Should We Tolerate Intolerance?

A New Perspective on Managing Intolerance in a Free Society

Joe Duncan
Mar 18, 2019 · 7 min read

The short answer is, “No, we shouldn’t tolerate intolerance, and it’s not intolerant to do so.”

In fact, we should absolutely disassociate with it on the personal level, disowning intolerant extremists as people who are no friends of ours, and we should even punish it criminally on the societal level where it rears its ugly head, and we should do so before it even has the chance to strike.

I understand what I’m proposing here and how unorthodox it may sound, but it’s grounded in quite a bit of reason.

Has the time come to criminalize extremism? I think it has.

I know this sounds horribly unthinkable to many, a thought that’s a little too reminiscent of a 1984-esque authoritarianism, an all-encompassing dictatorial state telling us what to think, but these images that we conjur up in our heads when we consider such ideas, along with the logical conclusions we draw from them are usually blown out of proportion.

I’ll start off by saying there’s a difference between thinking something and acting upon it. It’s one thing to have an angry sentiment, it’s a whole other thing to become so angered that you travel halfway across the world and sign up as a newly recruited member of ISIS.

Shouldn’t the same logic be applied to other violent extremist groups who’s sworn mission is to carry out violent acts, such as white nationalist movements? Or are we afraid to step on the toes of white people? Are we afraid that such gestures are impolite and that Anglo-Saxon white people are somehow above the need to be held to the same standard as everyone else?

The fact is, this is how sane people protect themselves. Its not “authoritarianism” to demand that people simply don’t subscribe to romanticed notions of murder and bloodshed — it’s like a pack of dogs, if one or two simply cannot stop attacking the rest of the pack, they need to be separated from the rest until they can learn to get along, and anyone who subscribes to such ideology does just that.

Did I just liken fascists and violent extremists to dogs? I certainly did, and I’m truly sorry to each and every single dog out there for doing so; you’re better than that, and I shouldn’t have dragged your wonderful species into this.

The difference, like the difference between a racist joke told between two unharmed parties and bona fide racism like membership in the KKK, is in intent and degrees— its not authoritarian to fight for liberty, its not controlling to disallow a festering hate to infect the entire system of the body because we have a need to tolerate bacteria, its simply protecting your ideals and defending your values. Both a racist joke and supporting racist policies are bad, but they’re totally different degrees of bad.

Liberal intolerance of the intolerant, however, unlike a racist joke, isn’t bad at all, unless it's intolerant of your intent to be intolerant, thereby depriving the liberty of others, which is bad. Liberal intolerance of the intolerant isn’t actual intolerance like a racist joke is actual racism, because liberal intolerance is self-defense of the entire structures which bestow, enumerate, and defend our liberties.

When it comes to liberalism, our liberalism should speak softly, but carry a big stick — it’s preemptive self-defense and self-preservation, to do so.

And what I mean by the term, “liberal,” is the American ideal, it has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats; you either care about people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or you don’t. Simple as that.

Being a part of a white nationalist organization, or any violent extremist organization should be akin to conspiracy to commit murder.

As I spelled out in my work published here on Medium, The Psychology of Fascism, fascism and other forms of intolerant extremism always asserts that liberalism is tyranny, and that democracy is also, it’s one of the intellectually dishonest tricks of fascism that’s been around for 2,400 years, but it’s wrong on the notion of equivalence — fascism asserts that democracy and liberalism are tyrannical because they’re rule-by-the-many structures which are intolerant of intolerance, but they then propose supplanting each with yet another rule-by-the-many power structure which just so happens to give them the power.

The difference is a false equivalence in the definition of tyranny, a government that tells me I need to be free and not strip the freedom of others isn’t tyrannical, but if white nationalists had control of government, they’d strip the freedom of others, which is tyrannical.

In New Zealand on Friday, 49 people had their life, liberty, and pursuit of happines taken from them this week in an irrevocable act of carnage, and it will never return.

To say that a government that strips the so-called “freedom” of someone who is an extremist who desire to uphold their self-professed and self-enumerated right to the “freedom” to strip the freedom of others en masse is “tyranny” is flat out wrong.

