About that “new” tolerance

C. S. Lewis wrote,

The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one [Moral] impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. [1]

Most people would agree that tolerance is a virtue, and most people would consider themselves tolerant. What is surprising, however, is that recent generations have actually grown less tolerant while perceiving themselves as more tolerant.

Tolerance has become precisely that devilish impulse for today, and it is getting worse.

A fascinating article from Heterodox Academy explains some of the history behind this remarkable trend. The concept of “liberating tolerance” was introduced by Herbert Marcuse back in the 1960’s. Marcuse is quoted as writing,

“Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery. This sort of tolerance strengthens the tyranny of the majority against which authentic liberals protested…   Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.”

[Emphasis in original article.]

It was Marcuse’s version of “tolerance” that was explicitly intolerant of any movement from the Right. Thus was born what has been called the “New Left.” The author of the article observes,

Most importantly, compared to those in their 40s, people in their 30s and 20s actually show lower tolerance towards these groups.  According to the 2012 GSS, people in their 40s are the most tolerant of Muslim clergymen who preach anti-American hatred: 43% say a member of this group should not be allowed to give a public speech in their community.  Among people in their 30s, the number who would prohibit this group from speaking climbs to 52%, and for those in their 20s it jumps to 60%.

It should be morally self-evident that fanatical Islam is a problem in our world today, so the motivation behind shutting down their freedom of speech is at least morally coherent, but the act of shutting down their freedom of speech is a hallmark of intolerance. And intolerance is immoral.

When life itself is on the line, it might seem justifiable to limit some freedoms, but Marcuse’s original intent was not to shut down fanatical Muslims hellbent on destroying civilization, but on shutting down people whose politics are merely right-leaning. Most of the time, these days, that’s the functional target, not the extremists. According to this article,

… hate speech restrictions quickly devolve into justifications for intimidation, threats, disruptions, and disturbances- most frequently from left leaning individuals who do not condone, and then seek to block, conservative speakers, groups and clubs from forming, gathering and delivering talks or events.

You’ll notice that the hate speech restrictions end up proactively seeking out those with the wrong ideas; it will “seek to block” views it does not agree with. These are the witch hunts of our time. When a member of Canada’s parliament uses his freedom to not attend a gay pride parade in Steinbach, Manitoba, his lack of attendance makes national headlines. He says,

“Just as I respect the right of people to participate in this event, I am hopeful the event organizers will be respectful of my choice, and the choice of many others, not to participate.”

This is about as respectful as any disagreement can get. He acknowledges that he respects the right of others to participate in these events – he’s not proposing outlawing them or imposing any discriminatory limitations on them – and he’s asking for that same respect to be reciprocated. It is clear in the article, though merely implied, that he does not agree with the queer movement, but he isn’t badmouthing it, nor denouncing it.

But politely declining the invitation is apparently bordering on heresy according to the new tolerance. The article quotes a number of people who speak as though he has some kind of moral duty to attend. As one person claims, “It’s a historic event, it’s for human rights, and human rights will trump everything,”

“Trump everything.” Huh. Something about Lewis and “make us into devils” comes to mind right about now. And the connection between human rights and human sexuality is once again on display.

Witch hunting, pure and simple.

How immorality became moral

Here’s a bit of a head-scratcher, though. People generally have a reasonable concept of right and wrong, and shutting down somebody else’s freedom of speech is fairly obviously wrong. How can so many people – multiple successive generations, no less – get such a basic fact of morality so dead wrong? Typically such widespread acceptance of immorality is only possible if the immoral action is presented as though it were moral. Think back to the Lewis quote at the beginning. That seems to be precisely what has happened here, according to first article I linked to.

In other words, multicultural tolerance allows individuals to limit the rights of political opponents, so long as they frame their intolerance in terms of protecting others from hate.  This is what Marcuse refers to as “liberating tolerance.” In fact, the idea that one should be “intolerant of intolerance” has taken hold on many college campuses, as exemplified through speech codes, civility codes, and broad, sweeping policies on harassment and discrimination.  Students now frequently lead protests and bans on campus speakers whom they believe promote hate.

[Emphasis in original]

So the underlying motivation behind the new intolerance is, “protecting others from hate.” And the many fronts of this battle multiply exponentially as the subjective interpretation of “hate” is rapidly expanded. On each of these social justice battle fronts, young people – especially students it seems – are going to greater and greater lengths to flex their tolerance muscles in the face of perceived injustice. This professor knows a thing or two about that.

