Is it Tolerant to Tolerate Intolerance?

We are urged to Teach Tolerance, as if tolerance were virtue in and of itself. But, what is it that we should we tolerate?

I assert that tolerance alone is not a virtue. In fact, tolerance cannot even be defined as an independent entity. It’s contradictory to be tolerant in all areas. E.g, being tolerant of other races necessitates being intolerant of racists.

The murder of Pim Fortuyn reminded me of this paradox. Muslims are intolerant of homosexuality. For this reason, Fortuyn (who was gay) opposed additional Muslim immigration into his country. Many were highly critical of Fortuyn’s stance. E.g., this article by Mark Steel is an especially nasty piece of work. Note that Steel is tolerant of Muslim immigration, but quite intolerant of Fortuyn.

Assertions for debate are: [ol][]Tolerance cannot exist in a vacuum. []Supporting tolerance actually means supporting certain selected groups, whether one realizes it or not. [] For many Europeans today, “tolerance” means supporting Palestinians. []Supporting Palestinians naturally implies disfavoring Israel.[/ol]

Well December…I am forced to disagree slightly…I believe tolerance is a virtue, as virtuous as patience for that matter… I can explain it basically like this…When one says: “…what comes around goes around…bad or good…” One can be tolerant of anything. Muslims, Jews, bad breath, fat people etc…etc… Tolerance does exist in and ofitself because it can be thought of in either the bad or the good. One can be tolerant of good things as well as bad things… Tolerance and endurance are synonyms and one can endure what ever one tells himself he can.

**Supporting tolerance actually means supporting certain selected groups, whether one realizes it or not. **

HUH? it can mean that, but tolerance goes for just about anything in life… Put in the context you have it in, I can see your point but only to an extent…it seems funamentally flawed however, especially when looked at in the context of Europeans tolerating some selected schmucks in Palestine. Wouls you consider patience an independant entity?

An interesting position, December.

Unfortunately, terms do not exist in a moral vacuum, but in a real world.

“Tolerance” to me means allowing to live and let live, to accept each person’s right to his own opinions and to his/her right to live his or her life as he/she chooses. It verges on acceptance, which I consider a virtue in and of itself.

And the rather cute conundrum of “I can tolerate anything but intolerance” does resolve, like most paradoxes – as a person convinced that others have the same rights as myself, it becomes incumbent on me to combat any attempt to deprive them of such rights, and to be “tolerant” of the view of another that he has the right to be intolerant of a third party, is to abandon that basic standard.

To cite an example from another thread, Puddleglum has the right to consider Hamish to be acting immorally. Hamish has the right to act as he considers right for himself. If and when Puddleglum considers it appropriate, "for Hamish’s own spiritual good, to interfere with Hamish’s right to make those moral choices for himself, then it is my right and duty to combat Puddleglum’s interference, not because I am “intolerant” of Puddleglum’s viewpoint, but because he has gone beyond expressing his viewpoint to interfering with Hamish’s rights.

(Please note that the reverse is also true – if someone with whom I tend to agree tries to interfere with the right to free speech of someone with whom I do not, as has happened more than once in the past few years, I’m still honorbound to stand up for the rights of the person with whose views I disagree.)

Of your premises, we seem to agree that “tolerance cannot exist in a vacuum.”

**Supporting tolerance actually means supporting certain selected groups, whether one realizes it or not. **

No, supporting tolerance may but need not mean supporting selected groups. My example in the parenthetical paragraph above should clarify that. It is, however, in today’s world the groups that tend to classify themselves as conservative who usually (not always) attempt to interfere with the rights of others.

**For many Europeans today, “tolerance” means supporting Palestinians. **

I will not comment on this, not being cognizant of the state of affairs as regards the European intellectual climate regarding the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Supporting Palestinians naturally implies disfavoring Israel.

