Ye be judged

It’s both impossible and stupid to not judge others. This is too obvious for words, except that I repeatedly find myself being accused((Somewhat judgementally.)) of “judging people” as though it were the supreme wrong. But to do otherwise would be to sleepwalk through the world.

There is a kernel of reasoning to the anti-judgemental stance. Other people are different and so one shouldn’t apply one’s own standards universally((That’s why the vaunted Golden Rule is more of a bronze.)). Of course when it comes to people doing actual horrible things this attitude, taken to extreme, leads to a ludicrous quietism((Incidentally the very kind we would like to see from our religious friends. More on that later.)).

When I came out as a vegetarian the main point that seemed to annoy people was that by taking an ethical stand (not even a vocal one, but merely explaining my position following aggressive prompting) I was making an implicit judgment of my interlocutors and other omnivores. And of course I was — in a nutshell I’d decided to avoid eating mass produced meat because I thought the treatment of animals was repugnant. That’s not a novel idea, everyone in modern society is familiar with it. And yet the notion that I might carry on this minority position as though everyone else were doing the wrong thing was too much. I’d over-stepped the bounds of ethical conduct and I was being, with my flagrant ethical behaviour, judgemental.

In no way was I evangelical in my vegetarianism. I’m much more evangelical on other points. I’m often found trying to convert people to some of my other, frankly weirder, practices such as:

  • giving up consumption of news;
  • boycotting marriage;
  • seeing science as art;
  • requiring birth control be opt-out; and
  • not complementing people on their looks.

I’ll ram that stuff down your throat, but vegetarianism was just an adjustment I made to my consumption exactly tantamount to most people’s decision to buy free range eggs, but everyone wanted to know why and I was hardly going to lie.

It also turns out that people generally have a range of justifications for eating meat which they want to share with you, unbidden.  My favourite, which quite a few people offered, was: “I would be willing to kill the animal so I should be able to eat it.” This seems a bizarrely solipsistic approach to morality that says, if you can stomach committing an act, it’s ethical. I call this the Jeffrey Dahmer approach to eating animals((I would have made a Nazi comparison but meat-eaters seem pathological in their desire to point out Hitler’s vegetarianism…. There’s a lot of fodder here for anyone needing ready examples of fallacies.)).

Last week I had a classic interaction with some evangelical Christians who faith-propositioned  me — again, unbidden — while I was quietly reading to myself on a campus lawn. After I’d whittled them down to a core belief in their personal relationship with God, I noticed that the one thing they were very reluctant to do was push their beliefs on others (apart from loners on campus lawns). These evangelicals weren’t going to proselytise. They said that although they believed their faith was the most important thing for them and for others, the best they could do was throw it out there and if people weren’t keen, let it go. I’ve always found this to be the most craven aspect of evangelical belief((To claim on the one hand a literal belief in Hell and a fear that people who don’t give themselves over to Jesus will go there, but to not really care if their non-believing close friends and families do so on the other: this is cowardice and negligence. If you thought someone was going to be tortured for their actions you would intervene to help the person you loved. In this scenario, the evangelicals ostensibly believe that the non-believer will be tortured for eternity for masturbating and not speaking in tongues, and yet they blithely go on living as though it’s just some lifestyle choice they wouldn’t want to bother too much about.)). I have respect for people who genuinely try and act morally, even if I think it’s based on incorrect information and perverse morality. Yet the annoying evangelism of Christians is the main part of Christianity that secularists actually baulk at. We don’t care what they teach their kids or how inhumane their beliefs are, we just can’t stand them knocking on our doors on a Saturday afternoon, trying to tell us anything or, worse still, judging us.