Judgment Day: Reviews Reviewers Critics Criticism Rankings and Rants with a History of Modern Culture Since 1950


Yes, in the modern age, every day is judgment day. We are surrounded by reviews, ratings, rankings, and evaluations––most of which were created anonymous people judging their fellow human beings.  We’re asked to review everything imaginable. We have Amazon reviews, Goodreads reviews, reviews on blogs and everywhere else. We’re asked to “Friend” me, “Like me.” Give a thumbs up or thumbs down to everything.

This trend is accelerating. Social media multiply faster than the ground squirrels in my pasture. Numbers are everything. We brag on-line: “I have 59,000,000 friends.” “People downloaded 100,000 copies of my book last week.” Who has the power? Who has the status? The one with the biggest numbers. Quality is secondary, if considered at all.

In the old days, only God got to judge.

We swim in a sea of judgment, much of it performed by people with no qualifications and suspect motives.

The new world is characterized by anonymity and false identity. When I was getting my MA in counseling, we strove for transparency––not hiding behind roles. We strove for real personal connection, knowing what our feelings and motivations were and stating them honestly.

Now, we’ve got anonymity. The person we’ve just given the lousy rating doesn’t know us, never will, and can’t do anything about what we said anyway. This allows nastiness that no one would perpetrate on someone face to face. Screen names insure the impossibility of finding out who we are.

Want to know about the psychology of our age? Check out Dr. Kimberley S. Young’s work.  Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction–and a Winning Strategy for Recovery is a great book to start with. She talks about “flaming”–on-line flareups of rage–and the vicious pack behavior you see in some blogs.   Here’s Dr. Young’s test to determine if you have an on-line addiction.


The only legitimate reviewer is a producing artist whose work is better than the work being critiqued. The critique should be communicated to the artist who produced the work––only.
Philip B. Welch, AIA

The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy

This post was motivated by a couple of reviews. I levitated with joy over a terrific review  Glenda A. Bixler of Book Reader’s Heaven gave my book The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy. Life was wonderful. Writing was a great profession.

Two days later, I was checking a fact about one of my other books on Amazon, I discovered that it had a new review, too. Except that this one was an extremely negative review written in a particularly nasty way.

Whoa. Those words smarted. Worse than that, they’re posted in public where there they will continue to influence others forever. My mood shifted: Writing became the worst profession in the world, offering no rewards, but endless opportunities for pain.

Dante's Inferno. I wonder why Dante didn't think of an endless stream of bad reviews as a punishment appropriate to the lowest levels of hell?

Everything I have read about dealing with bad reviews says: Don’t respond. If you blow up on line, what you say can go viral and destroy your career. Suck it up. Shut up.  Take it. That’s similar to: relax and enjoy being raped.

That approach doesn’t sit well with me. Taking my professional future in my hands, I’m going to respond, but not to the bad review or the reviewer who bestowed it. I’m going to talk about our society and its current mania for evaluation. I’m going to start out with a survey of changes in our culture that I’ve observed during my lifetime.

This post is so long that even I was embarrassed by its length. I’ve cut it into sections and will present them a few days apart. Keep reading. It’s entertaining, and you might find it funny. And valuable.

1. Changes in Our Culture and Social Values During my Lifetime: Or How Our Collective Psyche Lurched Forward––and Backward.

I’m old. One of the nice things about being old is that I’ve lived a long time. I was alive during the 1950s and 60s and remember them clearly. In my world, until the Beatles erupted in 1964, life was exactly as portrayed in MadMen, except way more uptight and without all the sex.

I’m amazed at how much society has changed. Take the quote about reviews and reviewers above. Who’s this Welch dude? Philip B. Welch was the chair of the Department of Creative Arts at Santa Clara University during the mid-1960s. He was an architect of consummate taste and aesthetic development who had studied at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. I was his student. Mr. Welch had a huge impact on my life. He said the words above in class.

I interpret his words as, “If you can’t do a better piece of art than the one you’re reviewing, shut the **** up. If you can do better and have some feedback about the piece that would be useful, have a personal conversation with the artist involved aimed at helping him or her make better art.”

What is unusual about this point of view?

You’d never hear it after 1979.

In 1964, The Beatles blasted us out of the booze-soaked, up-tight fifties, setting off an explosion of consciousness with a simple song called “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” That revolution was probably fueled with liberal doses of LSD and marijuana, but people changed. They wanted to create a society in which personal worth, kindness, altruistic feelings, and love ruled.

