Our Titanic Nonjudgmentalism
By David C. Stolinsky |
David C. Stolinsky, M.D., who is of the Jewish faith, lives in Los Angeles. He is retired after 25 years of medical school teaching at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Southern California.
“Don’t be judgmental!” It is the First Commandment of modern life, and one hears it all the time. Yet the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary says that “judgmental” has been used as a pejorative — to mean overly moralistic and excessively critical — only since the 1960s. In the long history of morals, then, being “nonjudgmental” has been a cardinal virtue only for the blink of an eye. Yet in its brief career, nonjudgmentalism has taken a firm hold — one might say a stranglehold — on our moral sense. Does this new virtue serve us well?
In Littleton, Colorado, 15 crosses in a row commemorated without distinction 13 victims and two murderers, while the murderers’ faces saturated the media. The cover of Time showed two large photos of the murderers and 13 small photos of their victims. Giving equal sympathy to criminals and victims, while giving more fame to criminals, can have only one result: more criminals, and hence more victims. Elsewhere, residents displayed “We forgive you” signs to a multiple murderer. A minister declared it “our duty” to forgive Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing. We freely forgive those who hurt others, even if the victims do not forgive, or cannot forgive because they are dead, and even if the criminals do not repent. But though our tolerance is great, it has its limits — let someone express a moral judgment and we harshly condemn him.
Examples abound: A talk-show host declared Bach’s music superior to the obscene, death-centered music of “Antichrist Superstar” Marilyn Manson. A caller retorted, “Don’t be judgmental.” Another caller claimed that all cultures are equal. The host replied that cultures that practice slavery are morally inferior. The caller angrily accused him of being Eurocentric and judgmental, adding, “That’s just your opinion; who are we to judge other cultures?” That is, standards are relative to the group or individual — there are no standards applicable to all. We can scarcely distinguish the two murderers from the 13 they shot to death in the Colorado high school. Who says we’re judgmental?
We remove the Ten Commandments from schoolrooms, then wonder why kids become amoral egotists. We give kids no source of transcendent meaning, then are baffled when they seek it in cults, careers, or violence. We discard the rituals of religion and patriotism, then are bewildered when kids search for meaning in the rituals of Satanism or Nazism. We no longer teach kids to identify themselves as Christians and Americans, then are depressed when they seek identity in black trenchcoats, gang colors, tattoos, or body piercing. We teach kids self-esteem instead of self-control, then we’re perplexed when they develop a colossal feeling of entitlement. We make the churches inhospitable to males, then we’re disturbed when male aggression is not directed into useful channels. We give kids things instead of love, then are sad when they become unloving materialists. We try to be pals instead of parents, then are distressed to find that we are afraid of our own kids. We send kids to psychotherapists who teach that there are no “shoulds,” then we’re upset when kids agree. We dose our kids with antidepressants and stimulants, then are appalled if they turn to drugs whenever they experience problems. We prevent smoke from entering their lungs while allowing sewage to enter their eyes and ears, then are baffled when kids have healthy lungs but damaged souls. Judgmental? Not us.
We teach “death ed,” telling kids to picture themselves in coffins, then are mystified when they are fascinated with death. We leave kids to be raised by TV and video games, then are astonished when they lack social skills and are inhumane. We kick out the Boy Scouts and ROTC, then are alarmed when boys find role models in gangs. We no longer give boys images like those of the heroes in High Noon and To Kill a Mockingbird to show them how to become men, then we’re disappointed when they become sexual predators. We disdain courage and honor as too “macho,” then are aghast when boys do not think it cowardly and dishonorable to shoot unarmed people. We no longer observe Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, then profess surprise when boys observe Hitler’s birthday. We no longer teach kids to be proud Americans, but we’re dismayed when they give the Nazi salute. We extol the virtues of ethnic pride, then are dumbfounded when white kids feel kinship with Nazis.
We flood kids with violent video games, violent dramas, and violent newscasts. We allow Web sites that teach Nazism or bomb-making or proclaim “Freedom for the few by the death of the many.” We sell kids music with titles like “Seventeen Dead,” “Carnival of Carnage,” and “Guts on the Ceiling.” And then we’re surprised that kids enjoy violence.
Just as unborn babies are dehumanized by calling them “fetuses,” newborn babies are dehumanized by calling them “neonates.” Princeton awarded a professorship to a man who teaches that parents should have the right to kill “neonates” up to one month old who are “imperfect.” Likewise, the chronically ill are dehumanized by calling them “terminal.” Dr. Kevorkian helped to kill over thirty “terminal” individuals, some with nonfatal diseases or no disease at all, but half of us approve. Moreover, we watched TV and saw American bombs falling on Yugoslavia. We nodded approvingly as Serb civilians were killed in an effort to stop Serb soldiers elsewhere from killing or expelling Kosovars. Once TV persuaded us that Serbs are subhumans, we complacently watched our bombs killing innocent civilians. We seem to think it’s fine to beat up a man’s family in order to force him stop committing crimes.
Many of us define almost-born babies as subhumans we may kill at our convenience. Half of us see the chronically ill as subhuman, so we approve doctors killing them instead of treating their pain or depression. Over half of us regard all Serbs, even women and children, as subhuman, so we approve bombing them to force Serb soldiers to stop oppressing Kosovars. We claim the right to define as subhuman any group that displeases us, and then to dispose of them. But defining people as subhuman is habit-forming.
Not long ago, in movie theaters around the world, audiences were thrilling to yet another telling of the endlessly intriguing story of the Titanic. Once again, the great ship was hitting the fateful iceberg and starting to take on water near her starboard bow. Fans of the oft-told tale will recall that the ship’s designer, aboard for the “unsinkable” liner’s maiden voyage, is said to have unrolled his blueprints to compare what he saw there to the reports from below. Where the hull had been breached, water was pouring in, past the inadequate bulkheads, rushing inexorably from one compartment to the next. Would the great ship go down? The designer looked up from his plans and said, “It’s a mathematical certainty.”
Our moral situation, as we steam blithely, nonjudgmentally ahead, strikes me as disturbingly similar. Once the God-given sanctity of all innocent human life is rejected, the main psychological and ethical barriers are breached, leaving only flimsy partitions. The damage spreads unstoppably from one compartment of humanity to the next. We start with early abortion, then go on to late-term abortion, then newborns, then one-month-olds, then older children. We start with euthanasia for the dying, then go on to the fatally ill, then the chronically ill, then the disabled, then the economically unproductive, then the depressed, then the annoying. The end result will be the total collapse of “You must not murder” and the sinking of civilization. It’s a psychological certainty.
But as we sink, we will take comfort in knowing that no one can accuse of us being judgmental.