a follow up to “Free Speech and the Paradox of Tolerance”
Julia Serano

The big flaw that underlies this terrifying argument and all arguments like it is that coming to anything like an agreed upon definition of intolerance is not as easy as you and others in thrall to the half-assed logic of the regressive left assume. The Quran is absolutely clear that homosexuality is a sin against god and nature that must be strictly punished. Do you allow Muslims in your intolerant-of-intolerance fantasyland? Or Christians for that matter? Are they allowed to practice their religion as they like, or do they have to check with you to get an approved version first? Suppose someone earnestly believed feminism had veered off course and caused women and society at large serious and substantial suffering. Is that person’s strident condemnation of feminism protected in your fantasy? If so, why isn’t it too misogynistic to tolerate? If not, then just suppose that person is right—something we can’t know without letting the idea be freely aired. How to improve and refine feminism, or queer movements, or any other liberation movements without open critique, dialogue, debate, etc? Suppose a large group of people believed your opinion about this matter to be repugnant, internally incoherent and fundamentally dangerous to a free society. (I can promise you there is at least one of us who believes those things). Suppose we took it up0n ourselves to prevent you from saying this because we earnestly believe that your intolerance is dangerous and no better than the intolerance of bigots and fundamentalists? I would never presume to stop you from saying half-baked bullshit like this. In fact, I’d die defending your right to say it. But you should have an appreciation for the fact that in making this argument you are seeking to tear down the very principle that allows you to make this argument. I’m not overstating this—I don’t think you’re any better than an Islamist in this regard. I really believe that. And I don’t think I’m the only one. Are you sure you’re ready to gamble with free speech? Suppose you should lose?

Also, you assume, without evidence, that you and the society you envision is the pinnacle of human liberation. 150 years ago it’s unlikely anyone would have thought to include a notion of anything like “transgender” rights in even the most progressive version of your brittle little fiefdom. In a society that doesn’t protect free speech without regard for the identity of the speaker and the content of the speech, how can you be sure even the existence of transgendered individuals would be entertained by society, let alone accepted? You can’t and in all likelihood it wouldn’t. Furthermore, in order to create any sort of framework for suppressing speech that you deem to be intolerant, you have to nominate someone to decide what crosses that line. Who do you nominate to decide what you can and can’t read?

Free speech absolutists don’t hold the position out of some kind of religious zeal or emotional attachment to a liberal ideal. We believe what we believe because we believe tolerance for minority views (like the need for a queer movement) is absolutely essential for a free and healthy society. Tolerating intolerance isn’t just a byproduct of an open society. It is essential to it.

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