This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Not to mention that the term itself is parasitic on some kind of subject matter. That is to say, “I am tolerant,” is utterly meaningless unless ascribed to an article that I would have to be tolerant of. Hence, “I am tolerant of Alice‟s beliefs,” would be a cogent thought while, “I am tolerant,” is not. Surely though we can address toleration in a general sense. So for the sake of ease, from this point on when I refer to „being tolerant,‟ unless otherwise stated, you may assume I had said, „being tolerant of x.” In this case x is any given action, belief or opinion that may be in question. Likewise the notion of intolerance has the same parasitic qualities as the notion of tolerance, hence, you may assume the same truncation that I have applied to the notion of tolerance; „being intolerant‟ refers to „being intolerant of x.‟ 2. Attaining and Maintaining Liberties Those who are concerned with maximizing our liberties would find it necessary to maximize the scope of actions, beliefs or opinions that we, both individually and as a community, are tolerant of, in so far as that by tolerating those articles it would not threaten anyone‟s wellbeing. Those who adopt this view may call themselves “tolerant,” however this should not be confused with the notion of „being tolerant‟ that was previously described. The necessity of a community being tolerable of certain actions pertains to social liberties as well as individual liberties being permitted while in a public setting. For the lack of a better example, supposing you lived in Berlin during the early 1940‟s, going about the streets speaking Yiddish would not be a wise action to take. While you may think there is nothing inherently wrong with speaking in Yiddish and you would tolerate it, the public and police force are at odds with you
and would more than likely respond violently to your Jewish interpolation. So it is abundantly apparent that your independent and individual toleration of a given act is not necessarily enough to grant you liberty to perform that act. This is especially clear in the case of language which actively needs two participants, one to speak a message and another to receive the message, save case for therapeutic means where someone may be compelled to speak to themself for comfort or to extrapolate ideas, etc. In this case of allowing a particular language, the receiver must be tolerant of the language being spoken. In the case of multiple receivers, all of the receivers must be at least tolerant enough of the language such that they will not actively try to stop the speaker from speaking that language. This kind of need for wide acceptance and toleration of ideas or acts is often the motivation behind disavowing intolerance. This, of course, seems to be a contradiction in the ideology of being tolerant. A person who actively supports being tolerant seems to be intolerant of those who are being intolerant. However, when considering the motivation to be tolerant, it is logical to contend the views of the intolerant. If a tolerant person were to tolerate the actions of the intolerant, it would undermine the liberties that the tolerant person is trying to promote or preserve. For example, a person may be tolerant of the abortion of a fetus and wishes for women to have the liberty of being able to go to a clinic to have that operation performed. However, if a person who is intolerant of fetal abortions decides to go bomb an abortion clinic, then the tolerant person cannot actively tolerate this act of bombing without undermining their desire for the liberty of women to undergo an abortion.
3. The Nature of Tolerance This leaves the question of how the tolerant person is going to assess and react to the behavior of the intolerant person. When answering this question one of the many points that need to be addressed is whether or not any person is in any immediate danger of being harmed. In the example of the abortion clinic bombing, in most cases it would be claimed that the bomber is acting in an extreme manner. In that particular scenario it may be necessary to coercively detain the bomber before they cause any harm to any other individual. However, that is not to say that all intolerant acts need to be addressed with stringent coercion. If it is the case that both the intolerant and tolerant can engage in civil discourse where no individual is immediately threatened, then coercion should not be necessary and saved only for „extreme‟ acts. What is denoted as an „extreme‟ act pertains to what the general population, consisting of both tolerant and intolerant people, have deemed to be intolerant. How the general population comes to the conclusion of what is universally intolerant is yet another dilemma, which shall be addressed in a subsequent section of this essay. Before addressing either the nature of civil discourse, or how both the tolerant and intolerant can unequivocally decide that some actions are intolerant, some of the ambiguity of the relationship between toleration and intolerance needs to be lifted. It seems that the distinction between tolerance and intolerance has both contiguous and dichotomous traits. For instance, in regards to the issue of homosexual marriage, polls from organizations such as Angus-Reid or EKOS might ask the question “Do you favour or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?” To which the respondents can answer “yes,” “no,” or “I don‟t know.” The issue being that the poll question itself seems to imply there is a dichotomous relationship, while the argument for an individual‟s response to the question implies that the
relationship is actually contiguous. To elaborate, suppose in a purely hypothetical situation I had selected “yes” on the survey. However, in this scenario, I happen to have some minor religious complications with selecting yes, but they happen to be so dubious that I can reconcile any religious problems I might have. So in this sense, while I selected “yes” on the survey I was not completely comfortable with doing so. In another situation, supposing I was a fundamentalist, I would more than likely select “no” on this survey as I would not be able to overcome the religious dilemma. However, even under that scenario I might have many homosexual friends whom I would wish no harm upon and want the best for them. It would simply be my fear of eternal torture in the afterlife that would prohibit me from selecting “yes.” So once again, I would not be completely comfortable in making a selection on that survey. What this discomfort shows is that in our reasoning there are underlying counter arguments to our choices regarding what acts or ideas we are tolerant or intolerant of. Depending on the strength of these arguments we may be inclined to be more or less tolerant of those particular acts or ideas, which implies that the relationship between intolerance and tolerance is contiguous. However, there are scenarios which ultimately require a decision to either prohibit an act or allow it, and the results of such a decision imply that this act is dichotomously tolerated or not tolerated. As with the debate between homosexual marriage and religious practices, similar types of arguments arise when there are liberties that conflict with each other. From this conflict of trying to preserve either liberty, intolerance will arise to the conflicting liberty. From this, it seems that two seemingly tolerant individuals could become intolerant towards each other depending on if their preferred liberties conflict with one another‟s. A recent example of this would be the healthcare reforms being put in place by the Democratic Party in the United States. One of the many purposes behind imposing these reforms is to ensure that the indigent are not
