In defense of being judgmental

A recent example of what happens when people ignore the traditional role of salaries as a means of rewarding performance is the owner who decided all his employees, himself included, should earn $70,000-a-year. The result was a disaster. Some people quit because less qualified people were rewarded simply for showing up and because new hires were paid the same as people who’d been there for years, and customers who feared prices would have to be raised to meet payroll started looking elsewhere. While an owner only has to deal with his family when it comes to setting his or her salary, it turns out that what you pay others counts. In fact, it’s the owner’s job to judge who should get paid what based on a variety of criteria.

The cultural norm relative to being judgmental these days is that it’s wrong. Critics argue being judgmental belongs to a bygone era when background, race, and gender determined one’s station. One problem with this ethic, however, is that it excuses anti-social and even criminal behavior in adults while admonishing parents not to pass judgment on their offspring lest they damage a child’s self-esteem.

As in the case of the misguided business owner, we as a society pay a heavy price for this non-judgmentalist ethic. It makes the job of those charged with enforcing rules and laws difficult if not impossible, as when a mayor restrains her police department from quashing a riot. It hinders teachers from focusing on learning skills and information; it makes it hard for business owners and public sector supervisors to accomplish tasks efficiently, and it restricts acceptable parenting, condemning for example allowing your child to play unattended in a park, even if it is across the street from your house.

Worse, non-judgmentalism provides a ready excuse for failure and justifies demands for treating those who fail as victims rather than demanding self-control, adherence to recognized standards, and taking responsibility for one’s behavior.

Judging others does not mean one can go around criticizing others willy-nilly. Passing judgment is inappropriate when offered in the wrong setting or at the wrong time.

Permission to be judgmental also doesn’t mean one can be hypocritical. You can’t criticize someone else for something you do yourself; you can’t be critical of a behavior you once engaged in in the past without admitting shared fault; you must focus on behaviors and avoid personal attacks; and you must be ready and able to defend your positions.

Our society needs people who are willing to be judgmental both publicly and privately. When people are able to get away with behavior that fails to come up to standards, ignoring that behavior often postpones the day of reckoning and the fall from grace is likely to be that much harder. Confronting a parent who is mistreating a child in a public place may be difficult, but unchecked such behavior may escalate, seriously endangering the child.

Most fields require participants achieve a high level of competence before one is accepted much less allowed to advance, which means passing judgment on aspirants. Professional sports are a prime example. Performance, not age, race, ethnic background, country of origin, intelligence test results, or other superfluous measures determines who makes the team and who gets paid what.

The arena where judgmentalism is most needed, however, is in our educational system. The pendulum has not just swung too far to the left, where the idea that a teacher may not require a black child to speak proper English because of slavery can be seriously entertained, the pendulum has gone off its tracks entirely. My wife was once expected to provide speech therapy services to five non-verbal children. That the teacher claimed she could tell what one child was saying by watching his eye blinks notwithstanding, the taxpayers, the child’s family, and the child were being bilked by a system that required a therapist be assigned to that child.

As in the past, many children learn today in spite of, not because of, what goes on in the classroom when teachers are fearful of defending established standards in the face of the notion that all ideas are equal and merit equal grades. Another disservice is the failure to demand students achieve minimum levels of competence before being advanced.

It is in the service of students’ need to acquire a core set of skills and foundational knowledge that I have never been in favor of undergraduate degrees in women’s studies, black studies, and the like. There is a difference between offering classes that focus on the experience of specific groups in society and pretending that taking a package of courses with that focus is the equivalent of acquiring foundational knowledge in an established field. This pretense damages students by postponing the reckoning that will inevitably come when they are confronted with social and workplace demands they cannot meet.

Of course, just as we have lowered our standards in education, we have lowered our standards for adult performance in the work place, making it difficult for supervisors to discipline and preventing people from being fired even for the most egregious behavior. In the long term, lowering standards fosters class conflict and makes us less competitive which lowers our gross national product, and which by the way contributes to income inequality. The job opportunities for black studies majors are miniscule.

