Walkabout podcast – Intolerance will not be tolerated!
Among a collection of concepts that are poorly understood and almost completely mismanaged in our current culture sits intolerance. Ask anyone if intolerance is good or bad, and I bet you’ll garner ‘bad’ as an answer the majority of the time. This is an indication that too many people respond to cultural reactions and not at all to what the word even means. It’s like asking if restrictions are good or bad. But the thinking person will ask, “Intolerance of what?”
Let me get this out of the way right from the start: intolerance is not only not bad, but it is something that we should be using routinely as a crucial part of our society. We should have a distinct intolerance towards such things as child abuse, racial and sexual discrimination, violence, and so on. “Ah, well, sure, when you put it that way, but you know, I meant something else by ‘intolerance’…”
No. There is no secondary meaning of the word. Intolerance is a modifier; it must apply to a particular subject, and it is the subject that qualifies whether or not the attitude can be considered good or bad. But let’s be real; that’s going to be pretty hard for people to cope with, since there will be arguments of opinion over the subjects, and someone will end up making a list of what it is okay to be intolerant of. Instead, what should be applied is not the attitude of intolerance itself, but why. What exactly are the criteria that leads to the conclusion of something being not allowable in our society?
That’s where we need to be putting our emphasis, and directing our attention. When it comes down to it, determining such criteria puts us on the road to a distinct moral structure. Why are we intolerant of sexual discrimination? Well, because it puts half of our population at a disadvantage, without any specific reason or benefit. Okay, that wasn’t hard – we weighed the good and the bad points, so there’s a great start.
In fact, the only things that really need to be added to this are firm definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Both of these really only need to be defined in terms of benefit or harm to others, since that’s what society is. If I have to rely on other people around me, and they have to rely on me, then the single most important aspect is that we are actively cooperative, and inclined to remain so. That’s all. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ only need revolve around what affects this simple dynamic.
Did you want your old moldy scripture to be considered good? Too bad – so do lots of other people, and their scripture contradicts yours, so the only way for that to work is to arbitrarily decide which one to follow and ignore the rest. That’s been done before (read a history book) – it doesn’t work. Those who have their own scripture that doesn’t agree with yours now have no reason to cooperate with you, or any reason to have you around. Eventually, what results is ‘moral’ law by strength and numbers – not exactly a useful guideline, nor a particularly lasting culture. Especially when the standard of a self-interested morality means that dividing lines can be drawn eternally. Not just splinters of christianity like protestantism, catholicism, mormons, jehovahs; or judaism like hasidic and reformed; or islam like sunni and shia; all three of these major religions are splinters of the same abrahamic origins. Yeah, building society, one wall at a time…
And that’s the difference between a society and a personal ideology. Society must maintain a certain common agreement in goals, while personal ideology really shouldn’t extend beyond one’s own mind. Yes, I can say that comfortably and confidently, because I have eyes and can see what works. Do we have roads, hospitals, grocery stores, an electric grid, and similar infrastructure because of holy books? No, we have them because we deem them necessary. Humans have basic needs, and regardless of how anyone prefers to argue that these came about, they remain the same. Morality can only be functional if it revolves around this commonality.
This is where those that discuss the objectivity or subjectivity of morality lose the thread. There are no refined definitions that need to be hashed out, no rules that need apply to every imagined situation, and especially, no reason to give philosophers any air time at all. Who benefits, and who doesn’t? That’s all that needs to be considered.
And thus, we get back to intolerance. Many people seem to think they deserve special consideration, respect for their viewpoint – and more often than not, this would require less respect for someone else without that viewpoint. Why? Because someone is repeating the beliefs of their parents? Yeah, fantastic contribution. We need to be completely comfortable with calling this utter bullshit. Respect is earned only by benefit, and morality does not work with selectivity or privilege. Nor does personal choice have the faintest connection to social structure, so we need to recognize when this card is played. We are immersed in a culture of false equivalency, where far too many people believe that every opinion deserves to be both heard and respected; this is not only untrue, it makes no sense. Someone should always have to defend why anyone else should give a rat’s ass. And we shouldn’t have the slightest inclination to tolerate anything less.
Because, when it comes down to it, being tolerant of special privilege or status or selfish opinion, in the face of how negatively this may affect others, basically shits on others. Too many people seem to confuse their ability to have an opinion with some right to be free from criticism of it; such a thing would deny someone else’s right to have an opinion, at least if it’s in contradiction, so obviously there’s a flaw in this reasoning. Without open disagreement, we cannot find better options, make improvements, or even progress at all. The very concept of better relies on finding fault in the first place.
The second part of this, however, is to communicate it effectively. Again, it’s not the intolerance that is the key function, but the underlying criteria. It may take a lot more effort to explain why racial bigotry is a pointless pursuit and indicative of insecurity, but without it, all that appears to be visible is competing opinions or prejudice. Note that bigotry itself is defined as obstinate and/or intolerant devotion to one’s prejudice, and we tend to believe that prejudice is always bad. But this isn’t true; one can be prejudiced against products from a particular manufacturer, or even a style of music. It’s an integral part of our decision-making process, and pretty much defines making choices – we may be prejudiced for very good reasons. It’s the reasons that count, and what must be prominent in any discussion. Plus, such discussions cannot resemble emotional reactions (or at least, not solely emotional) – the goal is to demonstrate a raised bar in the discussion, and perhaps even that it can be a discussion after all.
Now, note that I did not say that one must always be nice when doing this – that’s a mistake far too many people make. The whole point of both sarcasm and a less-than-polite tone is to communicate the amount of disagreement or disrespect one might have for something. Respect only that which is respectable, and if something lies very far from that, trash it with enough enthusiasm to emphasize this distance. And always feel free to bounce arrogance back with topspin.
It remains important, however, to adequately define the goals, and maintain those as the focus. Intolerance in most cases should be applied to a concept or view, not the individual holding that view. Perhaps a majority of people seem to think that others who disagree are The Enemy, which is pretty disturbing, but prevalent nonetheless. Circumventing this takes both a considered approach and the constant awareness of the tendency; the delicate balance between finding a standpoint to be ludicrous, but having no personal grudges, can be tricky. Still, making that effort is important, and a significant factor in how others will view your own argument. Bear in mind that intolerance does not have to be angry, or emotional at all. One can be firm and unyielding, or even openly derogatory, without emotional involvement, or overflowing into a judgment against a person.
Intolerance is a valuable tool in building an improved society, and unworthy of any kneejerk negative reaction. Use it as effectively as possible, and don’t fall for the appeals from those who think disagreement is unfair.