This piece was originally published in The Humanist.
“All I hear about these days is the NBA finals. Who are these brainless yahoos who get so obsessed about a ball going into a net?”
“I hate those ditzes who care so much about fashion. They’re so superficial.”
“What is it with selfies, anyway? Who are these self-involved twerps who keep taking pictures of themselves?”
“You know the kind of guy. He likes NASCAR, country music — total fool.”
Why do people do this? Why do we make character judgments about other people, based solely on their personal, subjective tastes in entirely consensual activities?
To be very clear: I’m not talking about subjective tastes that genuinely do have a moral component. I understand that there are moral issues with, for instance, food (eating meat or not?); consumer items (were they made by exploited labor?); choices in transportation (does it pollute?); lots of other examples. I’m also not talking about subjective choices that actually do immediately infringe on other people, like playing loud music at three in the morning and keeping the neighbors awake. And I’m not talking about making our own aesthetic judgments, and mouthing off about them. Of course we’re free to like or dislike any food, art, or entertainment that does or doesn’t strike our fancy — and we’re free to say so.
I’m not talking about any of that. I’m talking about making character judgments about other people, making assumptions about people’s lives and values and relationships, even making moral judgments about them — based on their tastes in music, food, art, entertainment, or other activities that are entirely subjective and consensual. I don’t get it. Why do people do this?
Actually — that’s not true. I do get it. There are lots of reasons we do this. It’s just that none of them are good reasons. Continue reading “Subjective Tastes and Character Judgments — Two Great Tastes that Taste Lousy Together”