Monday, April 22, 2013

Are People Getting More Annoying? Pro-Judgmentalism, Anti-Judgmentalism, and Human Behavior

Jean-Louis Forain [Public domain], Forain, Scène de Tribunal, via Wikimedia Commons
Several times over the past few weeks, in unrelated incidents, young people (say, 18-28 year olds) have expressed to me the following sentiment:  I don't like to actually attend class X, function Y, social event Z ... so I usually just stay home.

When asked why they don't like to attend class X, function Y, or social event Z, the explanation is the same:  the other people one encounters at these events are just too annoying. 

Is it possible that people really are getting more annoying?  In the nature of things it is a difficult thing to say, but I would just like to point out this:  IF people are getting more annoying, the reasons might be connected to another social trend:  the new profound ambivalence about judgmentalism.

I would say attitudes both for and against judgmentalism are both stronger than ever.  On the anti-judgmentalism side, people are passionately committed to a live-and-let-slive style, to the idea that it's never anyone's right to tell anyone else how to live, how to behave, what clothes to wear, how to eat noodles, yada yada yada. 

But also on the side of anti-judgmentalism is the new extreme reluctance to express dismay with others' behavior in person, even when you're clearly in the right. 

For example:  I like to work at a university library, and I make a point of seeking out the "quiet section," and still there are frequently people who will not shut up.  I mean, it's one thing to exchange a few sentences, but these people are carrying on whole animated conversations.  However annoying they get, no one except me ever confronts them, or even gives them a frown or a side-eye glance.  People just ignore it.  BUT:  when I confront talkers and the talkers quiet down, I frequently get thanked for intervening.  People want quiet; I think they're just reluctant to express any negative judgment about anyone else's behavior.

I saw a particularly extreme example of this the other day.  I was in a long line, where people were lining up in a particularly dumb way that took up all the space and didn't allow people to pass by.  A young woman wanted to pass by, but couldn't; since they were all facing forward they didn't see her.   All she had to say was "excuse me" and push forward.  But she didn't.  She just stood there with an increasingly annoyed look on her face, waiting, waiting, waiting for the way in front of her to open up.  This is extreme reluctance to criticize others. 

But on the pro-judgmentalism side I give you social media.

It's no secret that the internet is full of people judging, and expressing annoyance with, other people's words, thoughts, and actions.  Sometimes it's in group form:  "How typical of an X-type-person, to do offensive/thoughtless/clueless action Y."   In that form, pro-judgmentalism often gets a pro-judgmentalist reply: "How dare you express a judgment about a group like that!  It's unfair/a stereotype/generalization.  Treat people as individuals."

Sometimes pro-judgmentalism goes right to individuals, with complaints about how friend X or acquaintance Y or colleague Z did something wrong -- say, by spending a lot of money on a wedding, or not spending a lot of money on a wedding, or being a vegetarian, or failing to be a vegetarian, or -- the classic of the genre -- breastfeeding incorrectly, failing to breastfeed, having opinions about breastfeeding, not having opinions about breastfeeding, etc. etc. etc. 

One of the stranger manifestations of pro-judgmentalism is the intense bizarro judgmentalism about the bodies and behavior of celebrities.  WTF is up with that?  Is it all the judgmentalism everyone is refraining from in their ordinary IRL life that bursts forth in the having of opinions about the Kardashians weight and dating choices? 

When did gossip pass beyond simple entertainment into the Zone Of The Ultimate Tribunal On Being An Acceptable Person? 

It isn't too hard to see how anti-judgmentalism and pro-judgmentalism, especially working in tandem, can make being around other people difficult.  Because on the one hand, the lack of basic simple reinforcement of good behavior like being quiet in the library and not standing in everyone's way means people are actually behaving in more annoying ways.  And on the other hand, you know that whatever you do, you're being judged.  Even if no one is saying anything -- especially if no one is saying anything -- there may be be opinions formed and traded and shared and written down about  all the things you're doing.

When you think of it that way, it's a wonder we go out of the house at all. 

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