Impartiality takes three forms. The first is an accidental impartiality that occurs when it just so happens that I am uninvolved in the contest, dispute or conflict. I call this form accidental because it does not require any special gift of disinterested judgment on my part. If circumstances had been otherwise and I had been involved, I would likely be cheering, aiding and abetting one side. It must be added that accidental impartiality necessarily entails profound ignorance of the contest, dispute or conflict, and thus pronouncements from the position of accidental impartiality are usually beside the point and irrelevant.
I am, it so happens, accidentally impartial when it comes to contests between figure skaters, disputes between physicists, and conflicts between militant factions in the African jungle. I do not care who wins because I do not understand the competition, the debate, or the conflict. It would not trouble me to see either side win, or both, or neither. And not only do I not, as we Texans say, have a dog in the fight—I also know nothing whatsoever about dog fights.
This is why accidental impartiality does not qualify a man to act as an “impartial judge,” and why he should in fact hold his tongue and keep his irrelevant opinions to himself. If I were called upon to act as the impartial judge of a figure skating contest, for instance, my profound ignorance of figure skating would require me to award the trophy on the basis of my irrelevant opinion of the skaters’ costume or choice of musical accompaniment. And the same goes if I were called upon to act as the impartial judge in a dispute between physicists or a conflict between militant African factions.
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Counterfeit impartiality is the second form, and this obviously occurs when a mask of cool detachment conceals a face that is creased with anxiety and aglow with concern. This is naturally the form of impartiality that is most often advanced as a qualification by men and women who are panting to be selected as an “impartial judge,” and an ability to convincingly counterfeit impartiality is, in truth, a prime qualification for those who wish to join a conspiracy of cronies. There are few skills that serve men and women better than than the ability to appear judicious while handing their friend the biscuit, and kicking their foe out the door. I advise all ambitious young people to practice it assiduously, before a full-length mirror.
If young people are looking to model themselves on the great masters of counterfeit impartiality, I advise them to study just about anyone who is promoted (or self-promoted) as an expert. I hasten to add that I am not implying that there are no genuine experts, or that that impartial expertise is on all fours with accidental impartiality, but only that the impartiality of many experts is entirely counterfeit. To revert to that vivid Texas colloquialism, you cannot become an expert and not grow partial to one dog. In fact, it is almost impossible to become an expert without placing a substantial wager on the outcome of the dogfight.
Expertise means experience, and experience means involvement. If I have sufficient expertise to understand what a figure skater does in a quadruple jump, I will certainly be sufficiently involved in figure skating to have taken on all sorts of biases and partialities. I will have friends and be part of a faction, and I will have to demonstrate some loyalty if I wish to keep those friends and remain part of that faction. The same is true of the physicists who sit in judgment of disputes between physicists, and of critics who lead public opinion to root for one of the armed factions in a conflict in some faraway African jungle.
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This leaves us with what I call anguished impartiality, by which I mean an impartiality that causes acute mental suffering in a genuine expert because it requires him to briefly suspend his loyalties and betray his friends. He is not an ignoramus who is accidentally impartial because he can see no difference between the two sides. He has a dog in the fight, and a very large wager riding on that dog. He also has cronies to whom he is indebted for favors, and a fit of impartiality will very possibly oblige him to welsh on this debt.
He knows what cronies do to welshers, and that is why he feels anguish.
The anguish of true impartiality is well known to practitioners of counterfeit impartiality, and they they are therefore capable of writhing like Hamlet when they cannot maintain the pretense of detachment. So you must not take an appearance of mental anguish as proof that you are in the presence of an impartial judge.
But you should take the presence of mental anguish in yourself as pretty strong evidence that you are in fact acting as an impartial judge. You feel that mental anguish because you are welshing on the debts you owe to your cronies, and risking the large wager you have placed on your dog.
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What this comes down to is that impartiality is very hard. It may be too hard for many people, and is certainly too hard for anyone to exercise at all times. Indeed, when we consider that true impartiality must be either stupid or disloyal, a man who claims to be impartial at all times must be either a fool, a fink or a fraud.
Thus we should aspire to an inconsistent impartiality in the matters that interest us most. We should hold our tongues on questions we do not understand; and we should, more often than not, declare our loyalties and do our duty to our friends when this is not the case.
But above all else, we should never forget that no one enjoys being an impartial judge, unless, of course, they are just pretending to be impartial. In that case they enjoy it more than you can possibly imagine.