It’s all the rage these days… tolerance, but every time I hear mantra for its ethical advocacy, the tune has an odd harmony. There are many visions a society can be proud of that allow for an uncompromised future of superior value; however its contemporary definition does just the opposite.
Wikipedia, a common place of reference, describes tolerance as such: In general usage, tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose beliefs or personal characteristics (race, religion, nationality, etc.), differ from one’s own.
The above reference reveals a quest for American society to, through the use of “tolerance,” gain a disposition of self-sufficiency or individual independence. In the American mind, becoming an open and free society suggests we be egalitarian of all people’s individuality and all ideas, making tolerance the projected value for constructing such a society. This contemporary definition differs from the traditional definition which says that all people are equal but all ideas are not.
There is some partial agreement with the above definition; there is no need for racism, therefore rejecting no one because of their race or nationality; but there is a contradiction in the above reference that makes it a self-refuting proposition. Can I be egalitarian to all ideas, accepting them as having all equal value? Take for example the following statement; “all ideas are equal and one is not better than the other”. Is that quote equal to “all ideas are not equal and one is better than the other”? It is obvious, that the “tolerant” quote, the first one, believes itself better than at least one idea… that all ideas are not equal. The very idea or proposition, that tolerance means an equality of ideas is intolerant because it places itself in authority above all other ideas.
It is only tolerant to reveal another contradiction of a categorical nature. Contemporary tolerance is expressing a categorical right that tolerance (equal ideas) is a moral obligation and intolerance (unequal ideas) is inhumane. The very notion of being tolerant presupposes there is a moral standard to be tolerant of; so tolerance then cannot be that moral standard itself. To be your own moral standard would sound like, “it is morally wrong to say that something is morally wrong.” It is self defeating.
We must also remember that we do not tolerate good we only tolerate some harms to prevent greater harms. A patient will tolerate the extraction of a tooth to prevent an even greater pain or suffering. A society will tolerate bad logic to maintain a bad political correctness… all ideas are equal. This last example reveals once more that tolerance is not a moral compass. Tolerance does appear to have social value but morality depicts that value for a society.
The above Wikipedia reference uses such language as fair, objective and permissive attitude.
I think I know what it is to be fair; yet accepting tolerance as all ideas being equal, allows the false to overlook the true, the unjust to infringe on the just, and the irrational to impede the rational. This does not allow fairness to evolve but rather promote an intolerant society infringing on human equality.
Objectiveness can only be reached if a society is willing to allow the vetting of ideas. The very existence of this form of tolerance is a rejection of objective, absolute, and exclusive claims, only trying to perform this task as an objective, absolute, exclusive claim. Also intolerant!
The question; “can tolerance, as equality of ideas, honestly be performed in reality?” Can one except that murder is both right and wrong, or stealing is both acceptable and unacceptable? This form of logic, the “both and” method of perception, fails to provide society with rational that produces a permissible attitude. Two contradictory ideas cannot both be true and be expected to provide clarity for the individuals in that society to perform from.
Peter Kreeft², Philosopher at Boston College defines tolerance as being egalitarian to people but elitist to ideas. It becomes impossible, with today’s popular definition, to create a flourishing society with truly advancing ideas, if all are equal. Ideas are highly contagious and can act as either as an antidote or a virus to ones reality. One idea can build an empire or bring an empire down. Truth is the only harmony that can keep reality coherent and allow ideas to flourish.
Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College – The Snakebite Letters: Devilishly Devious Secrets for Subverting Society as Taught in Tempter’s Training School (Ignatius Press, 1993)