The 60s were an amazing, exciting time that I will never forget. We really believed we could change the world. Life had a freshness and palpable expectation that good would triumph that are gone now.

Typical 1960s Transportation in San Francisco. I can't even describe what the Haight was like. (SF is my home town.)

The revolution of consciousness kept on rolling during the 1970s, when the big personal growth/human potential movement/train-yourself-into-enlightenment wave hit. We had (and did) est, Rebirthing, Lifespring and many other seminars and trainings aimed at cleaning up the nasty bits in our souls and letting the true Self shine through. The big meditation programs arrived from India in the 70s: TM, Siddha Yoga, and others. They really stressed love and lack of judgment. [Post a comment below if you participated in any of these. I did est and Rebirthing in the 1970s. Found both very valuable. I was involved with Siddha Yoga for almost thirty years.]

You have to have lived through those times to realize how different the world is today. You have to have walked down those streets and listened to what people talked about and cared about and did. Folks flocked into the Peace Corps, heading into the developing world in an attempt to make things better. We had the Model Cities Program, Head Start, and the myriad social programs that––guess what, critics––were shown to have measurably improved the lives of participants. And many of us protested the war in Vietnam, putting our lives on the line to create the world we wanted. Conversely, many of us served in the armed forces in Vietnam, putting our lives on the line to create a world we believed in.


Communion. What we still crave, even though the 60s are long gone. (Artist: Lily Nathan)

All that went south in the 1980s.

The 80s ushered in the era of greed, me, gimme, and gimme more. When I think of the 80s, I think of massive shoulder pads, dresses with glitter all over them, granite kitchen counter tops, miles of crown molding, and monster houses with absolutely NO architectural merit. We tricked ourselves out with no guilt. At all. None.

It’s kept on going, right through the Enron collapse in 2001 and the financial meltdown of 2008 and surrounding years. Untrammeled greed piled on more greed.  I lived in one of the exclusive towns in Silicon Valley. I didn’t have to watch Inside Job, the Academy Award winning documentary about what happened to our financial institutions in 2008, to know about this. I could go to breakfast at the local cafe, a hangout for the high tech elite. The conversations I overheard  substantiated everything I’m talking about.

People who did not live through contemporary society’s evolution from the 1960s until now DO NOT KNOW how much the collective psyche has changed. Large hunks of the population seem to have lost any sense of fellowship, righteousness, and fair play. Kindness. The desire to help others. Love of humanity.

“He who dies with the most toys, wins.” A bumper sticker defining the modern age. I Googled that phrase and learned a lot. The slogan hails from the 1980s, of course. My search showed that I am not the only person to have a negative reaction to it. I also discovered that there’s a web site advising people about dangerous-to-display bumper stickers.  It was created in recent years, the Great Recession years, when everyone was losing jobs and was financially stressed. If you make a conspicuous display of materialism on the freeway such as the stickers on that site, someone might take a shot at you. “Most toys” is on the most dangerous list. Here’s a counter opinion:

There’s a dose of reality. Here’s more: Not everyone is a greedy, judgmental SOB today.  Some people want to live in a peaceful world where people are kind. Members of clergy, psychotherapists, mystics, and those on a spiritual path all try to live without judging their fellow human beings. They try to see the other person’s point of view and temper their words so they can be heard without causing pain.  Lots of just regular folks are like that, too. My friends and family and lots of others are good people.

I try to live without harming others. I’ve worked hard to create a me that I can live with. For instance, aside from doing the 70s as hard as I could, I have an MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling, also from Santa Clara University. I went into that program because of the values the program it embodied. My soul drew me there. I wanted to imbibe the attitudes and skills of the people in that program. And I did.

But for  mass society, the days when all that stuff mattered are gone.

The clearest demonstration I see of the Real New Age shows up in contemporary politics. People in Congress can’t agree about anything. And that applies to people in the same party.  If those on the same side can’t say nice things about each other or get along, how will they run the country? Do you ever watch the news and see the nasty, judgmental faces on our leaders?

Shiva Nataraj

Where is The Great Soul? Was it squashed with the tragedy of 9/11/2001? No. People pulled together then. Did it die in the financial crash of 2000 through 2008 and beyond? Maybe. Was it the technological revolution of the iPod, iPad, iPhone, and iEverything else that did it in?  Or is the social climate the result of the recreational drug of choice changing from marijuana to meth and coke?

2.  What Does This Have to Do with Book Reviews and Reviewing?

Reviews and reviewing are symptoms of the ills of our society. Everything I say above applies to book reviews. As a matter of fact, I wrote all this because of a book review.

