Thursday, July 9, 2009

a few thoughts on tolerance.

from week 2 of "the bob and abe show." bob had a few things to say on the concept of tolerance, and here it is, in text form.

In the painfully grade-schoolish fashion of rhetorical essaying, I will begin by defining the term that I have placed under attack. Tolerance, as defined by, is:

1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.

2. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one's own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.

Tolerance, for lack of a better word or, simple irony, is no longer tolerable, on any sort of grand cultural scale. Tolerance is something I have for a two-year-old child, or a dog. I will tolerate a two-year-old screaming uncontrollably at the table next to mine because the two-year-old lacks the ability to reason or use logic, has precious little language with which to communicate its desires—in short, the child does not know any better. I will tolerate a dog that occasionally shits the carpet because while the dog understands on some level that it should not have shat the carpet, it is, after all, just a stupid fucking dog. Dogs are known to occasionally shit carpets, and so I can be neither surprised nor can I get terribly justifiably angry at the dog's action.

Tolerance is something that is expected, if not demanded, of me as a liberal-minded, undogmatic free-thinking person, according to the definition. If there is a part of another culture that goes against something fundamental about the way I see the world, the only fair and objective reaction is to tolerate it as something just a little different from what I believe, but valid just the same. Just because I don't agree with it doesn't make either one of us wrong—we can live in harmony together as two people who just agree to disagree. According to the definition, by my fair and objective assessment of the differences between me and my subject—let's say, the shitty carpet-shitting dog, I am being permissive of the dog's behavior, and by my recognition that the dog doesn't know any goddam better, I am permitting the carpet-shitting to continue.

But what if, just for, well, carpet-shits and giggles, we exchanged the dog in this scenario, with, say, any major religious or political or governmental organization that discriminates against any percentage of its population for any reason whatsoever. Saudi Arabia, China, or the Catholic church. It doesn't matter—any group that willfully violates the human rights of even its own constituents or those that would oppose them will slide in quite nicely. Women in Saudi Arabia. Or loud-mouthed Chinese. Or Catholic children who slip up and sin every once and a while. These are huge numbers of human beings that are treated like property, or less than, and live in fear that the consequences of their actions can mean execution by stoning, life in prison, or eternal damnation just for attempting to freely express their humanity.

Does an intellectual tolerance of other cultures mean that I have to tolerate the marginalization, propertization, and basic systemic hatred of women by huge swaths of Islam? Or that I should find it permissible for freedom seeking Chinese to be locked up for years simply for expressing their basic human rights? Or that I accept the forever recurring abuse perpetrated upon millions and millions of young catholics in the form of promised eternal pain and torture, in the event that they fail to gain entrance to heaven due to the impossibly high standards set for admission.

I don't think I even need to answer the question. The answer is no, by the way—I should not have to tolerate systemic violations of basic human rights in the interest of not hurting anyone's feelings. If you doubt the systemic nature of these violations, I would simply, if admittedly a touch arrogantly, submit that you need to look closer. If you further think that more evolved versions of these systems—basically less completely fucking crazy versions of these religions, are somehow less unacceptable, than I would ask the following: if you have to leave behind the most fervent adherers to a particular way of life in order to deem it culturally acceptable or even to justify its continued existence, do you think that maybe, just maybe, there might be something fundamentally flawed about the belief structure?

The difference between the dog and the institutions is, hopefully, just as apparent. Perhaps the most important revelation we remarkable human animals have derived from the study of ourselves and the world around us is but the fulfillment of the hypotheses of the greatest philosophers who ever put their thoughts, ideals, and hopes to the page. The idea that all men are equal, utterly regardless of breeding or bloodlines, race, religion, or nationality—a fact as revolutionary as it is blatantly plain and as purely beautiful as it is simple and instinctual—is no longer a mere ideal, or concept. It is a fact of our genetic coding, and as such, should free us all from the primitive barbarians who would divide us with such petty distinctions as skin pigmentation, or place of birth.

Though this is probably no great surprise to you by this point, I will say anyway that I find myself to be a rather remarkable creature. I say that not as a confession of hubris, but as a way of relating the level of respect that I have for you as my fellow human being. I know of no higher compliment than to say that I am that remarkable creature, and that you are my equal.

This is why I cannot tolerate the tolerance, or permit the permissiveness, or accept the idea that I should respect someone else's belief system simply because it is their own, and not mine. Call it whatever you want—intolerance, ignorance, close-minded hatred, freshly shat sanctimonious bullshit—I will happily accept all futile attempts at narrowing my perspective down to anything so easily dismissed. Simple truths are so much stronger than that.

The only moral high ground is the one onto which each and every last one of us is born. It is the space which I am proud to occupy. Tolerate it.

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