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A Prescription for Intolerance

Sam Taylor

Posted on March 22, 2021 23:53

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The cultivation of pluralist tolerance is among the greatest strengths of modern politics. Yet, it often morphs into a deluding oversensitivity that elicits avid intolerance.

Vehement tolerance breeds intolerance. As society engenders pluralism, it becomes hostile to anything perceived as a threat to the single-minded acceptance of diversity. While I believe this can be an instrument for good, stifling discriminatory violence, it’s prone to excessivity—and as the old adage goes, too much of a good thing is bad. 


A few days ago, I came across an opinion piece by columnist Kathleen Parker. The article stems from a series of remarks made by Senator Ron Johnson, who “said he wasn’t frightened [during the Capitol Riots] because he knew that the people breaching the barricades ‘loved this country…’” Johnson further noted that were the rioters “tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, [he] might have been a little concerned.” 


While Johnson’s comments are misguided, trivializing an attack on our nation’s government, the article’s analysis bears a similar degree of delusion. Reading between Johnson’s lines, the piece deplores the Senator as “a racist,” his disdain for BLM apparently “one of those rare moments when a White man has testified so conclusively⁠—and so publicly⁠—of his racism.” 


Johnson has responded to such attacks, locating his contempt for BLM in the riots of the movement, as opposed to the race of its supporters. But the article accounts for this, noting that BLM protests have been “overwhelmingly” peaceful. For Johnson to display malice towards such a movement while condoning mob of raging lunatics, therefore, must be the result of racism. It can’t be that Johnson was simply wrong on the crime rates associated with BLM, or that his bias against the movement stems from mere⁠—perhaps justified⁠—disagreement with some of its tenants. No: racism is the only explanation. 


Simplifications of this sort are common. As we try to correct the ills of injustice, we see bigotry where it doesn’t exist; we become zealously disposed to observe hatred to others, ascribing horrid labels in a crazed rage akin to the savagery of a bloodthirsty mongrel, sheltered under the facade of tolerance. 


But resolving this problem is no easy task. We can’t condone overt bigotry to fight against volatile distributions of atrocious labels, otherwise racism would be a tool for tolerance⁠—which, of course, would be ridiculous. But if recognizing bigotry and mitigating misapplications of the term are both desirable, how can a balance between the two be achieved?  


My brief suggestion: political skepticism. We must consistently reexamine our beliefs and their proper applications, avoiding undue attachment to our present convictions while maintaining a commitment to basic morality.

On paper, this seems a simple task. In practice, however, it’s only a basic strategy employed in a constant struggle with misconception; it’s an individual exercise in critical thinking⁠—and one which’ll never be universally adopted. But if you have a desire to uphold a balanced degree of tolerance, this skepticism⁠⁠—a systematic repudiation of narrow-mindedness⁠—may be one of your greatest strengths, and a benefit to our intolerant society. 


I’ll elaborate in my next TLT, “My Preferred Epistemology.” 

Sam Taylor

Posted on March 22, 2021 23:53

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Source: CBS New York
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