This morning I was reading through the news when I came across a story about to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. According to the case, a woman in Nova Scotia had solicited the services of a hit man to kill her husband. (The hit man was in fact a police officer.) The Nova Scotia court had accepted her plea of self-defense due to years of spousal abuse. And now based on the Crown’s appeal, the Supreme Court was going to hear the case.
My first impulse was to conclude “That’s outrageous! Now you can get a contract killer for your husband and call it self-defense? Are those judges in Nova Scotia complete idiots?
Then I began to reflect on that reaction.
The first thing I observed was how anxious I was to make a judgment. I had read the first part of a news article. And already I was ready to judge a panel of judges who had professional training in the law, who had sat on the bench for who knows how long, and who had carefully considered the facts of the case over several days or weeks before carefully rendering their opinion. My ready aptitude for forming an extraordinarily ill-informed opinion was something of a surprise. We really are springloaded for judgment.
This led me to read through the rest of the article and think about the case a bit more carefully. This only took about two more minutes, but in that time I read that the woman and her daughter had lived in fear for their lives from this chronic abuser for years, that they had, in the words of a judge, lived under a “reign of terror”, and that the police had repeatedly failed to help them. I began to appreciate the many mitigating factors in the case and was consequently forced to dispense with my “Those judges are complete idiots” judgment. Whether I agreed with the judges or not is not the point. The point, rather, is that a reasonable person could have heard the facts of the case and sided with the judges.
This led me to ask the question of why I was so quick to judge the judges. I came up with the following after a quick introspection:
First, over much of my life I have imbibed a “judges are of questionable competence because they are controlled by ___________ ideology”. (Fill in the blank with whatever you like.) To be sure, there is something to this trope. Sometimes judges make blushingly bad decisions. But it is indefensible to invoke this kind of prejudice immediately as a way to marginalize a decision that I find absurd after two minutes consideration.
Second, this aptitude for judging judges is rooted in my penchant for judging other people generally, for quickly categorizing them as idiotic or wicked, as soon as I find that they don’t agree with me (or vice versa).
And this is the depressing thing, because I’ve thought a lot about this problem and written a book on overcoming it. And even so, I still am springloaded toward the most facile judgments based on a bare modicum of evidence for the sole purpose of establishing how incompetent others are relative to my superior intellect.
Ugh, that’s a lot of self-introspection to have to digest before lunch.