Here are two statements that are quite different from each other:
Tolerance is not a virtue.
Intolerance is a virtue.
This week, I found myself having to defend against the proposition that the first is equal to the second. It was bizarre, because I wasn’t arguing for or against the validity of either statement, which would have been a far more interesting discussion. Instead, I was forced to clarify that when I said “tolerance is not a virtue,” it was not an underhanded way of saying that “intolerance is a virtue.” The two statements are not at all the same.
Neither tolerance nor intolerance is prima facie virtuous, but the main reason that “tolerance is not a virtue” is not an equivalent claim to “intolerance is a virtue” is because of what tolerance is instead of being a virtue: a baseline expectation to be extended to fellow human beings. Tolerance is patronizing and reminiscent of a parent-child relationship (I’m right, you’re wrong). Tolerance is what you enact when you can’t find it in yourself to accept. Don’t kid yourself — tolerance is as much about exclusion as it is about inclusion.
I tolerate the Westboro Baptist Church because I believe in the Bill of Rights. I deserve neither a cookie nor a gold star, because I don’t believe in the Bill of Rights on the behalf of hate groups. I just accept that the Westboro Baptist Church is a gross side effect of the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. In a free country, there are going to be hate groups, and that’s unfortunate.
Intolerance is not a baseline expectation. Intolerance is a result of either of two forces: training (no one is born full of hate), or encountering what should not be tolerated (usually in the form of hatred or violence, but never in the form of a human being).
If you would like to be intolerant, here are five things you can try being intolerant of. In no particular order:
- Child abuse
- Intimate partner violence
- Rape (all)
- Police brutality
- The anti-vaccination movement (which imperils everyone’s health)
I can think of more — a LOT more — but these are the easiest to defend. (Murder didn’t make the cut because, in a society where George Zimmerman, according to the legal process, did not murder Trayvon Martin, the word has no meaning.)
So, to sum up: If you’re tolerating me, don’t do me any favors. If you’re intolerant of any violation of the inherent worth and dignity of every living creature, good for you.