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.
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.