On Tolerance

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Ilya Shambat

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Aug 6, 2022, 6:58:47 PMAug 6
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I have had a difficult time coming to terms with the concept of tolerance. Where I come from tolerance is hard to come by, and I’ve also seen intolerance elsewhere. Here are some thoughts on the subject.

What should one be tolerant of?

Of people, yes. That also includes people who are nothing like yourself. You never know when someone is going to have something valuable to offer.

With cultures, it becomes more complex. Most cultures have some things right with them and some things wrong with them. In no way is it advisable to seek a mono-culture that denies the contribution of valuable things from abroad. But neither should one excuse wrong cultural practices. I see no reason to tolerate people throwing sulfuric acid into little girls’ faces for going to school, and I see no reason why a feminist would either.

With opinions it becomes even trickier. Strong cases can be made for both tolerance and intolerance. The case for intolerance is that wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions, and tolerating wrong beliefs enables wrong action. The case for tolerance is that you never know when someone can have something valuable to say. One therefore needs to be open to opinions that differ from one’s own or that of one’s upbringing, in case there is some merit in them that one has not thought of. The judgement call that needs to be made is whether an opinion is blatantly wrong or if there is something in it that is valuable. And that can be a hard call to make.

Finally, with action, that depends on whether people get harmed. Some wrong actions are against the law, others aren’t. And then of course there is wrongdoing that cannot be prosecuted by law, such as wrongdoing by autocratic governments. I do not believe that the ends justify the means. Both the ends and the means have effect on one’s action; both the ends and the means are judgeable.

Some things are thought of as being tolerance that aren’t, and some things are thought of as being intolerance that aren’t. Being opinionated and frank with one’s opinions is often seen as intolerance; in fact it is honesty. If you really respect someone then you will tell them your honest opinion, not be polite with them while waiting to stab them in the back. Political correctness is thought to be an ideology of tolerance. In fact it is one of the most intolerant ideologies on the face of the earth.

Many people regard tolerance as weakness or sin. Once again, that depends on what it is that is tolerated and what it is that is not being tolerated. The people who most aggressively promote real intolerance are usually the ones most guilty of wrongdoing. We see this with Taliban throwing sulfuric acid into little girls’ faces for going to school; we see this with Jehovah’s Witnesses disowning family members who decide not to be Jehovah’s Witnesses; we see this with Stalin and Putin. We also see this with people who obsess over “sociopathic” or “narcissistic” disorders and claim, cruelly and in violation of all reason, that people branded with such things can never be good. There is vast intolerance in the name of tolerance in the feminist movement and in personality psychology. Such things are not limited to the world’s Hitlers and Idi Amins. They pop up everywhere, often under the banner of tolerance, and in many cases get far too big for their merits.

Karl Popper said, ““Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” There is currently a resurgence of aggressive intolerance in such organizations as alt-right and the Holocaust denier movement. If the politically correct want to be taken seriously, they will be fighting such things instead of forcing a party line down people’s throats and running witch hunts. And then they will have earned the right to call themselves defenders of tolerance.
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