Passing Judgement

I sporadically hear someone object to others judging them. I far more often hear folk expressing opinions of others that they've come to via a simplistic judgement that recognises, in the person judged, some trivial similarities to someone utterly different to them – and leaps to conclusions, based on that similarity, that are utterly unfounded but, none the less, serve as the foundation for the simplistic judgement. So I sympathise with those who object to others judging them – because it's so often done without, well, proper judgement – but I think this misses the real issue. I'd rather take the bull by its horns and demand, instead, that you judge all you know how to – but do it properly, do it carefully, be honest with yourself about what you do know how to judge and be gentle in your treatment of those you have judged.

Your judgement isn't always right, so being gentle isn't just a matter of accepting others for what (you think) they are, or tolerance; it's also a matter of humility – you might be wrong. That's not a reason to not judge – that is, assess – but it is a reason to be shy of passing judgement, in the sense of deciding how to treat folk, based on the conclusions of your judgement. Always be open to new data: those you have judged may change; or some detail you missed may come to light, that puts a whole new perspective on the information that lead you to your earlier judgement. If you don't routinely update your judgement, it doesn't deserve to be the basis of your actions – and if your actions aren't based on carefully-considered judgement, please keep away from me, the internet and ballot boxes.

In particular, before you expound upon your view of anyone, based on your judgement, bear in mind that your exposition is going to influence my judgement of you. I shall judge you (just as I demand that you judge me – and everyone else); and, if you're being nasty to someone else because of how you have misjudged them, I'll consider it just to do unto you as you do to others (albeit I may chose to treat you more gently than this might justify). I won't blame you for judging them: but I shall take you to task for doing so ineptly, partisanly or without proper thought.

Groups, factions and parties

One of the hugest problems with how the internet has changed public discourse is that everyone sees what they want to see. If a blogger known to support some given faction expounds on some position dear to that faction's heart, the faithful readers see the parts they agree with and gloss over the rest; they post responses reinforcing the former, without taking up the issues their faction really needs to address, which are embedded in the latter. Those of rival factions who read the same blog post see the things that conflict with their own position but, all too often, gloss over the rest; their responses attack these conflicts, but do so without addressing their context properly. Such outsiders thus come across as idiots in the eyes of the host's faction's faithful. All see their own faction speak sense and their opponents prove what fools they are.

The situation is made all the worse by the fact that those who take least care – to think their positions through or to think about how their postings come across to their likely audience – are generally also the ones who are least reticent about posting. That goes as much for the bloggers – and talk show hosts – as for those who respond to them. It is all too easy to write off an entire faction because its most visible voices present its case worst; never forget the insidious effects of observation bias and sampling bias.

Because of sampling and observation biases, the silent majority of each faction notices only the worst idiocies of the other factions. Instead of a dialogue between the many calm folk who do take the time to think matters through dilligently, public discourse descends into a pitched battle of vitriolic exchanges among those who should be ignored by all.

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