Teachers do students a disservice when they are not subjected to judgmental responses to their contributions. Being forced to defend oneself and at the same time know when one needs to improve one’s effort are valuable lessons best learned by experience in school. The earlier the better.

Most successful people will tell you they started out as failures, but rather than making excuses or giving up, they learned from their failures and refused to accept defeat. Most will also tell you that there was someone in their lives who contributed to their eventual success by demanding they work harder.

It’s time for judgmentalism to make a comeback. Start by reviewing the standards by which you plan to judge restaurant food, TV reality shows, the hot novel, political debates, or whatever your target. Be certain you can defend your position and then, let your judgments fly.

What is needed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The Albany Times Union published this column under the title “Destroying Israel not the answer” on Tuesday, July 17, 2015. Unfortunately, non-subscribers cannot access it online which is why I’m posting it under my original title.

For decades, the most talked about plan to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs has been to divide them into separate enclaves–-a two-state solution. Israel has repeatedly agreed to try that approach: they accepted the United Nations’ partition formula of 1947 as well as terms offered in 1993 at Oslo and at Camp David in 2000. On each of these as well as other occasions the Arabs walked away.

Since the Arab world seemingly has no interest in any “solution” whereby Israel continues to exist, why does this concept continue to be pushed–-in particular by U.S. presidents?

To understand why the two-state solution portends more harm than good requires a quick history of the territories called the West Bank by the Arabs and Samaria and Judea by the Israelis.

On May 15, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the birth of the state of Israel, there were 650,000 Jews living throughout Palestine, including in Samaria and Judea. On that day five Arab states attacked with a goal of crushing the new state, but Israel was ready and the attacks were repulsed.

Before the fighting stopped, thousands of Jews were driven from their homes and more than 1,300 civilians and soldiers were killed. Pressured to accept armistice boundaries, Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) fell into Jordan’s hands. Then, in June1967, as Arab armies amassed on its border, Israel struck preemptively and drove the Jordanian army out of Samaria, Judea, and sections of Jerusalem that had been held by Jordan since 1949. At that moment in time, when Israel could have incorporated Judea and Samaria into sovereign Israel, it was pressured into accepting terms that made those territories neither fish nor fowl, a result which has cost thousands of deaths and wasted billions.

Creating a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River would result in 650,000 Jews being displaced en masse because although Arabs can live in Israel as full-fledged citizens, Jews live in Arab countries at their peril.

The 1994 agreement that ceded government functions for the West Bank Arab population to Yasser Arafat made matters worse. Arafat used this base from to carry out terrorist attacks while claiming Israel occupied their homeland. Nothing could be less true.

The Palestinian Authority suppresses dissent and launched a campaign of terror in 2000 that resulted in hundreds killed; it pretends to be more moderate than its rival Hamas, but rewards terrorists with money and names streets after “martyrs.”

The only viable solution is for Israel to incorporate Judea and Samaria into Israel. Much of the international community will object, and some Palestinians will revolt, but Israel can stand up to those problems.

The most critical factor determining whether this solution can succeed is support from the United States. Some critics argue that Israel has failed at the bargaining table to show that it appreciates the support it has received from the U.S. over the years.

That U.S. has aided Israel in many ways over the years is very true, but Israel has acted in our interest as well. Israel’s defeat of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in 1967 was a defeat for the Soviet Union, which had sought to add the Arab League states to its sphere of influence. Taking out Iraq and Syria’s nascent nuclear reactors prevented both rogue nations from joining the nuclear club.

Today, Russia once again has ambitions in the region while ISIS and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria bode ill. Israel stands as a beacon of stability in a region where state lines have become meaningless and governments can change overnight. Israel is also a model of development and democracy, showing the Arab street how they could live if they give up jihad.

There is a path to peace in the Middle East, but it is not dividing Israel in half. Palestinian nationalism needs an outlet that doesn’t involve the destruction of Israel, but that’s not Israel’s problem to solve. American policy makers can address that problem down the road. Defeating ISIS, eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran, and assuring a secure future for Israel could set the stage for that issue to be addressed.