Thursday, August 13, 2009

Can you Tolerate another post on Intolerance?

Two commentators on the last blog entry raised points furthering the discussion.

Reuben referred to Wendy Brown’s interview on tolerance/intolerance. She defined tolerance (after reviewing its use in a broad spectrum of fields) as the “the management of some undesirable element or foreign body invading or taking up residence in the host that one would rather not have to deal with. It is about managing some object of aversion that is different with a stigma—different with a problem.”

Of course, the word “management” leaves much to be desired, requiring further clarification. How does one manage? Is there a limit on management? Is there a limit on reaction? But setting aside the ”how” for a moment; observe the ”what”--what are we managing? Notice the words utilized:

“not have to deal with’

Before we can “tolerate” something—we first made a determination we do not want the thing to exist! Or, at the least, exist in any realm where it impacts us. We first make the decision the thing is NOT desired. NOT wanted. It is, by virtue of our tolerating it, not worthy of continuing.

Sam pointed out an article by Greg Koukl (admittedly I was surprised to be agreeing along with Koukl) making a similar conclusion when he states: “The irony is that according to the classical notion of tolerance, you can’t tolerate someone unless you disagree with him. “

The host on the Wendy Brown interview picked up on the fact, by claiming “tolerance”—we have degraded the thing being tolerated. If I “tolerate” homosexuality, I have made the determination it should not exist—it is repugnantly holding one’s nose while dealing with an undesirable problem.

I find no virtue in tolerance, because living in our world we are forced to interact with undesirable elements. We cannot control our physical bodies degrading (sadly). I don’t desire to lose my hair—what “virtue” is it that I “manage” this undesirable element? We face financial undesirable situations, physical, natural and…not surprisingly due to the variety of humanity…socially undesirable situations. We will deal with people we disagree with. That we desire would not exist—at least not in their current form. That fact we have to deal with them, and then to label it as “tolerant” and pat ourselves on the back by labeling this forced interaction as “virtuous” is silly. Might as well be proud of breathing.

So it cannot be that we are tolerant—that we “manage” undesirable elements—it has to be HOW we manage them where the divide comes in. Where we consider some responses—some forms of management—to be “tolerant” when dealing with undesirables, and some responses to be “intolerant.”

Can it really be as simple as the Golden rule? Can it be when we treat others as we would want to be treated, we consider that “tolerant”? And when we don’t—it is not?

As I previously stated—street preachers don’t bother me. In my “Golden rule” I could see how treating others as I would want to be treated means I don’t care about this. Yet for others, it IS intolerant. Because they would never treat others that way, and would never want to be treated in this fashion. (It is why I subscribe to the Platinum Rule rather than the Golden rule; treat others as THEY want to be treated, not as YOU want to be treated.)

It is time we stopped worrying about who is being tolerant and who is not. To stop labeling the other person as being “intolerant.” As if that means anything. Better to question whether they would like to be treated the way they are treating you.

The line between “managed correctly” and “not managed correctly” when it comes to tolerance is too nebulous a concept to bother debating it.


  1. I think the link you made to Koukl's article is broken. It takes me to a comment on Scott Pruett's blog.

  2. Dagoods,

    I have lurked your blog for almost 3 years now. I am considering going to law school, but I wanted to get some feedback on a few concerns of mine from someone who actually practices law. Since I don't know any in real life, I figured I'd ask one on the internet. Would you be willing to exchange a few emails with me to provide some insight?