Defending Diction: Virtuous Intolerance

In terms of general interest, politics is likely the most wildly discussed and publicly debated branch of philosophy in modern times. This should be unsurprising to most – it is the branch which, at least to those with low levels of philosophic consciousness, affects one’s life most visibly on a day-to-day basis. Even so, politics is the resulting product of a lengthy chain of philosophic premises and subsequent conclusions which most fail to recognize, making it perhaps the most commonly misunderstood branch of philosophy as well. As such, it opens the door for philosophic degenerates – for nihilists and various breeds of altruists – to manipulate and misrepresent the philosophical prerequisites necessary for political discussion without contest so as to convince their audience of a desired conclusion. This commonly occurs in the realm of morality, the philosophic branch dealing with man’s proper values and course of action he should take in order to achieve them.

Oftentimes, philosophic manipulators will commit the fallacy of equivocation – of using a word with two or more senses or meanings in a misleading manner. As Ayn Rand once said, “All philosophic con games count on your using words as vague approximations.” When applied to man’s values, equivocations are employed to convince the audience of the value of one sense of a word and then assign that same value to a secondary sense. As a consequence, words such as equality, peace, and tolerance are overtly abused in manners which deceive less circumspect individuals into accepting manifestly false political conclusions. The focus of this essay is the latter example.

Tolerance is “the ability or willingness to bear or endure entities, traits, practices, behaviors, or occurrences which conflict with one’s values.” Despite its frequent use as a synonym with words such as acceptance, agreement, and assent, the conceptual meaning of tolerance bears no relation to these words – one would not have to tolerate that which one agrees with in the first place. Coming from the Latin verb tolerō meaning “I bear” or “I endure,” the concept of tolerance inherently denotes enduring something contrary to one’s values, not in accordance with them.

As is the case with those who attempt to use emotions as logical primaries, those who argue for universal tolerance across all issues make no effort to distinguish rational values from irrational values. If no distinction is made between rational and irrational values, then there is no possible standard from which one could note the differences between rational and irrational forms of tolerance. Whether by intentional design or by a hierarchical reversal in the philosophic branches of politics and morality, this is the conclusion which the prophets of tolerance hope to draw: the application of universal tolerance to even the vilest of political philosophies.

The fallacy often begins by exemplifying the value of rational tolerance in areas such race, gender, and sexual orientation, though the fact that one would have to tolerate these things at all rather than merely accept them demonstrates almost certain irrationality from the outset. However, the arguer need not even specify these types of rational tolerance by name – the simple question, “Is it good to be tolerant?” almost invariably draws these examples to the forefront of one’s consciousness, tempting one to simply respond, “Yes.” Though the question is loaded, for in accepting tolerance as an inherently good thing, as is the explicit point of the question, one necessarily accepts the implicit point: that tolerating abhorrent political philosophies shares an equal level of goodness.

In reality, this assertion is dangerous to the preservation and improvement of man’s life, and it is psychologically unhealthy. As universal tolerance applies to man’s psychological well-being, it encourages man to suppress or reject emotions which he ought to express in situations in which he is confronted with the antithesis of his own values – indeed, with those calling for his very destruction. On what grounds can man be asked to endure or treat respectfully those doctrines which would seek to deny him his property, his liberty, and his life, let alone the enactment of those doctrines? For a man rational enough to value his own life and the corollary rights attached to it, being asked to passively bear such an assault on those values is indubitably unbearable. As often occurs in modern society, man is intellectually bred to act in a way contrary to the dictates of reality, here meaning the repression of rational intolerance in favor of irrational tolerance. Such can only lead to inner turmoil as a rational man consciously does that which he knows is self-destructive and a lie.

The physical danger it poses is equally harmful as man is asked to withhold the full level of criticism which certain political philosophies deserve. The doctrine of universal tolerance commands silence from the rational and the just at the times in which they should be at their loudest, and it altruistically demands the respect for those who deserve none. Almost without exception, universal tolerance becomes increasingly harmful as it is allowed to persist. Those who proclaim the nonexistent virtue of this principle often treat even the meekest objection as an example of intolerance and reject it. Case and point, even the great economist Milton Friedman was deceived by this doctrine, asserting that an argument between Ayn Rand and Ludwig Von Mises demonstrated that the elementary flaw in modern society is the lack of tolerance, not the noticeable lack of a rational intellectual base in American culture.

