Judging is easy. Observing, without experiencing the need to add adjectives, is complicated. That is why most people limit themselves to judging, without trying to understand, separating everything that creates dissonance, everything that bothers and muddles their worldview. Without wondering if their judgments add value. Without questioning from where it come from the measuring stick they are using to putt he others in two labels: “good” or “bad.”
Nietzsche was aware of that. That is why he affirmed that “Moral judgment and condemnation is the preferred revenge of the spiritually limited on those who are less so.”
It is difficult for people who see the world in black and white to understand the perspective of those who see it in colors. And that misunderstanding generates rejection, a rejection that is expressed through moral condemnation. Because everything they don’t like or don’t fit with their limited view of the world scares them. And that fear is the compass they use to condemn the others when they run out of logical arguments and ideas to refute.
The less you think, the more you judge
Science gives reason to Nietzsche. Although we like to think that judgments are well-reasoned conclusions, the truth is that they are based more on intuition and the social norms that have been instilled in us, than on an autonomous and deep reflection process.
Psychologists at the University of California found that our emotions drive our intuitions, giving us the feeling that something is “right” or “wrong.” They believe that judgments are the result of a reevaluation, a process by which we dampen the intensity of emotions by focusing on an intellectual description. That is, the judgments would be nothing more than a rationalization of what we are feeling, an attempt to “explain” our aversion.
In the experiment, participants read stories about moral dilemmas. When they let people judge the behaviors of the protagonists, they used to classify them as negative, unpleasant and immoral, but if they were asked to reevaluate the situation from a logical point of view, the tendency to make moral judgments disappeared.
The researchers concluded that “We are slaves and masters, we can be controlled, but we also have the ability to shape our emotionally charged judgments.”
Neuroscientists at Princeton University proved it. They appreciated that when we make reliability judgments by looking at people’s faces, in our brain are activated the areas of the brain linked to emotions, such as the amygdala, the anterior insula, the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus.
That means that when judgments lead to simplistic labels, they are usually the result of prejudices and preconceived ideas. It is the automatic application of the social norms that we have introjected, the expression of a dualistic world in which things are good or bad, without average terms.
In this regard, Nietzsche wrote: “And we are fundamentally inclined to claim that the falsest judgments (which include synthetic judgments a priori) are the most indispensable for us, and that without accepting the fiction of logic, without measuring reality against the wholly inventend world of the unconditioned and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world through numbers, people could not live – that a renunciation of false judgments would be a renunciaation of life, a negaation of life.”
In fact, judgments often hide an atavistic fear of what we do not understand – or do not want to understand because it demands hard intellectual work. They are the expression of rejection of the different, seeking protection in a world made for us.
Replace judgments with observation and understanding
In the book “Beyond good & evil”, Nietzsche argued that the only criterion for deciding the value of a judgment is its ability to preserve, but above all, favor and increase life.
“The question is to what extent it is life promoting”, wrote the philosopher. He believed that judgments are worth as much as they contribute to improving man, allowing him to overcome himself, making him stronger, happier, more creative, more reconciled, more affirmative …
To achieve this, he affirms that “We have to move away from us the bad taste of wanting to coincide with the many”. We must have the courage to think for oourselves away from dualistic and dichotomous categories such as good and evil or right and wrong. We have to dare to open up to new ideas and learn to deal with the fear generated by the different.
A good starting point is to learn to observe. There are different ways of observing: observation with judgment and observation without it.
When we observe, it is difficult to separate ourselves from our scale of values, our mind maps and our way of understanding life. That is not necessarily negative, but we must be able to go one step further because if we only observe with the objective of judging, criticizing and sentencing, we will be limiting our learning and probably harming others. If we observe to judge we will miss part of reality.
On the contrary, observing carefully to discover and learn will expand our universe. It is an enriching process that opens doors and ignites the spark of knowledge. Therefore, it is better to leave judgments to people who prefer to limit themselves.
Feinberg, M. et. Al. (2012) Liberating reason from the passions: overriding intuitionist moral judgments through emotion reappraisal. Psychol Sci; 23(7): 788-795.
Todorov, A. et. Al. (2008) Evaluating face trustworthiness: a model based approach. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci; 3(2): 119–127.