Be judgmental. Tolerate less

A recent touch of the flu reacquainted me with daytime TV. The picture it paints of American society ain’t pretty. Largely gone are the inane game shows and soap operas face a more formidable competition from “confrontation shows.”

Some have an actual court room setting. Others just bring people together to dredge up old grievances and fight. All feature over weight slobs, who can't seem to construct even one sentence without vulgarity. They take turns abusing each other (and they are astonishingly good at that.) The women often cry, but that doesn't interfere their ability to heap vitriol on their opponents. When there seems any danger of reconciliation or compromise, the host introduces another contender. The climax of the show comes when one of the participants hoists himself onto his hind legs and asks indignantly, "You think your better than me? You can't judge me."

It is disgusting to watch, but hard to turn away, like a grisly car wreck. What does this say about us? Maybe freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. But our fat friend's question is interesting. Do we think we are better than he is? Should we? Do we have a right to judge?

In many ways, society and all of us as individuals have lost the ability to make values based judgments, or at least we have come to see it as illegitimate. At first this was liberating and welcome. Who doesn't want to be free of the noisy busybody or the prying moralist? But we may have given up too much. We didn't really free ourselves; we just traded one group of norm setters for another. Every group of two or more people forms a society and every society has values. Who determines them?

There is an old story about an argument among the parts of the body. Each said it has the most important. The head said, "I do the thinking." Stomach replied, "Yes, but I keep you alive." To which the hands said, "without me you could never pick up food." And the feet said, "But we get you to the food." You get the picture. Finally the rectum gets tired of all the discussion, stops working and everyone dies. The moral is that the biggest ass**** always wins. This is what is happening to us on the social level.

Rude and ill-mannered people have been with us always. But at least it was once possible to put them down and many would at least pretend to be better when they were in public. Now, you can't judge them. Passing gas in public is just an alternative lifestyle. Ignorance has always been common, but at least ignorant people once felt stupid in front of the well informed. Now, you can't judge them. They have their opinions; you have yours. What is worse, everything has to be dumbed down so that even the stupidest among us can understand.

It is precisely our tolerance and open-mindedness that is driving us into gated communities with like-minded colleagues and closing our minds to ideas other than our own. Society is teaching us that we can't have a useful civil conversation with people that are not like us. In general settings, we drop to the lowest common denominator, which means bodily functions, feelings or unsubstantiated attitudes. It used to be a bad thing to be wrong. Now the only real sins are being judgmental and insensitive. A good society demands that we often be both. We need to be more judgmental and less sensitive.

Posted by Jack at March 2, 2005 2:04 PM