Why blind tolerance fails us

Generally, when we think of tolerance we conjure up images of diplomatically accepting people for who they are or what they believe. We empathize with others over their personal decisions, lifestyles and ideals, but is this really such an admirable quality to have? Certainly accepting people for who they are as a person is respectable and necessary for any progressive society, but accepting people’s ideals is not something that should be treated as an inherent virtue.

Of course, all people should be treated equally and with respect no matter their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and beliefs. Beliefs, however, in and of themselves do not intrinsically deserve tolerance. I say this because unlike people, beliefs and opinions are not created equal.

The problem lies in some people’s inability to confront others of differing principles where the only appropriate thing to say is, “well that’s just your opinion.” We should absolve ourselves of this antiquated concept of immediately treating any opinion with respect and tolerance simply just because it is an opinion.

Consider oppressive regimes, religious fanaticism, racism, sexism and extreme nationalism. Do we hold these ideologies to the same level of reverence as democracy, free thought and equality? Of course not, because they’re archaic and don’t fit into our current model of ethics and morality. So why do we consistently demand passive diplomacy when it comes to opinion? Perhaps it’s apathy or perhaps it’s a way to avoid conflict—either way, this line of thought is irresponsible, as all beliefs should be challenged and subject to criticism.

This does not mean that anyone’s freedom of speech or expression ought to be suppressed, but I believe it is perfectly acceptable to express aversion to an opinion that differs from your own. It is not abrasive—it is not provocative—to challenge another’s ideals; it is an exercise in democracy and it can be educational. Civil debate and intellectual discussions are essential for the survival of a fair and open society.

I'd never want to live in a world where my own beliefs were never tested, because I learn far too much from thinking critically about myself and my critic’s opinions. We must be able to freely disagree and debate without feeling ashamed or worried that we’ve made some grievous offense. To allow this sort of conversation to be suppressed would be a blatant stain on human progress and all of those men and women who have fought for it.

Not all opinions are warranted, but they are free to be expressed. When the door is opened to any opinion it is legitimized. Next time you find yourself saying, "that’s just your opinion," think about what you’re doing by not challenging it. All opinions, all lifestyles, all beliefs ought to be argued—and yes, I expect mine to be as well—because that is what true progress is about. Change has never come from apathetic acceptance for the status quo, but from provocateurs who failed to adhere to cultural norms.

As Terence McKenna once said, “Culture is not your friend; it's an impediment to understanding what's going on. That's why to my mind the word cult and the word culture have a direct relationship to each other. Culture is a cult and if you feel revulsion at the thought of somebody offering to the great carrot, just notice that your own culture is an extremely repressive cult that leads to all kinds of humiliation and degradation, and automatic and unquestioned and unthinking behavior.”

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