Untitled #9 (perhaps lazy painters are on to something)

Tolerance is a very over-rated value, and the way in which it is bandied about in our society is very stupid. Make no mistake, one of the aphorisms I live by is J.M. Coetzee’s (fictionalized) declaration that “I have beliefs, but I don’t believe in them.” Which is to say, I believe that most of the beliefs I find most valid are simply those which have not thoroughly been discredited yet. But I can no more cease to hold them or act on them in the absence of a better alternative than can scientists in the possession of a deficient paradigm. What I can’t stand are those that rail, for example, of “activist judges” trying to imposing their values on the administration of justice, or how the religious should essentially refrain from imposing their views on others, which is to say acting on their beliefs, or even Edward Gibbon’s scornful remark of the Byzantine emperors that “it was held to be the duty of a prince, to impose on his subjects the dictates of his own conscience.” He is talking, of course, about the enforcement of religious orthodoxy, but somehow I don’t believe he would have such a baleful view of imposing the “dictates of [own’s] own conscience” if that concerns the equitable administration of justice or the fostering of peace and trade. In other words, it is the values themselves, not the commitment to them, that provokes animosity.

This value-neutrality is ultimately as paralyzing and impossible as the objectivity by which journalists try to scourge themselves (or don’t, but never honestly). But the irony, obviously, is that this is itself a value, and the resulting confusion creates such absurdities as the assassin of Gandhi, who believed that Muslims could not and should not be permitted to exist in a tolerant society. I don’t believe that anyone’s conscience is flexible enough to be truly tolerant of that which they believe to be wrong, nor do I believe that it would be very admirable even if they could. Is not lack of opposition to that which is wrong a form of complicity in wrong-doing? Yes, I think people of different religions should tolerate each other, and yes, I believe that scripture should be kept out of our judicial law, but that is because I don’t have any religious views myself. But I cannot go along with this duplicity of sanctioning people’s religious beliefs and then condemning them for acting upon them.

I understand the appeal and the theoretical value of this sort of attempt to transcend specific values and inculcate some sort of reciprocal universal tolerance, but to be honest I find the idea of some sort of value-neutral intellectual space to be chimerical and preposterous, and the fact that so many people seem to believe in it probably indicates how cocooned our intellectual life is. Do you think the raft of tolerance is big enough for the members of al-Qaida? Sadly, some do, but their version of tolerance is pretty much the appeasement of the strong by the feeble. I would say any issue on which mutual tolerance among the proponents of the various sides is regarded by someone as the most important thing is probably an issue on which that person simply does not care enough to have a positive or negative opinion, or one in which none of the pertinent opinions seem adequate or right. Religion is somewhere between the two for me, so I am all for tolerance in that area, but I would never accuse myself of some sort of universal and indiscriminate tolerance for all that is both right and wrong. You won’t see me calling terrorists victims of intolerance, let’s put it that way, in fact quite the opposite.

3 Responses to “Untitled #9 (perhaps lazy painters are on to something)”

  1. Dave Says:

    Curt: “In other words, it is the values themselves, not the commitment to them, which provokes animosity.?– “. I would say any issue on which mutual tolerance among the proponents of the various sides is regarded by someone as the most important thing is probably an issue on which that person simply does not care enough to have a positive or negative opinion,- ? Or maybe wise people hold back to a certain extent because they know the bloody history of those societies that practice intolerance. Beside the determination of the proper values is not always intuitive. Due to increased diversity you never know what may happen next. Don’t worry though, Society is now being reeducated so that everyone can be treated fairly and equally. What if I was intolerant of people who wear red suspenders? You would think I was a nut. What if I showed disgust and repugnance toward people who boiled live puppies and ate them? Boiling puppies does not seem normative (not a valid argument nowadays), while red suspenders seem acceptable.

    But, what if the religion of a non-American minority says that only the elect people of God should wear red suspenders? How dare you wear them in public? And God has commanded that puppies should be sacrificed and eaten to glorify Him. But it is all right to burn the American flag because that is part of your right to free expression. However if you are a professor or student at the local college don’t wear red suspenders to class because you might offend a minority person. Also the dietary practices of all cultures should be accommodated at the campus lunchroom.

  2. Curt Says:

    Or maybe wise people hold back to a certain extent because they know the bloody history of those societies that practice intolerance.

    As indeed they should. My point is that that is itself a value–the value of moderation–and behaving in such a way is a form of acting upon one’s values. And once again, even by the most moderate person, I imagine that “holding back” is not looked upon favorably if that means not intervening to stop that which one definitely believes to be wrong. Sure, it’s best to be tolerant of other people’s religious practices–if they don’t harm anyone else. But if they involve beating their wives or honor killings, is “tolerance” such a wonderful thing?

  3. Dave Says:

    I agree that we do need standards. Simple ones with no excuses. Even the bouncers on the Jerry Springer Show have standards and enforce them. ( I am sure that neither you or I watch the show, but if you channel surf at all you will soon see them in action.)

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