Commentary: Tolerance and Intolerance: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

What is tolerance and is it always a good thing? It helps to understand various aspects of this concept.

Basic Definition. Tolerance is demonstrated by an ability and willingness to accept and respect different people, ideas, and practices. Tolerance promotes non-judgmental, open-minded, patient, permissive live and let live attitudes toward diverse people, ideas and practices. It is an essential virtue in a democratic society. Tolerance, an antonym of intolerance, bigotry, narrow-mindedness and prejudice and it requires respectful acceptance of racial, ethnic and physical characteristics; unpopular, unorthodox or offensive beliefs, opinions and practices, especially those that tend to evoke hatred, prejudice, disdain, contempt, or passionate disagreement.

Passive and Active Tolerance. Tolerance and intolerance can be passive or active. Passive tolerance and intolerance refers to privately held attitudes that are not reflected in words or actions. Active intolerance is demonstrated by words or acts of opposition, derision, prejudice or persecution while active tolerance embodies words or action of acceptance, support or appreciation.

Continuum of Tolerance: Tolerant attitudes embrace a range of five attitudes: 1) indifferent acknowledgement, 2) grudging endurance despite discomfort or disagreement, 3) whole-hearted acceptance, 4) empathetic understanding, 5) respect and appreciation.

Judgmentalness refers to people who offer uninvited, hypercritical, disapproving, disparaging and even condemnatory judgments about the way another person thinks, lives or acts. It is a sibling of intolerance and a form of disrespect.

Limitations on Tolerance. Unlimited, undiscerning tolerance ceases to be a social virtue when it accepts, allows, condones or supports or enables attitudes and actions that should be intolerable in a just and humane democratic society.

We may not always agree on who is or is not a bigot,
but we should agree to oppose bigotry in all its forms. This is not a partisan issue.
Tolerance of intolerance is a self-destructive mindset.

Intolerance of Intolerance. Paradoxically, a tolerant society requires intolerance of bigotry, prejudice and croup-related hatred. While there is some controversy as the outer limits of what is intolerable, a tolerant society must discourage, repress or prevent certain groups and individuals who preach or practice extreme levels of intolerance including conduct that is inhumane, injurious, disrespectful of the dignity of others, or otherwise socially malevolent. For example, most people would view bigotry and any form of persecution, abuse of children, lynchings and other forms of vigilante justice, murders, rapes, torture and other such conduct as intolerable.

Controversy: Civility vs. Political Correctness. Just as some fear that tolerance can go too far, there are those who believe the limitations on tolerance are intolerable. Advocates of tolerance seek to reduce or eliminate words, attitudes and actions that exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. The pejorative use of the term “political correctness” refers extreme or excessive efforts to suppress of condemn generalizations and characterizations that, though negative, are nevertheless true.

Comments 1

  1. I have gotten your news letter for some time. I occasionally check them out, because your theme, … perhaps it is “goodness”, is something I have some investment in. I have been busy, but your email caught my eye and I wondered how or if you were addressing current events. It seems these days that I am too often reduced to an emphatic “for goodness sake”.
    This particular essay caught my eye, because it was not just a moral or reasoned call for tolerance, but seemed to recognize that a tolerant society should not tolerate intolerance. I wondered how you handled that. Not strongly it seems, but you conclude with mention of “political correctness”, a calling out that a society risks a reflex condemnation of an intolerance that is actually quite warranted. Some have claimed that predatory sex with minors should be tolerated… because they like that. A society though must not tolerate some things, but what and how is that decided? Some things like pedophilia are easy enough for our moral instincts to recognize as a bad thing, Some things such as racism or infidelity, we judge as bad based on a moral knowledge from history that is husbanded by moral advocates of society such as religions, social organizations or even … the Josephson Foundation.
    We live in a scary time of many clear moral dangers and also dangers that are not so clear. It can be hard to know what to tolerate and what not to and why. That “why” is critical. Morality is how we judge good and bad. Moral instinct are important, but inadequate for knowing if many things are good or bad. Moral systems are better, but they often do not provide answers to current events and happenings. That is why the term “political correctness” even exists. Without that moral knowledge that can provide a moral certainty, we are morally weak. It is hard for us to use our greatest strength, our moral commitment. and now is when we most need it. We know there is great good and great bad, but we don’t necessarily have a clarity of which is which. That is the way it works though. We still must make a choice and morally commit to it. That is how it has always been.
    I work to develop an updated understanding of moral knowledge. In a simpler time, we could usually get by using what our parents taught us that they had learned from their parents and tested through their lives. It’s not that way now in a complicated world that is undergoing huge changes. We need a more sophisticated moral knowledge that is not just based on what has worked in the past, but a moral system based on reason and understanding that can be evaluated in any current situation. In this world, we need all the strength that moral clarity might offer us. I’ve put decades into creating that system and I’ve had to learn a lot. I’ve published a few books on it and recently was able to publish the first of what I hope to be two books that can describe how to far better understand the moral implications of the events of the world as it develops. The topics include just about everything, because just about everything has changed from family to politics to genetics to automation … and all the rest. I am confident I have succeeded in the first of the two books, Genetics For A New Human Ecology, because it is short. We’ll see about the second book, Strategy For A New Human Ecology.
    If I succeed, I will offer a far better way to know and understand good and bad in moral terms so as to provide a moral strength that will be necessary for humanity to face the future and thrive. Then we will know what to tolerate and what not to.

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