Sunday, September 30, 2012

“Judge, and be Prepared to be Judged”

I've been meaning to learn more about the philosophy of Objectivism - so, I finally got stuck in to Ayn Rand's 'The Virtue of Selfishness' (1964). Being in Egypt for the past two months, one can't help but notice the correlations between what she wrote about decades ago, with everyday life here in Egypt, today. 

In light of recent events (e.g.: the 'Arab Spring', the Muslim Brotherhood rule, etc) that greatly affected the politics and daily life of Arabs in the MidEast, and more especially, Egyptians in Egypt, I wanted to share an interesting principle that Rand discussed: Moral Judgement. 

An Irrational Society

An irrational society is a society of moral cowards – of people paralyzed by the loss of moral standards, principles and goals.

But since people have to act, as long as they live, such a society is ready to be taken over by anyone willing to set its direction. The initiative can come from only two types of people:

1) The one who is willing to assume the responsibility of asserting rational values,
2) The thug who is not troubled by questions of responsibility.

Moral Judgement

One of the principles lacking in today’s societies – and responsible for the spread of evil in the world – is the failure to ‘pronounce moral judgement’ [1].

The idea that one must never pass moral judgement on others, and that one must be morally tolerant of anything, can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or one’s character.

Let’s ponder this – when your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you, who are you truly betraying? And who are you encouraging?


To pronounce moral judgement is an enormous responsibility.

To pronounce moral judgment you are actually acting as judge. And to be a judge, you have to possess an unimpeachable character. An unimpeachable character is not an issue of errors in knowledge – but in integrity: ‘the absence of any indulgence in conscious, willful evil’.

So for example, a judge in court may err when the evidence is inconclusive, but to evade the available evidence, accept bribes or allow emotion, desire or fear to obstruct judgement based on the facts of reality – that is lack of integrity.  

So, every rational person must maintain an equally strong and solemn integrity in the courtroom of their own mind. Versus a public tribunal, the responsibility is much greater because he/she, the judge, is the only one to know when an impeachment has occurred.

Therefore, a person is judged by the judgement they pronounce.

The things which he/she condemns or extols exist in objective reality and are open to the independent appraisal of others. So when a person blames or praises, it is their own moral character and standards that they reveal. So, for example, if a person condemns American foreign policies and extols Israeli foreign policies, or if he attacks the less fortunate and defends the corporations - it is his/her nature that he/she is confessing.

Moral Neutrality

It is the fear of this responsibility that prompts most people to adopt an attitude of indiscriminate moral neutrality. And this fear is made quite evident in the precept: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”.  But that precept is in fact, an abdication of moral responsibility: it is a moral blank check one gives to others in exchange for a moral blank check one expects for oneself.

But in reality, moral neutrality is not possible.

It’s like saying that unprovoked murder is acceptable. To abstain from condemning the murderer, you have, in effect, become an accessory to the murder of his victims.

“Judge, and be Prepared to be Judged”

What is the opposite of moral neutrality? Is it a blind, arbitrary, self-righteous condemnation of any idea, action or person that does not fit one’s mood, one’s memorised slogans, or snap judgement of the moment?

Let’s take a step back and look at what it means to judge: ‘to evaluate a given concrete by reference to an abstract principle or standard’.   

Judging is not an easy task; it is not a task that can be performed automatically by one’s feelings, instincts, or hunches. It is a task that requires the most precise, exacting, ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. It is fairly easy to grasp abstract moral principles, but it can be very difficult to apply them to a given situation, particularly when it involves the moral character of another person. So when one pronounces moral judgement, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer ‘Why?’, and to prove one’s case – to oneself and any rational enquirer.

Now, always pronouncing moral judgement does not mean one must regard themselves as a missionary charged with the responsibility of saving everyone – nor that one must give unsolicited moral appraisals to all one meets. But it does mean:

a) That one must know clearly, in full, identifiable form, one’s own moral evaluation of every person, issue and event which one deals, and act accordingly; and
b) That one must make one’s moral evaluation known to others, when it is rationally appropriate to do so.

Explicitly, the second point means that one doesn't need to launch into unprovoked moral denunciation or debates, but that one must speak up in situations where silence can objectively be taken to mean agreement with, or sanction of, evil.

Often times, one happens to be in the company of irrational people, where argument is futile, a mere ‘I don’t agree with you’ is sufficient to negate any implication of moral sanction. When one deals with rational people, a full statement of one’s views may be morally required.

But in no case, and in no situation, may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.

Moral Values

Moral values are the motive power of one’s actions. By pronouncing moral judgement, one protects the clarity of one’s own perception and the rationality of the course one chooses to pursue. It makes a difference whether one thinks that one is dealing with human errors of knowledge, or with human evil.

How many people evade, rationalise and drive their minds into a state of blind stupor, in dread of discovering that those they deal with – their ‘loved ones’ or friends or business colleagues or political rulers – are not merely mistaken, but evil? And when those people evade and rationalise, this leads them to sanction, and to help spread the very evil whose existence they fear to acknowledge.

Why do totalitarian dictatorships find it necessary to pour money and effort into propaganda for their own helpless, chained, gagged slaves, who have no means of protest or defense?  They do so because even the humblest peasant or the lowest savage would rise in blind rebellion, were he to realise that he is being immolated, not to some incomprehensible ‘noble purpose’, but to plain, naked human evil.

Who am I to Judge?

Thus moral neutrality necessitates a progressive sympathy for vice: a man who struggles not to acknowledge that evil is evil, finds it increasingly dangerous to acknowledge that good is good. To him, a person of virtue is a threat that can topple all his evasions – especially when an issue of justice is involved, which demands that he takes sides.

It is then that such a formula, ‘Nobody is ever fully right or fully wrong’ or ‘Who am I to judge?’ take their most lethal effect.


[1] Rand, A; How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?, p.82