3. What to do? Well, you could hope for the 60s to come back or join an order of monks, but those are pretty extreme.

Knowledge is power. In the next article of this series, I’m going to talk about the psychological transactions and states involved in judgment. And I’m going to talk about skilled communication. About being skilled people.

Until then,

Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan and Tecolote

Sandy’s Amazon Author Page.

They range from wild sci-fi to adorable children’s nonfiction. You’ll find something you’ll like in the list below:

  • NUMENON,  a novel about the richest man in the world meeting a great Native American shaman
  • STEPPING OFF THE EDGE, a modern day spiritual companion
  • TECOLOTE, the adorable kids’ book about a baby horse.
  • EARTH’S END TRILOGY––the new, three book sci-fi/fantasy/visionary series that takes you to the end of the earth, and beyond.
    The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy––An angelic girl shows up on the sidewalks of New York City in 2197. Or is she a girl? Jeremy Edgarton, teenage genius and revolutionary decodes the transmissions. They say the world will blow up tomorrow morning.
    Lady Grace––The radiation has cleared. A few survivors make it back to Piermont Manor to start a new life. What they face is a battle more deadly than any they’ve fought. Evolution can work for evil as well as good.
    Sam & Emily––Can love live in an echoing cement bomb shelter three hundred feet below the earth’s surface? Find out in Sam and Emily as headman Sam Baahuhd falls in love with a beautiful assassin.


9 Responses to “Judgment Day: Reviews Reviewers Critics Criticism Rankings and Rants with a History of Modern Culture Since 1950”

  1. A great read! Thanks for sharing!

  2. admin says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Jacqueline! More to come.

  3. Kat says:

    As an old hippie myself, I have to agree with everything you said here.

  4. Great wisdom and insight here. I think you might have the seeds of a book, if you expand it beyond online reviews.

    You are absolutely right that the online review is an example of the proletariat gone mad. 90% of them seem to be deliberately misspelled and grammatically garbled–as if using correct language makes a reviewer suspect. Ignorance has become a virtue.

    The review world can seem like a kind of anti-intellectual revolution where everybody with the courage to create art becomes an “aristocrat” to be brought down to the level of the crowd. I think that may be because the consumer is treated as a faceless commodity by the big corporations, and reviews are the only power they’ve got.

  5. admin says:

    Thanks, Anne. Hadn’t thought in terms of a book, though ALL my fiction is an elaboration on psychological and social phenomenon similar to what I discuss here. I write genre fiction for the smart and aware––just like your work is. You pick up on an important point: reviews may be the only power the disempowered have, often used to smack recipients around. Here’s to a resurgence of the idealism we had in the 1960s, but let it be more reality-based. Thanks for commenting.

  6. [...] not a Fabio fan, though I’m sure he’s a very nice person.  My previous blog article, Judgment Day, was about the insidious decline of our culture into a judging and blaming mill. I could easily [...]

  7. Ron Bracale says:

    I review books sometimes. I was shocked when I learned that to Amazon, anything under a five star lowered the books rating. I have a problem with the fact that there is only five stars. If Tao Te Ching is five stars, then most other books would be lucky to get three: they will never be timeless. Yet, due to understanding the rating system, I select stars by comparing to other books in the genre at the time published.

    I cannot imagine life without meditation. The fact that many people never learned to meditate and cannot access the place of peace within seems the core issue with the world today. We are all visiting Earth for a short while, yet most people seem to be unaware of this fact, and therefore they do not rest in the here and now and relish the eternally present experience of consciousness.

    • admin says:

      Hi, Ron! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I had no idea how Amazon weighted reviews. What you say makes sense in the light of other Amazon gaffes. I only give 5 star reviews, not by upgrading lesser books, but only reviewing those I can give five stars. Means I don’t review many books I read. The other thing that’s crazy is the reviews some great books get. Like Kant’s “Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysic,” a short treatise showing that we can never know anything in itself (the noumenon), only the impressions it makes on our senses, (the phenomenon.). This, it’s not even a book, changed my life. We read it in a philosophy class and it was mind blowing to me, a real life-changer. Someone reviewed it as 3 stars. “It’s too hard.” Well, duh.

      I’m continuing my examination of popular culture with a series on sexuality. That’s even nuttier than judgment in today’s society. Check out http://yourshelflife.com The next one I’m going to write witlll be “Why are we obsessed with sex?” You can go on the page and have YSL delivered by email. The link is on the top bar. We just put it in!

      Meditation and spiritual practice are essential for a conscious life and a peaceful, unattached soul. Thanks for writing!

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