denied access to medical services, thus ensuring that they have the liberty of good health. However, some people, in particular in the Republican Party, say that these reforms infringe on their liberty to perform free market practices in medical services. To stop the reforms to appease the demands of the Republicans would undoubtedly take the liberty of good health away from the impoverished, thus there is no way to satisfy both parties. Observing this debate from an externalist position, to determine what is going to have to be rejected, either free market medical care or the health of the impoverished, what needs to be established is which liberty is preferred, either guaranteed health or the ability to perform free market practices in medical services. Likewise, in parallel to the debate regarding homosexual marriage, whichever liberty that is being argued to be more valuable will have a counter argument that says it is actually less valuable. This conflict once again will put toleration and intolerance on a contiguous spectrum. However, inevitably the reforms will either be rejected or enacted, thus giving the notion that tolerance and intolerance are dichotomous entities. 4. Civil Discourse and Intolerable Acts This notion of competing liberties is integral in establishing how to carry out civil discourse between the tolerant and intolerant. It is under this notion that we can interpret that the tolerant and the intolerant both wish to promote and preserve liberty, what is actually in conflict is that each individual holds conflicting liberties at different values than the other. This permits both the tolerant and intolerant to engage a mutual venture of establishing the most suitable liberties, which provides mutual motivation for them to enter a civil discourse. It seems that most debates regarding which acts or ideas we are to be tolerant of can be reduced to either disagreements on the value of certain liberties, or disagreements on underlying
facts that call into question whether or not we are performing intolerable acts. An example of the latter disagreement would once again be the bombing of an abortion clinic. The bomber assumes that a fetus is a person, thus giving rise to the notion that this clinic is responsible for the murder of thousands of individuals. Thus, while the action of bombing the clinic is an extremist action, within the confines of the bomber‟s mind, the act of killing a dozen staff members of the clinic to save the lives of thousands is a worthy act. With this example in consideration, it should be noted that if an individual is intolerable of murder but is tolerable of abortions, and they could be persuaded to believe that a fetus is a person, they should rationally change their position to be intolerable of abortions. Relaying back to the notion that both the tolerant and intolerant are both seeking to enact the best liberties possible, it seems that by default some actions are almost unequivocally accepted as intolerable. The primary intolerable act that comes to mind is murder. While there
are a few exceptions, (once again, the bomber of the abortion clinic) it seems that regardless of your race, religion, political affiliations, etc., murder infringes on liberty to such an extent that the cost is far too much to bear. This is especially true in the case of war, as learned by John Locke whom wrote A Letter Concerning Toleration after exiting the Thirty Years War, which argued for religious tolerance. It may be argued that hate speech is also included as a universally intolerable act, however what is designated as hate speech is a subjective matter that could be an essay to itself, hence we shall leave the topic at that point. Finally, if we wish for civil discourse to remain civil, the notion of respect should be introduced. That is not to say that the tolerant and intolerant cannot be critical of each other‟s opinions, but they should not delve into expressing great animosity for one another. It is through this kind of discussion that great social strides have been made. On December 1, 1955 Rosa
Parks, an African American, was told to move from her bus seat to make room for a white person. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama, an African American, officially assumed office of the president of the United States of America. This kind of social tolerance can be achieved peacefully through civil discourse. It is through social discourse that communities can slowly manifest a more unified understanding of social differences and establish more accepting norms. This is why there is a need to be critical. If we cannot ask why we have to move out of our bus seats, then how are we supposed to progress? Some might answer that we can use war or genocide to solve social problems, but once again the costs outweigh the benefits. 5. Conclusion It seems that when discussing the notion of toleration no one utterly casts themselves to be entirely tolerant or entirely intolerant. For the most part we subscribe to a heterogeneous mixture of tolerant and intolerant opinions as some arguments appear to be more appealing to us than others. However, we should not feel animosity towards each other when we discover we do not all agree on which arguments are necessarily the best arguments. We should posit why we subscribe to the arguments that we accept and compare one another‟s extrapolations. Through this we can understand each other‟s sentiments to a greater degree and build new opinions that are less conflicting. As far as I am concerned, this is „progress.‟
Mondak, Jeffery, and Mitchell S. Sanders. “Tolerance and Intolerance, 1976 – 1998.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (2003): 492-502.
Žižek, Slavoj. “Tolerance as an Ideological Category.” Critical Inquiry 34 (2008): 660-682.
Angus Reid Global Monitor. Polls & Research: American Split on Same Sex Marriage. Angus Reid Public Opinion. http://www.angusreid.com/polls/view/americans_split_on_same_sex_marriage/
I may not have directly cited any of these, but it felt necessary to include them on a bibliography as I referred to each of them to see what kind of issues I needed to address.
Derek Schimanski 001129106
March 25, 2010 Professor Gertrude Govier Philosophy 2000: Reason, Faith & Tolerance