More Tolerance, Please

 

The more significant the disagreement, the more important it is that something as easily settled as the meaning of the words we use not prevent us from having a civil discussion. There are many real and important things about which we differ; our words should not be counted among them.

The word “tolerance” implies disagreement. After all, we are never asked to tolerate something of which we approve. Rather, we’re asked to tolerate things that we don’t necessarily like. Approval and tolerance are two different things, and asking someone to approve of something is not the same as asking them to tolerate it.

For example, I don’t approve of people swearing in public, but I tolerate it.

What does it mean to tolerate something? I’ll offer this simple definition: tolerance means that you would allow something even if you had the practical authority to prevent it.

So, back to my example: even if I had the authority to prevent people from swearing in public, I wouldn’t use it. I am tolerant of swearing in public, even though I don’t like it.

Please note that I’m not talking about changing what people think, making them believe what I believe and so do what I’d like them to do. That isn’t something accomplished through authority, but rather through persuasion and the exchange of ideas and viewpoints. We must, of necessity, “tolerate” what people think and believe, because there is no authority, real or imagined, which can compel others to believe what we believe. Nor, I would argue, should there be, as that would violate our most private right of conscience.

I believe strongly that people should be free, free to express their ideas and to live their lives with a reasonable minimum of restriction, free to approve or disapprove of whatever they want. We all have opinions, and sometimes strong ones, about what makes sense, what is true, and what is good for people. We should be free to express our approval or disapproval. That isn’t the same as tolerating or not tolerating.

I tolerate expressions of approval and disapproval, even when I don’t agree with them.

Smoking, swearing in public, yelling at your kids in Wal-Mart, self-identifying as the wrong sex, hooking up, Gender Studies departments, cross-country skiing, bluegrass music, white-supremacist talk, black-supremacist talk, made-up pronouns, anti-semitic talk, Islam, decaf coffee, omitting the Oxford comma — there are a lot of things of which I don’t approve, but which I will tolerate.

I would like to ask my friends on the left to name a few things which they tolerate, but of which they do not approve. I wonder what they would answer. Because my impression is that many on the left use “tolerance” as a synonym for “approval.” And, when you tolerate only those things of which you approve, you really tolerate nothing at all.

Published in Culture
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  1. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    My point in defining tolerance as what you would allow even if you had the authority to prevent it was to make an essentially legal distinction

    When you claimed that you were using it that way in the OP, it was like shooting an arrow, and the arrow getting half-way to the target.

    Each time you try to convince us that it really was what you meant, you are getting closer to 100%.

    I think you are either 15/16ths, or 31/32nds of the way to getting all of us to buy in.

    Don’t quit, Zeno.  You’re almost there.

    TAGS: Good-natured humor; Friendly joshing of Ricochet’s lovable, quirky culture

    • #31
  2. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    My point in defining tolerance as what you would allow even if you had the authority to prevent it was to make an essentially legal distinction

    When you claimed that you were using it that way in the OP, it was like shooting an arrow, and the arrow getting half-way to the target.

    Each time you try to convince us that it really was what you meant, you are getting closer to 100%.

    I think you are either 15/16ths, or 31/32nds of the way to getting all of us to buy in.

    Don’t quit, Zeno. You’re almost there.

     

    TAGS: Good-natured, humor; Friendly joshing of Ricochet’s lovable, quirky culture

    Shoot, then I can move on, as my work here is 96.875% done. ;)

    • #32
  3. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    I’m with you, Henry; tolerance is usually just a matter of civility and a live-and-let-live modus vivendi. But it’s not enough for some; after tolerance has been established, approval is required. (Disapproval is hurtful and erasing.) The next step: you must participate, or pay for it.

    • #33
  4. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    I’m with you, Henry; tolerance is usually just a matter of civility and a live-and-let-live modus vivendi. But it’s not enough for some; after tolerance has been established, approval is required. (Disapproval is hurtful and erasing.) The next step: you must participate, or pay for it.

    Yes. The sequence appears to be tolerance -> approval -> embrace -> participation.

    That’s a pretty dark descent, given that forcing tolerance is the only legitimate political act. Demanding that people profess things they don’t believe is not, but that’s the hallmark of modern progressivism.

    • #34
  5. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    It is an important distinction even if it is far from binary. 

    There are things that skirt the edges of tolerance as noted here, where I feel the need to voice criticism because they need active discouragement and where practitioners need to know that they are skirting the edges of acceptable behavior,  and things where I feel the culture war has been won by the other side and so the polite thing to do is hold my tongue.  Sometimes we have to accept defeat graciously when things are decided reasonably democratically.  

    So neo-Nazis = loud and vocal disapproval;  same sex relationships=hold my tongue;  births out of wedlock=will actively discourage but then hold my tongue around individuals who either create or were created via this mechanism. 

    I felt that we as a country made tremendous strides in the area of tolerance over that past 100 years and it was leading towards a better society until it got derailed by extremists on the left.  I draw the line at compelled approval, including compelled speech and public funding.  That is a hill worth dying on.    It is our battle to fight. 

    • #35
  6. Henry Racette Moderator
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    It is an important distinction even if it is far from binary.

    There are things that skirt the edges of tolerance as noted here, where I feel the need to voice criticism because they need active discouragement and where practitioners need to know that they are skirting the edges of acceptable behavior, and things where I feel the culture war has been won by the other side and so the polite thing to do is hold my tongue. Sometimes we have to accept defeat graciously when things are decided reasonably democratically.

    So neo-Nazis = loud and vocal disapproval; same sex relationships=hold my tongue; births out of wedlock=will actively discourage but then hold my tongue around individuals who either create or were created via this mechanism.

    I felt that we as a country made tremendous strides in the area of tolerance over that past 100 years and it was leading towards a better society until it got derailed by extremists on the left. I draw the line at compelled approval, including compelled speech and public funding. That is a hill worth dying on. It is our battle to fight.

    Very well put, and my own scale is similar.

    • #36
  7. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine
    @IMFine

    Excellent post (and discussion). I would add that the term consensus suffers a similar misunderstanding. Consensus doesn’t mean that all the group members agree on a decision, but that a decision is reached that is acceptable to all the members. 

    • #37
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