Monday, April 25, 2011

Being Judgmental after the death of God, part I

             One of my favorite pieces of paradoxical wisdom is: “Wear your vulnerability like armor.” Insofar as all finite beings are fallible, a person making an argument must acknowledge where they are subject to attack, and I find that admitting my faults up front can lead to a more productive, less defensive conversation. So here are the two main faults that both guide and undercut the argument I am about to make:

1) I am a judgmental person. Even though I do not have the authority of a God backing my moral opinions, I hold them very strongly and think less of others who do not hold them. Of course, I think everyone has some moral compass that makes them similar to me—you too are judgmental of others who violate whatever might be your sacred ethical lines: What do you think of rapists, thieves, murderers, and dog-fight organizers? While I assume that you and I are together in judging those kinds of people, those are judgments about what people shouldn’t do. What makes me more vulnerable (and thus apologetic) is that this post is about being judgmental concerning what people should do.

2) I waste plenty of time, energy, and money on the luxuriating pleasures that privilege has afforded me. While I do not watch sports, there are 16 tv shows that I follow throughout the year, averaging probably an hour or so a day depending on what shows are in season. Every summer I attend at least one music festival, which in my life constitutes the height of self-indulgence. I do not yet tithe (giving 10% to charity). I recycle inconsistently. I rarely make my purchases based on “fair trade” standards. I buy more books than I need. While as a citizen, community-member, and philosophy teacher I talk a lot about justice (for the oppressed and the oppressors), I do not yet feel that I have dedicated my waking hours to the “pursuit of justice” as I think I should.

        Now then, here is the kind of “judginess” that I’m struggling with, and I will label its formulation “The Obligation of the Privileged towards Justice”:
As a person of (white, male, class, straight, cisgender, able, average-sized, human) privileges in the 21st century, I believe that I have an obligation to address these privileges. I believe that it is not “ok” to live my life without addressing these privileges in my personal relationships and in my place in society (including my work) and in the world as a whole. I judge others who do not think about their privileges and who do not take on this obligation. While I believe that life is “for” love, expression, belonging, beauty, fun, etc., I think that a life that does not also seriously address the problems of social justice (and the environmental crisis) is unethical.
                To keep with the “secular atheistic” theme of this blog, I’ll state my struggle with my judginess like this: What right do I have to judge others? What right do I have to decide what life is “for,” and whether any person is good or bad? Who do I think I am—God? Who died and made me the messiah?
                My principle of the empty throne should make me more humble than this, and yet I feel the kind of righteous indignation reserved for prophets of God. In another post, I want to think more about the obligation of the privileged towards justice, and what right I have (or don’t have) to judge others according to it.
Meanwhile, I’ll put to you: Are you judgmental like this? Do you think there are human pursuits (work, hobbies) that are a waste of life, time, energy, and/or money? Are we justified? Are we jerks? Both?

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