I disagree. One can hold firmly to the premise that Israel has every right to exist as a nation, and further as a nation with defensible borders and free from terrorism, while simultaneously maintaining that the Palestinian people deserve equal treatment, including a portion of what is also their homeland in which they are not living at the sufferance of the Israeli government, but as a free and equal entity. To be sure, a great deal of bad blood must be resolved before these two rose-colored premises can exist side by side in the real world. But they make an excellent set of ideals to which to hold in this difficult situation.

May I note further that, just as “America: love it or leave it” was not a false dichotomy but became one by equating the country with the establishment as it existed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, support of “Israel” need not equate with support of the present Israeli government.

When a group like the Gush calls for virtual genocide of the Palestinians, their position become morally little better than the Nazi worldviews (invoking Godwin’s law on myself, but for a good reason – the comparison is between groups advocating genocide on ethnic grounds, not comparing apples and fuzzy navels).

Okay, I would like to ask a question here.

Is it okay to tolerate a racist if he does nothing that interfers with another’s rights? For example, I personally would have no tolerance for a gang of skinheads who run around beating up non-whites and homosexuals. But what if he just keeps his views to himself and does nothing about them? Granted, this is most likely fairly rare, but I’m just here to play Devil’s advocate.

There’s nothing about tolerating the holding, dissemination or passionate defense of “objectionable” ideas that necessitates one to tolerate actions based on those ideas.

december: Muslims are intolerant of homosexuality.

Side issue: just cleaning up a much-too-sweeping generalization to reflect what I think you really meant here. Of course, it isn’t true to say “Muslims are intolerant of homosexuality”, because many Muslims are not. If what you mean is that traditional Islamic doctrine considers homosexuality sinful, then it’s equally correct to say “Jews are intolerant of homosexuality” or “Christians are intolerant of homosexuality.” Of course, many Muslims, like many Jews and Christians, don’t hold this opinion: many Muslims, like many Jews and Christians, are homosexual themselves (and there have always been a number of Muslim societies, as in Turkey and some Arabian communities, where homosexual relations were part of the accepted societal norm).

What I think you meant to say is something like “Many Muslims—in fact, worldwide a higher proportion of Muslims than of Jews or Christians—adhere to traditional religious doctrine about the sinfulness of homosexuality, and so they do not tolerate it socially.” Does that help? :slight_smile:

Now, on to your actual arguments:

*1.Tolerance cannot exist in a vacuum. *

I think you have a point here; “tolerance” literally just means “ability or willingness to bear” something. If you want to define it as a virtue, you have to be more explicit about what people are required to bear, and why, and to what extent.

*2.Supporting tolerance actually means supporting certain selected groups, whether one realizes it or not. *

Don’t agree at all. It’s perfectly possible to define “tolerance” as a virtue with reference not to groups of people, but to abstract principles. As Poly says, you can think of it as a commitment to the universal applicability of certain rights, and therefore an imperative not to infringe those rights for anyone, no matter what “selected group” they belong to.

*3.For many Europeans today, “tolerance” means supporting Palestinians. *

Er, cite? I know many Europeans, and many Americans, for that matter, who believe that justice, or integrity, or respect for international law, or simple humanity means supporting some aspects of the pro-Palestinian cause. I haven’t heard anybody call it a question of “tolerance”.

4.Supporting Palestinians naturally implies disfavoring Israel.

:confused: Huh? Quite the contrary: most of us who favor an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and various other ameliorations of the Palestinians’ situation, do so largely because we believe it will make things better for Israel and encourage peace and prosperity for all the people in the region.

Now, if you’re talking about supporting the terrorism of Palestinian shahids or suicide bombers, hell yes, that’s “disfavoring” Israel (not to mention the cause of justice and nonviolence in general, IMHO). But that’s not the position I’m supporting, or that I think most people who would describe themselves as “pro-Palestinian” are supporting. You can’t assume that in general, “supporting Palestinians = opposing Israel”, unless you are (as Poly mentioned) equating “Israel” as a concept or nation with a few particular policies of the current government of Israel.

