Saturday, June 27, 2015

But Who Are the Judges, Who Are You Judging?

Adam Gurri:

Akiva talks at length about our biases and irrationality. Gadamer instead speaks of prejudices, and says that the chief prejudice of the Enlightenment was a prejudice against prejudice.

“Prejudicial” is simply “pre” as in “before” and “judicial” as in “judgment.” Historically, it once meant the provisional verdicts that a judge would mentally arrive at before the time came to render the final judgment. Prejudice is not only necessary here, but good. Making a provisional judgment before the final one allows you to focus on specific questions, to guide your attention to particular matters you might have otherwise overlooked. It’s not only impossible for a judge to sit back without prejudice until the time of rendering a judgment, as the romantics and others have emphasized, they would also be a bad judge for doing so.

Gadamer thought that the romantics, and even Burke, just made themselves into mirror images of the Enlightenment. Where the Enlightment thinkers asserted that tradition was something accepted without reason, and therefore bad, the romantics asserted that tradition was something accepted without reason, but was greater than reason. In both cases it was treated as a black box to be labeled either bad or good.

For Gadamer, tradition is something that only exists if it is participated in, and it is continually created and transformed in that participation.

Coincidentally, shortly after reading this, I happened across an illustration of the point by means of this Louis C.K. monologue. Notice how, in two examples of what Louis calls his "mild, benign racism", what he apparently finds worthy of the term is the fact that he has any preconceptions at all. He notices that, given his experience, it's unusual to see a pizza parlor run by black women, or to have his doctor be from India. He feels vaguely guilty for having pattern-seeking software in his head, the same as every other human, which has drawn provisional conclusions from a specific set of experiences in life. He acts as if his particular, limited experience is the result of a conscious choice to exclude other possibilities out of xenophobia. This incoherent notion of the desirability of a "view from nowhere" is, to put it bluntly, an insane, inhuman standard to measure oneself against. And as his comrade in comedy Jerry Seinfeld noted, this casual conception of social sin trivializes what used to be deadly serious.