And They Call It “Tolerance”
[The apologists are] not truly seeking a civil debate,
but submission to their will. Like many fervent believers, they find
criticism intolerable and assume that anyone who disagrees with them
and says so is an outrageous, disrespectful infidel out to hurt their
feelings. To them, “respect” means “obedience”, and honest dissent is
disrespectful by definition, no matter how civilly it’s phrased.
When exactly did it become taboo to “offend” someone, and why we should care about said “offense”?
I’m fairly sure it goes back to this social concept that seems to be
gaining a lot of momentum, yet no one knows exactly what it is or how
to use it: tolerance.
I hear it used often in public discourse. “You need to tolerate
people’s beliefs. You may not agree with them, but that doesn’t mean
you should be mean to them.” Mean? When did it become “mean”
to disagree with someone? When did “tolerance” become “shutting your
mouth and letting someone spout bullshit”?
People seem to have such vested interest in their beliefs that they
cannot separate their own selves from their own beliefs, and thus they become their beliefs, acting as though when one disagrees with them, that person is verbally threatening their very identity.
How often have we, in public discourse or even in personal
communications, misinterpreted a criticism or a disagreement for a
personal attack? It seems many people live in this act-react state—it’s
more prevalent now than ever—and the whole concept of “tolerance” seems
to be the justification which allows this kind of behavior to continue.
So what the hell is this social concept called “tolerance”?
Out of all the definitions I’ve seen, Wiki’s got it down:
Toleration and tolerance are terms used in social,
cultural and religious contexts to describe attitudes and practices
that prohibit discrimination against those practices or group
memberships that may be disapproved of by those in the majority.
Conversely, intolerance may be used to refer to the discriminatory
practices sought to be prohibited.
But this confused me more. What is “discrimination”? After all,
don’t we discriminate every day? We have to, after all. We have to
judge everything in order to survive and even have a decent quality of
life. For clarity, again, I turn to Wiki:
[D]iscrimination in a legal sense […] is the prejudicial
treatment of a person or a group of people based on certain
So tolerance seems to be “the attitude and practice which prohibits
people from treating a specific person or group of people in a
prejudicial manner based on certain characteristics.” I would assume
these “certain characteristics” are generally ones that are “out of
one’s control,” such as a physical or mental disability, race, or
So what’s wrong with this? It’s nice, wholesome, and gets people to tolerate others.
What!? “Tolerate” others? Like how I tolerate a 2-year-old screaming child on an airplane? No way.
I dislike the entire notion of tolerance for 2 reasons: (1)
tolerance implies a type of desensitization, no matter how it’s used;
and (2) even if we do accept the aforementioned definition in the
“legal” sense, people sure aren’t using it that way in social discourse.
From how I’ve seen people using the term “tolerance,” tolerance is
nothing more than self-righteous arrogance veiled as respect. To
tolerate someone or something means that, by default, one has to binary
the situation and grant more fabricated value to oneself over the
other. In other words, the one being observed is inferior, the observer
is superior, and thus the “superior” needs to “put up with” the
“inferior.” Tolerance generates illusions of grandeur while lacking any
semblance of respect. (Otherwise, why not just tell others to respect one another?)
People may use “tolerance” another way: to justify why their beliefs are somehow immune from criticism. “Well, I believe [insert something stupid here]. You may not like it, but you should at least tolerate it.” “You need to stop being a bigot and just tolerate [insert something stupid here].”
If a person finds another’s beliefs faulty or even harmful in any
way, he/she should call that person out on his/her bullshit. I have
heard many people say that said bullshit should be “tolerated” because
“everyone is entitled to an opinion,” and while everyone has the freedom to believe whatever they wish, nothing is entitled to immunity from criticism.
I have no idea how people find it acceptable to allow their
thoughts, beliefs, and behavior to be nothing more than emotion-driven
nonsense. Subsequently, when one is called out on this—on the transient
nature of emotion itself and its flimsy foundation that is based on the
whim of the individual—somehow that person has authority to call the
purveyor of constructive criticism “arrogant” and “self-righteous,” as
“judgmental” and “heartless”—as “intolerant.”
