Admit it. As unpopular as “judging” might be in the abstract, in the concrete business of living, evaluating (a softer euphemism for “judging”) is unavoidable. Even philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a self-professed “immoralist” staunchly opposed to either/or dichotomies declared in the pseudo-biblical prose of Thus Spake Zarathustra : “Alas for every living thing that would live without dispute about weight and scales... All life is a dispute about taste and tasting!”
To bring the earthiness of Nietzsche even closer to the soil (at risk of framing this as one of those dreadfully forced critical lens essays you had write in middle school), as much as we might find ranking and selecting and determining to be a drag, it's a prerequisite for getting through the day. Even if you decide not to get out of bed, following the breadcrumb trail of your thoughts to the point where you say “What's the point of doing anything?” and turn over to drool on the pillow, you've consciously decided that sleep is preferable to activity.
“But wait!” you say noncommittally (to really prove that you are committed to not being committed to making judgments), “I didn't say sleep was better or worse. I didn't make a judgment; I just ended up sleeping.” Yet, by deciding (judging) that one is not preferable to the other you have (albeit groggily) made a judgment. You are not a dead leaf blown by the wind. You are not a stone or a plastic bag. You are a thinking, deciding creature who will judge and be judged by others.
Many of you will concede that you do in fact have the ability and right and, at bottom, inescapable responsibility/gift/curse of making choices, of having preferences. Some of you, however, are also disturbed that the same faculty also belongs to other fellow homo sapiens, a few of which may come to different conclusions than yourself. An hour browsing through the Internet blogosphere, with its Monty Python-esque mudslinging, can be quite the revelatory tour of the resulting carnage. (Philosophical question: When everyone is dubbed an “idiot” and a “tool,” is no one?)
On a music site, like buffaBLOG, opinion and judgment are clearly integral to the site's existence. Fortunately, discourse here is civil and mature. It is also natural and useful. No individual can reasonably conquer the millions of song available on the web in order to decide for themselves what speaks to them the most. Music critics, by making value judgments (even choosing who to and who not discuss is itself a judgment), serve as guides for listeners, making the burden of deciding what to listen to and what not to listen to easier (though such a First World burden would be laughable if music didn't enrich and deepen and humanize us). Their judgments can be rejected and replaced by your own determinations and discoveries. But they are (ideally) there to help, not harm, raising awareness of that which has been found worthy, uncovering oases in aural deserts.
In a society hung up over so-called “intelligence,” shake off your fear of being considered stupid. Dispute “taste and tasting.” Take hold of what is beautiful and true and reject what is only passing smoke. If the critics are wrong, shackled by the spiritual confines of hegemonic “scenes,” your own broadening voice can expand and illuminate. There is a place for constructively addressing the way art interacts with, elevates, and at times even warps our lives. “Judging” music or anything else does not have to be vain sophistry. It can embrace our evaluative condition. It can make us more alive.