Friday, June 26, 2009

Repost: Tolerance

This linked article from A Classical Presbyterian made me think that I should repost my little definition of tolerance - just to be clear...if nothing else, then because I don't want to have to defend a definition I don't espouse.

Second note: This post on Adiaphora is a great example of a position I'm almost diametrically opposed to, and that I seek to refute with this post.

Ironically, I think the general definition of tolerance that is bandied about is too broad. It leads to absurdities like having to answer "well, shouldn't you Liberals tolerate intolerance?" This is followed by a gotcha-smirk and triumphal nodding. Checkmate!

I don't think "tolerance" should mean that we tolerate everything, and I think a better definition is in order to clarify things.

What I think we liberals, progressives, whatever, mean when we talk about tolerance is ethical toleration - tolerance of things that are not overtly harmful or ethically unjustifiable. It is the self-discipline of allowing voices that we disagree with to be heard. So, for example, it is not intolerant to move away from you if you are poking me in the eye with a stick. I can be tolerant and also avoid eye-poking. I can also be tolerant and avoid some equivalents of eye-poking.

I can be tolerant and yet not tolerate things that I think are ethically unjustifiable or harmful. In those cases, tolerant or not, I have a moral responsibility to speak out and say something, and to do what I can ethically to put a stop to what is going on. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, I can tolerate you swinging your fist around until it connects with someone's nose.

So, for me at least, when I write about tolerance, assume what I mean is ethical toleration. I think it is what Liberals/progressives/whatever also mean when they use that word, but you'll have to ask them.

(Honestly, I think responsible conservatives probably buy into this in principle as well - but I'll have to ask them.)

3 comments:

Alan said...

You give the far right too little credit. It isn't that they don't understand what we really mean by tolerance, and thus they come up with their silly straw men. The right denigrates tolerance not because they don't understand it, or because we need a better definition. In spite of their juvenile rhetoric about it, they really do understand a reasonably basic definition of it, I believe.

They just don't believe tolerance is important.

What could the busybodies, fusspots, tattletales, and scolds possibly find useful or important about tolerance? Their entire lives are based on its opposite.

Jodie said...

"Their entire lives are based on its opposite."

I think that is true.

Tolerance means not going out of your way to harm people just because you don't like them. Tolerance means you don't censor or imprison conservatives just because they say stupid things.

It does not mean you tolerate oppression, repression, bigotry, abusive legal systems that promote discrimination against minorities, or refuse them equal civil rights and privileges under the law, or abusive religious systems that encourage discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry, even if by merely looking the other way.

Tolerance is of people. Tolerance is of nature. Tolerance is caring for all of Gods creation as if it were His garden and we His gardeners.

Tolerance is loving your neighbor as yourself.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Alan

You may be right - but defining tolerance very clearly makes this startling obvious (I hope) if it is indeed what is going on. Replace the straw man with a two-fisted definition, and then see who wants to tangle :)