When did “judgment” become a bad word? “Don’t judge others.” Why the
hell not? If people are conversing or otherwise reasoning incorrectly,
if there is fault in their thinking, am I not to expect them to
honestly recognize their error and be on their way? Am I not to expect
them to thank me for pointing out what they, themselves, could not see
or did not want to see? If people are doing something very well, should
I not to commend them? Am I not to model someone who can do something
better than I?
“Tolerance” sure seems to make the former difficult and the latter
expected. It seems that I am only to commend people in honesty; any
criticism should be silent on account that a person has some right to
have these (otherwise) personal beliefs immune from criticism. Apparently, tolerance affords the right to people not to have their feelings hurt.
The obvious problem with this, then, is that tolerance leads to
censorship; it leads to the social expectation that all of us are only
to utilize judgment in a form another deems acceptable.
Is it not a capability of the wise to discern bullshit from essential, useful information?
One’s comfort is not necessarily one’s truth, and it should not be
treated as such. Another’s need and entitlement issues are not virtues.
One’s virtue of honesty does not give others license to condemn said
virtue because it makes them feel better.
Yet tolerance has become a green light for censorship. Tolerance
allows for ego to trump logic, for faith and emotion to trump reason
and lucidity, when the end result is making people feel good even if
But we do need to take other people’s beliefs into account when they
make these beliefs public. We cannot simply allow bad beliefs to remain
immune from criticism. Beliefs cause behavior.
Why should I tolerate someone believing it’s acceptable to rape people and then not tolerate the resulting behavior?
Why should I tolerate someone believing it’s acceptable to brainwash
children regarding “spiritual warfare” and then not tolerate the
The list could go on, but I think you get my point. In a free society, forced tolerance is no tolerance at all.
Tolerance is nothing more than self-righteous arrogance. It is
snubbing one’s nose at others one deems inferior. That is the root of
tolerance. Tolerance is either what one hides behind to justify not
having to justify belief and behavior, or it is used to censor people
from rationally disagreeing with something.
We need to do away with the concept of tolerance. We need to avoid
this altogether. Instead, what we need is respect. We don’t want to
personally snub our noses and then publicly condone or remain silent on
the ethical nature of a belief or behavior, or censor our thoughts out
of fear of “offending” another person. We don’t want the emotional to
supersede the rational in public discourse.
We need to respect people, but we don’t need to respect or even
tolerate bullshit beliefs and behaviors. Don’t tolerate them. And if
something isn’t worthy of your respect, don’t give it. Respect comes
from knowing and understanding. It is much easier to fear and hate that
which we don’t understand and then begrudgingly “tolerate” it than to
educate ourselves and thus respect it or discard it. Respect is the
gold standard, and tolerance is not necessarily a stepping stone for
our becoming collectively respectful.
Massimi Pigliucci illustrates this well:
While it is possible to think of tolerance and respect
as synonyms, or at least as tightly linked to each other, I am going to
argue that while respect implies tolerance, the other way around is by
no means assured. I think that being tolerant means something akin to
“live and let live”; for example, I am tolerant of the Ku Klux Klan in
the sense that I am not going to push for outlawing explicitly racist
groups … as long as they don’t advocate violence against minorities.
Does that mean that I have respect for a view that considers blacks as
inferior to whites? Hell no. I despise everything the Klan stands for,
and I have a real hard time comprehending how any decent human being
could possibly conceive of belonging to such a group. That, I think,
makes the distinction between tolerance and respect as clear as I can
muster to explain.
This kind of tolerance (i.e., recognizing one’s rights even if you
vehemently disagree with what they say and do that is within their
legal rights) is one thing, but we are to never censor ourselves at the
risk of compromising our ethical principles. The social concept of
tolerance, however, calls for this.
It is not respectful to placate, to patronize, to exploit, to be
condescending, or (my favorite) to “agree to disagree” via silence and
forced tolerance when toxic beliefs, faulty logic, and emotion-driven,
irrational behaviors are concerned. It is respectful to
explain—logically, linearly, and calmly—the reasons why one’s opinion
makes no sense, why the rationale for something bigoted or otherwise
stupid falls in on itself. Our beliefs and behaviors need to stand on
their own merit, not whether they make us feel good. We must treat one
another with respect, and if that comes at the price of offending a
person’s already-fragile ego, then so be it.
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