Monday, February 25, 2019

Judging, Pre-Judging, and Post-Judging

When I was four years old, I made an observation: when someone does something stupid, you can expect that same person to do lots more stupid things. Same for meanness, dependability, generosity, etc. Once you see one solid example - good or bad - from someone, you can pretty much stamp it on their head and count on more.

As I matured, I realized this view was overly harsh. Things aren't black and white; we are all shades of grey. People can surprise you! Also: every one of us is stupid from time to time, or mean, selfish, or unreliable if caught at the wrong moment. That's why we must avoid putting people in boxes.

So for a few decades, I avoided categorization. But eventually I realized that I'd been right the first time. Most people are uncomplicated. Their choices are consistent and predictable, which leads to consistent behavior. People who let you down will do so again. And people who save your ass will do that again. Count on it. A rule I noticed when I first learned to drive: the more rudely someone turns onto the road ahead of you, the sooner he'll step on his brakes to turn, forcing you onto your brakes a second time. Now that I've pointed it out, you'll find it to be true time and time again. So I now put people in boxes again, but I've made two important modifications:

1. I'm not inflexible. I leave open the possibility that people might surprise me (spoiler: they rarely do).

2. I don't do so condescendingly. I'm aware of my own limits and failings, and recognize that they don't make me a lesser person. There's a widespread virus I've managed to stave off: the notion that spotting other people's inadequacy makes me superior. That's the root of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome, and it's easily disproven via honest self-assessment (I, too, am a fool) and by the realization that any supposed superpower shared by literally every 15 year old can't possibly be an actual superpower.

We all judge, but nearly everyone gets the timing wrong. If you categorize people before they actually do anything - i.e. on mere appearance, or qualifications, or the image they project, that's not only unfair, but it will steer you wrong. There's insufficient evidence!

That is, of course, also how we pre-judge on the basis of race, gender, and orientation. While those biases are taboo, we're free to go bananas applying social bias in less verboten realms (e.g. against old, unattractive, overweight, nonconformist, slow-witted, or mentally ill people, or - especially! - those holding different political positions). Every one of us still pre-judges as savagely as any Klansman or Nazi. We just studiously restrain ourselves in certain protected instances.

So we judge too soon - before the person actually does anything! - or we judge too late - after the person has shown their proclivities multiple times as we've patiently awaited shades of grey. The world has not caught up to my early delineation of the sweet spot: simply expect a fuck-up to fuck up.

Related: "Filtering the Zombie Army"

Note: I would never want to see this line of thought used to justify the excesses of an angry mob, or to actually persecute anyone. I'm just outlining the quiet reckoning of an individual trying to make his way through a confusing world (hey, I've found a new tagline for the Slog!).

No comments:

Blog Archive