October 25th, 2007

Bruce, Caroline

Intolerant Tolerance

I was talking to an acquaintance of mine some time ago. In the course
of the discussion, which got a little political, I mentioned that my
political views tend to be conservative in nature.

"You're not one of those, are you?" he said. "Conservatives are all a
bunch of ..." after which ensued a string of nouns and adjectives, many
of which I can't repeat here.

Another time politics came up in a different setting, I heard it
explained to me that with so many bleeding-heart liberals around, the
whole world is basically out to shut out the voice of conservatives.
This conversation took place too long ago for me to remember if there
were any associated nouns and adjectives, but I've no doubt there were..

So you have two groups of people out there, on either side of the
political spectrum, both crying foul. The biggest complaint on both
sides? The other side is too narrow-minded. Each side claims to be the
most tolerant, unlike those stupid jerks on the other side who never

And thus we enter into the age of what I call intolerant tolerance. The
word tolerance has come to mean something vastly different nowadays than
anything Webster might have told us it means. And few of us will admit
to adopting this new definition, but just about all of us, I would dare
to venture - yes, yours truly included - have abided by it at least
once. The new, "underground" definition of tolerance might run
something like this: "Tolerance is someone else avidly supporting my
view and admitting that their view is all wrong." In short, we want our
view (the correct one, of course) respected, while our view (being, as
it is, the right one) removes all responsibility on our part for
respecting an opposing view. It doesn't matter what our political bias,
this definition is all too often observed across the political spectrum.
Our need to be right blinds us to any possibility of seeing an opposing
viewpoint, and thus learning from that viewpoint.

Does this mean that all views are equally right? It does not. I like
the definition of tolerance our church pastor gave some weeks ago, which
ran something like this: Tolerance is respecting the right of those with
a different viewpoint to freely express that viewpoint, just as we
ourselves have the right to express ours. This acknowledges our right to
our opinions, it acknowledges the other person's right to theirs, it
insures that both are respected, and it doesn't make one opinion
bombasticly "righter" than the other.

Often, I think, we use intolerance as a way to vent. I'm poor. The
owners of corperations aren't directly helping me personally, so they're
evil, the lot of them. Or, I hate paying taxes. That guy over there is
benefiting from the money I earned, therefore all welfare recipients are
freeloaders. Of course these are unfair generalities. There are very
big-hearted conservatives and small-hearted liberals out there, and the
reverse is also true. People are people.But, liberal or conservative, we
all need someone to blame. I despise the propaganda that I keep getting
from people on both sides of the political spectrum proclaiming how evil
the other side is. It gets old fast, and it does not serve to endear me
to either point of view.