A Hindu chaplain was invited to say the opening prayer in the Senate and some christians slipped in to protest, disrupting the prayer, and generally making fools of themselves and presenting the face of their faith which causes those who feel religious belief is something everyone ought to get over and soon to feel more justified in that opinion. The CNN article, with a video, is at this link:
I stumbled across a very old post I made to a philosophy BBS on the subject, and I thought I’d revise it and repost it here. This present a good opportunity. Upon reading it, though, I admit to having a few second thoughts, but one of the joys of having a mind one is unafraid to use is that second, third, and tenth thoughts are part of the fun.
What is Tolerance? Broad question. It might well be the wrong question. The trouble is, like other things people discuss endlessly without resolution, it has as many exceptions as definitions. Tolerance and its parameters goes to the root of our civilization. Not for the reasons we might immediately assume—which is that we have a pluralistic society and the requirement of such is a broader degree of tolerance than what has ordinarily been found in most history—but for more individualized reasons. Because we all are intolerant of something and someone at one time or another, and it is not always wrong of us to be so. When you look at this so-called “pluralistic society” one feature bobs to the surface that doesn’t seem to fit: we’ve never been particularly tolerant. Wave after wave of newcomer has had to go through the same round of bigotry from those of us who consider ourselves “born Americans.” Not everyone, of course, but look at the record. The Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Hispanics (who were first tossed out of their home and in the subsequent decades came back as if they’d never been here before and had to prove they deserved to live here), and on and on. Today it’s Bosnians, Vietnamese, more Chinese, Africans of various nationalities… Those of us with birth certificates claiming we are, right from the get-go, Americans…well, look at the news. What we have entered is a period of enforced public tolerance, in which it is simply uncouth and, in some instances, illegal to express displeasure at the presence of someone Not Us.
Religion may be the last bastion of intolerance, as indicated by the fracas in the Senate. It is arguable that we should tolerate all religious views. If one believes that one’s religion demands that he or she kill those who do not believe the same way, should we tolerate the religion? Traditionally in this country, it is more what someone does than what they believe that causes legal action, but we’ve always questioned that. Look at the lives ruined in the 50s because of a flirtation by some with communism. In most instances, the affair ended, nothing lasting resulted, but because “you attended these meetings” you faced the opprobrium of the community. It’s like a politician having sex with the “wrong person”—years go by, it’s never done again, life goes one, but if someone finds out…
Tolerance follows trends. Sad but true. I know devoutly religious people who now accept gay people on their own merits, but would throw a divorcee out of one of their parties. Consistency there isn’t. That’s trendiness, not genuine, thoughtful tolerance. So let’s try for a definition.
Tolerance means: not making a person suffer for being an individual.
Sounds easy enough on the faced of it, but it has some wrinkles that feed into our current, present-day problems. Legally, we place more importance on actions than intent. Intent becomes important when the severity of an action is in question, but there still must be An Action before—legally—we start in on someone. But as we all know, a single action successfully prosecuted leads often to a label that goes directly to an assumption of future intent. A criminal who has been caught, tried, convicted, and serves his or her sentence finds that full citizenship is never restored. The system expects recidivism and so the balance of that person’s life is constrained by assumptions of possible behavior. (Never mind for the moment the statistics on recidivism—we’re talking about ideals here, and who’s to say that our treatment of these folks isn’t part and parcel of the motivating force behind that recidivism?) Basically, such folks have shown themselves capable of certain behaviors of which the community is intolerant and so become part of a population designated as untrustworthy. On that basis, we do not tolerate them. In some instances, our intolerance goes so far as to bar residency to them in certain areas and to post their names in public, making them pariahs. In some instances, no crime has been committed to engender similar, non-legal actions.
But this has, ultimately, nothing to do with the individual so treated. It has to do with our idea of that individual. It’s a box, wherein we place people to make it easy to deal with the complexities of our so-called pluralistic society. Some people get very, very tired of going through this daily coping with Strange People, and demand that “We Do Something About Them!” Hence protests at prayer meetings. Simpler if such people, who think differently, dress differently, talk differently, pray to a different god, were just Not Here. The Nazis had that idea. The problem is, of course, that we are all Strange People if you dig deep enough. But the urge to Belong causes such denial of self that our individuality turns on itself, like an autoimmune disease, like cancer.
