Tolerance: the hidden Evil that will destroy your life.
There’s nothing virtuous in today’s understanding of tolerance. The truth is that our modern idea of tolerance has become a hidden evil, a destructive vice that will rob you of your freedom and corrupt your thinking.
Tolerance used to be about treating someone fairly. About treating people with different religious or political beliefs or opinions as we would like to be treated ourselves.
In the 1700s, Voltaire even used the word to mean ‘compassion’, the ability to forgive people, and as an argument against the ‘zero tolerance’ of his age.
But today, tolerance has become an excuse for turning a blind eye to things we know to be wrong.
Tolerance is a patronising, immature way of dealing with things we disagree with. Today, if we say we tolerate something, we send out an immediate message that it’s inferior, or sub standard. Not just ‘different’.
Let’s look at a few examples.
One dictionary definition of tolerance says this:
To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference.
Or to quote one of those ghastly Facebook texts that float around Social Media, “Tolerance is about accepting it, not changing it’.
That seems like a good, liberal concept until you examine it closely.
Notice that the subject of tolerance in that dictionary definition isn’t defined. Merely ‘Something that one dislikes or disagrees with’.
So let’s get concrete. Let’s substitute that ‘something’ with something we all think is wrong. Something like racism.Tolerance then becomes:
To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of racism without interference.
Well, that’s no good. We can’t be tolerant of racism. How about child abuse?
To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of child abuse without interference.
That’s definitely going too far.
The point here is that tolerance is no use to us when it’s used for things that are simply bad, or wrong. Instead of tolerating them, we should have the balls to stand up and resist them. If tolerance is about accepting it, not changing it, then I don’t want anything to do with tolerance.
But tolerance isn’t just useless when it’s used for things that are bad. It’s pretty useless when it’s used for things that are good.
Here’s our definition again, this time replacing the ‘something’ with ‘charitable giving’.
To allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of charitable giving without interference.
Most of us will agree that giving to charity is a good thing, even if we don’t do much of it ourselves. So does it make sense to ‘tolerate’ charitable giving?
Much better to celebrate it.
In just a few short paragraphs, we’ve seen that the modern idea of tolerance is useless when it comes to good things, and plain wrong when it comes to bad things.
But it gets worse.
One of those ghastly Facebook texts exhorts us to ‘practice tolerance’. Each letter uses the symbol for one of the world’s religions, and the idea is that different religions, different world-views, should somehow happily co-exist without rancour or interference of any sort. It’s a version of the misguided belief that ‘all religions are really the same underneath’.
It’s rather patronising, too. It’s a way of suggesting that the world’s great religions (and here I include Atheism) should all stop squabbling and play nicely together.
Of course, it’s Bloody Nonsense.
Religions are not all the same underneath. For a start, not all of them believe in a God. And for those that do, their definition of ‘God’ is often very different.
There is such a thing as ‘bad’ religion. Bad religion happens when people use religious beliefs or arguments to deny other people their rights, or their humanity, or to oppress them or manipulate them into doing something they don’t want to do. And bad religion, like bad behaviour, needs to be exposed and resisted. Not tolerated.
If the concept of ‘tolerance’ means that we’re frightened of debating the rights and wrongs of any particular religion or secular world-view because we’re afraid of upsetting someone, and especially if we’re afraid of upsetting someone with a gun, then the bad stuff will also go unchallenged. We will all become its victims.
As Richard Dawkins has said,
“When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.”
The problem is that western society has worshipped at the altar of Tolerance for so long that we’re afraid to challenge it, to argue against bad religion or bad politics. We’re afraid of being labelled ‘intolerant’.
So we lie. We say that we’re being ‘tolerant’, when actually we’re just being cowardly.
It’s much easier not to think about the difficult bits. And it’s very easy to be tolerant of something you’ve not thought about much.
But the converse is equally true: if we don’t want to think too much about something, it’s an easy excuse to say we’re being ‘tolerant’.
Make no mistake; intellectual work is hard work. That’s why it makes us hungry, and maybe why students eat and sleep so much.
But give us an excuse not to think too hard, and we’ll take it. Tolerance is the perfect excuse. I don’t have to think too hard about why some followers of Islam practice brutal murder in God’s name, or what the issues are, or what the complexities are.
I just have to be ‘tolerant’ of the concept of ‘Islam’, as though it floated around, unanchored in any form of brutal reality.
That way I don’t have to think too hard. I don’t have to risk friendships or seem a ‘party pooper’. Being ‘tolerant’ is the easy way out. The lazy way out.
But since when has laziness, even when it’s wearing the clothes of tolerance, been a virtue?
There is a way out of this.
And that’s to get rid of tolerance completely.
Instead of thinking of tolerance as “allowing the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference”, let’s start doing some constructive discrimination.
Let’s have the balls to stand up against bad things. To engage in constructive public criticism. To challenge bad thinking. To oppose bad religion.
And let’s start cheering on the good things. Celebrating other people’s good ideas. Welcoming debate, discussion and challenge.
And for things that are merely ‘different’, let’s wallow in ‘the generous celebration of difference’.
We don’t need the vice of tolerance robbing us of our freedom to speak, think and act with integrity.
Let’s get rid of this false God. Fast.
A summary of the book ‘Tolerance is NOT a Virtue’,