to associate with an anti-abortion campaigner. And you wouldn’t expect somebody with a functioning brain to associate with a hardcore, third-wave feminist.
Only what’s happened is some people have been encouraged to adopt certain behaviours that are frowned upon by most of society, and later on discover that this is causing them some problems, particularly when it comes to finding a partner. This is partly what I was referring to in my post about chivalry:
Now I’m something between a libertarian and a classical liberal, and so I believe that if these women – or any others – want to drink themselves into oblivion on alcoholic mouthwash and make idiots of themselves in kebab houses at 3am, that’s their business. But such liberties are also extended to those of us who observe such behaviour and pass judgement, which includes deciding how such women ought to be treated in terms of subsequent personal relations.
Similarly, if a young woman is going to exercise her right to be promiscuous in her twenties and do things which most of society considers shameful, then she is going to struggle to find somebody to take her seriously as a partner in later years. All of this depends on the individuals concerned and the specific circumstances of course, but my general point is true enough that those who are running into such problems have had to invent the refrain “Don’t judge!” (For all those who might be thinking a double-standard is at play here, would any woman take a man seriously if he said “I spent the past ten years shagging around, mainly with much younger girls, but now I want to settle down. Hey, don’t judge!”? No, they wouldn’t.)
What they are effectively doing is admitting they have done something shameful and they don’t want this taken into consideration by anyone evaluating their suitability for a relationship – be it romantic, platonic, or business. By using the phrase “Don’t judge!” they are implying the other person is doing something wrong: he or she is being “judgemental”, which to some is a sin worse than infanticide.
But as I implied at the beginning, you’d be incredibly foolish not to judge if you’re considering a serious relationship with somebody. Some say judge, others say carry out sensible due diligence. It’s an odd idea that somebody’s past behaviour and overall character shouldn’t be taken into consideration in such circumstances. People change, people move on, unfortunate things happen. In my experience folk can be pretty forgiving, and a willingness to compromise is one of the foundations of any relationship.
But if somebody is telling you “Don’t judge!” when you barely know them or – worse – they are telling you “Don’t judge!” in relation to their friend, then the best course of action is to start running in the opposite direction and keep going until you reach the sea.