According to Ayn Rand (renowned Objectivist philosopher and author), the motto, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” amounts to nothing more and nothing less than an abdication of moral responsibility.
In Ayn Rand’s eyes, refraining from judgement is the same as watching an injustice being perpetrated before you and doing nothing to prevent or deter it. Some may say that their non-participation means that they may not be held accountable for the act. Ayn Rand would say that their inaction in trying to prevent the evil makes them accountable, and moreover, almost an accomplice. Because in refraining from preventing evil, you are encouraging it to flourish.
I aim to take this a step further than she did, and extend the responsibility of judgement not just to morals, but to art and to culture. As far as morals are concerned, a philosophy of moral judgement would require a standardized moral code that applied to all of humanity. Ayn Rand believed this moral code exists, I personally disagree with her in this aspect. The reasons have been described in detail in a previous post. You can read it here.
But the essence of what Ayn Rand is trying to say is still valid. When, as a reasoning human being, one gives up his ability to judge and defers the responsibility that comes along with it, then one gives the green signal to decadence and degradation. If every belief and every philosophy is held up to the sternest test of cynical judgement, the faulty parts and weak links will immediately crumble beneath the scrutiny. But if judgement is abdicated, then the faulty bits are allowed to stand, and whole palaces of thought are constructed upon those quivering and barely coherent foundations. The problem, if not nipped in the bud, grows to exponential proportions and is soon beyond the ability of any one man or community to solve.
In the world of modern man, one of the worst pestilences to have hit human thought (barring humanity itself) is the mental attitude of diplomacy. One lives in mortal fear of offending others and as a result, any form of judgement is labelled conservatism, narrow-mindedness, fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism etc. And the fear of being associated with any of these labels induces men to give up their power of reasoning and judging altogether. They find it easier to meekly nod their heads in an understanding manner while the belligerent masses traverse from idiocy to advanced idiocy, unchecked by the reasoning of sanity.
The effects of diplomacy-induced-degradation can be directly connected to Democratic thought. A democracy specializes in creating equality between unequals. All forms of thought are to be considered equal, and all are to be given respect, even if the thought does not warrant any.
The effects of this “Philosophy of non-judgement,” which in my opinion should more accurately be called the “Philosophy of non-thought,” can be summarized in one statement.
The Degradation of Art and Culture
This symptom has seen an unprecedented, explosive rate of growth in the past fifteen years. Art has given up the one thing it possessed: Sublimity.
When the judgement of the value of art has been proscribed, then art no longer has the incentive to aspire to a level of excellence. An artist will put in hours, days, months of work into a single creation because he believes his creation will be unique and will stand alone and be celebrated in posterity as the only one of its kind. But if you try to democratize artistic criticism, if you attempt to judge sublime art on the same level as commercial art, if they are both held to the same standard (i.e. public popularity), then you remove the imperative that compels artists to put in that effort of which sublimity is a result. A practical and less conscientious artist would rather create a steady strea, of substandard art, than create one truly great work. Commercial success becomes the sole benefit of art. Art becomes its own worst nightmare, it becomes utilitarian.
The results are everywhere; movies do not bother constructing coherent storylines and compensate for it with popular club music and bewilderingly developed graphics. Authors compromise on their quality so that they may optimize their quantity. And its justification is: This is what the people want, therefore this is what we shall provide.
Right there, that statement typifies what Ayn Rand refers to as the abdication of judgement. The speaker of that sentence has attempted to absolve himself of artistic responsibility by shifting the blame to the public. But the public is not the body that possesses the ability to create sublimity, that power resides with the artist alone. Therefore, the responsibility of action and of sublime creation also resides with the artist alone and may not be blamed on fickle demand.
The purpose of art is to elevate. Art is meant to be exclusive, not inclusive. And a society that discourages the passing of judgement on art can never experience the bracing fresh air that can only be breathed on the peaks of artistic excellence.
A culture that worries more about how something is said rather than what is said is a culture helplessly on the path to decay and eventual death. Truth is strangled so as to supplement superficial fraternity. Innovation is smothered lest it ruffle a few feathers. An easy example of the far reaching effects of the direction this thought takes, is the co-existence of Creationism and Darwinism in an educational system that is supposedly secular, even though Creationism has no factual or scientific merit. It exists in a secular, educational institute, solely to appease the feelings of those offended by Darwinism. The statement made there is that it is more important to avoid offending people than to educate our youth.
As Ayn Rand succinctly puts it: In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.