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.}

Intentional love – coming together

Author: Tiny Texas Town

A few love stories to celebrate ways to encourage secure, intentional love.  Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!

Why and how do we fall in love? In these TED Talks, scientists, psychologists, poets and painters explore the mystery of romance.

Here are a few broken out by title:

This is what enduring love looks like [Alec Soth & Stacey Baker]

How I hacked online dating [Amy Web]

The secret to desire in a long-term relationship [Esther Perel]

Expanding your circle of compassion [Robert Thurman]


Bonus reading: When should you settle down? [Hannah Fry]


{Top image credit: Library of Congress via Civil Eats}



Who remembers keeping politics mum?

Author: Tiny Texas Town

In the 1970’s my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were serious about politics, but it was a complicated thing.  First off, you voted.  It was not a right or a privilege, it was a part of being a member of society.  It was just DONE.  Second off, there was no discussion about who a person voted for – at least not much.  Uncle Jerry was a Yellow Dog Democrat.  All others in the family were assumed to be and to vote for Republicans in state and national elections, though they were registered Democrats because the local elections were all organized, held by, and concerned with registered Democrats.  I assume this was because in that tiny, white Texas town everyone used to be Democrats before JFK’s actions and perspectives aligned blacks with the Democratic ticket.  Then the big flip happened, but local political monikers somehow failed to flip.

Politics were not just un-interesting. Asking who someone who they voted for was taboo in the same way that asking someone’s age or weight was taboo.  You don’t ask a rancher the size of his herd.  You didn’t ask, “Hey! Who’d you vote for?”  It was none of your damned business.

Why was this?

I’ve been cogitating on this a good deal over the last week and I think I might just know the answer – or at least part of the answer.  When you name who you voted for, you have selected a team and you may feel like you should root for them.  You have backed a candidate and maybe you need to defend them (or at least defend your own choice).  What happens when that person makes egregious errors?  Saying you cast that vote in error is hard.  This situation makes it nearly impossible to have a real conversation about how good or bad the person does in office because you have a vested interest and have to save face.

Imagine what it would be like if no one told each other who they voted for.  Then there would be no face-saving necessary!  The entire group could discuss what’s happening without picking teams.  When an obvious error is made, everyone could discuss it without feeling like they’re somehow a traitor to their team; there aren’t teams.  We’re all citizens and being able to discuss what wonderful or terrible choices our elected officials make has nothing to do with picking sides.

This is how I remember my grandparents’ politics.  This is how they could have disagreement and still discuss – they weren’t defending their own teams, they were discussing world events as concerned citizens with an open mind and trying to find a way forward.

{Top image credit: The Earthy Report}


Author: Tiny Texas Town

One nifty part of being a scientist is the opportunity to travel to far away places to meet with colleagues.  I went on a trip in 2012 to Beijing, China as a member of a group of plant scientists and agronomists. Our goal was to set up collaborations with our colleagues at China Agricultural University.  I was really looking forward to it for a few reasons — the meetings and discussions were likely to be excellent given their expertise in the area. More importantly, it would be my first trip to mainland China.  Our plan was to arrive in Beijing, travel to the CAU campus, get some sleep, then begin meetings the next morning.

We were pathetic come the first day of meetings.  We were watching and delivering seminars at what were the wee hours of the morning back home. Our disadvantaged situation continued, perhaps by design, due to many toasts with mao tai (AKA lighter fluid) during dinner.  Luckily this gave the American contingent an excuse to be a little goofy, which was much appreciated — especially by me.  Stumbling over what I say and smiling a lot comes naturally with or without sleep, with or without libation.

Following the first day’s formal meetings we toured the campus then met with professors and students to discuss ideas. I was so tired that my usual southern charm was wearing thin. Luckily there were a few stops for concocting Nescafe, which was a very important part of keeping me from saying things I shouldn’t.  During coffee breaks we made plans for the following days: wonderful meals and visits to palaces, archaeological sites, and agronomy farms.  A second segment of our trip was much discussed; we would fly to Xi’an to an international conference on heterosis where we could also visit the terra cotta warriors, walk the city wall, and see the bell and drum towers.  This may all seem a bit excessive in the culture department, but it’s not without reason.  Ideas for collaboration blossom with familiarity and time spent together learning about and comparing cultures can do just the trick. It turns out that building civilization, warding off invaders, and trying to feed the masses are all human endeavors. The specifics get lost.

While still in Beijing we made plans for an afternoon trip to the nearby Summer Palace.  We were blown away, both by the palace’s raw beauty and because it was the site of historic decisions that define Eastern civilization.  We walked the grounds and marveled at the intricate architecture, beautiful sculptures including dragon and phoenix, and scenic views of the giant lake covered in water lilies. I had no idea the seeds from the pods of water lilies were edible – these were being sold by vendors.  Because the contingent was all plant biologists, this started a discussion on when and how the various poisonous substances in lilies arose, questions around whether these ‘lilies’ were genuinely in the Liliaceae and not derived from some alternate lineage that just looks like lilies, discussions on how these lilies relate to the lilies we knew were poisonous, and questions about whether the poisonous substances in lilies are derive via conserved metabolic processes related by descent.  Such are the conversations of plant dorks…  I digress.

As we were discussing plant biology, the beautiful views, and ideas on how best to get members of our research groups to work together, we came upon a glorified stone gazebo.  I walked inside to find a bronze statue of a scholar – the god Wenchang.  The plaque explained that a matching tower across the lake housed a warrior.  It went on to state that the ruler relied on the help of both scholars and warriors. As my colleagues wandered on,  I just stood there.  I was awestruck by this simple truth and marveled that the emperor appreciated it so much that he had the idea committed to stone and bronze within these matching towers.  Of course both were needed!  The idea that every problem that came to a leader could be solved by one or the other seemed utterly silly. Clearly it’s not either/or.

Scholars and warriors rejoice: the good of the country (any country) and the success of our leaders relies on being prepared not only to be thoughtful and philosophical, but to put muscle, blood, and steel behind our ideals and words.  We’re all in it together.

{Top image credit: Cultural China}