See Excluding — Medium

When we encounter the reverse of the active values of Triadic Philosophy, we meet the individual once again. It is the practice of tolerance, for example, that indicates whether a person is acting to prevent harm. And it is equally certain that if tolerance is not present, evil may be afoot.

Of course there are mass indices of intolerance — the fruits of prejudice, exclusion and injustice. But the very heart of intolerance is the refusal of the individual to acknowledge responsibility for nurturing tolerance as one of the key, core active virtues.

There is a tasteless ad for a car rental agency in which a man is walking to get his car and muses about his joy in ignoring other people, his happiness at being pampered and the sexiness of having the power that his special status confers. This is all done with a glibness that suggests a sort of comedic excuse. But there really is no excuse for the value that is being put forth. It is intolerance pure and simple. And in our culture, such intolerance gets a pass. And the reason is that most people do not even consider values as essential to ethical maturity.

Consider this though. Honor could do very well in an ad condoning intolerance. So could courage. So could prudence. So could temperance. So, even, could justice, if justice is seen merely as applying to one side in a dispute. In other words, what has passed for ethics — these very virtues — are not adequate to move us ahead ethically.

There was a time when the partisans of such virtues waged war against ethical relativism or situation ethics. As though there lay, in a particular culture or history, an absolute that we somehow sully by admitting that all ethics is dependent precisely on answering the questions: What harms? How do we prevent harm?

There are existential limits to what human beings can do to make a better world. There are no perfect answers. There is no final choice. We must end the day not triumphally but tearfully, for every day yields up a new toll of harm.

Intolerance adds to the fund of harm. It is the opposite of zero tolerance of abuse, for example. Zero tolerance must be a message on all lips to rid the world of prevalent harms such as female genital mutilation, the savaging of the seas and the pollution of the air. But even zero-tolerance needs the canny capacities of tolerance to wage an effective battle against the forces of evil.

Intolerance is dismissive of those who do not measure up in our understanding. I will not waste my hands on such! Well, every person counts. Every person is precious. Every person is due justice. If we do not accept that, we join the intolerant and become incipient, willful perpetrators of harm, even if the victims are those we will never lay eyes on.

Finally, intolerance claims too much for the person who is being intolerant. It claims we have powers of discrimination and judgment that enable us to be the arbitrator of who is damned and who is saved. It is really a form of self-injury. Because that burden is finally unbearable. And its fruits are always bitter and, in the words of the song, strange.

So if we are tolerant we have some protection when we fight evil. We can be content with small victories and cumulative chips in the structures of wrong. We can recognize that the end remains the establishment of the good values. And when we score even a small victory we have altered the balance.


This is from a new Kindle book called Universal Good and Evil.

Please visit Stephen C. Rose: Kindle Store

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