Look at Senator Vitter. One of the loudest advocates of so-called Family Values, and look at this, his name is on the client list of a bordello. To reduce him to the simplest explanation, he so abhors his own inability to be someone else that he seeks to eliminate all possibility that he could ever stray, which means vociferously advocating against lifestyles other than the one to which he wishes to adhere. Take away all the temptation and he won’t “stray” again. It never occurs to someone like that that maybe his own self-abnegation is more a problem than the behaviors he seeks to legislate out of existence. (A less kind explanation is that he belongs to a clique of long tradition which seeks to establish conditions in which the behavior for which he’s been pilloried is available only to a self-selected group of elite, and denied to all those “unwashed” and undeserving. This is not at all uncommon, and seems to follow those who are loudest in their condemnations of the very things they secretly indulge. Besides, to be perfectly open and honest about it would mean their spouses ought to be allowed the same privileges and—dare we say it?–rights. Can’t have that. It would be nice to be done with goose-and-gander crap. Alas.)
So how do we tell if we’re being intolerant of someone just for being an individual? How do we know that our intolerance isn’t justified? Well, try this: if you find that you’re condemning someone based solely on a community standard and only that community rule tells you it’s wrong, then more than likely that standard is wrong.
Pretty broad. But consider. Murder is self-evidently wrong. The violent denial of another individual of the freedoms, liberties, options, and potentials that the murderer then retains and that all people who condemn the murderer retain is obvious self-sustaining in the moral sense. You don’t really need a community standard to tell you this, the standard arises from a clearly recognizable maxim. Likewise, theft, lying, rape, battery….the irony being that sometimes community standards are set up to protect certain kinds of theft, lying, rape, and assault.
But conversely, alternate philosophies are not self-evidently wrong in the same way. The value of them must be weighed through examination, comparison, debate, study….a dialogue must occur.
Alternative economic practices are not self-evidently wrong.
Alternative sexual choices are not self-evidently wrong.
Alternative rituals are not self-evidently wrong.
And yet, community standards are established all the time, depending on where you live, to permit and promote the condemnation of people who embrace one or more of the aforementioned, even if only as ideas.
Why? Is such intolerance justified? It depends on how much you value community standards over individuals. People who adhere to a set of community standards not because they believe in them, but because it is easier, because they cannot or will not think for themselves, or out of fear of being expelled from that community are hypocrites and often moral cowards. Lazy at best. But if Joe Bloe and Jane Plane just want to get along, who is anyone to condemn them for not challenging the status quo in the name of personal conviction? Isn’t life hard enough without throwing ideological self-consistency into the mix? Who can blame a person for not wanting to rock the boat in the cause of philosophical freedom?
The problem here is one of long term moral judgment. If you do not understand the nature of what you believe and merely accept what the community tells you, then when something legitimately dangerous or threatening comes along, how do you tell the difference between it and all the noise that is only your neighbor being intolerant of fashion choices? How do you know how to make choices and judgments about new ideas or protect yourself from con jobs and nonsense posing as Ultimate Truth? If you do not know what it means to Be Tolerant, how will you know when Being Tolerant according to community prescription won’t just lose you your rights to be different? And how will you know the difference between self-defense and bigotry?
It is human nature to fear what is different. It is our responsibility to overcome fear. That axiom, if I may call it such, is, I believe, the seed of true tolerance.
Now here’s the catch—and the reason this is so difficult to manage—Tolerance isn’t a prize you win and then take home like a present. It’s a chore. It’s a challenge. You work at it every day, just as you have to work at being free every day. You die working at it and the job is never done. I think a lot of people sense that and shun it. But there it is. And we have to be willing to turn our backs on the comfort of community if we wish to be tolerant and free. By willing I don’t mean we have to—but if forced to a choice between conscience and community, to opt for community is the first cut in the death of tolerance.
Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Civil Rights, Communication, Corruption, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Current Events, Education, Good and Evil, History, Law, Meaning of Life, Media, Psychology Cognition, Religion