Monday, 24 August 2015

Two Views of Tolerance

"Two Views of Tolerance
Under the traditional view of tolerance, two aspects were required: first, that you respected the right of the person or individual in question to hold his beliefs and voice his opinions; and second, that you had a right to disagree with those beliefs and contest them both privately and publicly. As D.A. Carson paraphrases it in The Intolerance of Tolerance, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” You do not have to like the person with whom you disagree, but you do have to respect and tolerate his right to speak.
This conception entails tolerance toward the person while allowing intolerance toward beliefs. Since beliefs are abstract objects communicated through propositions in written or spoken language, they have no inherent dignity in themselves. It does them no harm or offense to disagree with them or offer a rebuttal. Disagreeing with or being intolerant of a belief, in this view, is fundamentally different from being intolerant or hateful toward the person who holds that belief. In other words, this definition is built on a clear and obvious distinction between a person and his beliefs.
The traditional understanding of tolerance reflects a certain epistemology: namely, that there is such a thing as truth, it can be known, and the best way to discover the truth is through debate, reflection, and investigation. The pursuit of truth requires mutual cooperation, serious consideration of opposing beliefs, and persuasion through the use of reason. Coercion, exclusion, slander, and threats of force have no place in the search for truth.
Over the course of the last century, however, the old view of tolerance has been slowly transformed. The emergent new tolerance holds that persons who are truly tolerant accept the views of others and treat these individuals fairly. The key distinction is that under the old tolerance, one would accept the existence of other views even while rejecting some views as false; but under the new tolerance, one accepts these other views. In other words, all views are seen as equally valid and true.
The new tolerance rejects “dogmatism and absolutism,” affirms that each person has the right to live by his convictions, and eschews imposing one’s views upon others. Yet underlying this view of tolerance is a fundamental contradiction. Is not this concept of tolerance being imposed on all peoples and cultures, in direct violation of one of its own tenets? And as Carson points out, “does not the assertion, ‘Tolerance . . . involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism’ sound a little, well . . . dogmatic and absolute?"
Therefore, despite its appeal and aplomb, the new tolerance is both intolerant and internally incoherent."
From an article by Ben Crenshaw.  Read it all here.
Note on the illustration -  Non-American blog readers may be puzzled by the illustration. This internet meme - which adapts a scene from the wonderful 1980s film The Princess Bride - refers to several American city councils banning the establishment of restaurants of the Chick-Fil-A chain because the chain's owners have taken a public stance against same sex marriage on religious grounds. 


Recovering Lutheran said...

Crenshaw's article is interesting, but I think he is wrong when he says that the new tolerance takes the position that all viewpoints are equally valid and true. Quite the opposite has taken place: any deviation from the liberal-secular worldview (no matter how small) is seen as heresy. Dissenters are not merely wrong, they are Enemies of the People who must be brutally punished rather than reasoned with. The new tolerance is actually a totalitarian demand for absolute fealty to the liberal-secular worldview.

What I find interesting is that there is sometimes vicious disagreement on what that worldview should be. Example: recently in the US there have been a spate of stories about some white people who have been posing as black. The liberal-secular worldview, which overwelmingly dominates the media and academia in the US, seems to be divided into two distinct camps. On one side are those who believe that race is a purely social construction, and that anyone can identify with any race. On the other are those who are equally convinced that race is fixed and immutable. Each side is utterly convinced that it alone is right and the other is not only wrong but Hitler reincarnated.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks for the comment, R.L..

I agree with you that the new tolerance can actually be intolerant of of dissent at all, e.g. the movement for same sex marriage. That is an issue which has been raised here by the Human Rights Commissioner for Free Speech, Tim Wilson, who, while he personally supports same sex marriage, has publicly warned that proposed legislation does not guarantee the rights of dissenters, particularly religious groups, to publicly dissent. He is reminding the public that freedom of speech means freedom to do that without fear of retribution from the state. In that sense, he is saying that a socially liberal movement actually contains within it the seeds of a very illiberal regime. In the city in which I live a high profile medical practitioner who has spoken publicly about the effects of same sex marriage on children has been reported to state authorities who monitor discriminatory speech, vilified on social media and had his practice vandalised. This sort of behaviour is a form of Fascism or terrorism with the intent to silence dissent. The post-Christendom democracies have some big challenges on their plates at present!