While I will basically throw a “me too” after Polycarp, I feel compelled to point out that this statement is not true.

To oppose racism does not require intolerance toward racists. It probably does require contradicting racist speech, but does not require suppressing racist speech. It would require attempting to prevent racist actions, but does not require that racists be confined so that they are unable to perpetrate racist actions.

When encounter a racist, I am under no compulsion to silence that person, sequester that person, deny that person services that I may offer to the public, insult that person, or injure that person.

If that person engages in racist activity, I may be compelled to counter it: preventing the racist from injuring another or vandalizing another’s property; countering racist speech with speech that demonstrates the errors of racism; etc.

Certainly, one could say that one may not tolerate racist actions, but that is a different statement than that it “necessitates being intolerant of racists”.

The meaning of the word has been morphed into uncritical acceptance or approval, which it is assuredly not.

Tolerance is allowing others to hold differing viewpoints or ideas without acceptance of those ideas. Big difference. Beware whenever the PC newspeak cheerleaders trot out certain codewords… “Tolerance” is assuredly one of them, and those professing we all show tolerance are generally among the most intolerant folks around. Oh Well.

Polycarp makes a lot of good points. To expand on one of them:

This is the point of tolerance which many people miss. It is easy to tolerate actions which you are willing to admit are valid, even if you may personally disagree with them. But can you tolerate actions to which you are morally opposed? And where do you draw the line?

An example which often comes up in my area: Skokie, one of Chicago’s suburbs, has a large Jewish population. As such it was often the target of neo-Nazi/skinhead demonstrations. Under the free speech tenets they are entitled to express their opinions, even in the face of protests from those who object to those opinions. It is my opinion that their message is hateful, divisive, and intolerant, but I support their right to express that message because if I do not, what is to prevent A from using intolerance for their message to support intolerance for (to pick an example purely at random) homosexuality because A finds it morally repugnant?

On the other hand, if that same group were to express their beliefs by defacing synagogues, I would object because they have now crossed the line into criminal behavior.

Now let’s raise the stakes.

Group X believes in an activity which, while perfectly legal, is considered to be not only offensive but morally repugnant to everyone else. (I’m sorry for being vague on this, but I couldn’t think of an example which wouldn’t have sidetracked the discussion into a debate of the specific activity I used. Suggestions are welcome, but not to the extant of hijacking the OP.) Am I required to be tolerant of Group X’s beliefs?

well damn, I came here all ready to shoot it all down and Poly, kimstu & tomndeb have beaten me.

I would also like to point out that tolerating some one else’s position/beliefs also doesn’t mean that I don’t attempt to teach by example. So, for the racist, I will not suddenly walk away from my minority friend, and when my ex husband was going through a stage where he was fairly rude and intolerant of self avowed “Born again Christians” (oddly enough only about a year before he himself went through a BAC phase), and chose to belittle our son’s sitter while we were all at son’s b’day party in my home, I bluntly indicated to him that his actions were not acceptable in my home.

On the contrary, this is extremely common. There are many people who have racist or homophobic views who never have and never will assault anyone. I know some of these people and I am willing to hang out and chat with them as long as they usually keep their bigoted ideas to themselves when they are around me. When they don’t they can expect to get in an argument from me, but we can still try to be civil to each other. I certainly don’t want the government to censor them.

Good question. There may not be a contradiction in that case. However, the contradiction is more clear-cut if one considers “practicing” racists, rather than “non-observant” racists.

You two are right, but you are quibbling. If I must be more precise, let’s say that one cannot be racially tolerant and simultaneously be tolerant of those racists who are committing racist actions.

Unless, by tolerant, one means totally oblivious. I suppose there are people who simply don’t know what’s going on around them and don’t care. So, anything at all is OK with them. One could say that those people are absolutely tolerant. However, by that definition, a rock would be more tolerant than a human being.