Extremists groups have already proven they’re tyrannical through countless acts of murder, and these ideologies have shown they’re true intent is to steal the liberty of others through acts of bloodshed, and it’s a gross mischaracterization of the word “tyranny” to say that liberal states and ideas such as taxation, or even all-encompassing governmental structures like the NSA or FBI and other state governments and their various nuanced curtailing of minor liberties in the name of societal safety, are on the same level as wholesale murder.

They’re not.

A state stopping a murder before it happens isn’t some tyrannical deprivation of the “right” to murder, it’s not “free speech” to organize and plan murder, like extremist groups do. People don’t have the right to murder in cold blood.

Extremists don’t deserve the right to peaceful assembly by the very definition of the first word in the phrase, “peaceful assembly.” How this notion is controversial, I have no idea.

And protesting against them doesn’t automatically make us “as bad” as them and “fascist,” because self-defense is a real concept. It’s intellectual dishonesty and false equivalence to the maximum, to say that a racist demonstration and an anti-racist demonstration are both somehow oppressive. It’s actually lunacy.

The intent of a liberal and free society is to both maximize and secure (emphasis on secure) liberty for its constituent members, while the intent of white nationalism and other forms of extremism is to diminish the liberty for the members of a society they don’t like, stripping their freedoms, removing their rights, and so forth, which is, by definition, actual tyranny.

An Experiment in Homicide

Suppose my main goal in life was to murder someone’s wife behind their back’s, and a mutual friend’s goal was to stop me from murdering our friend’s wife and told the police about my motives, showing them text messages I had sent in which I discussed hiring a mercenary to do the dirty deed, the police would arrest me on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, and rightfully so. They have an obligation to protect the wife, her husband also who’d likely miss his wife should she be murdered, any family they might have, and so forth. This isn’t tyranny and I would not be the victim in this hypothetical scenario. If people can’t understand this concept and still wish to subscribe to the notion that stopping violence before it starts is tyrannical, they must also believe that the good-natured friend in this thought experiment is also the real tyrant — a laughable idea.

So I’ll say it again, being a part of a white nationalist organization, or any violent extremist organization should be akin to conspiracy to commit murder.

If ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law, shouldn’t ignorance of what’s right and wrong also be no excuse for commiting wrongs— or being wrong? We cannot excuse ignorance and it’s violent outbursts because we need to be tolerant of ignorance which is violent. It’s one thing to be ignorant about the human body or pulsar stars, it’s another thing to be ignorant of moral concepts like, “It’s wrong to kill people you don’t know for the color of their skin.”

The fact that there are people who are on the fence about ideas like this is actually quite startling, and the fact that people mistake liberalism and the upholding of a free society as ideals which much protect and defend such people is almost equally as startling.

It’s one thing to defend someone’s right to be wrong, it’s a whole other thing to defend someone’s right to be wrong about whether or not murdering innocent people is appropriate or not.

When did free speech become equal to being supportive of those who condone murder, outside of fiction? The question has never been whether or not hate speech has been okay, it’s never been okay, and concepts like fighting words and slander prove that, the question has always been where exactly the line is that separates what’s acceptable content for free speech, and what’s not.

I ask that readers do some soul-searching and look deep inside of themselves, and ask themselves if they really want to put their stamp of approval on white nationalism. Are you okay with that? Are you okay with continuing to allow it to flourish by neglecting to disallow it any longer? Personally, I don’t think we should, but ultimately, everyone has a right to make up their own mind on this issue.

If you think it’s oppressive for us to try to stamp out violent extremism where it rears its ugly head now, wait until violent extremists take power in more levels of government than they already have — then we’ll see some real oppression.

Let’s hope that day never comes.

© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved

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Joe Duncan

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From Los Angeles, California. Life isn’t a series of many moments, but one moment that is always changing. Buy me coffee here:



Live Passionately

Joe Duncan

Written by

From Los Angeles, California. Life isn’t a series of many moments, but one moment that is always changing. Buy me coffee here:



Live Passionately

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