We live in a day when tolerance is held up as a universal ideal. The proponents of tolerance seem to mean that we should accept all viewpoints, which will somehow ultimately result in the greater good for everyone.
We should of course show all people decency and respect, which will indeed result in the common good. And we shouldn’t squelch those with which we disagree for no other reason than we disagree. So if tolerance means we should speak when it’s our turn, not call each other names, and be patient when someone says something that makes us angry, instead of taking all the toys and going home, then I’m all for tolerance.
However, the modern tolerance movement seems to imply two other aspects which are not good ideas. First, they seem to only be tolerant of things in which they agree, and not tolerant of things which they do not. This is not all bad. For should we tolerate racism? Should we tolerate those who advocate clubbing little baby seals to death? Should we tolerate the restaurants in China that skin cats alive (no anethesia, my dear) and serve them for dinner? We don’t seem to be overly tolerant of those who are from the KKK, or those who want to rid ourselves of those laws on child labor or animal cruelty. And rightly so. I don’t know about you, but I’m all for not tolerating those who disagree with me on whether innocent life should be protected or mass murder allowed.
But the tolerance crowd tend to not tolerate those of us conservatives who advocate conservative causes. They don’t seem to be too eager to tolerate conservative religious ideas with which they disagree. So in this regard, the tolerance advocates are not very tolerant.
But the second issue with this modern tolerance movement is the most perplexing. For in the name of tolerance they seem to be saying that all positions are equally true, even those that deny each other. They’re not just tolerating other ideas so that we’re respectful to the other person, or even due to some sense of the greater good of us all. Instead, they’re saying that conflicting ideas are equally true. If two people hold opposite viewpoints, we seem to be asked to believe that they are both accurate descriptions of reality, of how things are. It seems to be equally true that a particular social program is good, and not good at the same time and in the same sense. Person A can have their own truth, and Person B can have an opposite version of truth, and even though they flatly contradict each other, they’re both equally true at the same time and in the same sense. Except for those silly people on the religious right, who we’re told are always wrong for no other reason than the viewpoint they hold.
In Allan Bloom’s book Closing of the American Mind he describes a different situation where, when he points out these contradictions to his college students, all he got was blank stares. I say this is at least a beginning, for if we can get people to the point of a blank stare, then we may get some of them to think the issues through, rather than just calling us names and demanding that we leave the playground.