Abortion is perfectly legal, but is considered so morally repugnant to some people that they feel obliged to murder abortionists. One cannot be tolerant of abortionists and simultaneously tolerant of their murderers.

december I believe that you’re skewing the word tolerance to an absurd degree when you say

look at it this way “one cannot be tolerant of others and simulatneously be tolerant of those others committing criminal acts” Tolerant does not necessarily mean “gots to put up with/allow to happen w/o consequences” So, in your example, I find no problem w/ saying that I while I"m tolerant of others having yucky beliefs (after all, I’ve actually defended you in a thread or two ya know :wink: ), I am not required to tolerate poor behavior on anyone’s part, regardless of their ideology (therefore I’m allowed also to be intolerant of the tolerant person’s behavior should they behave poorly).

I disagree completely with the idea that tolerance entails intolerance of the intolerant. That’s not tolerance, that is equalitarianism. Equalitarianism entails intolerance of the intolerant.

It is even possible to be tolerant and racist. There isn’t anything contradictory about believing that white people are superior, but that we should be tolerant of black people. Practically, there are probably few people who are ignorant enough to believe that white people are superior to black people who aren’t intolerant of black people, but there is no contradiction.

The extreme of tolerance is to even tolerate violence. Many people aren’t tolerant enough to allow their family and friends to be murdered by psychopathic racists without intervening. But that would be what was most tolerant – that would be tolerance of psychopathic racists. Nowhere is it written that tolerance is universally good.

People fight for and protect what they love. To ask them to fight for something they don’t love, or to ask them to love, is futile and arrogant.

I am tolerant of the intolerant. And I’m more tolerant than anyone who isn’t, in that regard.

I’m tolerant of neo-nazis as they march peacefully, and I’m tolerant of the hoards of anti-neo-nazis that taunt them and degrade their parades. I believe having idealistically motivated parades, and ruinning parades are both tolerable. If you have a problem with that kind of behavior, then you are intolerant.

In fact, the marching neo-nazis are usually very tolerant of the people who are taunting them. Think about that.

A number of posters separated people from actions. You talked about racists who weren’t commiting racist acts, Nazis who weren’t murdering Jews and Gypsies, etc. Such people certainly exist.

OTOH there are racists who really murder Black people, Nazis who do burn synogoues, and Muslims who will attack gays. One can best retain a tolerant self-image if one downplays the ugly aspects of some of these groups. I think that’s politically correct. E.g. Kimstu

That’s an awfully understated way of saying that Muslims routinely kill all gays. Similarly, it’s true that: “Hamas is somewhat intolerant of Israel.” However, it would be more precise to say that Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction.

It seems to me that some “tolerant” Europeans are too tolerant of attacks against Jews. I suppose Fortuyn feared that his countrymen would be tolerant of attacks against gays by Arab immigrants. Such attacks were likely, since these immigratns come from a culture in which gay people are put to death.

Moving on to OP point #2, I invite you to read the cite, if you haven’t done so. It’s incredibly mean. It almost celebrates Fortuyn’s murder. Most other leftist articles weren’t so bad, but they all treated Fortuyn badly, especially since Fortuyn is nothing like the fascist they portrayed him as.

Normally, if an openly gay politician were assassinated, you’d expect liberal sob sisters to deify the victim, not demonize him. (We saw this sort of response in America when Matthew Shepard was murdered.) However, the “tolerant” left was quite intolerant of Furtuyn. Why?

One reason was his failure to belong to a standard leftist party. As a parallel, leftist Americans oppose Black Judge Clarence Thomas more than they oppose White Judge Scalia, although the two have similar views

A second reason was the Arab immgration issue. For some reason, tolerance of Arabs seems to be in vogue among the European left. We see a parallel situation here in America regarding Native Americans. They are treated like paragons. E.g., there is a movement to change the name of the Cleveland* Indians*, even though that name was chosen to honor a particular Native American.

I’m pretty tolerant of both groups, though that only means I won’t act in violent opposition to either demonstration. My sympathies are another matter entirely.

