The Right To Judge

June 11th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

Good and EvilA question I heard rather a lot during my teenage years, for reasons I will not go into here, was “Who are you to judge?”

I was not free to reply, but if I had been so my answer would have been succinct:  “Human.”

To judge is to come to a moral and practical conclusion about reality.  When you judge something as “good,” that means that you have decided that it is beneficial in some way to your life and happiness.  When you judge something as “evil,” you have judged it as harmful.

For example, when I judge traffic laws to be good and follow them, I do it because I believe that the traffic laws benefit everybody and help prevent road accidents and death.  When I judge a particular person to be a deadbeat or a bum, I do so not out of malice, but because I believe that their behaviors are not beneficial to them and ultimately harm their chances for success and happiness.  When I judge casual non-martial sex to be a bad idea, I do it not out of any religious or personal prejudice, but because I recognize that it can lead to the negative consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock and STDs.  When I judge pregnancy out of wedlock to be a (generally) bad idea, I do it not because I want to be mean to the mother but because I believe that a child raised by a single parent who did not plan that child or prepare for its arrival has a smaller chance at being happy and successful as an adult than a child born into a setting where it has the support of two adults who planned that child and prepared for its arrival.

In this day and age, the right to judge has been thrown into serious question.  Judgement, rather than being seen as a necessary and vital part of life, has started to be viewed as something done only by evil, malicious people whose only desire is to put others down.  Today it is not just my stepfather, but all of society which seems to be angrily asking me the question of “Who are you to judge?”

But humans, in order to live, must judge.  Everything in life, from the simplest decisions about how to spend your money and schedule your time to the most complicated decisions about ethics and morality, require judgement.  We judge the activities we perform, the people we befriend, the causes we support or decry, the very food we put into our bodies.  All of the things we say and do undergo a process of judgement, and this process of judgement, far from being an evil act, is in fact a necessary and unavoidable requirement of living.

Because of this, when someone says that they refuse to make judgements, what they have actually done is stated that they have refused to carry out one of the most fundamental actions of staying alive.  But life and death is not a choice on which a person can remain neutral.  To stay alive requires a constant choice to do so, a constant answer of “yes” to the question of whether one wants to live.  Like refusing to choose whether to obtain an abortion when one is in the early stages of an unwanted pregnancy, refusing to answer in the affirmative is essentially the same as actively choosing to answer in the negative.  Those who have chosen not to judge have still made a choice, a judgement, and just because they are unaware of this fact does not mean that it isn’t true.  And just like when the woman with the unwanted pregnancy refused to choose between abortion and having the child, she effectively chose to have the child, the person who refused to judge between good and evil, when they failed to choose the good, has effectively chosen the evil.

Some of the prime examples of this fact can be viewed amongst the modern liberals.  When faced with a choice of cultures, Western civilization and the values of the Enlightenment vs. the values espoused by Islam, they say that we cannot judge between Islam and the West.  We must be respectful of other cultures, they tell us, and to choose between them or to force others to choose between them is nothing less than an act of racism and bigotry.  But what have been the practical effects of that choice?  The isolation of immigrant communities in the countries who should have assimilated them, riots in Europe (France, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, London), the self-suppression of speech by Western newspapers, extremist imams preaching the destruction of the West even as they are supported by the West’s charity, a blind eye to Iran’s nuclear agenda, the erasure of Islamic terms from national security documents, and condemnations of Israel for attempting to defend itself from the terror group Hamas.

This all ties back into a previous post I made about truth being the new hate speech.  Because to judge is to discriminate between options, and to discriminate is the essence of rational thought, to refuse to do so leads to the exact sort of horrors I detailed in my previous essay.

Human beings must judge, for when we refuse to pass judgement on the guilty, it is the innocent whom we then condemn to suffer.  When we refuse to condemn vice, it is virtue that we ultimately destroy.  Errors in judgement, and thus suffering, will occasionally result from our acts no matter what we do, but to refuse to judge out of fear that we may judge wrong is to side with evil every single time.

Judge and prepare to be judged.  You may not always end up right, but at least you won’t always be wrong.

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7 Responses to “The Right To Judge”

  1. Paul Beaird |

    Brianna, This is excellent writing and presents some points important to the living of a responsible life. As America’s moral philosoher said (I paraphrase here), If you follow the advice to not judge, who benefits? The person who holds his choice of actions to a high standard, or the person who doesn’t want to give thought to standards or the consequences for his life or anyone else’s?

  2. Tom Carter |

    Brilliant, Brianna. I couldn’t agree more. All my life, I’ve heard things like “don’t be judgmental” and “don’t you judge me!” and “who are you to judge?” And in almost every case, the person saying such things is in the process of making judgments even as the words are uttered.

    Burke’s famous (and vastly over-quoted) statement, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” makes the point crystal clear — if you don’t make judgments about what is good and evil, right and wrong, then of necessity you will do nothing.

    As always, though, there’s a catch. What if your judgment on something is different from mine? That’s where free speech and civil discourse come in — differing judgments can be discussed openly in a free society, and sometimes one side can win the day.

  3. larry ennis |

    Once again you have composed a good thought provoking article/essay. One that is easy to understand and relate to. I admit that you awakened me to a different view of the double edged effect of the judgments I make during my day to day life.
    I have had the good fortune of making some very good judgments/decisions but also the misfortune of some really bad ones. I attribute such highs and lows as a normal fact of life. The most difficult judgments are the ones that will leave someone hurt as the result my decision even though it was ultimately proven to be the best judgment call.

  4. Brianna |

    “What if your judgment on something is different from mine?”

    That’s why I prefer to keep the sphere in which we must seek agreement from a large majority of the populace in order to act – the public sphere of government action – as small as possible. The fewer things in which a large number of people must agree in order to act, the easier it is for government to act where said agreement is necessary and the more freedom people have to rise and fall based on their private judgements without adversely affecting other individuals who have little to no control over those judgements.

  5. Tom Carter |

    Hmmm — sounds a bit like a libertarian oligarchy, no? That would be fine with me, as long as I’m one of the senior oligarchs.

  6. Brianna |

    Errr… no, just a government of limited powers. The fewer things that must be decided by government, the fewer areas of daily life where we must strive to find mass agreement on subjects where mass agreement is both impossible and undesirable.

  7. Elisheva Levin |

    Excellent summary of the right and the necessity to make judgments. In making a judgment, we are not playing god, we are being human. We are making a decision based on the evidence at hand in order to choose the best action in a situation. But although our decisions are necesarily based on the situation we are deciding upon, our values and principles are not; they need to be based on what it takes to make the kind of life we want for ourselves, and the kind of people we want to share our lives. The choices are necessary to free individuals, and morality is only possible when a human being is able to make choices. And if a person is free to choose, then choices necessarily have consequences.

    You summed it up so well, Brianna!

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