The Human Curse of Instinctive Judgement

People make snap judgments about almost everything, it’s a perfectly logical natural instinct that prevents you from coming into contact with the same bad thing twice and, equally, leads you to do something pleasurable again and again until you lose interest. I am of course making an overgeneralisation and oversimplification of something that’s influenced by a number of other factors but the principle remains. I know this because I do it myself all the time, we just can’t help it. A good way of testing this point on unsuspecting individuals, provided they are in a talkative mood, is to ask them about their recent holiday destinations, provided they’ve recently been on holiday. You’ll find people saying things like “Oh yes! ‘insert-country-here’ is a lovely country, beautiful scenery, the food’s not too great though,” despite having visited the capital city for just four days, eating at the hotel restaurant every night and visiting two museums and a temple.

Hopefully you can see where I’m coming from here, people are far too happy to accept their first experiences of something as the absolute truth. It’s what a computer would do, it’s efficient and simple and more often than not there will be some foundation to your first thoughts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that every time we make these judgments about things we are correct. There are approximately 100,000 people lawfully imprisoned in the United Kingdom, and 2,400,000 in the United States. A person with a criminal record faces all sorts of problems with employability and snap judgments made by everyone that hears of it regardless of whether they were wrongly accused, mentally ill or made a mistake.

It’s amazing how opinions of things you feel strongly about can be changed by just one act that undermines your fundamental views. You may remember an internet campaign in 2012 from charitable organisation Invisible Children Inc. called KONY 2012. They appealed for money to stop unjust treatment of children in Uganda by the infamous Joseph Kony. (The appeal was, by and large, emotional blackmail if you want my opinion, although they made $13,800,000 in 2011 so they were clearly quite well founded.) The appeal was head up by a man called Jason Russell, who featured heavily in the original appeal video, which went viral around the world. It became huge out of an issue that was previously nobody’s priority. But then Mr Russell was arrested by San Diego police “in a state of undress, interfering with traffic and screaming incoherently.” That hit the news almost as heavily as the original appeal video and the organisation lost much of their credibility from one man’s acts, when nothing had really changed.

I don’t believe anyone should be judged by another human for one act they commit, whatever that might be. We would be kidding ourselves to say that we wouldn’t break the law to save the life of someone we love, that we wouldn’t take the blame for a horrific crime to see someone we had loved and lost once more. We can never be sure of anyone’s circumstance, why they act in the way that they do. Their life could be falling apart around them. If someone’s being unpleasant, remember their brother may have just died, they may have just been made redundant. Of course, that doesn’t excuse wrongful action by any means, it just shouldn’t have to be a reflection of their character. And the same goes for corporations, we just can’t have a good day every day.

In the same way, religious faith has become the subject of scrutiny more and more over the years. Somewhere along the line, faith seemed to become synonymous with stupidity. Church became a boring place where an organ was played, you sang hymns, sat in the pews and read the Lord’s Prayer. You couldn’t be a Christian without being boring, simple and old. You couldn’t be a Muslim without having extreme views or being born into Islam. Life just doesn’t work like that. People of faith don’t belong to a denomination, they belong to a God. The things that they do don’t always reflect their faith or their values or the values and opinions of their God. Messing up doesn’t make their religion wrong it just makes them human.

And, for the record, we sing soft rock music at my church. Culture moves on.

7 thoughts on “The Human Curse of Instinctive Judgement

  1. The last clause is an excellent point, very well made. Additionally, I would say this is your best blog so far.

  2. Yep. In psychology we call these “snap judgments” heuristics and the one you were specifically mentioning is called the “availability heuristic”. There’s a good book on this called “Judgment & Decision Making” by Scott Plous (http://books.google.com.au/books?id=xvWOQgAACAAJ&dq=judgment+and+decision+making&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4PGTUfeoDoaEiAebx4HoAw&ved=0CEMQ6AEwAzgK).

    We humans use many, many kinds of heuristics. It’s one reason I am an agnostic : because I can never be sure I am not slipping into a heuristic. 🙂

    You can also look up “Heuristics” on Wiki to see all the different types we humans employ.

    Cheers

      • 🙂 no worries

        Lol if only psychology were that simple. Heuristics are one of the dirt things we learn about in a 6 year study program. That’s because too many people form their opinions on a hunch and so-called common sense. Heuristics studies (with statistical evidence) show that both these things can lead us very far astray. 🙂 Hunches may seem right to us on the surface (because we rely on our own available evidence) but statistically our hunches are wrong more often than correct.

        But there is plenty more to psychology than this basic concept 🙂 have a great day.

      • Sorry I am using my iPhone … “Dirt things” should have said “first things”.

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