Tolerance or submissiveness?

I often think that human society would be founded on much better, or at least more realistic, principles if everyone repeated to themselves upon waking up in the morning that we’re all in the end a bunch of (relatively) hairless monkeys whose ethical and even cognitive distinction from our simian forebears is much amplified (some might say exaggerated) by our ability to communicate extensively with each other. Of course that truth would have to be tempered by the realization that being a hairless ape doesn’t absolve one of all responsibilities to other hairless apes, or even to beings that aren’t hairless apes, but no even moderately truthful view of the world could be predicated upon a denial of that basic fact. Why bring this up now? For one thing, our society is starting to understand that tolerance necessarily has its limits. This has no doubt been a vague intuition all along, but it would have been clear from the beginning had anyone stopped to consider the matter in evolutionary terms, namely that unlimited tolerance does not represent what is somewhat grandiosely called an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, i.e. it can’t last. If we define tolerance as intentional passivity with regard to the activities of others, total tolerance of others would presumably involve allowing them to take one’s food, mates, etc. Assuming there to be at least a few opportunists in such a society, they would quickly begin to take over. Of course, being totally intolerant and hostile toward one’s neighbors would not work any better, because those who cooperate can combine their efforts to accomplish a lot more. Think of an army against one man. So of course an equilibrium would have to fall somewhere in the middle, some sort of system where opportunists are successful but provide enough prosperity to everyone else as not to provoke them, like for instance the developed world. One should not entirely blur the distinction between a normative ideal and practical considerations as to whether it can be reached and sustained, but in my opinion tolerance isn’t even a normative ideal, it’s more like a concession to other peoples’. As I’ve said before, tolerance of wrongs is a pretty shady practice, morally justifiable only if the attempt to stop them makes things worse (such as, arguably, Iraq right now). The value of toleration can only be assessed according to a pre-existing set of norms and values. So tolerance as an ethical concept seems contradictory to some extent. Acting decently demands more than just putting up with things, it also requires standing up for something.

2 Responses to “Tolerance or submissiveness?”

  1. helen Says:

    Yes, tolerance is a good topic, you seem enjoying thinking some topics which maybe never can be explained perfectly. Sometimes, I am also trapped in some pretty complicated questions, which often make me puzzled or confused for a long time. At that time, I find why it is necessary for world to have religion. The people who have religion also can accept some truth which is defined in a certain way naturally. But for people who do not believe in religion, the truth is questionable. In ancient time of China , there is a group of people called recluse or hermit ( yin shi ) , they also have thought about this kind of topics , when they see anything through or they find they can never explain them perfectly , they choose to live alone and avoid to communicate with others in some secluded places , such as forests or mountains . This is what I want to do, but it seems impossible to find that kind of place, so I must face the world which sometimes is really annoying to me. So I tell myself: move on, that is the life, no matter you like or not, it still goes on. Since high school, I learned to change myself for the life, and then, I find it is also for me. Tolerance is a very important principle I have learned. A formed me is a person who is very caustic, who can never give tolerance to anyone. Then I find that way I can not live in a senior world, where people pretend and decorate themselves very perfectly .They are described as generous , nice and tolerant .Just Like people must wear clothes, who knows the truth in their heart. But I still believe some motto in Buddhism, like “ xiao bu ren ze luo da mou “ ( Anger and haste hinder good counsel ) “ bai ren cheng jin “ . If I can do that, I am the kind of person who are called water . There are two kinds people in the world , one is called water , another is called container . The latter just can contain water , and keep it self forever . But the formed can change himself whatever kinds of containers . That is the highest level of tolerance , in my opinion .

  2. Dave Says:

    Helen, It is good to hear a persons who is unencumbered by American convention saying what is in her mind. It is hard to get to the abstract, which can best be done by the individual. When it is done by a group of people it is altered. Yet a human is not an island. Since no one can enter another’s brain, we communicate difficult thoughts by using metaphors. Who is to be sure that each person understands the metaphors in the same way? Opposites such as water and container are interesting concepts which I have not thought of. The thing that comes to mind when thinking of this is that all extremes lead to problems. If water does not form itself eventually it will evaporate. If a container remains static it will be buried. The optimum is somewhere in the middle and living persons have no escape from decision making. A pet dog or cat is helpful.

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