As for what I “think about that”, I think the neo-nazis are playing a deliberate passive-aggressive game in which they provoke a response and then pretend to be victims. It’s rather childish and obvious, actually. The irony, of course, is that if the neo-nazis ever got any real political power, tolerance pretty much goes out the window.

In the meantime, they should be tolerated but watched.

Blistering barnacles! For the blasted sake of all things that might be holy to someone, anyone and everyone December, not only is this inflammatory and insulting, but this is downright illogical!!! Even try to provide some kind of factual base for that statement.

You seem to think that Fortuyn was some little innocent lamb that was just afraid for his gay rights. Try again. He was by no means as despicable as the lowlife anti everything Le Pen is, but he was no angel. For a more thorough viewing of the creep and scumbag Fortuyn go to this recent and still simmering thread

Carefully worded, but you’re brushing close to it. Is this yet another of your statements of intolerance towards my fellow countrymen and me?

For your information as re attacks on Jews I see very little tolerance of anything like that in the general public. Which your twisted source of information is, I do not know. Fact is that European intolerance of anti-Semitism is in some states legislated, especially in things connected to trivializing the Holocaust we are very particular about curtailing even the slightest transgressions. Once again you seem to mixing up a certain support for Palestine in the conflict with Israel with anti-Semitism and the unacceptable violence of minority groups with general opinion. Intolerance including anti-Semitism is a problem in the World not just here, but that old chap is what we were trying to deal with here until you had to insert intolerant, half-baked, uninformed statements into your own thread, as was only to be expected.

As for the second part in re this OP I am completely lost and confused by the innateness of equating ‘Arab’, ‘European’ and ‘Left’ with tolerance of intolerance or vice versa.

As this goes on I am very soon, very soon indeed going to demand in another forum that you once and for all justify your blind belief of our eternal guilt and the spiteful statements you constantly drop against us. I only refrain because it is getting redundant to debate with you on these issues.

As re the OP in general, I fully agree with Polycarp and I display my point in this post. I flatter myself as being extremely tolerant, but when intolerance, bigotry and oppression shows its ugly snout I tolerate it not at all. That is not illogical, that is a consequence of tolerance as a moral standard. Passing of judgment on the value of others is as far as I am concerned an evil act. From that I must deduce that I have to tolerate my other’s views, values and ways AND that I cannot tolerate that they pass judgment on mine or anyone else’s.


I have read that homsexuality is a capital offense in a number of Muslim countries in the middle east. If I am wrong, please set me straight.

I skimmed through that thread. Clearly käse, the Dutch doper who should know best, was very opposed to Fortuyn. Still, I’m unclear about the specific items that you hold against Fortuyn. Could you please list them?

You have turned my argument upside down and used it against me. My statement was that Europeans tolerate attacks against Jews. That statement itself can then be viewed as a Jewish attack on Europeans!

I discussed this topic with Clairobscur from France on another thread. My conclusion (which she did not share) is that what the French consider* intolerance of attacks* would not be judged as such by Americans. Americans would look for more vigorous efforts and stronger speech against the perpetrators. YMMV.

I’m afraid you’re right. The writing was somewhat muddled, although I did make some effort to edit it.

Not at all, eh? Most of the world has tolerated oppression of Israelis by Palestinians. More than oppression – mass murder. Yet, the UN tolerates these massacres, in that they have not passed a resolution against them. Much of Europe (and Asia and Africa) have taken a position similar to the UN.

This is the paradox. Consider the group of people who pass judgment on others. You have just said these people commit evil acts, so you have passed judgment on them. (This sort of reasoning comes naturally to us mathematicians. I concede that it may make less sense to normal people.)

“homosexuality being a capital offense in some ‘muslim’ countries” does not equal “all muslims kill homosexuals”

That’s not what I said, wring. Newspaper reporters can get reprimanded or even fired for putting inaccurate paraphrases in quotation marks. I don’t know what the punishment is at SDMB.