The Paradox of Tolerance: should intolerance be tolerated?

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“Boingboing : a directory for people with weird sensibilities” :smiley:


Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Don’t want to get into it now.

ETA - Quick clarification - I can tolerate someone’s intolerant opinions, but if those become intolerant ACTIONS, then no.


yes of course intolerance should be tolerated, but only when directed towards the intolerant.


What many fail to do is really think about what they mean by tolerance/intolerance, and as a consequence it can function as a sort of cognitive denial. You don’t have to tolerate that which exists, you need to acknowledge that it exists. That isn’t complicity, it is reality. So what is needed is some discipline to make the distinction between the world as it is, and as you think it should ideally be.

When it comes to people or ideologies which cause problems, I find that people don’t really think through their aversions and the consequences. Avoiding something, pushing it to some margins doesn’t cause it to cease to exist, so you are still tolerating its existence somehow. What it ultimately implies is violent, but it’s covert, so people don’t think of themselves as being nasty. Not unlike how most people will eat a cow, but are not willing to kill it themselves. As a result, the attitude fosters misanthropic institutions to embody people’s violent impulses.

It is far more constructive to discuss what to actually do about problems, and tolerance/intolerance are merely attitudes, ideological postures which do not do anything.


There’s a lengthy thread about this right here on BBS


No, tolerance is only possible when two parties despite disagreements respect the right to exist among each other. Meaning, no Nazis, no fascists, no KKK, etc.


“My tolerance for your claims ends at their intolerance of my existence.”

(Surely someone has pretty much already said that.)


“Tolerated” in the sense of allowing someone to present their deplorable advocacy of intolerance? Sure, if the owner of the outlet or platform is so inclined. Allowing fascists and bigots to self-identify can serve a useful purpose.

“Tolerated” in the sense of allowing such deplorable speech to go unanswered and unchallenged? Never.


Two things. First:

This line of thinking is way too abstract and disconnected from the real world. When you say, “If we do A to B, then it will be easier to do A to C” that sounds like it makes sense. But when you say, “If we shoot at the invading army, we might one day be shot at” it’s pretty obvious that it doesn’t actually make sense. You need to be able to use history, psychology, sociology, evidence to show that one thing actually leads to the other.

A person who is choosing whether guns ought to exist at all might say, “It’s not worth it, sure we can shoot bad people but good people will get shot too.” But the guns exist. The Nazis are going to use every single weapon against the anti-Nazis, regardless of whether the anti-Nazis choose to use the same weapons back.

Censorship will likely be turned on groups we agree with in the future no matter what. You have to make a real-world argument that one action makes it more or less likely, not just appeal to it as a boogeyman.

Which countries are doing the best at allowing the speech of anti-racist groups? Why not emulate their approach?


This is proving exactly what I said above. Choosing not to censor the Nazis is giving them the power to censor other groups. Censoring is exactly what they do. They complain about their own free speech while launching campaigns to silence the voices of those who oppose them (see George Ciccariello-Maher).

The problem here isn’t that censorship always goes awry. The problem is that Facebook is an uncaring, shitty organization that doesn’t give two fucks whether Nazis are using it’s platform to attack black children.

What we need is a recalibration of our values away from abstract values like free speech and towards concrete values like health and well being of people. Screw tolerance, how about compassion. You aren’t even being compassionate to the Nazis by letting the march in the street.


There are lots of issues like this. For example, can we vote in a government that wants to suspend voting rights and rule forever? That would violate our basic democracy. So allowing “full democracy” goes against the tenets of democracy.

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Speaker here. Just a quick note that I’m happy to come give this talk at your tech company, in person or remotely.


Diversity and/or society isn’t a negotiation of how everyone else capitulates to your values and ethos.

I disagree with your first example, we have ample historical evidence that the escalation will be met with escalation, both in the literal warfare example you make, and in social spheres. The Trump presidency is basically what happened when a larger group adopted the [thoroughly ill-advised] identity politics based strategies that burbled out of the left a decade ago.

I’m with Cory on interpreting the second block quote - the situation is exactly that we built a censorship infrastructure, and the Nazis are using at against the people we pretended were being protected, so maybe we should think twice before doing that. I put “Don’t build things you won’t be OK if are used against you and yours” as basically the single most important political idea, if only because it helps blunt out our tribal impulses.

Your closing assertion about which kinds of rights matter just says you have selected your first-class and second-class principles. So have your opponents. Any ‘solution’ that refuses to regard each other’s bases and motivations as legitimate is either kicking the can or a power play.


Pap indeed. As Samantha BEE so aptly puts it, “Identity politics is the dismissive term for what we used to call ‘civil rights’ and ‘equality.’"

Just because what amounts to the largely white left has learned to listen better to the disenfranchised doesn’t mean it’s been wrong for them to do so. So fighting for equality inspired a reactionary backlash; those come in waves, but they’re still (identity politics based, ironically enough) backlash.


AS a librarian, this is a very tricky subject. We had some rousing arguments about it in library school. Librarians are supposed to provide access to multiple opinions, but it gets difficult if you have to put Holocaust denier books right next to Anne Frank, or books on the latest fad diet next to the PDR. All we can do is try to judge value on a case by case basis, and try to stick to facts.


I’m not talking about ‘reactionary backlash.’

I’m talking about the wholesale adoption of identity-based strategies for defining social and political in-groups. We should be very careful about legitimizing identity as a lens, much less the lens, through which we view society, because once it’s the accepted model, we don’t get to pick who plays. It might be nice solidarity for minority groups, but it’s horrifying identitarianism when larger groups start to operate that way.

More or less the argument Mark Lillia has been throwing down in editorials and books for the last few years, and Jodi Dean wrote a book about in the mid 90s.


“Tolerance of Intolerance” is absolutely the weakest way to frame this struggle. It’s the place where opposing sides both try for the positive-sounding label, where Anti-choice struggles with anti-life to make the other look bad… And the net effect is a false equivalency.

So much of this would just go away, if there was a wide consensus that victim hood does not ennoble anyone. You can legitimately complain of human rights abuses against Jews, without excusing human rights abuses of Palestinians. You can draw attention to redlining in black neighborhoods, without forgetting the genocide that created title deeds for the land in the first place.

We are taught that we shouldn’t be judgemental against other human beings without cause, while still using our best judgment to stay safe. Where speech is concerned, that generally means decoding the dogwhistle politics, and not letting those people weasel out of responsibility for what they actually mean.


There was a good piece in Quilette “Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell us About Victimhood Culture” about the problem of fetishized victim-hood a week or so ago.


Inhumane, antisocial behavior which intrinsically marginalizes, denigrates, exploits and/or subjugates other people should not be ‘tolerated.’


Variant: “Your right to swing your fist indiscriminately ends at my nose.”