At its core, the doctrine of universal tolerance is an affront against man’s faculty of rational discrimination — the ability to distinguish between those things which are good or bad, i.e., beneficial or detrimental to man’s values. It places food and poison on the same moral plane and asks man to consume both. Who serves to benefit from such a system? The answer is the apothecaries who mix the poison. By declaring that one should simply learn to “tolerate” the poison of many philosophic systems, man is asked to ignore the dictates of reality and, through his own volition, forfeit his own life. It grants undue legitimacy to irrational philosophies and injures the efficacy of rational philosophies. Truly, universal tolerance is a direct assault against man’s mind.

Ironically, the preachers of universal tolerance fundamentally contradict themselves when they practice their own system. If they are to treat tolerance as the “good,” then they must necessarily reject intolerance as the “bad.” Cases in which intolerance is justifiable have already been mentioned, but the notion of government enforcement of this doctrine remains to be addressed. While it is certainly rational on a personal level to castoff those individuals in one’s life who demonstrate irrational kinds of intolerance such as racism, it is impermissible to initiate a ban on such behavior.  The United States is very fortunate in the context of this issue – the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States begins with the words “Congress shall make no law…” and subsequently applies that clause to free speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment transited the same prohibition upon the states. Regardless, it is not yet infallible, as bans and regulations upon “obscene” examples of speech have been occasionally upheld by the court system, but speech has otherwise been one of the most inviolate rights still retained by the people.

One need only look toward our northern neighbors to see the danger of the rejection of any and all measures of intolerance. In Canada, hate speech is forbidden by government decree, often leading toward government initiation of force and interference in the market of ideas. For example, when a Danish publication printed political cartoons depicting Mohammed, the founder of Islam, it sparked mass protests around the Muslim world. When a Canadian publication entitled the Western Standard attempted to reprint some of the cartoons as a journalistic examination of the entire affair, the editor was arrested by the Orwellian-named “Alberta Human Rights Commission” and prosecuted for over two and a half years. Eventually he won his freedom, but it cost him $100,000 in attorney fees. More recently, Canada has cracked down on what it deems to be hate speech against Israel, at the very least demonstrating its contempt for free speech regardless of the left-right paradigm. Though the concept of hate, like intolerance, makes no discrepancy between its irrational and rational manifestations, it is not regulable by any government – man has the right to make a fool of himself if he so wishes.

Laws like Canada’s are hard to imagine in a country which legally allows neo-Nazis to march through a town of Holocaust survivors, or which allows the Westboro Baptist Church to hold up signs declaring that “God hates fags” near the funerals of dead soldiers though the funerals themselves, being a private affair on private property, are properly off-limits. One should also note the ability of counter protesters to also attend these events, carrying signs that, without ambiguity, target the Westboro Baptists (and other groups) for being the virulent, contemptible, godless parasites that they are – something that this author would unlikely be allowed to say were he to cross America’s northern border. No matter the number of imbeciles who neglect their own rational faculties and abuse their right to free speech as a result, it does not negate their right to it, nor does it mean that others should silently or respectfully tolerate their imbecility.

Does this mean a rational man ought to demonstrate impassioned indignation whenever faced with something contrary to his values? No, though he should certainly accept no guilt in doing so, provided the threatened value was great enough. As all man’s values are hierarchical in relation to his life, tolerance is certainly not universally damnable any more than intolerance. A man certainly is not harming himself psychologically or physically to suffer the minor idiosyncrasies in a coworker’s personality so that he may do his job correctly. But when a situation reaches the threshold of injuring man’s long-term, rational self-interests, it his right and his responsibility to himself, not to others, to speak and make it known that it is not something he is willing to endure.

It does not require a philosophic lecture or a lengthy debate on the part of the dissenter to do so – such things are only appropriate within certain contexts. Something as simple as, “I disagree,” without any sort of suffixing clause about how it is “okay” for one’s opponents to hold their position would be sufficient. If it is vile, then it should not be granted even slightest bit of moral sanction.  If it is intolerable, then one should not pretend to tolerate it. To deny a statist or any variant of an irrational philosophe the consent they so desperately require is even easier. When they plead pitifully for equal respect, consideration, or toleration for their contemptible ideologies, one need only respond with perhaps the most powerful word devised by man: NO.


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