One student who suffered from a brain injury enrolled in a full-semester course that was stuffed into one week. This intensive, block-week course is a serious challenge for students not suffering from brain injuries. …

When in attendance, he dominated the class. His frequent interventions were irreverent and irrelevant. He carried on as if he was the only student in the course. He goaded me about all his rights and harassed and threatened his way through the week. …

On the last day, he dropped the course. I asked the administrator to channel these students away from the block-week course to the many 13-week versions of it. Yet he dismissed my concern, saying, “The human rights people would be all over that.”

Under the guise of “human rights” and “protecting others from hate” (or, in this case, protecting self-interest), the most irreverent bullying has come to be viewed as some kind of social justice campaign.

Attacks on free speech are not always so direct, but they are always malicious and always with the end goal of shutting down the voice of those who are deemed “unpopular” or, worse yet, “hateful.”

Subtle propaganda

I’ve read a couple of Don Braid’s commentary articles as he has written about the LGBTQ+ issue in Alberta, especially as it relates to the NDP campaign to force acceptance of transgenders in opposite sex washrooms. One such article presents a fascinating case study in emotional manipulation and heavy-handed moralizing with the not-so-subtle end goal of shutting down the views of those who disagree with him.

First, the title, “Despite the noise, wide agreement on gender dignity in schools.” Noise. That’s right, those of us who don’t automatically embrace everything about the LGBTQ+ movement – like that MP from Steinbach – are mere “noise.” No, we are not worth listening to. No, our views could not possibly have merit. What we say is just noise. Although this is not outright censorship, it is a strategic attempt to belittle those views that are not to be “tolerated.”

Suppose this discussion were taking place 50 years ago and it were declared that “there is wide agreement that everything queer is immoral, despite the noise.” Or two hundred years ago, “there is wide agreement that slavery is essential to a flourishing economy, despite the noise.” Should society have just dismissed “the noise?”

On the contrary, there are a good many reasons why “the noise” must enjoy a proper place at the table of public discourse. This is essential to any healthy civilization, and dismissing divergent views as “noise” undermines a healthy civilization.

So step one is belittling views that you disagree with.

And, of course, there is the repeated mention of the alleged “wide agreement,” not only in the title, but in the article.

  • “The majority … accept making reasonable arrangements.”
  • “Much wider tolerance will be daily routine in the schools, widely accepted and barely noticed.”

So not only are we just “noise” but we also happen to be unpopular. You are not part of the majority. You are not one of the cool kids. You are an outsider. Shunned. Rejected.

Step two is marginalizing.

Then there is his assessment of how the ASAA has handled the issue, “Let’s start with the admirable ASAA.” Because, you see, groups that support these initiatives are “admirable.” What about the rest of us? Read between the lines, folks; read between the lines.

In fact, the entire issue is framed as “gender dignity” precisely because it automatically casts anybody who disagrees, as those who would oppose “dignity.” And what moral person would ever do that? However, imagine if those on the right were to cast the issue as one of “gender clarity” then those who disagreed would implicitly favor confusion and chaos. The choice of words (again, starting right in the title) is very deliberate. The “agree with us or you are immoral” theme is as thick as molasses. Par for the course with the new “liberating tolerance.”

Step three: demonizing.

So although Braid is not attempting to actively shut down our free speech, through the three steps of belittling, marginalizing and demonizing the views of those he disagrees with, it would seem he hopes to inspire self-censorship. If I feel bad enough about my views I’ll just shut up. The message that he parrots has so often been repeated before him; if you want to be one of the cool kids, on the “right side of history” and so on, then get on board.

Some people use power (protests, intimidation, threats and the like) and others use propaganda. Those are two strategies with the common goal of shutting down unpopular views, especially views from the right side of the political spectrum.

And Braid provided a remarkable sample of what propaganda looks like, in service of the “liberating tolerance.”

For the love of a healthy civilization, I hope future generations will begin to see such intolerance for what it is; an immoral practice dressed up as a moral crusade. In the meantime, whatever your political leanings, please don’t fall into this habit. And if you are on the receiving end of such intolerance, please stand up for truth anyway, despite the holier-than-thou bullying you can expect to receive.

But when you do stand up for truth, do so with an honour and respect that you know will not be reciprocated.

Let’s break the cycle.

[1] – Mere Christianity, Chapter 2.


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