Paradox of tolerance

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Author: Tiny Texas Town

What should happen when a person who respects and tolerates others is challenged by someone who is intolerant? What should the next move be when the intolerant person forces his or her will on the tolerant? Should the tolerant individual tolerate intolerance or be intolerant of intolerance?  Philosopher Karl Popper first described the Paradox of Tolerance in 1945 when he wrote The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1.  Here’s what Popper has to say:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.   In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

That part that is underlined is exemplified via this XCKD comic:


In an open society, you can do or say what you want but expect to suffer the consequences. In short, if we tolerate the intolerant to the point that their behavior is considered acceptable, all is lost.  This relates in some ways to the anti-political correctness movement.  My friend Luisa Serrallés Pohl Detwiler puts it like this:

Common courtesy is only called political correctness when it is extended to non white people, so when people express a disdain for political correctness, what I hear is an unwillingness to treat minorities with the same level of respect they would extend to fellow whites.

Failing to show others courtesy is intolerance of their differences.  Being angry that your lack of courtesy is not tolerated then interpreting that you are no longer allowed to say what you think is just plain wrong.  Say what you think – it’s not illegal and you won’t be thrown into jail for it.  Just don’t be surprised that same courtesy is also no longer extended to you.

{Top image credit: Google via Chrome.}