Thursday, June 13, 2019

More Tolerance

The past weekend I read I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup. It’s a little scattered and a bit of a hard read, in my opinion, but it brings out a succinct point about tolerantism. The author, someone named Scott Alexander, unveils this hidden jewel. Beginning with G. K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, Alexander points out that you can’t “forgive” something you don’t think is wrong. From there he moves to tolerance, showing that it is not meritorious to tolerate something with which you agree! He gives the following illustration:
The Emperor summons before him Bodhidharma and asks: “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Virtue Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”
Bodhidharma answers: “None at all.”
The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why.
Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”
The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”
And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”
There is a lot to wade through, some of which I found extraneous and some with which I didn’t agree, but if you follow the rainbow you will find this pot of gold at the end.
But the best thing that could happen to this post is that it makes a lot of people, especially myself, figure out how to be more tolerant. Not in the “of course I’m tolerant, why shouldn’t I be?” sense of the Emperor in Part I. But in the sense of “being tolerant makes me see red, makes me sweat blood, but darn it I am going to be tolerant anyway.”
My point in highlighting this is this: much of what is called tolerance really isn’t, if Alexander is right (and I think he is concerning that). When we look we find many (most?) of those who are preaching tolerance are for tolerating people and ideas with which they already agree, and not anything that “makes them see red.” So is their highest ideal really anything at all?

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